January 1 = Stricter California Elder Abuse Reporting Laws

Assembly Bill 40 is a California law that took effect January 1, 2013. The bill is intended to expand reporting requirements related to elder abuse.

The Napa Valley Register reported in an article that the Napa County Health and Human Services department investigated 370 abuse and neglect cases in 2012. 295 of those involved seniors and the rest involved disabled adults. Reports of theft and embezzlement from the elderly have significantly increased over the last couple of years.

In light of this new bill, it is important to look at the increase in reported instances of abuse and neglect in different ways. A simplistic view of this increase indicates that elder abuse and neglect is on the rise. Whatever measures have been put in place to combat abuse over the last couple of years have failed.

However, you must look at the intent of recent laws including AB 40 in determining the best interpretation of these statistics. AB 40 expands the requirements for reporting instances of elder abuse. This bill now requires a “mandated reporter” to notify both a care center’s ombudsman and a law enforcement agency instead of the previous requirement of notifying one or the other. Mandated reporters are nursing home employees, supervisors, or administrators.

Many individuals look at the increase in reported instances of nursing home abuse and neglect along with this type of bill and say that it is a success story of sorts. Unreported instances of abuse or neglect are a big fear. It is only logical for someone to be fearful over reporting to one nursing home employee that another employee abused him or her. The thought of retaliation and more abuse keeps many victims from reporting the behavior.

An increase in reports of abuse means that more and more victims are coming forward with their stories. This is a deterrent that keeps potential abusers from committing crimes for fear of being caught.

AB 40 also requires mandated reporters to contact law enforcement by phone and in writing within 2 hours after learning of or suspecting physical abuse of a resident resulting in serious injury or within 24 hours of a non-injury incident according to the article in the Napa Valley Register. The new law makes failing to follow these reporting requirements a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

This is in response to the “spotty” and often times “tardy” reporting of instances according to the article. Now nursing home employees who might try to cover the tracks of another co-worker’s crime by not reporting it face jail time and fines. This bill certainly ups the stakes for nursing home employees and other mandated reporters. Hopefully, more victims of abuse and neglect will feel comfortable reporting these crimes. These mandated reporters must pay attention and spot injuries or instances of crimes and report those to avoid criminal penalties themselves.

The article ends with a great quote from Elizabeth Mautner of the Area Agency on Aging related to the reporting requirements: “It’s not up to the reporter to make the determination that abuse is happening. If they question themselves on whether they should report it, they should report it.”

The mandated reporters should not get caught up trying to make a determination on whether or not abuse is taking place. Bills like this are designed to protect the health and safety of the elderly and disabled adults first instead of delaying justice which might mean more abuse in the meantime.

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