CFC part of working group to stop elder abuse

Every year, millions of older Americans are victims of physical, financial, psychological or other forms of abuse and neglect. While progress has been made in recent years to increase awareness and create and strengthen laws to avert elder abuse, there is still much to be done.

Consumer Federation of California (CFC) is part of a coalition of advocates working to enact a package of bills regarding abuse, neglect, and exploitation of older persons.

AB 462 (Stone), co-sponsored by CFC and California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), would require residential care facilities for dependent adults and the elderly to have installed and maintained automatic fire sprinkler systems approved by the State Fire Marshal. Current law does not adequately protect those against fires in elderly and adult residential care facilities licensed for six or fewer beds. Many residents need assistance leaving a facility in case of an emergency because of physical or cognitive impairments.

In 2011, five people died in a fire at the Mount Carmel Adult Residential Facility, a single-story home in the Northern California town of Marina. Two caregivers who were awakened by a smoke alarm tried unsuccessfully to rescue their vulnerable wards, but only one resident was able to walk on her own. Five of the six residents died in the blaze; the sixth, along with the two caregivers, was hospitalized. Marina’s Mayor called the blaze ‘a tragedy of a magnitude we haven’t experienced before.’

Had automatic fire sprinklers been installed, the tragedy might have been prevented. The Government Accountability Office estimated in a 2004 report that automatic sprinkler systems reduce the chance of fire-related deaths by 73 percent, and smoke alarms and sprinkler systems combined can reduce fire-related deaths by 82 percent.

CFC and CANHR are also co-sponsoring AB 553 (Medina), which would assure that all prospective reverse mortgage borrowers receive a copy of a pre-counseling self-evaluation worksheet 7 days prior to the required counseling session. The prospective borrower will be advised to complete the worksheet prior to the counseling session and encouraged to discuss suitability issues with the counselor during the session.

Many seniors use reverse mortgage payments to supplement retirement income or pay medical expenses. For an elderly with few assets, a reverse mortgage can be a lifesaver by allowing them to borrow against the value of their home and not repay the loan until they sell the house, move out or die. However, reverse mortgages, which come with high fees and interest charges, are a costly option and are often sold by aggressive salespeople who push inappropriate financial products on vulnerable seniors.

Some other bills the coalition is addressing include:

  • AB 140 (Dickinson) would update the definition of ‘undue influence’ to strengthen protections for elderly or dependent adults against coercion or abusive persuasion by another person who is in a position of authority.
  • AB 477 (Chau) would add notaries public in the definition of mandated reporters of suspected financial abuse of an elder or dependent adult.
  • AB 581 (Ammiano) would prohibit an adult residential facility from retaliating against anyone receiving facility services who filed a complaint or a request for inspection.
  • AB 918 (Cooley) would authorize the Office of Emergency Services to prepare a specialized plan to mobilize senior citizens and disabled persons during an emergency or natural disaster.
  • SB 60 (Wright) would specify that elder and dependent adult victims of financial exploitation are eligible to receive compensation from the Victims Compensation Fund.
  • SB 129 (Wright) would extend the surcharge for telecom universal service programs, which fund the deaf and disabled programs that are set to end on Jan 1, 2014 but would instead expire on Jan 1, 2024.
  • SB 272 (Corbett) would make it illegal for any nongovernmental entity to use an emblem to imply connection with any military or veteran organizations without approval, for the purpose of financial gain.