CHARLESTON – Every West Virginian has basic human rights, regardless of age, to be protected from unlawful harm and suffering.
Our senior citizens, in particular, are among the most vulnerable members of society and all too often they face abuse, neglect and exploitation. Such conduct involves physical harm, abandonment or the misuse and unauthorized taking of their financial resources.
This can happen at the hands of the senior citizen's own family, friends, caregivers or by a complete stranger. These perpetrators often target the elderly, who may be less aware of the need to protect personal identifiable information in the digital age.
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, where more than 18 percent of the population is 65 or older. In 2016, only Florida had a higher percentage of its population in that age bracket, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Such statistics should hit home.
Elder abuse may be happening behind closed doors.
Your aging parent, grandparent, neighbor or friend could be at risk.
That’s why our office doubled down and created an elder abuse litigation and prevention unit with the purpose of holding any perpetrators accountable.
The unit’s civil prosecutors attack unfair debt collection activities, denial of service complaints, deceptive business practices and overcharging incidents among other wrongs.
The unit also participates as a member of the West Virginia Financial Exploitation Task Force and assists seniors with preneed funeral contracts, powers of attorney and identifying the signs of criminal exploitation, abuse or neglect.
Scam alerts provide another tool for the unit to make seniors aware of the risks of giving money, their bank account number, date of birth, Social Security Number, address or any other piece of sensitive information to a stranger.
No one, especially an older adult who may be on a fixed income, can afford to be taken advantage of by someone looking to make a quick buck.
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 planning 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 component collaborates with the state’s Bureau of Senior Services, financial institutions, community groups, local senior citizen organizations and other entities across West Virginia.
We also set up a hotline, which is crucial to reducing the amount of elder abuse and exploitation that goes unreported.
It’s just a phone call and email away at 304-558-1155 or HelpForSeniors@wvago.gov. Those preferring traditional mail can reach the office at P.O. Box 1789, Charleston, WV 25326.
Ending elder abuse will take vigorous prosecution as well as cooperation, outreach and consumer education. Such elements are the key to safeguarding our aging population and protecting the rights of all West Virginians so the state is better equipped to reach her full potential.
Morrisey is the Attorney General of West Virginia.