Elder Abuse Bill Signed Into Law with Credit Union Advocate in Attendance

A bill recently passed by the Oregon State Legislature protects Oregon’s most vulnerable senior citizens by bringing elder abuse laws in line with the state’s child abuse laws. It also gives law enforcement better tools to investigate and prosecute financial and physical abuse of elders.

Among many things, Oregon House Bill 4084 requires that financial institutions, upon receipt of certification, disclose and provide copies of financial records to law enforcement if a person is the alleged victim in an abuse investigation. The Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) supported HB 4084 during the February session, and Gov. John Kitzhaber signed the measure into law on April 11.

Gayle Gustafson, vice president of financial services for Rivermark Community Credit Union in Portland, served one year on the Elder Abuse Task Force, the group that brought the bill before the legislature, and she represented credit unions at the governor’s signing ceremony.

“We were pleased to support the specific language in HB 4084 that would assist law enforcement in obtaining records from financial institutions in an effort to protect victims in a financial abuse,” said NWCUA lobbyist Pam Leavitt.

The bill was introduced and shepherded by Rep. Vic Gilliam (R-18) and Rep. Val Hoyle (D-14).

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, between two and five million seniors are subjected to the improper use of their funds, property, or assets each year. Many cases of elder abuse go unreported because victims fear loved ones will be arrested, as perpetrators tend to be caregivers or family members.

Elder financial abuse includes a broad range of actions and can be defined as the illegal or unauthorized use of an older person’s property, money, pension or other valuables occurring in a relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person. Perpetrators of this type of abuse include anyone in a position of control or authority, such as a partner, child, or other relation, a friend or neighbor, a volunteer worker, or a health, social care or other worker.

Credit unions and their employees are among those institutions and individuals that have the ability to first detect changes in the behaviors of their members with whom they have regular contact.

“Recognizing elder financial abuse in the first place is a crucial step in combating this abuse,” Leavitt said, “and diligent training will put credit unions in a position that will help their elderly members and continue to allow credit unions to uphold their members’ trust.”

Credit Unions Applauded for Cooperating with Elder Abuse Investigators

The biggest current threat to retirement nest eggs may not be the random burglar who kicks in the door. It may not even be Wall Street volatility. The biggest risk is often that they will be exploited by someone they know well.

“It’s usually a caregiver, family member or close friend,” who steals from the elderly, according to Frank King, an adult protective service investigator with the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS). King is part of the DHS team in District 10, based in the Bend office. He and his colleague, Michelle Smith, were keynote presenters at the spring meeting of the Central Oregon Chapter of Credit Unions.

The pair told attendees that financial exploitation is the second most frequent type of abuse the Central Oregon DHS is asked to investigate and is responsible for 10-20 calls a month.

Often the leads come from alert credit union staff members who notice potential signals of fraud, including sudden large cash withdrawals or caregivers attempting to gain access to elders’ accounts.

“We have a lot of luck with credit unions calling us and being helpful,” Smith said. She noted that locally operated credit unions don’t get tied up waiting for out-of-state corporate approval and are able to respond quickly if financial records are requested.

The DHS presenters applauded HB 4084, just approved by the state legislature. The measure makes it easier for financial institutions to comply with investigations into elder abuse without liability, and increases penalties for offenders.

Smith and King urged credit union employees to report any other suspected abuse or neglect they may notice when elder members visit the branch.

“If you see a change in your older members, give us a call and we can check on their welfare,” Smith said, adding that Oregon law allows the name of the caller to be kept confidential. The DHS team said to watch for elderly members with worsening hygiene habits, unusual difficulty driving or parking, or decreased alertness.

Often, Smith noted, it’s just a temporary condition, and all the elders need to be able to stay in their homes is medical treatment or social services.

“We are a human services agency,” King said. “We are not here to yank people out of their homes. We are here to work with them.”


Questions or Concerns? Contact Matt Halvorson, Anthem Editor: mhalvorson@nwcua.org.

Posted in Advocacy News, Around the NW.