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PROTECTING THE INTERESTS OF VERMONT SENIORS
This is a summary of the work being done by the members of the Vermont Attorney General’s Office to safeguard and protect the interests of Vermont seniors. While many members of our Office participate in this important work, AAG’s Wendy Morgan, Elliot Burg, and Linda Purdy have played prominent roles. All of this work has occurred under the leadership of Attorney General Bill Sorrell.
On the Consumer Protection front:
In follow-up to proposals that were discussed during the 2012 legislative session, and as requested by the House Commerce Committee, the AGO has put together a working group to develop legislative recommendations on how to enhance protections for older consumers. Group membership includes representation from the AARP, Coalition of Vermont Elders (COVE), DAIL, DFR, the AAAs, the Vermont Retail Association, the state’s banks, attorneys, UVM, the Legislature, and Wake Robin. 2013 Working Group Report on Protecting Older Consumers.
Last winter, we participated in a roundtable in Washington, DC, sponsored by AARP and designed to help the Older Americans Office of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau set its initial priorities.
The Vermont AGO led the multistate negotiations with wire transfer giants Western Union and MoneyGram that resulted in settlements in 2005 and 2008. These investigations were directed at limiting the scams that lead to fraudulent money transfers – scans that frequently target the elderly. Our settlements led to the inclusion of unprecedentedly prominent fraud warnings on transfer send forms, mandatory training for and monitoring of agents, state authority to request freezes on future transfers by past victims, and the payment of over $8 million to fund a peer-to-peer counseling program run by AARP and reaching some 3 million consumers over the phone, many of them seniors. Our Office also insisted that additional funds be set aside for research by AARP on how to use peer-to-peer counseling to prevent consumers—again, mostly seniors—from being defrauded.
The Vermont AGO was on the multistate Executive Committee in the reinvestigation of deceptive solicitations by Publishers Clearing House that often target seniors, and that led to a supplemental consent judgment in 2010 that tightened up PCH’s business practices and enhanced monitoring of the company’s compliance with its settlement obligations.
In 2005, the Attorney General issued a report summarizing the work of his initiative on End of Life Care. The report addressed the critical issues of Pain and Symptom Management and Decision Making/Advance Directives. Representatives from the AARP, UVM, FAHC, the Vermont Medical Society, and the VT Ethics Network, among many others, contributed to the initiative, and to the improvements that were made to the medical protections available at the end of life and to an overhaul of Vermont’s law on advance directives.
In 2001, the AGO Project Elder Reach initiative brought together seniors advocates, bankers, law enforcement and others, resulting in new laws and educational materials to protect seniors from financial exploitation.
On the Medicaid Fraud and Residential Abuse Unit (MFRAU) front:
This past week (7/12/12), working with the COVE, MFRAU staff trained five law enforcement officers from different agencies at a train-the- trainer’s seminar on elder abuse. The goal of the training was to provide the selected participants with the tools and knowledge to train their fellow officers in the investigation of elder abuse and how to create community coalitions to combat elder abuse.
In 2012, and typically twice a year since 2007, the MFRAU has conducted an Elder Abuse training at the Vermont Police Academy, a training initiated by the MFRAU Unit.
In 2011, MFRAU participated in a “Fraud Squad” presentation to senior citizens organized by the COVE.
In 2010, MFRAU assisted in the presentation of a training on elder abuse at the State’s Attorney’s summer training session.
Over the last decade, the AGO has presented many trainings to nursing homes, presented at the nursing home trade association’s annual meetings on several occasions, and presented at many statewide and national trainings on elder abuse.
As a result of the wide distribution of our 2005 film “When Healing Hands Harm: Drug Diversion in Vermont,” the AGO continues to receive requests for outreach and education trainings . Last year AGO MFRAU staff spoke on elder abuse and drug diversion at a nursing home in the Burlington area and showed portions of the Unit’s film. The presentation led to the successful prosecution of one of the nursing home’s employees for drug substitution of an 89 year old resident’s pain medication. We have prosecuted many such cases of drug diversion from elderly nursing home patients over the last several years.
The AGO/MFRAU did several legislative initiatives to help improve the State system’s response to elder abuse. As a result of the Attorney General’s 2005 Initiative on End of Life Care and the 2001 AGO Project Elder Reach, we proposed penalty enhancements and changes to the elder and vulnerable adult abuse statutes which were successfully passed in 2005. And, H. 413 was just passed which gives us another law enforcement tool to combat elder abuse in our long-term care facilities and programs.
In 2011, MFRAU collaborated with our U.S. Attorney’s Office in the formation of the Vermont Elder Justice Task Force. The group meets every other month. Its mission is to create opportunities for improving quality of care for the elderly in long-term care settings and other care-giving programs by improving communications among stakeholders and law enforcement.