December 01, 2016

Elder Abuse/Guardianship

The Senate Special Committee on Aging discussed a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on guardianship abuse during a Nov. 30 hearing on financial abuse of older Americans by guardians. The report found that the extent of elder abuse by guardians nationally is unknown due to limited data being maintained by state and local courts, which are responsible for guardianship appointments and monitoring activities. Those interviewed for the report said that financial exploitation is among the more common types of elder abuse and the majority of financial exploitation by professional guardians is done through overcharging for services that were either not necessary or were never performed. The report noted that by early 2017 the Department of Health and Human Services plans to launch the National Adult Maltreatment Reporting System, a national reporting system based on data from state Adult Protective Service agency information. In addition, HHS has assumed a national role in guardianship by funding grants to support coordination and information sharing that could help educate guardians and other parties. One of the efforts noted in the GAO report is the Working Interdisciplinary Networks of Guardianship Stakeholders (WINGS). The ABA has a long history of working to protect older Americans, and the association’s Commission on Law and Aging, in collaboration with the National Center for State Courts, has received an Elder Justice Innovation Grant from the federal Administration on Community Living to establish, expand, and enhance WINGS. The new project aims to improve the ability of state and local guardianship systems to develop protections less restrictive than guardianship, advance guardianship reforms, and address abuse. In her statement at the hearing, committee Chairman Susan M. Collins (R-Maine) said that although the GAO report indicates that progress is being made, “much more needs to be done to put best practices in place to oversee guardians and create the tools needed to uncover potential abuse in time to stop it. Guardians should be protecting vulnerable seniors, not stealing from them.”

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