New laws to address abuse, exploitation of senior citizens

Tenn. Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville)
Sen. Mark Norris

While most caregivers and family members look after senior citizens with love and compassion, there are those who carry out unconscionable acts of violence. The abuse can take many other forms, including psychological cruelty, wanton neglect and financial exploitation.

For seniors targeted with financial crimes, this can mean the loss of lifelong savings and pension benefits. Unable to return to the workplace, these victims often go without food, medication or other necessities, or they depend on public assistance.

Tennessee is seeing a rise in the number of offenses committed against our older citizens: The number of simple assaults against older adults rose by almost 20 percent from 2009 to 2013. The number of reported cases of fraud against older individuals increased by 21 percent over the same time period.

While older adults represent 19 percent of the adult population, they are victims in 8 percent of the reported crimes. Even more alarming is that it has been projected that the number of unreported cases of elder abuse may be as high as one in 23.
Why don’t older adults report abuse? Shame. Fear of losing independence. Fear of being moved. Or because the abuser is a family member. The person may also be too incapacitated to report or may fear reprisals.

This is an issue that should not be hushed up. That is why our General Assembly passed several bills during the 2016 legislative session to protect senior citizens.

One such bill is legislation I sponsored that creates Vulnerable Adult Protective Investigation Teams (VAPIT) in each Tennessee judicial district. Without a systemic response, cases of elder abuse can fall by the wayside. This new law coordinates the investigation of suspected instances of abuse, neglect or exploitation of an adult. The information can then be reviewed to decide what further actions are needed.

The budget, which becomes effective July 1, contains funds to support staff training on elder abuse through Tennessee’s District Attorneys General Conference. I was pleased to sponsor this recommendation in the State Senate.

Another important new law passed this year requires a background check before an employee may be hired as a caregiver. As of July 1, applicants for jobs providing direct care must supply fingerprint samples, submit to a background check and provide past references. The General Assembly’s Elder Abuse Task Force recommended this law.

To combat financial exploitation, a resolution passed this year directs the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability to work with the Tennessee Bankers Association, the Tennessee Credit Union League and other appropriate organizations. Their task is to develop a list of recommended changes that would help financial institutions protect seniors from fraudulent and other questionable transactions. The Elder Abuse Task Force also recommended this measure.

Tennessee’s seniors should be treated with respect and dignity to enable them to continue to serve as leaders, mentors, volunteers, and active citizens. Their well-being concerns all of us. It is time we end the silence!

June, which is Elder Abuse Awareness Month, is an opportunity to give a voice to the growing number of seniors who risk abuse, financial exploitation and wanton neglect or abandonment. I hope you will join me in this effort.

Reporting abuse

  • In an emergency, always call 911 first.
  • Adult Protective Services (APS): 888.APS.TENN (888-277-8366) or report online.

If you have suspicions or want to verify that a person isn’t already on record, visit the Tennessee Department of Health’s Abuse Registry to search by name or Social Security number.

Tennessee Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville) may be reached via See his Facebook page and follow him as @SenatorNorris on Twitter.