PROFILE: Protecting Our Elders
One in ten elderly respondents to a nationwide survey indicated that they had experienced abuse within the last year. In Colorado, more than 11,000 incidences of elder abuse, financial exploitation, or neglect are reported annually, though Denver Human Services believes many more go unreported.
Until recently, Colorado was one of the few states in the nation without a law obligating professionals to report the abuse or exploitation of at-risk elders. Colorado’s General Assembly passed the Mandatory Reporting Act in 2014, requiring specific professionals (listed below) to report to a law enforcement agency if they have reasonable cause to believe that an at-risk elder is currently, or may be in the future, abused, financially exploited, or neglected. By Colorado statutes, an “at-risk elder” is defined as an individual 70 years or older.
Who can help?
The Colorado Coalition for Elder Rights and Abuse Protection (CCERAP) is helping educate Coloradans as to what constitutes elder abuse and how to recognize the signs of neglect or exploitation. Founded in 1993, CCERAP has long been an advocate for some of society’s most vulnerable older citizens. CCERAP is a project of Colorado Nonprofit Development Center.
A ten person Steering Committee governs CCERAP with representatives from elder service organizations and professions covered under the mandatory reporting law. Coordinator Edie Richey manages program activities including in-person trainings, quarterly newsletters, and the CCERAP website. The steering committee is chaired by Dr. Sheri Gibson, a trained geropsychologist and current Director of Behavioral Health Services for Rocky Mountain Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE).
Upcoming in-person training sessions focus on fraud and scam awareness for home owners and those contemplating the move to assisted living. CCERAP has had great success with the in-person events. Trainings have expanded out of the Denver Metro Area and are now being scheduled in northern and southern Colorado. Between July 2014 and April 2015, nearly 400 professionals attended trainings and nearly half indicated that they intended to implement what they learned in the next year.
Education tools and training sessions are all free of charge and can be accessed through CCERAP.org. Archived education materials address issues facing the aging population and their caregivers such as Compassion Fatigue, the Physiological Aspects of Aging, Hoarding Disorder, and Strategies for Coping with Dementia. Long-term care and social workers can earn Continuing Education Units by engaging with many of these trainings and materials.
What happens once abuse is reported?
If abuse is suspected, contact law enforcement in the city where the person/client being abused resides. While each county in Colorado operates its own Adult Protective Services (APS) department, this is a basic timeline of events following a report.
- Law enforcement shares the report with APS within 24 hours.
- Law enforcement provides a copy of their investigation report to APS and the District Attorney in the county where the person/client resides.
- APS may investigate the report and offer the person/client protective services
- Note: The elder person can refuse all interventions offered by APS. Only when they have been declared incompetent by the court can APS proceed without their approval.
- The District Attorney will review the report for possible criminal charges.
Next Steps in Colorado
The Department of Human Services, the Cigna Foundation, the Wells Fargo Community Assistance Fund, and the Colorado Nursing Facility Culture Change Accountability Board provided dollars to support CCERAP; yet, funding is always a challenge. Colorado’s General Assembly acknowledged this challenge in the Mandatory Reporting Act, stating that Colorado’s system of adult protective services is grossly underfunded and cautioning against over-extending existing resources by increasing caseloads for social workers and advocates. The CCERAP steering committee actively seeks additional funding streams to support professional training focused on prevention, detection, and interventions with older victims of abuse and exploitation.
Throughout 2016, the State Department will be preparing an assessment of the Mandatory Reporting Act and the effect of reporting on budgets and caseloads at state and local levels. The report will also evaluate the impact of the law on abuse and exploitation reporting, the extent of community outreach and communication, and the availability of assistance services for at-risk adults.
The work done by CCERAP and others in the aging services network is becoming increasingly important as Colorado’s elderly population is anticipated to increase by 28 percent by 2017 and a staggering 142 percent by 2032 – or more than 25% of Colorado residents.
CCERAP invites you to subscribe to the newsletter and receive notices of training dates, posted training videos, and presentations. To join, please visit www.ccerap.org.
CCERAP is not a reporting site for the Mandatory Reporting law CRS 18-6.5-108. Please contact the law enforcement agency and Adult Protective Services in the reporting area.
Previously published as part of CIVHC’s Spotlight on Innovation series.