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Government Watch

State Bill Targets Abuse of Elderly

Government Watch is an occasional column devoted to updates on pending health legislation of interest to consumers.

April 06, 1998

What: State Senate Bill 2199. Sponsored by state Sen. Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward).

At Issue: An intensive upgrading of the state's ability to protect dependent adults and the elderly from abuse. The bill would boost funding for Adult Protective Services and cover all forms of abuse from physical to financial.

Status: Heard by Health and Human Services Committee last week. Next up is a hearing by the Senate Public Safety Committee later this month.

What's at Stake: Abuse of the elderly and adults who are dependent on others for basic care is a significant problem in California. According to the U.S. General Accounting Office and California Department of Health Services, an estimated 225,000 incidents of adult abuse occur each year, yet only about one in five is brought to the attention of Adult Protective Services, the state agency charged with handling these cases.

Unlike Child Protective Services, which has strict protocol, APS standards are "almost nonexistent," according to Lockyer. In some parts of the state, reports of abuse are simply received and no other response is provided; any other response is voluntary.

Current law requires only the reporting of physical abuse of the elderly and dependent adults. Financial exploitation, neglect and abandonment are not covered. The bill would increase staffing, mandate a response to all forms of abuse, coordinate community services to help victims, provide emergency services, provide for earlier intervention in the cycle of elder abuse and fund a 24-hour hotline to receive reports of adults in abusive situations.

Prospects: The strengths of this bill reside in its practical and moral approach to a serious problem. On the practical side, the $1-million boost to APS programs in last year's state fiscal budget was the first increase in 14 years. Overall, APS funding has fallen this decade in many counties, and staff assigned to APS has decreased statewide by 20% since 1988. California's population, however, is aging.

On the moral side, if elderly people lack friends, relatives or other advocates in their lives, they often fall through the cracks, and the state is not equipped to help. Thus, the bill has widespread backing among health and social service advocates, including the Congress of California Seniors, Triple A Council of California, the American Assn. of Retired Persons and several county boards of supervisors. Moreover, the state economy is healthy, and this department is overdue for beefing-up.

So far, no one has gone on record to oppose SB 2199, but critics are expected to cite the bill's costs: $70.3 million for the fiscal year 1998-99, which is far more than the $9 million Gov. Pete Wilson has proposed for APS in his budget.

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