Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Year in Elder Abuse Prevention

The journalistic tradition of year-end “news roundups” provides an excellent ruse for cleaning out my file of items I didn’t get to last year. Here are a few:

Under the rubric of “Congratulations and Transitions”:

Marie Theresa Connolly left her post at the Department of Justice to accept a fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where she’ll be writing a book on elder abuse. She is one of 21 fellows at the “quasi-federal entity with an ongoing mission of linking the worlds of ideas and policy.” I’m thrilled for M.T. who’s been doing groundbreaking work in the field for years. She is an expert in prosecuting abuse in nursing homes and played a leading role in crafting the Elder Justice Act while on loan from DOJ to the Senate Special Committee on Aging. She also spearheaded efforts to advance medical forensics in elder abuse, organizing the first national symposium on the issue and subsequent research. Fortunately, she plans to continue working in the field of elder justice in some capacity when she’s done. Here's what she had to say about the book:
"Despite broad bipartisan support, the Elder Justice Act, first introduced in 2002 and in every Congress since, remains unenacted in the face of chronically insufficient resources, data, infrastructure, expertise, training and public awareness. As a result of this paralysis, my goal is to write an accessible book about elder abuse that will propel change by raising public awareness about the problem through the stories of real people, and serve as a resource and catalyst for policy-makers, researchers, practitioners and the public."

M.T. will be presenting “Emerging from Obscurity: Elder Abuse's Slow Journey Toward the National Agenda” at the Elder Abuse: Medical Abuse and Multidisciplinary Aspects conference sponsored by the University of California, Irvine on February 11-12. You can also hear her talk about the book online at M.T. Connolly

Forensic psychiatrist Bennett Blum was ordained as a rabbi by the Academy for Jewish Religion, an “alternative-minded trans-denominational rabbinical school” in L.A. As an expert in cognitive assessment and undue influence, Bennett often testifies in court cases; it was a case involving a rabbi, in which he was asked to base his legal argument on Jewish sources, that he got to thinking about how ancient rabbinic views on deceptive and manipulative practices applied. He went on to write an article on the subject, which led others to "use Talmudic perspective for formulating their arguments." He is also hoping to start a non-profit organization to foster collaboration between clergy and social service providers. What sets his approach apart from most faith-based programs is that he hopes to engage clergy not simply as gatekeepers to get congregants into the legal and social service systems, but rather, to appeal to them to draw from the wisdom of their traditions to teach, guide, and heal. For more on Bennett, see undue influence.

Family justice center maven and former San Diego District Attorney Casey Gwinn is the new CEO of San Diego’s YWCA. Casey founded San Diego’s Family Justice Center, a “one-stop shop” for domestic violence victims, which serves as the prototype for centers across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and England and the National/International Family Justice Center Alliance, which provides technical assistance to centers worldwide. A few years ago, the San Diego Center began serving victims of elder abuse with support from the Archstone Foundation. Casey will continue to be involved with the Alliance. In November, he was one of three community leaders awarded The California Wellness Foundation’s 15th annual California Peace Prize.

Heidi Li has replaced Mary Twomey, who, in 2000, replaced me as Director of the San Francisco Consortium for Elder Abuse Prevention (Mary is the new co-director of the Elder Abuse Forensic Center of Orange County). Heidi, a lawyer, has a background in fair housing and anti-predatory lending consumer protection. She was a founding co-director of Housing and Economic Rights Advocates (HERA), a statewide non-profit legal service and advocacy organization, and previously worked as a senior staff attorney for the Fair Housing Law Project (FHLP) where she helped develop San Jose’s predatory lending screening clinic. Her background in law advocacy is sure to be a boon to the Consortium.

And, more on the advocacy front:

The Elder Justice Act continues to languish in Congress, which supporters blame on Congress’ partisanship, its preoccupation with Iraq, the difficulty of passing a stand-alone bill, and the fact that the wide-ranging bill spans multiple committee jurisdictions, which means that multiple leaders have to vet the bill, which takes time. On the bright side, there doesn’t seem to be much opposition. Rahm Emanuel, the bill’s main sponsor in the House, has said he’s hoping to get pieces of the bill included in other legislation. The bill provides for: elder justice offices in the U.S. Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services, $400 million for state adult protective services over four years, creating a federal coordinating committee, forensic centers, and penalties for nursing homes for failure to report crimes quickly. Emanuel's bill also would require the attorney general to develop a plan for prosecuting elder abuse cases and provide grants to assist state and local prosecutors.

Another bill I’m following is the Restitution for Victims of Crime Act of 2007, which would improve the collection of victim restitution and criminal fines (which fund victim services and compensation). The bill was introduced in response to a GAO report that estimated federal criminal debt at $46 billion, most of which is owed to victims. The bill also removes barriers to collecting restitution and helps federal prosecutors prevent criminal defendants from spending or hiding their assets by setting up pre-conviction procedures. The bill has strong support from such prominent and far ranging advocates as the National Center for Victims of Crime, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The problem of restitution was explored in the recently released Repaying Debts, which was produced by the Council of State Governments. The report assumes a wide-angle view of the problem, emphasizing, for example, that when prisoners are released, many are so far in debt to myriad entities that paying what they owe is virtually impossible. Those responsible for collection, which include probation departments, courts, attorney generals’ offices, and child support enforcement offices, operate at cross purposes, and victims and children are usually at the end of the queue for getting what they’re owed. The report calls for cleaning up the entire system, which includes providing for a single agency to coordinate repayment, set priorities, and create more opportunities for criminals to repay what they owe through work and community service programs. See Repaying Debts.

And in California, several important new laws go into effect this year:

Cal Senate Bill 611 allows judges to freeze assets in cases of financial abuse until victims’ claims are resolved so that defendants cannot spend or hide them before the case is decided. The legislation was sponsored by California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), AARP, and the California Alliance for Retired Americans.

Cal Assembly Bill 1298 requires that California residents be notified when their electronic medical information or health insurance information has been exposed, thereby raising their risk of identity theft. The new law expands on California's earlier data-breach notification law, the first of its kind in the country, which inspired similar laws in more than 40 states. The 2003 law only covered financial information, with the new law coming in response to a report on medical identity theft issued by San Diego’s non-profit World Privacy Forum in 2006. The report revealed that a quarter of a million people per year are victims of this crime.

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