Tuesday, May 17, 2011

New standards add stronger protection for vulnerable people

Three recent legislative victories have been signed into law to strengthen protection for senior citizens and other people potentially at-risk of abuse and exploitation, a topic recently reported extensively by the Seattle Times. State Rep. Jim Moeller, who has been working on the problem for several years, said these measures “definitely merit highlighting in the Win Column for our vulnerable population.”

* House Bill 1494 establishes needed standards for agencies that refer citizens to social-help programs and services. “The majority of referral agencies do a good job matching senior citizens with appropriate services,” Moeller said. “Fortunately most of the time, there’s no problem at all. But yes, there are those agencies that fall way short of meeting their responsibilities, sometimes endangering the health and well-being of very vulnerable adults.”

Moeller explained that the new law requires a disclosure form including “clear and cogent information acknowledged by the senior citizen about what the agency does and doesn’t do, and directions for making a complaint to the Attorney General. An intake form to assist with a proper referral (i.e., information on any medical conditions, special diets, behaviors or cultural needs) would also need to be completed.”

* House Bill 1053 implements recommendations from a 2009 report delivered by the Washington State Bar Association elder law section’s executive committee guardianship task force. Recommendations carried out in the new law direct that:
* Lay guardians will receive free training, which will be available online from the state Administrative Office of the Courts or superior courts.
* Expiration dates will be set for letters of guardianship.

“A serious problem also addressed in the legislation is the fact that it’s been very difficult to determine the number and status of guardianships in Washington,” Moeller said.

* Senate Bill 5042, which includes directions outlined in House Bill 1104, adds what Moeller calls “very important and much-needed teeth” to current laws on the books to protect vulnerable adults. The measure will:
* Prohibit either wrongful control or withholding of a vulnerable adult’s property (and it spells out exactly what constitutes financial exploitation).
* Require the Department of Social & Health Services to provide a statement of rights to vulnerable adults whose cases are under investigation.
* Provide standards for the department to work with federally recognized Native American tribes to investigate abuse or financial exploitation that has taken place on tribal land.

The new standard expands the definition of “financial exploitation" beyond just the illegal or improper use of a vulnerable adult’s property. The proposal would include in the law’s definition the illegal or improper control over or withholding of property.

Moeller in recent years has won widespread public, legislative and gubernatorial support for laws to halt exploitation of vulnerable senior citizens and other people. Moeller has worked with a task force of southwestern Washington citizens and other concerned individuals and organizations to create protective standards, including this year’s meticulous effort against exploitation.

Here’s a very good link to a May 16, 2011, Washington State Court of Appeals decision on what’s called the slayer statute: http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/pdf/65101-3.pub.doc.pdf.