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What Should I Do if
Someone I Know is
Being Abused?

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Most states have laws that require professionals to report abuse. Concerned citizens are also encouraged to report. These laws shield reporters from liability in the event that the report turns out to be unfounded. To learn more about state reporting laws, click here (by clicking here, you will leave this web site).

To whom should I report?

Each state designates a lead agency or agencies to assume responsibility for investigating abuse reports. Typically one of the following agencies will investigate:

  • Adult protective services (APS) is the primary agency to accept reports in most states. Check your phone directory for the APS program in your community. In most communities, it is listed under the Department of Human Services or Social Services.
  • Law enforcement is responsible for investigating abuse when it is criminal.
  • Long-term care ombudsman programs are federally funded programs that investigate reports of abuse in nursing homes and residential care facilities.
  • Medicaid fraud and control units: Under federal law, state Attorneys General are required to investigate and prosecute fraud and patient abuse or neglect in health care facilities that participate in Medicaid.

What will happen if I report?

Although procedures vary from state to state, a report to adult protective service programs typically will trigger an investigation to assess the following:

  • Is the subject of the report in imminent danger?
  • Is the person in need of emergency services to prevent injury or loss?
  • What is the nature and extent of the abuse?
  • Is abuse likely to occur again?
  • What is the level of risk?
  • Is the person able to make decisions about his or her care?
  • What measures are needed to prevent future abuse and ensure the well being of the elder or dependent adult.

The answers to these questions will direct investigators' response. In most cases, they will offer to help victims access appropriate services. Adult protective services are voluntary. That means that the subject of a report has the right to refuse services (in some states, they can stop an investigation) unless one of the following two conditions apply:

  • If the vulnerable older person lacks sufficient mental capacity to protect him or herself, involuntary measures, such as protective placements, may be initiated.
  • If a crime has been committed, police may take action.

Unless either of these conditions applies, vulnerable persons are free to decide whether or not they want help, and the type of help they want.

Last Updated March 2003

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