Reprinted with permission from Gongwer News Service, Inc.
Representatives from nursing facilities, the banking industry and county job and family services departments all expressed support Tuesday for a bill aimed at fighting elder fraud.
The legislation (SB 158) would add more professionals, including bankers, to the list of people who are mandatory reporters for suspected fraud against older Ohioans. It would also levy fines that go to counties to promote adult protective services.
Supporters told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the bill would be a step toward combating an issue that is often not reported.
Nisha Hammel, director of advocacy for LeadingAge Ohio, said elder abuse is vastly underreported, in part because it is often committed by family members and care providers. Victims can also be ashamed of being exploited, and some who are exploited might not be aware of it due to memory loss or other cognitive impairments.
"Financial exploitation is particularly harmful to seniors, because it depletes them of limited resources at a time in their lives when they are most reliant on fixed income sources and are least able to replenish savings through employment wages," she said. "This has a direct impact on state Medicaid rolls, speeding the exhaustion of personal assets and expediting Medicaid enrollment."
LeadingAge supported the bill as a multi-pronged approach to fighting elder abuse, she said. It meets that description by increasing public awareness, imposing higher penalties, increasing professional education, expanding the pool of mandatory reporters and using fines to fund programs to combat the problem.
"We are particularly supportive of this bill's reach beyond the traditional helping professions-health care providers such as nurses and social workers- to incorporate the strengths of financial planners, banking professionals and others," Ms. Hammel said.
Sen. Bill Coley (R-Liberty Twp.) said he was concerned about unintended consequences. He said he wanted to ensure there wouldn't be civil liability for bankers and other reporters.
Ms. Hammel said the bill says there would be no liability unless there was malicious intent in not reporting it.
Sen. Coley said that language could still lead to unnecessary lawsuits.
"I think we want to make it clear that these entities are encouraged to report but we would create no civil liability," he said.
Dustin Holfinger, vice president of state government relations for the Ohio Bankers League, said the bill would help address a form of fraud that is underreported in Ohio.
"The Ohio Bankers League believes that Senate Bill 158 will protect Ohio's elderly in the multi-faceted way that is required," he said. "By requiring vetted best practices and standards and increasing the opportunity for collaboration between the departments of job and family services, adult protective service agencies and other financial institution trade organizations, Senate Bill 158 will help facilitate the required ongoing education that is necessary for our employees to proactively protect the elderly in our community."
Developing relationships between financial institutions, law enforcement and adult protective services will improve the detection and prosecution of elder fraud, Mr. Holfinger added.
Sen. Scott Oelslager (R-N. Canton) suggested the best practices could be done through the rulemaking process.
Mr. Holfinger said many of the best practices are already in development right now.
"Through the rules process is probably not a bad idea, that way it's more easily implemented across the state," he said.
Joel Potts, executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Services Directors' Association, said the exploitation of seniors is also rising as a result of the opioid epidemic.
The bill acknowledges that the adult protective services system is underfunded, he said. Many counties don't have the funding to provide one full-time adult protective services employee.
"This legislation's going to help us in a lot of ways," he said. "It's going to update the laws on exploitation, which we need to do. It's going to increase awareness. It's going to increase collaboration."