State Looking Into New Funding Opportunities for Elder Abuse Protection

The decision to enter into a guardianship contract for an elderly family member is a heavy one, no matter the circumstances. Professional guardianship programs — wherein an attorney, rather than a family member, is appointed as guardian — are common across the U.S. 

An elderly person can land in a courtroom, be deemed “incompetent” and have all decision-making capacity handed off to a third party. What happens then is either beneficial to the person or not; it's often hard to distinguish between the two.

This week, we profiled one highly contentious guardianship case in Lorain County — one which has since spawned a divorce case and a criminal case in Cuyahoga County.

Gov. John Kasich appointed a working group last year to determine how best to invest new money into unifying adult protective services across the state. That includes identifying ways of protecting the state's elderly residents from all manner of abuse — physical, psychological, financial, etc. Ohio’s 88 counties each approach guardianship and elder abuse response differently.

The state will pay $2.6 million this year to create minimum standards and training requirements for adult protective services. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services will target its requirements to legal guardians and will implement a central hotline and data-collection system for reports.

At the same time, the Ohio Department of Aging is looking across the next few years at making Ohio a "dementia-capable state," one that can "assist individuals who are suffering from dementia, losing their ability to effectively communicate and are unable to provide care for themselves; and provide resources to the family caregivers who are responsible for caring for their loved ones." Dementia, as diagnosed by third-party physicians of record, is often the first step to a judgment entry that an elderly person is in need of a guardian. With or without a guardian in place, however, as the report states, those diagnosed with symptoms of dementia remain susceptible to an array of abuses. Read the full report here.

Paul Greenwood, head of elder abuse protection unit in San Diego district attorney’s office, told the Columbus Dispatch last month: “Crooks and con artists are becoming more creative and daring in their efforts to deplete the life savings of our senior citizens. It is therefore time for us to go on the offensive in identifying, investigating and prosecuting these suspects.”

That newspaper has led something of a rallying cry for the state to raise awareness of these issues. From a recent letter to the editor praising the paper's coverage:

[O]verwhelmed adult-protective-service agencies save lives every day through thoughtful investigation and intervention. Expanding their capacity may be long overdue, yet even this is not enough.

Ohio must also prevent elder abuse before it begins. Curtailing elder financial exploitation is a compelling place to start. Exploitation often accompanies other forms of abuse, yet is the type most likely to involve interaction with an institution. Thus, banks are well-positioned to identify vulnerable elders and document suspected abuse.

While reports of elder abuse across Ohio have fallen from 15,292 in 2010 to 13,608 in 2014, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, it's unclear what percentage comprises guardianship abuse in the specific sense.
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Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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