T.J. Donovan: Respect and protect our elders

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Just as young parents rightly prioritize the health and well-being of our children, at mid-life we also begin thinking more about the health and well-being of our own parents. By 2030, Vermont will be one of the oldest states - if not the oldest state - in the country. Forty percent of Vermonters will be 55 or older. Vermont's aging demographic presents a tremendous opportunity to tap that experience to benefit our state. We will also need to plan for the future to ensure safe and affordable housing options, healthcare, and prescription drugs and to combat isolation, financial exploitation, and elder abuse. It is essential that leaders in Vermont invest in supporting older Vermonters and their families now. Collectively, we should engage in a conversation about the issues facing our state as our population ages. We need to take this opportunity to make Vermont the best place to live and grow older.

This year my office formed the Elder Protection Initiative (EPI) specifically to address how we can better serve our older residents. My staff met with dozens of older Vermonters in every county: at senior centers, senior meal sites, and senior housing units. We heard from 230 representatives of 65 different organizations. What we heard is that older Vermonters are concerned about healthcare costs, housing security, financial exploitation, physical and emotional abuse, and isolation from their communities. In response to this listening tour, our EPI is already developing a toolkit for state's attorneys' offices, law enforcement, and victim services organizations to assist their efforts in investigating and prosecuting elder exploitation.

We can do more to protect our elder Vermonters. Here is what I propose:

- Create an Elder Protection Council. Create a single statewide body consisting of state agencies and stakeholders, the Elder Protection Council, to address the critical issues and questions surrounding elder abuse. Membership would consist of relevant state workers and stakeholders, such as Department of Aging and Independent Living, State's Attorneys, law enforcement, and Area Agencies on Aging. The Council would be charged with improving our ability to identify and respond to elder abuse and exploitation. Together we can find solutions, continue outreach efforts, and keep older Vermonters front and center in every discussion about the future of our great state;

- Improve Data Collection. The State should establish a system of collecting information and data related to elder exploitation and abuse so we can better understand its causes and respond appropriately;

- Increase Training and Educational Opportunities. Every Vermonter should know what elder abuse and exploitation looks like. It's physical abuse. It's quiet financial exploitation by a family member. It's the theft of drugs by a caregiver. Trainings should be developed to help bankers, pharmacists, law enforcement, religious leaders, and others who regularly interact with elders to be able to identify elder exploitation. Caregivers of elders should also receive support and training opportunities, particularly those caregivers of elders suffering from memory care needs.

- Ban Non-Compete Agreements Between Long-Term Care Facilities. Long term care facilities are increasingly owned and operated by complex financial services companies that sell long-term care as their product. To ensure elders have choice and flexibility, non-compete agreements among these companies should not be enforceable.

Having older Vermonters in our communities is a point of strength. They have a wealth of skills and experiences and add vibrancy to our communities. It is on the next generation to proactively ask the questions: How do we make Vermont as strong and healthy as possible? How do we protect and support everyone? And it is on us to listen when older Vermonters tell us that we can do better. Let's get to work.

T.J. Donovan is the Vermont Attorney General. If you have a question about elder care or abuse, you can dial 2-1-1 for help. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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