Proposal adds to list of who must report elder abuse cases

Bankers and pharmacists would be required to report suspected elder abuse and the definition of abuse would be expanded under a bill being considered in Ohio.

The Ohio Elder Justice Act was proposed by state representatives Mike Dovilla, R-Berea, and Wes Rethereford, R-Hamilton, on Feb. 12, according to Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, who is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Attorney General Mike DeWine also pledged his support to the bill that aims to reform the existing Adult Protective Services laws.

The bill has been introduced and assigned to a committee, but has not been brought into a hearing yet, said Thompson.

Thompson said it’s important to make sure issues like this are addressed.

“It just seems as though there is an ongoing problem about reporting elderly neglect and abuse,” he said. “This bill is meant to address that issue and re-define what elder abuse actually constitutes.”

According to Chapter 5101.60 of the Ohio Revised Code, “adult abuse” currently refers to the infliction of unreasonable confinement, intimidation or cruel punishment resulting in physical pain to any person 60 years of age or older.

One of the goals of the Ohio Elder Justice Act is to expand the definition to include financial harm along with physical harm.

The other proposals include the establishment of a statewide commission to help raise awareness, and the requirement of financial industry employees to report potential elder abuse, said Thompson.

“Detailed records of elder abuse reports would be kept by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services,” said Thompson. “The state of Ohio just wants to take the best possible care of our elderly residents and this is one way to help.”

If this bill were to be passed financial advisors, bankers and pharmacists would be subject to the mandatory obligation of reporting elderly abuse.

Earnest Boyd, executive director of the Ohio Pharmacists Association, said he’s not sure how often pharmacists will be able to help, but that the opportunity could arise.

“I don’t necessarily believe pharmacists are the best people to notice this sort of thing, but there is always that chance,” he said.

Boyd noted that during the 10 years he was a pharmacist he never noticed any potential case of elder abuse.

But he did say he thinks it will make the process easier if a pharmacist does notice something amiss.

“This could make it easier for a pharmacist to get involved if they do believe something bad is happening,” he said. “This way you have a stronger obligation to keep your eyes open and will have a reason to report suspicions. Our field is full of regulations and guidelines. Sure it’s one more thing to do, but it shouldn’t impose a great burden on our field.”

The banking industry already has some regulations regarding the financial exploitation of elders in place, according to Donna Perine, senior vice president and compliance officer of Settlers Bank in Marietta.

“Reporting elderly fraud is something that is already covered under the Bank Secrecy Act,” said Perine. “We try to be on guard for warning signs for fraud with all of our customers, not just the elderly.”

Perine said those at the bank keep an eye out for suspicious activity regarding elder customers’ accounts.

“We contact the customer to explain the transaction if we see any activity outside the typical transaction pattern,” said Perine. “We aren’t mandated by law to do this, but we want to make sure that our customers are safe.”

Perine said throughout her career she has noticed elders being financially exploited by both strangers and family members.

“Prevention of these types of crimes is very important, but I’m not certain if this is something that needs to be regulated for this industry,” said Perine. “As a community bank, our goal is going to be to prevent financial exploitation from happening regardless of if we are or aren’t mandated to do so.”