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Florida Expands Abuse of an Elder Person to Include Intentional Isolation from Family Members

| Jul 1, 2021 | Elder Law, guardianship |

In April of 2021, the Florida legislature unanimously approved passage of SB/HB 1041 which provided additional protections to elder persons . Among the changes, SB/HB 1041 amended Chapter 825 which addresses the abuse, neglect and exploitation of elder persons and disabled adults.(although disabled adults are also included, this blog will focus on elder persons). The new legislation has now been signed by Governor DeSantis and became law on July 1, 2021. The new law addresses a number of issues involving elder abuse, neglect ,and exploitation.

One amendment added by this legislation is particularly notable when it comes to the issue of elder persons being isolated from their family. Isolation, as it relates to this new legislation, is the subject of this blog.

Fist, the legislation had some interesting background which should be mentioned. Here is the language attached to Bill SB/HB 1041:

As the country’s “baby-boom” population reaches retirement age and life expectancy increases, the nation’s elder population is projected to increase from 49.2 million in 2016 to 77 million by 2034. Florida has long been a destination state for senior citizens and has the highest percentage of senior residents in the entire nation. In 2018, Florida had an estimated 4.3 million people age 65 and older, approximately 20 percent of the state’s population. By 2030, this number is projected to increase to 5.9 million, meaning the elderly will make up approximately one quarter of the state’s population and will account for most of the state’s growth.

Elder populations are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation due to risk factors associated with aging, such as physical and mental infirmities and social isolation. In Florida, almost 1.3 million senior citizens live in medically underserved areas and 1.4 million suffer from one or more disabilities….

Elder abuse occurs in community settings, such as private homes, as well as in institutional settings like nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Prevalent forms of abuse are financial exploitation, neglect, emotional or psychological abuse, and physical abuse; however, an elder abuse victim will often experience multiple forms of abuse at the same time. The most common perpetrators of elder abuse are relatives, such as adult children or a spouse; friends and neighbors; and home care aides.

Prior to the new legislation, Florida Statutes Section 825.102 provided a definition of “abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult” to mean:

(a) Intentional infliction of physical or psychological injury upon an elderly person or disabled adult;

(b) An intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or psychological injury to an elderly person or disabled adult; or

(c) Active encouragement of any person to commit an act that results or could reasonably be expected to result in physical or psychological injury to an elderly person or disabled adult.

The new legislation has now added the following which pertains to intentionally isolating an elder person from family:

(d) Intentionally, and without lawful authority, isolating or restricting access of an elderly person or a disabled adult to family members for any length of time which could reasonably be expected to result in physical or psychological injury to the elderly person or disabled adult, or with the intent to promote, facilitate, conceal, or disguise some form of criminal activity involving the person or property of the elderly person or disabled adult…

The context of isolation of an elder person from family can arise in a number of ways. In our law practice, we’ve seen it where an elderly parent is living with one family member who does not allow other family members to enter the home. In effect, the parent is cut off because the family member who owns the home can forbid other family members from entering their home. They can also prevent telephone contact by not answering calls or by making excuses for why the parent cannot speak to family when calls are made. With many elder persons, they may be unaware of what is happening or due to physical or cognitive illness, are unable to take action to resist the isolation. Sometimes the elder person is afraid to stand up to the family member who is isolating them, fearing that there will be retaliation or other consequences.

The impact of isolation can be devastating on an elder person. Elder persons often are struggling with physical and mental issues. Many times, they a re confined to their place of residence and have no viable means of transportation. Many have lost their ability to perform their ADLs–activities of daily living such as walking, bathing, etc. Being denied the support of loving family only makes their condition worse. In many cases, elder person have lost much of what was meaningful to them in life. Time with family may be one of the few remaining joys and purposes in life.

Not only does this new law give additional protection to elder persons to prevent them from being cut off and isolated from their families, it also imposes additional penalties. These include the perpetrator being held criminally liable and being disqualified from inheriting from the elderly person’s estate. The penalty aspects of the new law will be the subject of a forthcoming blog.

 

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