Although Colorado urges medical and other professionals to report cases of abuse of at-risk elders, it had been one of only three states that did not mandate it.
However, starting July 1, 2014, SB 13-111 will require not only medical and law enforcement professionals, but others — including clergy and financial institutions — to report known or suspected abuse or exploitation of adults over the age of 70.
Those who don’t may face criminal prosecution.
While many of the county’s resources, such as its Adult Protection Team and 24-hour hotline to report abuse, are not new, spokesperson Haley McKean said the county is already ramping up outreach programs to educate and train those that will soon be required to report abuse.
“Counties do anticipate an increase in our adult protection caseloads when the state’s new mandated reporter law goes into effect next summer,” said Arapahoe County District 2 Commissioner Nancy Sharpe, who was part of a statewide elder abuse task force that helped usher in the new legislation.
Arapahoe County is home to more than 41,000 adults age 70 and older — a population that, according to the Colorado State Demography Office, is expected to double by 2025. Statewide, that number is expected to expected to increase 28 percent by 2017, and 142 percent by 2032.
“The law is great, but it’s disappointing we had to pass legislation to get people to do what they should be doing in the first place,” said Karen Dennison, 47, of Denver, who works as a contract home health aide. “I guess it gives us the flexibility to report things directly to the state, but I’m curious to see how a lot of these home health care company policies on reporting may change that.”
Caseworkers found that 487 at-risk adults suffered self-neglect, 287 were neglected by their caregivers, 208 were exploited financially or otherwise exploited by a person in a position of trust, and 131 fell victim to some form of abuse. Most were over the age of 60, frail or suffered from dementia or mental illness.
Among the most common incidents in 2012 were cases of self-neglect, neglect and financial exploitation.
“I guess it’s a step in the right direction to make more people responsible,” Dennison said. “More people means more eyes. It can’t hurt.”