(TRENTON) – The Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee on Monday approved a package of four bills sponsored by Assembly Democrats Carol Murphy and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to protect elderly or vulnerable adults from facing abuse, neglect or exploitation.
About one in ten Americans over age 60 have experienced some form of elder abuse, including physical or emotional abuse or financial exploitation. Mental or physical impairments may make them more vulnerable to abuse, and many cases go unreported.
People with disabilities are also at a higher risk of abuse, neglect or exploitation. About 30 percent of individuals with disabilities who need assistance with daily care, maintaining their health and safety, and accessing their communities have experienced some form of mistreatment.
“As we age, many of us will need a support system to help manage our health, finances, transportation and other aspects of life. This is especially true for seniors with dementia or other cognitive impairments” said Murphy (D-Burlington). “Sadly, too often the person trusted with an elderly person’s care ends up taking advantage of them. We must ensure the people caring for our most vulnerable have their best interests at heart, and everyone knows how recognize and report elder abuse.”
“Every person deserves to age with dignity,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “We may face illness, disability or physical decline, but we should never face abuse. By strengthening protections for older adults and our most vulnerable, we are helping to keep our elderly loved ones safe and safeguard our own futures.”
Two bills in the package would modernize existing laws regarding conservatorship and guardianship in New Jersey. The first measure (A-4615) would require proposed conservatees or someone already under conservatorship to have counsel throughout the course of all court proceedings. The court would be required to appoint a counsel if they were ever unrepresented. The counsel would personally interview the conservatee or proposed conservatee within 72 hours before each scheduled hearing focused on conservatorship.
Counsel must also be provided to individuals under guardianships, or wards, as part of the second bill (A-4618).
Both measures would make other changes to existing law aimed to encourage ethical conduct in conservatorships and guardianships. This includes limiting who may file a civil action for conservatorship to a person’s spouse or children, social services official or chief administrator of a hospital or licensed institution where the proposed conservatee is a patient, as well as broaden the group of advocates whose recommendations may be taken under advisement regarding a distribution of a ward’s funds.
Further expanding support systems for the elderly and vulnerable adults, another bill (A-4616) would add dementia care homes, inpatient psychiatric facilities, and continuing care residential communities to the list of long-term care facilities required to provide quarterly statements of a resident’s financial assets.
Under current law, only nursing homes, assisted living facilities and comprehensive personal care homes are required to share financial information with solely with the resident and their guardian.
The last bill in the package (A-4620) would require any person who has reasonable cause to believe a vulnerable adult has been abused, neglected or exploited to report the case to their county adult protective services provider. Only emergency medical technicians, firefighters, health care professionals, law enforcement officers, and paramedics, are required to report it under current regulations.
Failure to report abuse would be a crime of the fourth degree. Violators would also be subject to a civil penalty of up to $500.
The bill package now goes to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.
For information on the signs of elder abuse and how to report it, visit the National Institute on Aging’s resource page at https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/elder-abuse.