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Does New York Need a Mandatory Elder Abuse Reporting Law?

It is commonly understood that elder abuse is a serious concern that often goes unreported. But there remains less certainty about the best ways to address the problem. A recent Buffalo News editorial argued that more needs to be done at the state and federal level to tackle the issues.

For one thing, New York is one of only three states in the country that does not have a law which requires reporting of elder abuse and financial exploitation. The idea is that community members–particularly those in situations where elder abuse might be observed–must be made aware of the gravity of the situation and effectively forced via the law to report their suspicions.

The story points to recent research by Cornell University academics entitled “Under the Radar: New York State Elder Abuse Prevention Study.” Disturbingly, the report found that for every case of elder abuse that is reported to authorities, another 44 cases are never shared. That estimate is similar to those made by previous researchers. When all forms of elder abuse are considered (including financial exploitation by family members), other studies have found that upwards of 95-99% of exploitation is not reported.

Besides creating a mandatory reporting requirement, what else can be done to tackle the problem?

According to the editorial, one positive step was the “Smart Seniors” program which was launched by the New York Attorney General last year to educate seniors about common abuse situations and share information about where help is available. Another idea is to strengthen state larceny laws which currently do not have special provisions for theft from those with cognitive impairments like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Prosecutions are often difficult in those cases because proving misconduct is different based on the actions of the victim.

The New York State Coalition on Elder Abuse also has its own suggestions on steps that might work to prevent misconduct and protect seniors.

Not Just a Problem for Seniors
The article importantly points out that protecting seniors from financial exploitation is not just a matter of compassion for seniors–it has financial ramifications for all taxpayers. After all, many seniors will eventually need to pay for some sort of long-term care, either in a nursing home or with at-home caregivers. Those seniors who have means pay for that care out of their own savings. However, if those savings are wiped out by scammers, then the costs for long-term care are borne by taxpayers via the New York Medicaid system.

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