TJ Donovan: An initiative to protect seniors
Editor’s Note: This commentary is from Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan. If you have a question about eldercare or elder abuse, you can call 2-1-1 for assistance.
JAs young parents rightly prioritize the health and well-being of our children, in midlife we also begin to think more about the health and well-being of our own parents. By 2030, Vermont will be one of the oldest – if not the oldest – states in the country. Forty percent of Vermonters will be 55 or older. Vermont’s aging demographics present a tremendous opportunity to capitalize on this experience for the benefit of our state. We will also need to plan for the future to ensure safe and affordable housing options, health care and prescription drugs, and to address the isolation, financial exploitation and abuse of older people. It is critical that Vermont leaders now invest in supporting older Vermonters and their families. Collectively, we should strike up a conversation about the issues facing our state as our population ages. We must seize this opportunity to make Vermont the best place to live and grow old.
This year my office established the Seniors Protection Initiative to determine how we can best serve our senior residents. My staff met dozens of older Vermonters in every county: at senior centers, senior restaurants, and senior housing units. We heard from 230 representatives from 65 different organizations. What we’ve heard is that older Vermonters are concerned about health care costs, housing security, financial abuse, physical and emotional abuse, and isolation from their community. In response to this listening tour, our elder protection initiative is already developing a toolkit for state attorney offices, law enforcement and victim service organizations to assist them. in their efforts to investigate and prosecute elder abuse.
We can do more to protect our seniors in Vermont. Here is what I propose:
• Create an Elder Protection Council. Create a single state-wide body of state agencies and stakeholders, the Elder Protection Council, to address the critical issues and issues surrounding elder abuse. Membership would include relevant officials and stakeholders, such as the Department of Aging and Independent Living, state attorneys, law enforcement and regional agencies on aging. The council would be responsible for improving our ability to identify and respond to elder abuse and exploitation. Together, we can find solutions, continue our outreach efforts, and keep older Vermonters at the center of all discussions about the future of our great state.
• Improve data collection. The state should put in place a system for collecting information and data relating to the exploitation and abuse of older people so that we can better understand its causes and respond appropriately.
• Increase training and education opportunities. Every Vermonter should know what elder abuse and exploitation looks like. It is physical violence. It is discreet financial abuse by a family member. It is the theft of drugs by a caregiver. Trainings should be developed to help bankers, pharmacists, law enforcement, religious leaders and others who regularly interact with elders to be able to identify the exploitation of the elderly. Caregivers of older adults should also benefit from support and training opportunities, especially caregivers of older adults with memory care needs.
• Prohibit non-compete agreements between long-term care facilities. Long-term care facilities are increasingly owned and operated by complex financial services companies that sell long-term care as their product. To provide seniors with choice and flexibility, non-compete agreements between these companies should not be enforceable.
Having older Vermonters in our communities is a strong point. They have a wealth of skills and experiences and add dynamism to our communities. It is up to the next generation to proactively ask themselves the following questions: How do you make Vermont as strong and healthy as possible? How do we protect and support everyone? And it’s up to us to listen when older Vermonters tell us we can do better. Let’s get to work.