Sen. Mary Jo Wilhelm Column: Protecting Seniors From Abuse & Exploitation

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April 24th 2014 Column by Sen. Mary Jo Wilhelm:

Across the country, thousands of older Americans face abuse, neglect and exploitation every year. Many of these older victims are particularly vulnerable because they depend on others to help them with the most basic activities of daily living.

Senate Democrats have worked this session to establish a comprehensive system to prevent elder abuse, provide community support, offer legal options when intervention is necessary, and prosecute those who commit elder abuse. These items were included in SF 2239, which the Senate passed unanimously on March 4. When the Iowa House took up the bill, however, they removed elder abuse support and intervention services that would have been provided in local communities by the Aging & Disability Resource Centers.

Fortunately, there is still time to make progress. The Senate has now approved an amendment to SF 2239 that defines elder abuse and financial exploitation of an elder, allows victims of elder abuse to secure protective orders to stop the abuse, and authorizes criminal penalties for financial exploitation.

This will build on protections approved earlier this session in the Uniform Power of Attorney Act, which has already been signed into law. According to Iowa AARP, it is the most important thing we can do to fight financial abuse of elders.

SF 2168 specifically addresses financial exploitation of Iowa seniors, which often occurs at the hands of family members or caretakers. Based on recommendations of Iowa’s Elder Abuse Task Force, the Iowa Uniform Power of Attorney Act will help prevent and detect power of attorney abuse.

Many seniors give a power of attorney to someone they trust so that person can make financial decisions on their behalf, including managing their money, paying their bills and purchasing necessities. Power of attorney is exercised responsibly among most Iowans. Unfortunately, there is growing evidence of unethical people who prey on vulnerable seniors, stealing from them and abusing their power.

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