How Do We Protect Our Elders?

We’ve all heard about the “graying of America.” As Baby Boomers move through their retirement years, they are entering a life phase where they are more likely to be isolated and face memory and other age related cognitive challenges. This new life phase also places them in positions where they are more vulnerable to physical, emotional and financial abuse. This abuse can come from strangers, caregivers and, all too commonly, even family members. In some cases, vulnerable adults can also end up in situations where they are unable to care for themselves and essentially engage in self-abuse/neglect. Financial exploitation may be the most insidious form of elder abuse as it can come through unscrupulous telemarketers and solicitors and can be very difficult to detect.

Fortunately, Washington has laws that are specifically directed towards helping protect our vulnerable adult populations. Chapter 74 of the Revised Code of Washington is entitled the Vulnerable Adult Protection Act. The Act defines a Vulnerable Adult as anyone 60 years of age or older who has the functional, mental or physical inability to care for themselves. The Act also protects individuals who are under a court ordered guardianship, those who have a developmental disability, and others who receive care services from institutions or home providers.

The Act is designed to encourage people to report abuse and/or neglect and, if appropriate, pursue court action. If you suspect that a vulnerable adult is being abused or neglected, the first step is to contact Washington Adult Protective Services (APS). APS is a division of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services that acts to protect vulnerable adults in much the same way Child Protective Services acts to protect minors. (You can file reports through local offices APS or by contacting the statewide hotline at 1-866-363-4276. Additional information can also be found at http://www.dshs.wa.gov/altsa/home-and-community-services/reporting-abuse). A report to APS will result in an investigation and, if warranted, law enforcement or court involvement. If you suspect that a vulnerable adult is in immediate danger, you should call 911.

Although APS can be an effective advocate for abused or neglected adults, they have limited resources and their investigations often move on a bureaucratic time scale. In cases where more immediate action is necessary, the Vulnerable Adult Protection Act also authorizes private individuals to directly file cases with the Washington Superior Court without having to pay the normal “filing fee.” When a vulnerable adult protection case is filed, the court will issue a temporary protection order. This order is valid for fourteen days and typically prohibits the alleged abuser from contacting the vulnerable adult. During the pendency of the temporary order, the alleged abuser and the vulnerable adult must be personally served with the court papers. (The temporary protection order can be extended if more time is needed to accomplish service.) After service is accomplished, the court will hold a hearing where all the parties will have a chance to present their case and evidence to the court.

If the court finds that abuse and/or neglect has taken place, it can issue “no contact” orders that are effective for up to five years. The court can also order other remedies such as directing the abuser to account for the use of the vulnerable adult’s income or property, directing repayment of money from the abuser, and ordering the abuser to pay any of the costs associated with pursuing the protection action.

Although most counties have advocates available to assist people with the process for filing a vulnerable adult protection case, the process can be complicated and somewhat daunting. The Elder Law Offices of Barry M. Meyers is very experienced in these matters and can offer any assistance necessary to pursue protection of a person who you believe is being abused or neglected.

Barry M. Meyers
David M. Neubeck
Elder Law Offices of Barry M. Meyers
www.elderlaw-nw.com

DISCLAIMER: The content of this newsletter is: for information purposes only, subject to change by government agencies, should not be relied upon as current, and, does not constitute legal advice. Reading this newsletter does not establish an attorney-client relationship.