Detroit Dems Work to Give Michigan Seniors the Protections They Deserve

House legislation takes aim at preventing elder abuse, financial exploitation
Monday, February 28, 2011

LANSING - State Representatives from Detroit are sponsoring legislation to combat the reprehensible practice of elder abuse in Michigan by strengthening consumer protections for seniors and increasing penalties for those who financially exploit them.

“As a physician, I’ve seen firsthand how medical conditions and aging force residents to lean on others to look after them as they get older,” said State Representative Jimmy Womack (D-Detroit), a sponsor of the plan. “In many instances, seniors have no choice but to entrust all their personal and financial information to someone else, and that unfortunately leaves them very vulnerable to the wrong person. That’s why it’s so important for us to fight for our seniors who can’t always stand up for themselves by passing this plan.”

The legislative package is part of House Democrats’ ongoing effort to strengthen Michigan’s consumer protection laws. Elder abuse can include abandonment and neglect, financial exploitation, and emotional, physical or sexual abuse. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, the crime is vastly underreported.

The plan seeks to address elder abuse by:

  • Increasing penalties for cheating or defrauding seniors, including establishing felony charges for embezzlement and banning abusers from inheriting the estate of their victim.
  • Empowering concerned citizens to file criminal complaints to stop and prevent abuse cases in nursing homes and elsewhere.
  • Strengthening consumer protections by creating new safeguards against fraud and requiring financial institutions to do more to disclose the rights of seniors.
  • Creating the “Mozelle Alert,” an alert mechanism to notify the public in cases of missing endangered seniors, similar to the Amber Alert. The alert is named in honor of Estella Mozelle Pierce, a senior who died after wandering from her Southwest Detroit home.

“Elder abuse is a serious crime and we need to send the message that if you steal from or abuse a senior you will be locked up,” said State Representative Fred Durhal, Jr. (D-Detroit), also a sponsor of the package. “This plan puts tough new penalties on the books that will crack down on the predators who abuse or exploit our seniors for their own gain. I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to work together to pass this plan so that Michigan seniors don’t have to go another day with laws that fall terribly short of protecting them.”

To report a suspected case of elder abuse, residents can contact the state’s 24-hour hotline by calling (800) 99NOABUSE (996-6228).

“We’ve all heard the horrific stories of seniors being abandoned, neglected and stolen from by individuals who were entrusted with their care,” said State Representative Alberta Tinsley-Talabi (D-Detroit), who also sponsored the plan. “It’s time to step up and strengthen Michigan’s laws to crack down on people who exploit our seniors. This plan will make it easier for those who suspect elder abuse to intervene and report this despicable crime and bring those responsible to justice.”

State Representative Maureen Stapleton (D-Detroit) also sponsored the plan.

“Our elders should always be treated with respect and dignity,” Stapleton said. “People who take advantage of the older folks in our community should feel ashamed of themselves, but more than that, they must suffer severe consequences so they do not commit these crimes again. We need to make our laws stronger to make sure we are truly taking care of our elders.”