Colorado has made it a crime to not report suspected abuse of elderly people, and the law took effect with a signing ceremony in Jefferson County.
Senate Bill 111, which was signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper on May 16 at the Seniors’ Resource Center in Wheat Ridge, makes it a crime if those in professions such as home health care, law enforcement and nursing do not report suspected physical abuse of people 70 and older within 24 hours.
“(This law) makes this kind of abuse a more serious crime, and even not reporting it, looking another way, becomes illegal,” Hickenlooper said during the signing. “All this is to make sure we keep seniors safe. … We will no longer be an outlier state.”
Colorado had been one of three states that did not require reporting of suspected elder abuse. The law also makes it mandatory to report financial exploitation of seniors.
“Many of us would say this is a long time coming. It shows that our state and its elected officials truly care about the safety and well-being of its older population,” said John Zabawa, the SRC’s chief executive officer.
Jeffco is home to one of the largest senior populations in the state. More than 71,000 seniors call Jeffco home, making up about 13 percent of the county's population, which is one of the reasons Hickenlooper signed the bill in Jefferson County.
Jeffco Commissioner Don Rosier, who attended the ceremony, said the bill will be a wonderful asset for Jeffco Human Services.
“It's an extension of what we've already started doing in Jefferson County and makes it law,” Rosier said.
Rosier said the bill provides teeth to the prosecution of those who abuse elders, ignore signs of abuse, or try to take financial advantage of seniors. Many speakers, including Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, talked about how prevalent financial exploitation of seniors is in society.
"The financial exploitation of seniors in particular has been a huge problem," Suthers said. "I think the general public would be shocked by the level of financial exploitation of seniors in Colorado and across the nation."
The bill, which passed with large bipartisan support in both the state Senate and House, was the latest in several attempts to create a regulatory framework for requiring elder abuse to be reported in Colorado. A similar bill was passed in 2005, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Bill Owens.
One of those who had been working on the issue since 1995 was Charles Carter, who was honored at the signing. Carter said the real joy came from seeing Colorado take a giant step forward in protecting its senior population.
The media report on seniors who lose the money they've worked hard for in scams, and then end up alone and on welfare in a nursing home. It's awful, Carter said.
Contact Ramsey Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.