More stringent laws around reporting elder abuse and neglect are driving more serious reports to La Plata County Human Services.
Up until last July, Colorado was one of only three states that didn’t require certain professionals to report suspected abuse or exploitation of at-risk elders 70 and older.
Now, the list of professionals required to report abuse is extensive, including those in medicine, social work, home care, law enforcement and fire protection.
New laws also clarified financial exploitation and undue influence over an elder as a crime, said Alicia Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Human Services.
Locally, serious cases of adult abuse are investigated jointly by the Adult Protective Services and law enforcement, said the county’s Director of Human Services Lezlie Mayer.
The number of reports to La Plata County about abuse is similar to those fielded before the law changed, but adult-protection workers are getting more calls that require an in-person assessment, Mayer said.
“I think it is positive. We want to be able to support families and support seniors that are in high-risk situations,” she said. The highest-risk situations would include physical abuse, financial exploitation or neglect.
In the first quarter of 2015, the county Human Services Department received 86 referrals about possible abuse, and it investigated 36 of them, she said. During the same period in 2014, individuals contacted the department about 100 possible cases, and 29 were investigated.
In April, the department received 46 referrals.
Across the state, there has been a 40 percent increase in reports since the law went into effect, Caldwell said.
While the state stepped up reporting requirements, it has been tough for local adult-protection workers to keep their case-load numbers in line with state standard, which is 25 cases per person, Mayer said.
The two La Plata County case workers handled 61 cases between them in March. They are also in charge of assessing all the reports of abuse and neglect.
The state did allocate more funding for Adult Protective Services that was distributed to the counties, but it is not keeping up, Mayer said.
“Currently, our adult-protection allocation doesn’t cover the cost of the program,” she said.
The Colorado Legislature initially designated $2.7 million to help lower case loads across the state. Later, the state approved an additional $1.7 million for the higher caseloads that came about as a result of the mandatory-reporting requirements.
“The funding has not kept pace,” Caldwell said.
During 2015, the Legislature expanded mandatory-reporting requirements for suspected abuse of intellectual or developmentally disabled adults, Caldwell said.
But the new requirements will not go into effect until 2016, and a task force has been created to study how the implementation of the law may need to be tweaked to include more funding or other structural changes.
From the local perspective, Mayer said the impact of mandatory reporting needs to be monitored before it is expanded.
“It needs to be a thoughtful process and a slow process,” she said.