Connecticut’s older adults are doers, achievers, and family and community anchors. But increasingly, they are victims of horrific mistreatment and exploitation. 

In Connecticut, earlier this year, a 93-year-old woman died two weeks after being found malnourished, dehydrated, and covered in feces after months of neglect by her son. An attorney, entrusted to manage funds, stole more than $120,000 from four different people, all with dementia. The stories go on — even though the vast majority of these cases go unreported because of incapacity, fear, guilt, or misplaced loyalty.

Elder abuse is a significant social justice issue that transcends race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, income, and education levels. At least 10 percent of older adults have suffered elder abuse — and that proportion is set rise among Connecticut’s rapidly growing, longer-lived population. It demands a strong policy response, and Connecticut’s Legislative Commission on Aging has led the way.

Last session, the Connecticut General Assembly charged the Commission with creating a web portal to help financial agents learn how to prevent and detect financial abuse of older adults. The web portal went live in 2016 — and has had over 10,000 views since. It also charged the Commission with conducting a comprehensive, now nationally recognized study on elder abuse, including 15 policy recommendations for Connecticut.

Those policy recommendations — vetted with national and in-state experts — form the basis of House Bill 5289, An Act Concerning Protective Services for Vulnerable Persons. The bill would make law some of those 15 policy recommendations by requiring the Department of Social Services to incorporate national guidelines regarding protective services, align state and national data collection, develop a training program for mandated reporters, and formalize a system of follow-up with those who report to Protective Services for the Elderly.

The bill would also require our Commission on Aging to evaluate whether the state should adopt a protective services system for all adults. Currently, Connecticut is one of very few states whose Protective Services for the Elderly program serves only adults who are 60 years of age or older. In other words, except for a patchwork of programs that serve some very specific populations, no one investigates or addresses abuse of adults aged 19 to 59.

The study proposed could probe whether the lens to address abuse, its cycle, and its influencing conditions should transcend age. After all, older adults may enter the protective services system as previously abused children, survivors of domestic violence or otherwise abused. A lifespan approach might coordinate the state’s age-siloed programs and policies. Victims need systemic solutions, regardless of age.

House Bill 5289 builds on the Commission’s past leadership in this area. In 2013 and 2014, the Commission on Aging shepherded bills that resulted in innovative and wide-ranging elder abuse reforms. For example, as a result of our work with the Connecticut General Assembly, the list of mandated reporters was expanded to include more community-based mandated reporters and mandated training, to reflect that increasing numbers of adults receive long-term care at home. And the Department of Social Services now must report annual statistics to the legislature on the number of elder abuse complaints and investigation outcomes.

House Bill 5289 also reflects the very best in policy development. This legislation began with the Commission’s comprehensive research on the latest data, national trends and detailed public policy analysis. This is the sort of work that the legislature has charged our office with for 23 years — and it leads to thoughtful and responsible public policy — more than 43 pieces of bipartisan legislation in the past 4 years alone. The Commission on Aging is the only objective, nonpartisan office in state government that works on aging-related issues. With our staff of four and budget of $399,763, we save the state more than $7.2 million annually through our leadership and consultative work.

And yet, in a stunning move, the Appropriations Committee’s April 6 budget proposed elimination of the Commission on Aging. It was the only one of the six constituent legislative commissions to be targeted.

We want to see House Bill 5289 pass this legislative session. We need to prevent and address elder abuse, neglect, exploitation and abandonment. We must continue our broader aging-related work, including helping Connecticut communities become more aging-supportive and rebalancing the long-term services and supports system. We look forward to the legislature’s renewed commitment to the Commission on Aging. It’s an honor and a necessity to be leading the way in support of our collective aging journey.

Julia Evans Starr is the executive director of Connecticut’s Legislative Commission on Aging, a nonpartisan public policy and research office of the Connecticut General Assembly.

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