Alabama council wants to boost visibility of elder abuse registry

A council of state agencies and organizations that work with the older population want to promote a new registry that compiles confirmed reports of abuse of older adults, such as sexual abuse or financial exploitation.

The Interagency Council for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, established and overseen by the Department of Senior Services, is a group of organizations that includes AARP Alabama, the Association of Nursing Homes and state departments.

The council Friday heard a presentation on the state's new registry from the Department of Human Resources.

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The registry, known as the Alabama Elder And Adult in Need of Protective Services Abuse Registry, tracks those convicted of abusing older adults through data from the Department of Senior Services, the DHR, Department of Mental Health and Department of Public Health. Its goal is to protect vulnerable adults from abuse, neglect and exploitation.

"I want to be able to set the expectation for my members, but also to make sure that any of the provider groups are getting resources they need to get the information out," said Anna Pritchett, associate state director for advocacy at AARP Alabama.

Pritchett said that education and promotion need to be the council's objective for the council celebration of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day in June. She said there should be at least an informational website that providers can easily access. She also mentioned conducting webinars that providers can stream.

Unlike sex offender registries, the elder abuse registry is not for public use. It is only available to service providers as a form of background check in the employment process. These cases contain significant confidential information.

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"When you think about it, it's not just the sensitive nature (of these cases]), but there are also sometimes safety issues -- because you may not want someone who is a perpetrator to be able to look that information about that person on a public system," said Felicia Brooks, the chief legal counsel for DHR's legal office.

In fiscal year 2022, DHR received 12,033 reports of abuse, neglect and exploitation of adults statewide. That is an increase of 115% compared to 2012, when the department had 5,597 reports. Except for one year during the pandemic, the number of reports has increased every year in recent years, but it's unclear if the increase is due to increased abuse, or if it's because people are reporting more.

Service providers, such as assisted living communities, hospitals and nursing homes may submit a request to DHR for potential employees.

Tonia Bell, who is deputy director of adult protective services at DHR, said her agency averages about 60 requests a day, but it has received as much as 200.

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Brooks said that being on the registry does not prevent any person from being hired. It simply allows employers to make a decision based on that information available.

Pritchett asked whether that is available to people who may hire an independent home worker. She said that makes up a large portion of caretakers.

"Most people are going to nonproviders and unlicensed providers," Pritchett said.

Brooks clarified that the definition of a service provider does not include home caretakers but agreed that should be something the council should address.