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July 23, 2003

Governor signs bill package to step up fight against elder abuse

EFFINHGAM, ILL. – During a stop at the Effingham Senior Center, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today signed three bills that toughen existing state laws to protect the elderly from abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.


“Sadly, elder abuse exists and it is our duty to do everything possible to protect our most vulnerable citizens from harm,” Blagojevich said.  “From this day on, let us make it clear – if an elderly or disabled person in Illinois is abused, we will report suspicions, we will act on the reports and we will aggressively prosecute offenders.”


The legislative package approved by the governor takes a series of steps to advance the fight against elder abuse.  These include expanding the professions who are mandated to report elder abuse, providing for stricter penalties for those who fail to make authorities aware of the abuse, calling on the Illinois Department on Aging to conduct training programs for agencies that investigate and prosecute elder abuse and preventing abusers from profiting on the death of an elderly person through inheritance.


“We want to believe that there is respect for our parents and elderly friends and assurance of their care and protection,” Blagojevich said.  “But elderly abuse is in every town, and in every neighborhood.  Statistics tell us three fourths of the victims are women and three fourths are disabled – physically or mentally.  And -- this is the part that hurts the most – four out of five abusers are family members.  Most are substance abusers and some have snapped under the stress of caregiving, unaware that help is available.  Their tragedy is a reflection upon all of us and the values that define us.”


One of the pieces of legislation signed by the governor – House Bill 51 – prohibits someone convicted of abuse, neglect or financial exploitation of a person 60 years of age or older or a person with a disability from inheriting the victim’s estate.  Blagojevich said is was “unconscionable” to think that an abuser or con artist could profit from a victim’s death.


The governor also signed House Bill 85, which adds paramedics and emergency medical technicians to the list of professionals required by law to report suspected elder abuse.  Such mandated reporters already include those in the social services, law enforcement, education and medical fields.


The legislation also provides that physicians, dentists and dental hygienists who fail to report elderly abuse are to be referred to appropriate disciplinary boards.   Other mandated reporters who willfully fail to report suspected abuse can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor.


“Of course, anyone can and should report elder abuse in good faith,” the governor said.  “But we are making it clear to more professionals that suspected elder abuse must be reported.”


“The Department on Aging is very pleased that the legislation expands the list of mandated reporters and stiffens penalties for those who do not comply, “ said Illinois Department on Aging Director Charles D. Johnson.  “Experts tell us that the number of elder abuse cases reported are minimal in comparison to what actually occurs.  We must reach those professionals who may be the only source of reporting, especially if the victim is being abused by a family member.”


The third piece of legislation signed by Blagojevich -- House Bill 87 – adds three new roles to the Department on Aging must play to protect the elderly from abuse and neglect.  The department is instructed to work with banks and other financial institutions to make information available about financial exploitation and coordinate efforts with utility and electric companies to explain to the elderly their rights regarding telemarketing and home repair fraud.


The bill also allows the department to extend its 15-month maximum time to provide protective services to victims through the Elder Abuse Program for up to another year.


The program responds to some 8,000 elder abuse reports each year of persons age 60 years of age and older and provides investigation, intervention and follow-up service to victims.  Reports increase each year, as the older population grows awareness of elder abuse increases.  The program is locally coordinated through 45 provider agencies.


If you suspect a senior is being victimized, persons can contact the Department on Aging’s Senior HelpLine at 1-800-252-8966.

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