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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 28, 2006

Wider elder protection in works

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Government Writer

Simply being elderly isn't enough for the state Department of Human Services to step in and investigate alleged abuse.

A senior who can live independently but is being beaten by her husband can receive help from a domestic violence program, but not from the DHS Adult and Community Care Services Branch.

The branch also would be unable to step in if a competent 82-year-old decides to let his home fall down around him so that he can invest his money in scams, rather than repairs.

"If we think someone is in danger, we call the police," said Patricia Johnson, administrator of DHS' Adult and Community Care Services Branch. "If a person is a victim of domestic violence ... domestic violence shelters are able to serve them."

However, the elderly are not eligible for Adult Protective Services if they are independent and mentally competent, regardless of whether they feel vulnerable.

The Legislature's Kupuna Caucus met yesterday to assess elder-care issues and specifically work on a way to amend the law so that independent elders are eligible for aid under the dependent adult protective services law.

Currently, adult protective services can help only those at least 18 years old with impairments that leave them dependent on others for care, who have been abused and are in danger of more abuse within 90 days.

In 2005, the agency helped about 500 adults and had to turn away 738, referring 75 percent of those to other agencies and resources, Johnson said.

Some advocates for the elderly say the law is so restrictive that elders don't bother to report abuse because they assume they won't be helped.

In addition to considering widening the law next year so that elders have access to Adult Protective Services, lawmakers also discussed the possibility of a statewide hot line to report elder abuse (currently each island has a separate office), and giving DHS additional resources to prepare for an expanded clientele.

The executive Office on Aging raised insufficient resources as a potential problem moving forward. There aren't enough care homes or emergency shelters for the elderly trying to escape abusive living situations.

As Johnson pointed out, "With our aging population, the best job profession is going to be anything that involves elder care."

In addition, the Office on Aging raised questions about the privacy concerns of caregivers whose homes and finances would be investigated if abuse is suspected.

Reach Treena Shapiro at tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com.