Elderly-abuse laws take effect July 1

Clergy, social workers, others now required to report abuse

Stricter protections for elderly will go into effect July 1 as part of a package of state reforms to help protect the rapidly aging population.

The number of people over 65 is expected to double to 83.7 million across the country by 2050, according to a recent census projection.

Colorado was one of only three states that didn't require certain professionals - including those in medicine, social work or the clergy - to report the abuse or exploitation of at-risk elders 70 and older.

Now the cases will also have to be turned over to law enforcement and the District Attorney's office by the county level Adult Protective Services, said Hollis Bock, the caseworker for the county. Law enforcement is required to complete a criminal investigation when appropriate.

"I think what it does is makes it clear to people that they have a responsibility," said Martha Mason, the executive director of the Southwest Center for Independence.

However, it was not an unfunded mandate.

For the first time, the state will also direct money to county offices to help reduce caseloads to 25 and also would like county offices to keep investigations and case management separate.

Currently, Bock in the only local APS employee who may receive four reports on a busy day. She tries to keep her caseload from creeping up to 40.

"It's really hard to keep it contained," she said.

A new computer system that is being implemented is meant to help APS make decisions about whether the client needs county services or just an advocate.

The Southwest Center for Independence, which opened an office in Cortez last year, provides the advocates to help the elderly stay in their homes or move out of a nursing home. Nursing homes can cost $6,000 to $7,000 a month for care, said Bock.

One of the problems that Bock sees in her work is a sense of entitlement that the younger generation has to their parents possessions.

"They feel entitled to take their money and their property. They feel it's owed to them," she said.

To officially control of another's financial affairs a court-ordered conservatorship is required.

Almost two years ago, the local court hired a protective proceedings monitor.

The positions were created in the state to help oversee new and ongoing conservatorships to prevent financial exploitation.