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Elder Abuse Task Force Considers Priorities

Kealey Bultena
Elder Abuse Task Force members meet on August 18, 2015

Members of a state task force are setting priorities to address elder abuse in South Dakota. The group met Tuesday in Sioux Falls. Task force members are trying to figure out how to prevent and punish abuse of aging populations.

The Elder Abuse Task Force is investigating the scope of elder abuse in South Dakota, and members may offer reports and policy suggestions based on what they find.

Greg Sattizahn with the Unified Judicial System says the task force sees a gap in South Dakota law: physical abuse is illegal, but the state has no statute on emotional or psychological abuse. He says defining those terms is a challenge. 

“You don’t want to make everyone a criminal. A nursing home worker that just maybe isn’t the best nursing home worker necessarily doesn’t need a criminal conviction. An adult son that’s a jerk to his parents? Probably not criminal every time, but it certainly could be,” Sattizahn says. “So there was a little bit of tension about how we’re going to define it, and I think that’s something we can learn as we look at other statutes. And we’d talked a little bit about whether it’s professional worker, position of trust – something where you’re really exploiting and taking advantage of that position you have over that elderly person.”

Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB
State Senator Jim Bradford / August 18, 2015

Dozens of states outlaw emotional and psychological abuse of the elderly. State Senator Jim Bradford says older people need to understand their options if they are victims.

“Speaking as an elder, I think it’s important that I know, because actually I think sometimes that we’re emotionally abused and we don’t even know what we can do or what our avenues are,” Bradford says.

Financial abuse is another topic of the elder abuse discussion. So is education. Sarah Jennings with AARP in South Dakota says caregivers, medical professionals, law enforcement, families and the general public need guidance.

“That parallel that was made by our speaker at the first session about how elder abuse is where child abuse was maybe 40 years ago: people don’t talk about it, people don’t know what to do if they see it, people don’t know that kind of thing – it’s just not something that in our society is really something we talk about as much,” Jennings says. “So we did, as a subcommittee, talk about how do we raise awareness of this issue overall?”

Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB
Sarah Jennings / August 18, 2015

Another topic is getting elderly people with cognitive challenges to the right care. Doctor Victoria Walker is with the Good Samaritan Society.

"In my experience I saw many cases where elderly people became delirious because they were ill and they were acting in a frightening manner to people. They were agitated. They were hallucinating. They were confused. And they ended up getting placed on an emergency hold and transported to the state psychiatric hospital," Walker says. "On intake evaluation, they were noted to be extremely sick – physically sick – and transported by ambulance to the local hospital."

Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB
Dr. Victoria Walker / August 18, 2015

Walker says that extra step can delay the most appropriate medical care for patients. She says it also puts people who aren’t medically trained in a position to care for people struggling physically and mentally. Walker says the elder abuse task force should consider other standards of care professionals can use to assess people’s health and connect them with the right services.

More than one dozen members participate in the discussions. They include representatives from legislative, judicial, business, medical and advocacy networks statewide.