Pennsylvania has the fourth largest population of senior citizens in the country - and that number is growing.

Come January they will have an office within the state court system dedicating to improving the response of the judiciary and government agencies to elder abuse and neglect.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court said today it wil open an Office of Elder Justice in the Courts, which is one of 130 recommendations made by the court's Elder Abuse Task Force..

In its 284-page report, the 38-member panel detailed a slew of recommendations to tackle issues in the courts and other government agencies involving guardianship, elder abuse and neglect and overall access to justice.

"If societies are judged on how they help their most vulnerable, then now is the time to craft solutions as older Pennsylvanians increasingly face life-altering, physical, emotional and financial abuses by those who take advantage of our elders," said Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille.

Task force chair Justice Debra Todd said it was imperative the state make changes to address the rapidly agin population.

"The increasing population of elders anticipated during the next 20 years is likely to result in a substantial increase in court cases regarding the protection of vulnerable elderly persons, including guardianship, elder abuse proceedings and other types of cases. This report is a blueprint on how the courts and others can tackle that challenge."

There are nearly 2.7 million people (21.4 percent) of the population age 60 and older and by 2020 about 3.3 million residents are expected to be over 60.

Research suggests that one out of every 10 people 60 years and older who lives at home suffers abuse, neglect or exploitation and that 44 percent of nursing home residents report abuse or neglect,

Also approved was the creation of an Advisory Council on Elder Justice in the Courts, to serve as a liaison to the executive and legislative branches and to advise the Supreme Court.

Other recommendations include:

  • Distributing a "Bill of Rights of an Alleged Incapacitated Person" to inform alleged incapacitated persons, interested family members, concerned parties and guardians when a person is served with a petition for guardianship and at the time the person is adjudicated incapacitated.

  • Amending the Pennsylvania Slayer Statute to prevent an individual who has been convicted of abusing or neglecting an elder from benefitting from that elder's estate.

  • Changing court rules to mandate training for all guardians, including, but not limited to, matters of liability and ethics.

  • Enactment by the General Assembly of a statute requiring financial institutions to be mandatory reporters of suspected financial abuse or exploitation of elders.

  • Encouraging Pennsylvanians who believe an elder is displaying the warning signals of mistreatment to report such symptoms by calling either of the state's two Elder Abuse Hotlines. Callers may remain anonymous and have legal protection from retaliation, discrimination, civil suit or criminal prosecution.

    • Statewide Elder Abuse Hotline: 1-800-490-8505
    • Office of Attorney General Elder Abuse Hotline: 1-866-623-2137

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