Reports of elderly exploitation in Tennessee up more than 50% from 2015 to 2019, state report says

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NASVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A review of the Tennessee Department of Human Services by the state Comptroller’s Office has found elderly abuse complains have risen by more than 50% from 2015 to 2019.

Elder financial exploitation is the wrongful or unauthorized use of the assets, funds or property of elderly individuals by family members, businesses, acquaintances, and strangers.

The TDHS Adult Protective Services program operates the statewide hotline and reporting system for complaints about all types of elder abuse. According to data from the program from 2015 to 2019, the number of elderly exploitation reports received for all elder abuse categories increased by 52%.

Financial exploitation increased by 87% and barriers to data collection and reporting, as well as prosecution, are exacerbating the problem.

Tennessee law allows for APS to investigate exploitation cases only when they involve a caregiver and the misuse of government funds. Research by the Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability found that the state’s approach to protect elderly adults from financial exploitation is made up of a patchwork of state and local entities.

Although efforts have ramped up in recent years to better coordinate the review of suspected cases of elder financial exploitation, there is no statewide system to track elder financial abuse cases in Tennessee.

APS officials are often referring financial exploitation cases to law enforcement and district attorneys general, among other entities. Without a statewide system, it is not possible to track the progress or resolution of cases when they are shared between state and local agencies.

APS is also in need of intake workers and district attorneys lack the specialized staff to prosecute some elder financial exploitation cases. According to an APS official, intake workers at APS are not always able to follow up on each report.

The Comptroller’s Office has included a number of policy considerations for the Legislature in its report. You can read the report on the Comptroller’s OREA website at http://comptroller.tn.gov/orea.

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