Sen. Gardenhire sponsors key initiative to keep state’s elderly safe

NASHVILLE — Two bills advanced in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week to tackle the growing problem of elder abuse in Tennessee, including a key proposal, sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), to keep the state’s elderly safe by setting up checks on the people who are working in direct contact with vulnerable adults. The legislation came from the Elder Abuse Task Force that met this summer and fall to study Tennessee’s current system for protecting, preventing and prosecuting crimes of abuse for its older and more vulnerable adults.

Gardenhire was appointed to serve on the task force by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey.

“Abuse of the elderly is unconscionable, inexcusable and totally intolerable,” said Senator Gardenhire. “There are too many cases where offenders against the elderly were not screened properly. This legislation addresses that problem to help ensure that those working with vulnerable adults are not offenders.”

Senate Bill 1848 lays out requirements that must be met before an employee in a home care organization or hospice services may be hired. Applicants must supply fingerprint samples, submit to a background check and provide past references. These requirements would also apply to third party vendors that have direct contact with the patients.

Gardenhire said although the legislation moving through the Senate will greatly help, more needs to be done during the next General Assembly to protect the state’s elderly.

Following another recommendation of the task force, Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) guided the passage of a resolution to address financial exploitation of vulnerable adults. Senate Joint Resolution 678 resolves that the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability will work with the Tennessee Bankers Association, the Tennessee Credit Union League and other appropriate organizations to develop a list of recommended changes to current law that would assist financial institutions in protecting vulnerable adults from fraudulent and other questionable transactions.

Finally, the full Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 2588, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), to create Vulnerable Adult Protective Investigation Teams (VAPIT) in each judicial district in Tennessee. The purpose of the bill is to coordinate the investigation of suspected instances of abuse, neglect or exploitation of an adult. The information generated by the multi-disciplinary adult protective services team can then be reviewed to determine what further action can be taken to protect these citizens.

One study estimated that only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse ever come to the attention of authorities.


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