Senate Task Force Calls for Action to Combat State’s Growing Elder Abuse

Published in the Woonsocket Call on June 30, 2019

With the 2019 General Assembly Session ending Friday, June 28, Senator Cynthia Coyne (D-District 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence), who led the Senate’s Special Task Force to Study Elderly Abuse and Financial Exploitation, successfully spearheaded an effort to pass legislative proposals to beef up the state’s efforts to combat elder abuse, that is growing and vastly under reported.

“The prevalence and projected growth of elder abuse and exploitation is deeply troubling, particularly in light of our findings that its full extent can’t be known because it is so rarely reported or investigated,” said Coyne in a statement announcing the release of the Senate Task Force’s final report. “As the baby boomers become seniors and our elderly population grows, it’s critical that we do everything we can to protect older Rhode Islanders from this abuse. We are confident we can make significant improvements to prevent elder abuse and exploitation, and I’m grateful for the commitment of my colleagues in the Senate to this issue,” says Coyne.

The Senate Task Force, began studying the prevalence and impact of elder abuse and financial exploitation in Rhode Island last December, releasing its final report June 28, in Room 313 on the third floor of the statehouse, calling for education about elder abuse and monitoring efforts to prevent it.

Rhode Island Elder Abuse Incidents Are Increasing

The 130-page report, citing data supplied by the Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs (RIDEA), warns that elder abuse and financial exploitation in the Ocean State is prevalent and incidents are increasing. According to RIDEA, “there were 1,377 confirmed cases of elder abuse in 2017, which is 444 cases more than only five years prior. As the nation’s population of people age 65 and over is expected to double by 2060, the problem is expected to continue growing. Among the recommendations is that the state collaborate with existing community organizations and support outreach and education efforts that specifically focus on seniors and those who interact with them.”

Elder abuse is underreported, too, says the Senate Task Force report, noting that “Only 1 in 23 cases of elder abuse is reported to adult protective services.“ The report recommends strengthening outreach and education efforts for the public, health care workers and others who interact with seniors, and working to dispel stigmas so seniors will be better enabled to report abuse.

The Senate Task Force report also warns that older Rhode Islanders are also extremely vulnerable to financial exploitation, caused by a multitude of factors including a senior’s health, life savings and technology now available to electronically transfer money. With this problem expected to continue growing, it calls for better education for passage of legislation similar to a Connecticut law that requires training for agencies that employ individuals to care for seniors. Another recommendation is to consider a law like one in Delaware to allow financial institutions to place a hold on accounts when they find suspicious transactions.

The Senate Task Force also recommends supporting the Saint Elizabeth Haven for Elder Justice and its enhanced Training and Services to End Abuse in Later Life grant program, and strengthening services available through the POINT, the senior resource service at the Division of Elderly Affairs.

Passed Elder Abuse Legislation Heads to Governor’s Desk for Signature

As the result of this Senate Task Force, in the final days of the General Assembly, Coyne and Rep. David A. Bennett (D-District 20, Warwick, Cranston) introduced legislation (S 0603A, H 5573) to combat tackle the issue of elder abuse in the Ocean State. The legislation, expanding an existing law that requires people who have reasonable cause to believe a person age 60 and over is being abused, neglected or mistreated to report it to the Division of Elderly Affairs, which will report the incident to law enforcement if appropriate and intervene, was passed an now heads for the Governor’s desk for signature. .

Currently, health care providers and others who come into contact with elderly or disabled people in health care facilities are required to report suspected abuse or neglect within 24 hours. The enacted law adds a section of law requiring reporting of suspected abuse, exploitation, neglect or self-neglect of people over age 60, regardless of whether they live in a health care facility. It also expands the list of those required to report suspected abuse to include physician assistants and probation officers and protects employees who report abuse from liability (unless they are found to be a perpetrator) or negative consequences at work for reporting abuse or neglect.

The Rhode Island General Assembly also passed legislation (S 0845A, H 6114) sponsored by Coyne and Rep. Patricia A. Serpa (D-District 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick). The legislation requires the collecting municipal probate data to access the guardianship program, as well as to seek federal grants to support education, monitoring and resources for guardians. It also recommends a nationwide criminal background check for anyone seeking guardianship or limited guardianship of another adult, even temporarily. Under the bill, anyone who is found to have been convicted or plead nolo contendere to charges for a variety of crimes, including violent crimes or crimes involving abuse or neglect of elders, would be disqualified.

Members of the task force include Senator Coyne; Senator Sandra Cano (D-District8, Pawtucket); State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Kathleen Heren; Special Assistant Attorney General Molly Kapstein Cote; Mary Ladd, chief of program development at the Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs; AARP- Rhode Island Associate State Director John DiTomasso; State Police Detective Kyle Shibley; Warwick attorney Mark Heffner; and Saint Elizabeth Haven for Elder Justice Director Jeanne Gattegno.
With the release of its report this month, Coyne’s Special Task Force to Study Elderly Abuse and Financial Exploitation, is off to a good start by giving the Rhode Island General Assembly a legislative road map needed to protect vulnerable Rhode Island seniors from physical, emotional and financial abuse. It’s a first step, but hopefully not the last. Senate leadership might consider making the Senate’s Special Task Force to Study Elderly Abuse and Financial Exploitation, permanent, charged with recommending legislative proposals each session, mirroring best practices, gathered from other states, to combat elder abuse.

