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Raising awareness about vulnerable adult abuse

June 21, 2012
The Inter-Mountain

With all the hoopla over the new law prohibiting texting while driving, another important measure that also recently went into effect hasn't gotten the attention it deserves.

Senate Bill 498 deals with the reporting of the abuse or neglect of vulnerable adults. Although a law has been on the books in West Virginia for decades, this one clarifies the process and outlines specifics of when the information can be shared with law enforcement. The identity of the people who make the report remains confidential.

It's our hope that this measure also raises some awareness.

Anita Fortney, a licensed social worker at the Randolph County Senior Center who previously worked with the state's Adult Protective Services, recently told The Inter-Mountain of two important facts that we should all keep in mind. First, a "vulnerable adult" doesn't necessarily mean someone who is incapacitated or not of sound mind. Secondly, the abuse can come in the form of emotional, financial or physical.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a recent study published by MetLife Mature Market Institute estimates that the financial loss by victims of elder financial crimes and exploitation exceeds $2.9 billion annually. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in the United States, more than 500,000 older adults are believed to be abused or neglected each year. However, it also is suspected that these statistics are likely an underestimate because some cases are not reported.

Delegate Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, who sits on the Health and Human Resources and Senior Citizen committees, says she expects the issues of elder abuse and exploitation to gain more attention as the number of West Virginians reaching senior status increases.

Taking advantage of a vulnerable adult in any of these ways is simply wrong, and something that we as a society should not stand for. Reporting such incidents is mandatory for healthcare providers. For others, it's a responsibility to take seriously.

Anyone who suspects elder abuse should call the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources' 24-hour hotline at 800-352-6513.



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