It’s Important for Physicians to Know Obligations for Elder Abuse Reporting

Last Updated: Jul 4, 2014

By Angela Boateng, Esq., PAMED General Counsel

As I am sure you are all very aware, Pennsylvania passed a number of child abuse laws in 2014. And, rightfully so; children are among the most vulnerable and, as the spate of new and updated child protective services laws suggest, we all play a role in protecting “our” children.

There is, however, another vulnerable population that often does not get a lot of attention: our older adult population.

According to the 2012 U.S. Census, there were approximately 43 million people age 65 and older (14 percent of the total population). In comparison, at 16 percent of the total population, older adults in Pennsylvania made up a slightly higher percentage of the state’s population in 2012.

The National Center on Elder abuse indicates that by 2050, people age 65 and older are expected to compromise 20 percent of the country’s total population, with the fastest growing segment of the population being among those 85 and up.

There are several state and federal laws that seek to protect our elders from abuse. Physicians should be aware of these laws and know their reporting obligations. These laws include the Elder Justice Act (EJA), the Pennsylvania Older Adult Protective Services Act, as well as Department of Aging and Department of Health Regulations.

  • The Elder Justice Act (EJA) was passed in 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act. The law requires covered individuals report to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services and local law enforcement officials any reasonable suspicion of a crime against any individual who is a resident of, or is receiving care from a long-term care facility. A “covered individual” is anyone who is an owner, operator, employee, manager, agent, or contractor of a long-term care facility that receives federal funds under the EJA.
  • The Pennsylvania Older Adult Protective Services Act (OAPSA) was created in 1987 to protect “older adults who lacked the capacity to protect themselves and are at imminent risk of abuse neglect, exploitation or abandonment.” The law imposes mandatory reporting obligations on employees and administrators of domiciliary care homes, home health care agencies, long-term nursing facilities, older adult daily living centers, and personal care homes.

Under OAPSA, mandatory reporters who have reasonable cause to suspect that an individual who receives care, services or treatment from a facility is a victim of abuse must immediately make an oral report to the area agency on aging (or its designee). In addition to contacting the agency, an employee or  administrator who has reasonable cause to suspect that a recipient is the victim of sexual abuse, serious physical injury or serious bodily injury or that a death is suspicious must immediately contact law enforcement officials to make an oral report.

Employees must notify the administrator immediately following the report to law enforcement officials. The Department of Aging and Department of Public Welfare have set various regulations to implement this law.

  • The Department of Health also requires health care facilities (i.e., hospitals) to immediately notify the department in writing if there is a situation or the occurrence of an event at the facility which could seriously compromise the quality assurance or patient safety. Complaints of patient abuse, whether or not confirmed by the facility, are among the events listed that may compromise quality assurance or patient safety.

The Pennsylvania Crimes Code also requires physicians and persons in charge of a hospital or pharmacy to immediately report to law enforcement any person suffering from any wound or other injury that is self-inflicted or is the result of the act of another, through the use of a weapon. A report must be made if the injures are a result of any suspected criminal act.

Like child abuse, elder abuse often occurs at the hands of the people we assume are among the most trusted: family members and others with care giving responsibilities. As a result, we should put forth our best efforts to protect our young and our old. These laws help make this possible.

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