Negligence or Abuse of an Elderly Person in Pennsylvania

Scartelli Olszewski P.C.

The Aging of AmericaThe State of Pennsylvania has over 2 million citizens age 65 and older and by 2020, according to the PHCA (Pennsylvania Health Care Association) Pennsylvania’s 60 and older population is expected to be 25% of the total population, more than 3 million people. Clearly the State of Pennsylvania’s population is aging.Rise in Aging Population Leads to Increase Need For Elderly CareAs our population ages, there is an increase in the demand for care of our elderly. With that care, sadly, comes negligence and abuse of our oldest citizens. In the State of Pennsylvania, negligence or abuse resulting in bodily injury against an elderly person is a crime (Act 28)! In some cases, if you suspect mistreatment of an elderly person and you do NOT report it, you have committed a crime as well. It is imperative that you know the law regarding negligence and abuse of the elderly in Pennsylvania. You need to know your responsibility to report suspected abuse or negligence as a citizen, caregiver, employee or administrator of an elder care facility.

Locating the most qualified Pennsylvania attorney to assist you in such a case is imperative. Older Adults Protective Services Act of PennsylvaniaThe State of Pennsylvania passed the Older Adults Protective Services Act (OAPSA) in 1987 in an effort to further protect older Pennsylvanians from neglect and abuse. Specifically, the Act’s mission is to protect the elderly “from abuse, neglect, exploitation and abandonment.” Further, the OAPS Act states that, “It is the intent of the general assembly to provide for the detection and reduction, correction or elimination of abuse, neglect, exploitation and abandonment, and to establish a program of protective services for older adults in need of them.”OAPS terms defined now that we know whom the act protects, let’s identify the other important terms in the legislation to assess how this law might affect you!The OAPS Act defines “facility” as: “A domiciliary care home, a home health care agency, a long-term care nursing facility, and older adult daily living center, or a personal care home” – essentially any place where an elderly person receives care. A caretaker according to the act is defined as “an individual or institution that has assumed the responsibility for the provision of care needed to maintain the physical or mental health of an older adult. This responsibility may arise voluntarily, by contract, by receipt of payment for care, as a result of family relationship, or by order of a court of competent jurisdiction.” A caretaker, then, can be a relative, a spouse, a sibling, a daughter or a son. Also included in this definition would be what we traditionally think of as a visiting nurse, as well as a nurse employed in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Abuse is defined as “The occurrence of one or more of the following acts:

  1. the infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation or punishment with resulting physical harm, pain or mental anguish.
  2. the willful deprivation by a caretaker of goods or services which are necessary to maintain physical or mental health.
  3. sexual harassment, rape or abuse.”

Finally, neglect is defined as “… the failure of a caretaker to provide goods or services essential to avoid a clear and serious threat to physical or mental health.”Mandatory Reporting Requirements Under OAPSA: Employees / AdministratorsIf you are an employee or administrator of a facility who has reasonable cause to suspect that an elderly person is a victim of abuse or that the death of an elderly person is suspicious, you are required to report it. It is a mandatory requirement. If you fail to report such abuse you may be charged with a summary offense. To report an occurrence of negligence or abuse you MUST:

  1. Immediately file an oral report to the Area Agency on Aging (AAA).
  2. Notify your administrator immediately following the oral report to the AAA.
  3. Make a written report to the AAA within 48 hours of making the oral report to the AAA. (The report may be prepared by the employee or administrator.)
  4. Immediately notify the Pennsylvania Department of Aging (PDA) and local law enforcement.
  5. Notify your administrator immediately following the reporting to law enforcement.
  6. File a written report with law enforcement within 48 hours of notifying law enforcement orally. (The report may be prepared by the administrator or the employee.)

Voluntary Reporting Options of Elderly Negligence or AbuseAny citizen may file a voluntary report with the AAA who believes an older adult is being abused and/or neglected. You may choose to report anonymously. If you do report, you will be considered immune from civil and criminal liability unless you acted in bad faith.Important to Know Your Rights Regarding Elder Abuse and NeglectIn the State of Pennsylvania the law is clear – the negligence or abuse of an elderly person is a crime. If you are an employee or administrator of an elder care facility you MUST report it to the appropriate agencies. If you happen to be the person accused of such abuse or neglect, you have rights, too. It is imperative that if you are involved in any way in such a case, as a witness or as a perpetrator, that you contact competent legal attorneys who know the Pennsylvania State laws involved and can help you present the best case.