Task force claims progress on fighting elder abuse

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Capital News Service

LANSING — Elder abuse has always been present in the shadows of Michigan’s communities, but with the creation of a state-wide task force last year, progress has been made to stem the problem, according to member Alison Hirschel, the managing attorney of the Michigan Elder Justice Initiative.

Member Ron Tatro, the vice president of Elder Law of Michigan, a nonprofit in Lansing that advocates for older adults rights, said the task force has accomplished three things in the year it’s been working:

  • Held a series of town halls across the state to hear first hand cases of elder abuse and to receive input on how to help. They took place in Grand Traverse, Kent, Marquette and other counties.
  • Creation of a standardized vulnerable adult investigation form for first responders.
  • Developed a legislative package that would create a set of standards for guardians and make older adults less susceptible to mistreatment. 

Action on the bills have been pushed back since the COVID-19 outbreak, but task force member Michelle Roberts said, “There is a lot of legislative support and enthusiasm for the reforms.” She’s the executive director of the Michigan Protection and Advocacy Services in Lansing, which advocates for people with disabilities.

Those changes couldn’t come any sooner, said Hirschel, who has fought for the rights of older adults for the past 20 years.

The task force has targeted possible changes in the guardianship system, Hirschel said.

Attorney Gen. Dana Nessel has praised the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs for taking action on elder abuse.

For example, a former investment advisor was ordered to pay back $700,000 he stole from an elderly couple in Jackson, and a nurse was charged with vulnerable adult abuse after leaving a 94-year-old patient unattended in a bathroom in Delta County. 

Roberts said the task force’s enthusiasm and energy is a reason why it has been able to move quickly with changes. “Nobody on the task force needs to be convinced that this issue is important. Everyone just wants to come together to do the right thing,” Roberts said.

Tarto said the task force isn’t the first to be formed to stop elder abuse, but what makes it different is the variety of its membership. 

“The attorney general did a phenomenal job on who she invited to the table — organizations from every sector of life were invited that might be involved with elder abuse,” Tatro said. 

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