National, state and tribal laws are in place to help protect elders from abuse in nursing homes or at home. These laws vary in scope, definition and practice, but every single one has been created to ensure elders are always respected and treated with care.
A number of significant national laws have been enacted in the U.S. to ensure every American is treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their age.
The four major laws that intend to protect the elderly from nursing home abuse are:
- Elder Justice Act
- The Older Americans Act
- Violence Against Women Act
- No-Fear Act
Elder Justice Act
The Elder Justice Act is an important law that allocated more funding and resources toward preventing and prosecuting instances of elder abuse. It was signed into law by Barack Obama in 2010 as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The act established the Elder Justice Coordinating Council, where officials from across the government work together to find better ways to protect elders. It also led to the creation of an Elder Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation advisory board with 27 non-government experts.
Perhaps of more importance, the Elder Justice Act requires all nursing home staff to report any suspected incidents of abuse, helping to protect their residents. Nursing homes must provide a written notice to their respective state and the Secretary of Health and Human Services 60 days prior to any permanent closures.
Because prosecution of elder abuse is an ongoing problem for Americans, the Elder Justice Act allocates resources specifically to improving practices and bringing abusers to justice. The Elder Justice Act also included the creation of a national database for employee background checks, ensuring employers can make smart hiring decisions.
The Older Americans Act
This particular act, first signed in 1965 and reauthorized in 2016, helps define elder abuse and allocates federal funds to the National Center of Elder Abuse (NECA) and other awareness programs. In turn, the NCEA has partnered with universities and organizations to increase awareness of elder abuse.
Past partners of the NCEA have included:
- National Adult Protective Services Association
- National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse
- Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse & Neglect – University of California Irvine
- Center for Rural Health: Native Indigenous Elder Justice Initiative – University of North Dakota
- Clearinghouse on Abuse and Neglect of the Elderly (CANE) – University of Delaware
In addition, the Older Americans Act provides programs to nearly 20,000 service providers, 56 state agencies, 629 area agencies and 244 tribal organizations. Through a variety of grants and initiatives, the Older Americans Act ensures elderly individuals are always treated with respect, care and dignity. The act promotes awareness of elder abuse as an issue and helps develop resources for victims and their loved ones.
While the Older Americans Act is an important piece of legislature in driving awareness of elder abuse, lack of additional funds have reduced the number of people that can receive timely aid each year.
Violence Against Women Act
The Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994 and reauthorized in 2013. The focus of the act is on domestic abuse cases, particularly those that cross state, tribal or federal boundaries. The act allocates millions of dollars each year to helpful programs for women, including special services for those over the age of 50. These grants can be used to improve elder abuse victim services, prosecution training programs, multidisciplinary community response for victims or cross-training for organizations designed to aid abuse victims.
No Fear Act
The Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act (commonly known as the No Fear Act) protects whistleblowers in the workplace, allowing individuals to report instances of elder abuse in nursing homes without discrimination or repercussion. The No Fear Act was passed in 2002 to help ensure equal opportunity for whistleblowers in regards to future employment, promotions and raises. The No Fear Act greatly helps the problem of elder abuse because it allows witnesses to come forward when they would otherwise be too afraid to do so.
State Laws & Statutes
Individual states also have their own laws and statutes that help protect older citizens and prevent elder abuse in nursing homes. Many states allow both social service organizations and law enforcement agencies to investigate and assist with allegations of elder abuse.
Adult Protective Services (APS) or Elder Protective Services (EPS) statutes can be found in all states, helping ensure a base level of elder protection. Some states have multiple laws and statutes. Therefore, the level of elder abuse support varies by state.
The APS statutes themselves also vary greatly, with different definitions of abuse, recognized types of abuse, investigation expectations and abuse remedies. Unfortunately, many of these statutes are often grouped with laws for disabled adults and do not specifically address elder abuse.
Long-term care ombudsman programs also exist in all states, ensuring a high quality of care in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. The ombudsman programs directly protect the rights and safety of elders by investigating abuse complaints and holding facilities responsible for their actions.
Institutional abuse laws also exist in several states and have been developed specifically for elders abused in nursing homes and other care facilities. For states with institutional abuse laws, the APS will investigate elder abuse cases under these separate laws and statutes.
Criminal laws have been created in numerous individual states to define clear and more specific punishments for elder abuse. In addition to these elder abuse-specific criminal laws, general criminal laws, including assault and battery, rape, fraud, theft and murder charges, can overlap with them in certain cases. This gives state law enforcement a wider range of criminal law to use in the prosecution of all forms of elder abuse.
Mandatory reporting laws also exist in all states with the exception of New York. These laws require individuals to report instances of abuse in nursing homes. Similar to federal laws, these state laws ensure nursing homes are held accountable for any abuse that occurs within their facilities.
Because each state has its own laws, systems and methods to help elder abuse victims, the amount of information can be overwhelming to those who are not familiar with the legal side of elder abuse. The easiest way to get started is to contact the APS, a local ombudsman program or your local elder protection agency to find out which laws might apply to you.
Other Jurisdictional Laws
The National Indigenous Elder Justice Initiative (NIEJI) is a set of laws that specifically protect Native Americans in conjunction with their sovereign status. Each tribe has its own set of codes which are enforced by NIEJI. NIEJI is funded by the Administration for Community Living, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.