P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
Fax (512) 463-0923
GOLDEN YEARS DESERVE GOLD STANDARDS OF CARE
Nancy Reagan is certainly not the first woman to take on the role of caregiver for an aging spouse. But as I watched her say goodbye to our beloved former president, it occurred to me that she may go down in history as the most widely recognized caregiver of our time.
Millions of Americans have quietly played this part for a sibling, a spouse, or -- as in my case -- a mother with Alzheimer's Disease. But when Mrs. Reagan began coping with her husband's illness, the entire nation watched. And what we saw was a painfully honest picture of what it means to care for a loved one battling illness.
Unfortunately, not all of our seniors have a Nancy Reagan to care for them in such trying times.
An El Paso judge recently issued a disturbing report detailing stories of elderly persons living in deplorable conditions - roach infested, trash-laden homes, not fit for human habitation. And perhaps more troubling, Adult Protective Services had investigated these living conditions but closed the cases with no action taken.
The findings had such a chilling effect on state regulators that the Health and Human Services Commission immediately dispatched a strike force to El Paso to investigate. Subsequently, this task force issued a preliminary report detailing findings and recommendations.
In a review of this report, members of the Senate Health & Human Services Committee learned that the vast majority of these cases were closed because the individual had refused assistance. Sadly, though, many of them lacked the mental capacity to do so.
Adult Protective Services investigates more than 60,000 cases of abuse or neglect each year. More than 70 percent of those investigations result in a finding of abuse or neglect. However, if a person refuses assistance, the caseworker may not always recognize signs of dementia or mental incapacity -- which are grounds for involuntary intervention.
To its credit, the Health and Human Services Commission has taken immediate steps to strengthen the state's efforts to protect and care for seniors. And I will be exploring legislation based on an emerging consensus for the following goals:
- Ensure adequate training for APS employees. Current training for APS employees is inadequate and leaves employees ill-equipped to conduct thorough investigations.
- Implement a new strategy for determining mental capacity. The current method for determining mental capacity is grossly inadequate and should be replaced.
- Enable APS investigators to utilize technology to document abuse. Few APS investigators use cameras (both photographic and video) to document alleged abuse during investigations because many offices lack the equipment to enable such documentation. In addition, caseworkers should have access to laptops while in the field so that they have all the tools necessary to protect vulnerable seniors.
- Use a multi-disciplinary team for difficult cases. When difficult cases arise, a multidisciplinary team should be called on to develop a community-based approach to better coordinate services.
Whether we like it or not, we are all marching toward old age. According to the 2000 Census, more than 2 million Texans were 65 or older. With the Baby Boomers inching toward retirement and with medical advances increasing our life expectancy, this population is expected to double in size by 2020.
We need golden standards of care for our seniors. We need compassionate, protective care givers. We need more Nancy Reagans.
SENATOR JANE NELSON, R-LEWISVILLE, is Chairman of the Senate Health & Human Services Committee. She represents District 12 encompassing portions of Tarrant and Denton counties.