Elder abuse is a prevalent issue in the United States and comes in various forms, such as physical harm, neglect or desertion, financial exploitation, and emotional abuse through verbal and non-verbal acts. According to the Alabama Department of Human Resources’ Adult Protective Services, over 9,000 reported adult abuse, neglect, and exploitation cases were reported in 2021.
Currently, the Alabama Code §13A, Chapter 6, Article 9 defines three degrees of elder abuse and elder financial exploitation:
The first degree of elder abuse and neglect occurs if someone intentionally abuses or neglects an elderly person resulting in serious physical injury, and the first degree of financial exploitation is if the value of the property taken from an elderly person exceeds $2,500.
The second degree of elder abuse and neglect is defined by someone recklessly abusing or neglecting an elderly person resulting in serious physical injury, and the second degree of financial exploitation is if the value of the property is $500-$2,500.
The third degree of elder abuse and neglect is defined by reckless neglect resulting in physical injury or emotional abuse, and third degree of financial exploitation is if the value of the property is up to $500.
Previous legislation, such as the APS Act of 1976, protected elderly and disabled adults by outlining the responsibilities of the Alabama Department of Human Resources, law enforcement authorities, agencies, caregivers, and individuals to report elder abuse cases, which has helped prevent over 1,700 cases in 2021.
In 2018, Shirley Holcombe was a victim of forgery by her caretaker, which inspired her daughter, Jo Holcombe, to campaign for the creation of a statewide elder abuse registry to improve protections for elders further and prevent future cases of abuse.
HB105, also known as “Shirley’s Law,” implemented the nation’s first elder abuse registry and was signed by Governor Kay Ivey on March 24, 2022, and became effective on June 1, 2022.
Presented by Representive Victor Gaston and others, HB105 reads:
“To establish a registry for individuals convicted of certain crimes or found to have committed certain acts of abuse against certain individuals; to require certain care providers to query the registry for employees and prospective employees; to require the Department of Human Resources to adopt rules; to establish criminal penalties.”
In addition to requiring the Department of Human Resources to create a database, HB105 also requires all physicians, practitioners, and caregivers to file reports when they believe that any protected person has been subjected to physical abuse, neglect, exploitation, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse. Under HB105, oral reports are to be submitted immediately to the county Department of Human Resources with a supporting written report within seven days. If the report concerns a nursing home employee, it must be submitted to the Department of Public Health. HB105 establishes criminal penalties as well: “An individual required to make a report who knowingly fails to make a report shall be guilty of a Class C misdemeanor.”
According to a study recently published by the Division of Clinical Epidemiology and Evaluative Sciences Research, financial abuse of older adults is the most common form of abuse, but is the least studied. The study found that certain older adults were more likely to be economically, medically, and sociodemographically vulnerable, such as African Americans, adults living below the federal poverty line, and adults who do not live with a partner. The study also found that adults with impaired instrumental activities of daily living (such as using the phone, managing transportation, prepping meals, housekeeping, etc.) are more likely to be victims of elder abuse.
Forms of financial abuse can include: stolen/misappropriated money and property, forced or misled into surrendering rights or property, impersonation to obtain property or services, and lack of necessary assistance for household expenses from loved ones.
Financial abuse is most likely to occur among family members, with the highest report being adult children and other relatives. Other common perpetrators include friends, neighbors, or paid home-care aides.
According to the Journal of the American Society on Aging, “the lack of visibility of elder abuse as a serious national problem has been a long-standing barrier to action.” As the creator of the nation’s first statewide elder abuse registry, Alabama is taking strides to bring awareness to this problem to prevent future incidents.
Creating and implementing a comprehensive database protects elders by lessening situations in which they might be victims of exploitation.
If you suspect elder abuse and want to report it to the Alabama Department of Human Resources, use these instructions to fill out a report or email to email@example.com. You can also call the hotline at 1-800-458-7214.
For services to support elder persons in your community, call 1-800-677-1116 TO PREVENT, the Eldercare Locator (a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging), to speak with someone who will connect you to services for older adults and their families and prevent abuse, neglect, and exploitation of elders or vulnerable adults.
Read more about elder abuse research, service, public education, and advocacy here.