OLYMPIA…Relating the story of a relative whose son drained her bank account, Attorney General Rob McKenna gave kudos to legislators for approving new tools to protect seniors, shared new resources in his office to help investigators and prosecutors crack down on elder crimes and announced a statewide vulnerable adults summit to develop best practices to protect vulnerable populations.
"I never thought this issue would touch me," McKenna said. "Now I’ve seen two examples of elder abuse within the last 24 months, demonstrating to me personally that this is an issue we must address—And the trendlines back this up.
"Our population is graying," he said. "And the number of reports of abuse and neglect is trending upward every year. Now is the critical time to make sure our aging and vulnerable populations are safe."
DSHS Secretary Robin Arnold-Williams said Washington’s Adult Protective Services received 13,638 reports of abuse and neglect in the vulnerable adult community. McKenna cited national statistics indicating a 20 percent increase in reports of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation from 2000 to 2004.
Arnold-Williams’ Adult Protective Services is one of five co-chairs of the June 1 Vulnerable Adult Summit being held at the Tumwater offices of the Attorney General’s Office.
"My department can not do this alone," Arnold-Williams said. "It will take coordination with law enforcement, prosecutors, families, courts and communities. That’s why this summit has my full commitment and support. We’re not just going to identify the problems. We’re going to take determined action."
The summit is scheduled from 8:30 to 4:30 p.m. and will consist of a series of breakout sessions to discuss key issues in abuse and neglect and financial exploitation. The participants will form workgroups to identify and implement solutions, likely ranging from better cross-community coordination to legislation.
Other partners include the state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Louise Ryan, attorneys in the Olympia and Spokane sections of the AGO Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and the King County Prosecutor’s Office.
"As a co-sponsor of the Vulnerable Adults Summit, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s Office looks forward to sharing our expertise as the liaison to vulnerable adults in long-term care facilities," Ryan said. "As we work with these residents, we do sometimes find abuse, neglect and financial exploitation and we look forward to working with other partners to find solutions to protect them."
"I am proud to be a co-sponsor of the Vulnerable Adults Summit. We all have an interest in improving the system-wide response to crimes committed against vulnerable adults. The Vulnerable Adults Summit is dedicated to the goal of protecting the lives, property and dignity of elder and vulnerable victims."
The Attorney General’s Office has already taken steps to improve investigation and prosecution of crimes against vulnerable adults under the leadership of its Medicaid Fraud Control Unit Director Dawn Cortez. The unit has developed and made available two separate resource manuals for investigating and prosecuting crimes against vulnerable adults.
"There is no doubt these crimes are difficult to investigate and prosecute. But like crimes against children, it’s not impossible," Cortez said. "We would like to see crimes against vulnerable adults rise to the level of response that we see for crimes against children. We stand ready to provide training and resources."
The Attorney General’s Office and McKenna have worked closely with lawmakers on bills to help vulnerable adults.
Today he recognized Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snoqualmie, and Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, for their leadership in passing a bill drafted by the Attorney General’s Office (HB 1114) to crack down on "trust mill" operations, by requiring a law degree for those who market living trusts. The bill has passed the Legislature and now moves to the Governor’s desk for her signature.
"Living trusts have been used by unscrupulous people for financial exploitation," Rodne said. "This bill prohibits the marketing of these instruments as a means to gain access to people’s bank accounts by anyone who is not a lawyer."
Moeller also prime-sponsored significant new legislation to enhance the state’s Vulnerable Adult Protection Act (HB 1008). Rep. Dawn Morrell, D-Puyallup, co-sponsored the measure, which makes the Adult Protection Act less cumbersome to use in allowing vulnerable adults to seek protective orders or file civil suits against their abusers.
"The existing law is difficult apply, provides no uniformity across the state, provides no standard form and requires a $200 filing fee," Moeller said. "Our bill eliminates the filing fee, authorizes non-lawyers to help vulnerable adults apply for protective orders, provides free standard forms and expands the number of people authorized to help vulnerable adults seek help."
Moeller recognized Clark County leaders for their help in drafting the legislation and for setting an example for the rest of the state in protecting vulnerable adults.
Morrell, who chairs the state’s long-term care task force, spoke about the work of the task force and provided three simple goals for the entire group moving forward.
"As a registered nurse, this is a personal passion of mine. My goals are pretty simple: People should be able to age in a place they call home, they should be able to age with dignity and they should not get ripped off," Morrell said.
Listen to the news conference
Contact: Janelle Guthrie, AG Media Relations Director, (360) 586-0725