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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 21, 2006

Isles' adult-protection law called nation's most restrictive

 •  Law makes it hard to protect Isles' seniors

By Rob Perez
Advertiser Staff Writer

In about 12 states, a phone call can trigger a formal investigation of suspected elder abuse just based on the alleged victim's age.

As long as adult-protection officials have reason to believe that the senior has been harmed or financially exploited, an inquiry will be conducted in those states.

In California, Georgia, Texas and Utah, investigations are triggered if the alleged victim is at least 65, according to an August 2005 American Bar Association summary of adult-protection laws in the 50 states.

In nine other states, including Oregon, Nevada and Massachusetts, the trigger age is 60.

Investigations in the majority of other states are conducted if the alleged victim is considered vulnerable, impaired, endangered or at risk. The definitions of those conditions differ from state to state, but they typically refer to a mental or physical condition that makes the adult susceptible to abuse.

No national model exists for such laws.

Lori Stiegel, the American Bar Association official who did the state-by-state analysis for the National Center for Elder Abuse, said Hawai'i's adult-protection law is the most restrictive in the country, mainly because it requires that the alleged victim be dependent on others for care.

Iowa and Maine also list dependency as requirements, but their statutes don't seem to go as far as Hawai'i's, Stiegel said. Neither Iowa nor Maine require, as Hawai'i does, that the alleged victim be in imminent danger of continued abuse, according to their statutes.

Patty Johnson, an administrator with Hawai'i's Department of Human Services, which handles abuse investigations, said she doesn't believe there's much difference between how Hawai'i defines a dependent adult and how other states define vulnerable adults.

In all states, the laws are designed to balance the goal of protecting vulnerable seniors from abuse with the rights of adults to make decisions for themselves, even if the decisions are poor ones, experts say.

Still, Bob Blancato, coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition, says the restrictions in Hawai'i's law need changing.

"To me, (the narrow focus) is an appeal for some rational person in the Legislature to re-examine the premise of the law" and propose amending it, he said.

Reach Rob Perez at rperez@honoluluadvertiser.com.