By Mannix Porterfield
Elder abuse is robbing the nation of some $3 billion each year, and in steadily aging West Virginia, the problem is a drain on the economy, a state official told lawmakers Tuesday.
Last year, there were 14,775 referrals to the Bureau of Children and Families asking it to look into suspected elder abuse and neglect, field consultant Fred Coffindaffer told the PEIA, Seniors and Long Term Care Committee.
As a result, he said the agency led more than 6,000 investigations and, on average, about 10 percent of such inquiries prove to be genuine.
Coffindaffer referred to elder abuse as “the silent crime of the 21st century” and suggested it can transcend all groups.
“If you want to get a glimpse of what elder abuse potentially looks like, just look around the next time you’re at the mall, or you’re in a group meeting, or in church, or at a West Virginia University or Marshall game,” he said.
“Everyone’s life can be touched.”
Last year, he pointed out, West Virginia’s population stood at 1,855,800 and 16.8 percent were 65 and older.
In 17 years, Coffindaffer told the panel, the population is expected to rise to 1.9 million, and 24.8 percent of that figure will be classified as senior citizens. Nationally, the percentage will be 20 percent.
Coffindaffer said his agency investigates suspected abuse and neglect on all fronts — homes, the community, institutions such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities and non-residential settings including day treatment programs.
Anyone who feels victimized can file an individual report to the proper agency for an investigation.
The committee’s co-chairman, Delegate Larry Williams, D-Preston, advised Coffindaffer, and another presenter, Wade Samples, a program specialist for the agency, that the lawmakers would be willing to tweak any existing laws or propose new ones, if they think this is needed in the 2014 session.
Coffindaffer told Delegate Rick Moye, D-Raleigh, that between 200 and 300 cases normally are considered actual criminal offenses, but he didn’t immediately have a breakdown as to the numbers committed by family members and nursing facilities.
“Most of the substantiations are equally between institutions and homes,” the official said.
Coffindaffer said training is available so that caregivers will understand how to cope with an elderly person and what is expected of them.
“Someone becomes burned out and doesn’t understand what they’re supposed to do,” he told Moye.
Afterward, the delegate said he found it disturbing that 10 percent of all referrals investigated turn out to be matters of wrongdoing.
“Any elder abuse is troubling,” he said.
“It’s hard for me to fathom that we have folks out there that are taking advantage and abusing our senior citizens. I’m going to be a senior citizen. I want it to stop before I get there.”