CHARLESTON – West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced the formation of an elder abuse litigation and prevention unit.
The unit will include a dedicated team of seasoned civil prosecutors to hold accountable anyone who exploits, abuses or neglects West Virginia’s senior citizens.
The unit will also utilize a newly established hotline, e-mail address and scam alert database to better connect seniors with the office’s already robust capabilities.
“Senior citizens represent the best of what West Virginia has to offer,” Morrisey said. “Unfortunately, all too often con artists, deceptive businessmen, caretakers and even family members take advantage of our elderly friends.”
Morrisey said such conduct cannot be tolerated.
“We succeed in fighting back against these bad actors by harnessing all of our resources to protect the most vulnerable among us,” Morrisey said. “Our formation of this unit will do just that.”
National research estimates 10 percent of persons age 60 and older have experienced some form of abuse or exploitation and in many instances the conduct goes unreported.
That backdrop causes particular concern in West Virginia.
The U.S. Census estimates show persons 65 years and older accounted for 18.8 percent of the state’s population in 2016. That marked an increase from 16 percent in 2010, when West Virginia ranked second to only Florida with regard to the share of its population that was 65 years and older.
Litigation brought by the unit will focus upon enforcing a wide variety of consumer protection laws, for which seniors are often targeted victims.
Potential violations could occur at home, the automotive repair garage, hospital, nursing home, memory care facility or any number of other settings.
The unit also will assist seniors with preneed funeral contracts, powers of attorney and identifying the signs of criminal exploitation and physical abuse or neglect.
Assistant attorneys general, both assigned to consumer protection and to represent other state agencies, will work with the office’s clients and county prosecutors to refer matters as appropriate.
Senior citizens in need of the unit’s expertise will benefit from the Attorney General’s newly established senior services and elder abuse hotline.
Senior citizens can call 304-558-1155 or e-mail HelpForSeniors@wvago.gov.
The hotline is open for senior citizens and their loved ones. Those preferring traditional mail can reach the office at P.O. Box 1789, Charleston, WV 25326.
The prevention component will collaborate with the state’s Bureau of Senior Services, financial institutions, community groups, local senior citizen organizations and other entities across West Virginia. Those partnerships will provide office representatives a chance to answer questions, give presentations and distribute vital information to educate seniors as to various risks and how to protect themselves.
The unit’s scam alert database will be key in raising awareness of potential scams. Senior citizens and their loved ones can subscribe to the e-mail alerts at http://bit.ly/SeniorScamAlert.
Other aspects of the unit’s civil prosecution include unfair debt collection activities, denial of service complaints, deceptive business practices, overcharging incidents and membership on the West Virginia Financial Exploitation Task Force.
The unit’s attorneys also represent the state’s Adult Protective Services in filing petitions for guardianship, conservatorship and attachment to ensure a trusted individual oversees the senior’s financial and non-financial affairs, as well as clear the path for emergency medical care.
In representing the state’s Office of Health Facility Licensure and Certification, the unit protects nursing home bound seniors by supporting efforts to revoke the certification of nurse assistants who are accused of abuse and neglect.
The unit also takes similar action at hospitals in supporting efforts by the state Department of Health and Human Resources to punish abusive and neglectful health service workers.
The unit’s prevention arm also advises seniors about drug abuse prevention. That includes educating seniors about and facilitating the proper disposal of unwanted and/or expired prescription drugs, a major component of fighting the state’s opioid epidemic.