Elder Abuse a Growing Problem in Maine: Executive Director of Legal Services for the Elderly Testifies before Senate Aging Committee

Senator Collins questions Jaye Martin about the effectiveness of the Senior$afe program in Main

Click HERE to watch Senator Collins’ Q&A with Jaye Martin
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Washington, D.C. — In Maine, Legal Services for the Elderly (LSE) assisted 260 victims of elder abuse during the last 12 months. This is a 24-percent increase from the prior year and the number is only expected to rise. In addition, roughly half of these cases involved financial exploitation of seniors, LSE Executive Director Jaye Martin told a Senate committee today. Ms. Martin was invited to testify before the Senate Aging Committee by its Chairman, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, during a hearing focused on the financial abuse of older Americans by guardians and others in power.

“Financial abuse of seniors by those they trust is far too common. Today’s hearing helps us understand the extent to which our seniors remain at risk of financial exploitation by guardians, and what is being done to protect them from this reprehensible crime,” said Senator Collins. “Seniors in need of assistance to manage their financial affairs should not have their trust betrayed, leaving them destitute in some cases. Legal organizations like Ms. Martin’s, and others around the nation, are making a real difference to better protect seniors but much more remains to be done.”

In addition to robbing seniors of their hard-earned savings, financial abuse of older adults often puts seniors’ health and safety at risk. The scope of this form of exploitation is broad and can be perpetrated by a range of fiduciaries, such as a court-appointed guardian, a family member with power of attorney privileges, or a senior’s personal attorney. In addition, senior financial abuse can be committed by “friends” or family members who are handling the victim’s affairs informally.

During the hearing, Senator Collins questioned Ms. Martin about the Senior$afe Act, a bipartisan bill she introduced with Senator McCaskill that would help protect seniors by encouraging banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions to train their employees to spot financial abuse of older Americans and report it to the proper authorities. The legislation is based on Maine’s innovative Senior$afe program.

Senator Collins asked, “Has [Senior$afe] worked well [in Maine], in your judgment, and is this something we should implement nationwide?”

“[Senior$afe] has been an extraordinary success, and we were thrilled to see your leadership in taking the concept to the nation,” Ms. Martin responded. “Hundreds of financial institution managers and employees have been trained, and we are really seeing that increase the number of seniors that are getting help before it’s too late.”

The Committee also released a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report requested by Chairman Collins and Ranking Member McCaskill on guardianship abuse. The GAO’s report builds on a previous study it released in 2010, which found hundreds of cases of abuse, neglect, and exploitation and identified $5.4 million that had been improperly diverted. The updated report examined cases of elder financial abuse over a four-year period, from 2011 to 2015, and examined measures taken by several states to help protect older adults with guardians.

Witnesses for the hearing included:

  • Kathryn Larin, Acting Director, Forensic Audit and Investigative Services Team, U.S. Government Accountability Office, Washington, D.C. Click HERE to read her testimony.
  • Cate Boyko, Manager, Minnesota Conservator Account Auditing Program, Ramsey, MN. Click HERE to read her testimony.
  • Jaye Martin, Executive Director, Maine Legal Services for the Elderly, Augusta, ME. Click HERE to read her testimony.
  • Jessica Kruse, Attorney, Ozarks Elder Law, Springfield, MO. Click HERE to read her testimony.