To get a copy of the Senate Task Force’s elder abuse report, to http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/commissions/eafe/commdocs/Special%20Task%20Force%20to%20Study%20Elderly%20Abuse%20and%20Financial%20Exploitation%20REP.pdf.

Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.

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Fogarty Retiring as Elderly Affairs Director

Published in Woonsocket Call on January 28, 2018

Just days ago, Director of Rhode Island’s Division of Elderly Affairs (RIDEA), Charles J. Fogarty, announced his retirement to take place at the end of June, after 4 decades of public service. There have been nine directors since the establishment of DEA, including Fogarty.

Fogarty’s plans to retire at the end of the current legislative session. When this occurs, Governor Gina Raimondo will make an appointment to the RIDEA director position. The position requires advice and consent of the RI Senate.

Fogarty began his career in public service in 1978 as a junior policy advisor for Governor J. Joseph Garrahy. He served as lieutenant governor, from 1999 to 2007, having the distinction of being the last lieutenant governor to preside over the State Senate. From 2011 to 2015, Fogarty served as the director of the Department of Labor and Training, ending up his career as the Director of RIDEA.

During his years of public service, Fogarty, 62, has been focused on long term care and home- and community-based services and supports for older Rhode Islanders. He played a key role in steering and expanding the work of the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council during his tenure as Lieutenant Governor for two terms. Under his leadership at the Department of Labor and Training, he reformed the unemployment insurance process. During his stewardship as Director at Elderly Affairs (since January 2015), he has led a division providing services and advocacy for over 166,500 older adults living in Rhode Island.

As a Glocester resident he was elected to the Glocester Town Council in 1984 and in 1990 was elected as a state senator, where he served for eight years. While a state senator, he served as both majority whip and Senate President Pro Tempore.

Fogarty Reflects on RIDEA Tenure

“Throughout my career, I have felt drawn to serve the people of Rhode Island. I look back fondly and feel fortunate to be a part of the forward progress Rhode Island is experiencing–particularly working with Governor Raimondo to empower seniors and help them to remain independent and living in the community,” said Fogarty.

According to Fogarty, under his helm, RIDEA has continued to process of supporting community-and home-based services for seniors and caregivers, but more needs to be done in order to really rebalance Rhode Island’ long-term care system. Aging in the community- in our own homes- is what many Rhode Islanders want for ourselves and our loved ones, he says.

“We’ve restored funding for Meals on Wheels, provided additional funding for respite services, and this year are proposing to double the amount the state invests in senior centers. Senior centers are primary gateways in the community that connect older adults and caregivers to services that can have profound impacts upon their ability to remain healthy and independent,” notes Fogarty.

Fogarty says, “If the general assembly follows Governor Raimondo’s lead and doubles the funding for senior centers, Rhode Island will be taking a huge step in the right direction of providing the appropriate support to these essential senior services.”

“We need to prepare for the shift in demographics that is occurring, and accept that the old model of providing long term care services isn’t working for the large number of Boomers who are marching towards retirement and old-age. RIDEA and other key partners are engaging in the Age-Friendly Rhode Island initiative, and we all need to work together to provide more choices and options for Rhode Islanders as they age, empowering them, and helping them to remain independent and healthy,” adds Fogarty.

Tributes to Fogarty

“Charlie has dedicated his entire professional life to Rhode Island and we thank him for his decades of service to our state,” said Governor Gina M. Raimondo, in a statement, recognizing the key role he played as DEA Director in expanding Meals on Wheels and in repealing the tax that seniors pay on their Social Security.

“As sitting Lt. Governor, I appreciate Charlie being a resource to me on issues important to our state’s seniors. Under his leadership, the Division of Elderly Affairs has been a hands-on partner in executing the initiatives of the Long Term Care Coordinating Council and the Alzheimer’s Executive Board,, says Lt. Governor Dan McKee.

“We are especially grateful for Charlie’s support in launching our Age Friendly RI Report in 2016. In a few weeks, we will be announcing an exciting development in Rhode Island’s Alzheimer’s State Plan that would not be possible without Charlie’s participation. I have enjoyed working with Charlie and I wish him all the best as he begins this exciting new chapter,” adds McKee.

Maureen Maigret, Vice Chair Long Term Care Coordinating Council, sees Fogarty’s experience as oversight as Lt. Governor of the state’s Long-Term Coordinating Council, gave him the insight ad understanding of long term care issues and the needs of older Rhode Islanders.

Maigret says that professionals in the aging network will remember Fogarty for his strong support for and educating the community about need to expand services that help older persons to stay at home and live independently for as long as possible and to pay attention to caregiver support needs.

Adds AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell, “I have known Charlie for many years and know him to be a worthy heir of his uncle, the late-great RI Congressman, who was a leading champion of legislation and policy benefiting older Americans.”

“At Elderly Affairs, he utilized many skills and resourcefulness acquired through his time as a legislator, Lt. Governor and Labor & Training director — not to mention his personal interest in the health and wellbeing of all Rhode Islanders. His leadership has been an enormous asset at the Division of Elderly Affairs,” says Connell.

After his retirement from four decades of state service, he will continue to serve on the faculty at Johnson & Wales University, as Adjunct Professor of Leadership Studies. He also plans to volunteer with Meals on Wheels, having seen the significant impact the home-delivery meal program has on combatting senior isolation. He will also continue to be involved at his church.

On a personal level, Fogarty plans to “learn to cook,” by enrolling in cooking classes, travel and perhaps learn to speak Spanish.