April 19, 2024 The Best Source of News, Culture, Lifestyle for Culver City, Mar Vista, Del Rey, Palms and West Los Angeles

Call for OAA Reauthorization – The Elderly Needs Our Protection

By Melissa Ou

2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act (OAA).
2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act (OAA).

2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act (OAA). This act promotes the well-being and independence of older adults in their communities and has historically received bipartisan support, but failed reauthorization in 2011. Currently, OAA programs receive discretionary appropriations totaling 1.9 billion dollars. Discretionary spending is the portion of the budget that the president requests and Congress appropriates every year, which totals to be less than a third of the federal budget. The OAA Reauthorization Act of 2015 will authorize appropriations of 5.8 billion dollars for the 2016 to 2018 fiscal years to critical programs that will focus on protecting vulnerable seniors, incorporating evidence-based programs for health promotion and disease initiatives, and streamlining administration of programs and coordination among the federal, state, and local levels.

The 2010 Census reported 1.06 million individuals aged 65 and older living in Los Angeles County. This number is expected to grow with aging Baby Boomers. With aging, older adults will most likely encounter physical changes, stress, health complications, and reduced mental acuity. Many of these older adults are unable to live independently and require assistance, either from family members or caregivers. This vulnerability and dependence on others increases the risk of elder abuse amongst seniors.

The National Center on Elder Abuse defines elder abuse in two sectors – domestic elder abuse and institutional abuse. Domestic elder abuse refers to mistreatment that is committed by someone with whom the elder has a special relationship, such as a spouse, sibling, child, friend, or caregiver. Institutional abuse refers mistreatment occurring in residential facilities, such as a nursing home, assisted living facility, group home, board and care facility, foster home, and more. Categories of elder mistreatment also include physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, neglect, and abandonment.

In a recent high profile elder abuse investigation involving “To Kill a Mocking Bird” author Harper Lee, the case demonstrated ethical concerns in regards to financial abuse, or the illegal or improper exploitation of the victim’s assets or property. The release of Lee’s new book, “Go Set a Watchman,” ignited concerns about the author’s mental awareness and her ability to consent to publishing the manuscript, since Lee suffered a stroke in 2007 and has severe hearing and vision problems. Cases like these are all too common where friends, family, and legal guardians take advantage of seniors.

My experience as a hospice care volunteer has exposed me to how seniors are mistreated in assisted living facilities. Through my patient visits at different residential facilities in the Los Angeles area, I have been informed by my patients about complaints and claims relating to the mistreatment by staff, whether through intentional abuse, reckless conduct, neglect, or negative encounters, and their overall perspective on the lack of services being provided to them. A 2010 study found that over 50 percent of nursing home staff admitted to mistreating older patients. Another 2010 study found that seven percent of all complaints regarding institutional facilities reported to long term Ombudsmen were complaints of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.

A couple of my patients have informed me of situations of possible abuse or neglect. I understood that it was my responsibility, whether they were true or not, to my supervisor and the facilities. I believe it is important for our seniors and people who have knowledge of or have witnessed abuse to be informed that they have the option to report. Many organizations and individuals are required by law to report actual or suspected abuse to Adult Protective Services (APS). I am fortunate to have my grandparents live independently. It would greatly upset me if I had discovered that my grandparents were mistreated at an assisted living facility and nothing was done to resolve the situation.

In two 2008 studies, 3.2 million Americans resided in nursing homes and more than 900,000 people nationwide live in assisted living settings. Research indicates that one in ten American elders is affected by abuse and can occur in all types of relationships. Everyone, whether it is social workers, healthcare professionals, neighbors, friends, and families, must be familiar and knowledgeable about the types of elder abuse that can occur.

The OAA Reauthorization Act of 2015 plays an important role in providing necessary funding for underfunded programs like Adult Protective Services (APS). The process to detect, investigate, resolve, and prevent elder mistreatment is flawed, which means that estimates of elder abuse and neglect are lower than the actual prevalence. Passing the bill would increase the resources that are needed in order to better prevent elder abuse. To increase support for the bill, we must encourage our congressmen to support this bill when it is presented in front of the House of Representatives.

The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations’ World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) on June 15th is also another way for people to spread awareness about elder abuse. Organizations and individuals can collaborate or take action to engage seniors, empower communities, change policy, and involve the youth.

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