WASHINGTON – Anne Arundel County Police Detective Bob Fuecker told a Senate panel Tuesday the county has investigated 53 cases of elderly abuse in the last four years.
Only six of those cases have led to arrests.
“That’s not a very good statistic,” said Fuecker, who testified that light sentences, prosecutors’ reluctance to press charges and the lack of background checks for nursing home employees make it difficult to stop elderly abuse.
Fuecker was one of seven witnesses, including children of physically abused or financially exploited parents, who testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Aging as it considered reauthorization of the Older Americans Act.
Witnesses showed photographs of bruised abuse victims who had been beaten or who had fallen while unattended. Some told tales of their parents’ malnutrition, dehydration and embezzlement at the hands of other family members.
Still others gave expert opinion on creating a financial abuse reporting system for banks.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Baltimore and ranking minority member on the subcommittee, said in a prepared statement that elderly abuse is “appalling and unacceptable.” She said at the hearing that intervention and reporting by banks and doctors was crucial to stopping the abuse.
“I don’t want to create a bureaucracy … but there seems to be the need for reporting to third parties,” she said.
The Older Americans Act, first approved in 1965, provides many social services for the elderly, such as Meals On Wheels, transportation programs and job training. It is up for reauthorization this year and the subcommittee plans hearings on nutrition, housing, elder care and crime in addition to Tuesday’s hearing on elder abuse.
Fuecker said elder abuse cases are difficult to pursue because abuse victims and their family members are often unable, afraid or unwilling to testify in such cases.
He also told the committee that the state’s lack of background checks for nursing home employees, and the fact that many facilities employ temporary workers with minimal experience, can create dangerous conditions for seniors.
“There is no safeguard at this point” when it comes to hiring nursing home employees, he said. He added that most employees are making close to minimum wage and have little or no medical training.
Fuecker pointed out that while child abuse is a felony in Maryland that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, it is only a misdemeanor to abuse an adult and the maximum sentence for that is a mere 18 months.
Many elderly victims are like infants, Fuecker said: They are extremely dependent, afraid and often cannot explain or describe their abuse, a phenomenon he called, “once an adult, twice a child.”