CORALVILLE– Iowa has had laws in the books for decades dealing with dependent child and dependent adult abuse. However, advocates for the elderly say those laws do not go far enough to protect the state’s senior citizens.
Four state legislators spoke about the issue of elder abuse at a legislative forum held Monday, June 10, in Coralville sponsored by the Johnson County Task Force on Aging.
“We have been working on legislation to try and improve the adult abuse laws in Iowa,” said Rep. Mary Mascher (D, District 86). Mascher said many in the elderly community have been lobbying lawmakers to enact changes.
“We are very well aware that there are improvements that need to be made,” she said, particularly to protect those who can no longer manage their own finances. “A lot of people are taking advantage of these individuals. (By doing so the elderly are) losing their entire livelihood in terms of what they have available to them and to live on.”
While it’s not necessarily surprising that there are unscrupulous individuals willing to prey on others, Mascher said it is often family members who are taking advantage.
That, Mascher added, makes for an enormous issue, especially as the elderly may not be able to handle abuse from within their own family. Therefore, she said, there needs to be a way to have a non-biased person supporting the elderly.
“Could we have done more (this legislative session)? Absolutely,” she said. “Was there money to do it? Absolutely.” She pointed to the Republican controlled House, the Democratically controlled Senate and Republican Governor Terry Branstad. “To be able to get something through takes everybody to be in agreement or to compromise. And we weren’t able to get the things done we wanted to this year (on this issue).”
Sen. Bob Dvorsky (D, District 37) had an intern study elder abuse for him.
“We (Senate Democrats) had a real comprehensive plan,” and said a House Democrat had one as well, but it didn’t go anywhere.“(The issue was) overwhelming. We tried to get it down to a more manageable situation.” Dvorsky said a legislative committee was established on elder abuse prevention and intervention to study the problem further. Also an interim committee, which has made recommendations in the past, will continue as well. Pending approval from governor Branstad in the appropriations bills, a pilot project would be set up in cooperation with the University of Iowa College of Law to recruit and train volunteers. These individuals would assist with and monitor guardianships and conservatorships.
“I think we’ve established some things to move the process forward,” Dvorsky said. “We’re talking about substitute decision maker, power of attorney and all of that. We’ve got a good start on it.”
Rep. Bobby Kaufmann (R, District 73) made it clear this was not a partisan issue. “I don’t think you’ll find a lot of light in between the issues that we all believe on this; we’re all strong supporters of it.” Kaufmann said he had a lot on his plate in his first year in the House and, “not everything I wanted to do got done, but I just want to offer up my services. I’d be happy to co-sponsor legislation next year to tighten the screws on anyone that has the gall to even think of abusing, whether it’s physical or financial.”
In contrast, Senator Joe Bolkcom (D, District 43) saw partisanship and failure on the legislative effort to protect the elderly.
“There is so much work to do on this,” Bolkom said. “We have this task force that made a whole series of recommendations for the legislature, and had a price tag with it. It is very difficult for the legislature to come in, without the executive branch’s support around the proposal.” Bolkcom said they did four things to make seniors safer: extending the task force, and creating three more task forces. “We have some really specific ideas moving ahead, and I think where we failed this session was in putting some resources behind the pilots (projects) that we have. So we’re going to come back next year, again with a whole bunch of new ideas and the question is, will the Department of Aging have that in their budget pack to actually move ahead.” He acknowledged programs such as these, cost money to get started, but making such little progress was a shortfall of the legislative session. “This needs to be one of the governor’s priorities,” Bolkcom said.
The state’s Dependent Adult Abuse law, which includes the elderly, was written between 1972 and 1982, passed in 1982, and went into effect in 1983. Mandatory reporting began in 1988 affecting all levels of healthcare provider among other professionals. In 1993 the Elder Abuse Subcommittee of the Department of Elder Affairs began meeting.
Under the law, exploitation of a dependent adult is included and defined as, “a caretaker who knowingly obtains, uses, endeavors to obtain to use, or who misappropriates, a dependent adult’s funds, assets, medications or property with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive a dependent adult of the use, benefit or possession of the funds, assets, medication or property for the benefit of someone other than the dependent adult.” Physical injury, neglect and sexual exploitation are also covered in the law under Iowa Code Chapter 235E.
According to the 2010 Census, Iowa has the fifth-highest population of senior citizens, making up nearly 15 percent of the state’s population.