Panel offers 130 ways to keep Pa. elders safer

     Social worker Roberta Marzano with Caring People Alliance speaks with seniors at the Fels South Philadelphia Community Center in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

    Social worker Roberta Marzano with Caring People Alliance speaks with seniors at the Fels South Philadelphia Community Center in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

    A panel created to examine how the state can better serve and protect elder Pennsylvanians has finished 18 months of work with more than 100 recommendations.

    The Elder Law Task Force, made up of lawyers, prosecutors, judges, advocates, and program administrators, issued its final report Monday. Suggestions range from requiring legal guardians to receive training on ethics and liability to increasing funding for legal aid to low-income seniors.

    “As the commonwealth’s population continues to age, the court system is facing unprecedented needs,” said Supreme Court Justice Debra Todd, who chaired the Elder Law Task Force. “Court cases dealing with the protection of vulnerable elders, including guardianships and elder abuse proceedings, are expected to increase substantially.”

    More than 90 of the panel’s 130 recommendations were directed at the courts. Chief Justice Ron Castille likened judges to “first responders” in cases of elder abuse.

    “Sometimes, we’re the ones that get it first,” said Castille. Todd highlighted a recommendation intended to activate another early-warning system: banks, which the panel said should be required to report suspected financial abuse or exploitation of elders.

    “Banks and financial institutions are often the first to encounter an individual who is taking advantage of another,” Todd said, “and mandatory reporting as required by the General Assembly would go a long way.”

    Recommendations weren’t exclusively focused on policy. Some encouraged greater public awareness, like a reminder to report suspected elder abuse to a state hotline (1-800-490-8505).

    The task force has already resulted in a new Office of Elder Justice in the state court system. It’s slated to open next year to begin implementing the task force’s recommendations for the courts.

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