July 23,2019

Grassley On Elder Justice: A Call for Reform

Prepared Opening Remarks by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Chairman, Senate Finance Committee
Hearing on Elder Justice: A Call for Reform
Tuesday, July 23, 2019
Today we’ll focus on an issue that has affected many families in Iowa and throughout the country: elder justice. Congress has a key role to play in ensuring the protection of our nation’s seniors, as about 1 in 10 Americans age sixty or older will fall victim to elder abuse each year.
Many older Americans reside in assisted care facilities, nursing homes or other kinds of group living arrangements. It’s critical that these care facilities and staff not only follow the law, but provide the type of care they would want their own family members to receive.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office just released a new report on this subject today, while the Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services issued a related report last month. According to the Inspector General, one-third of nursing home residents may experience harm while under the care of these facilities. In more than half of these cases, the harm was preventable. We look forward to hearing both agencies’ recommendations for Congress at today’s hearing.
In the 115th Congress, I introduced the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act, which was enacted unanimously. It enhances enforcement against perpetrators of crimes targeting older Americans. Specifically, it increases training for federal investigators and prosecutors and designates at least one prosecutor in each federal judicial district be tasked with handling cases of elder abuse. The law also increases penalties for perpetrators of abuse and ensures that the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have an elder justice coordinator.   
Next, we need to renew and update the Elder Justice Act. Years ago, I joined my colleagues, led by former Chairman Hatch, in developing an early version of the Elder Justice Act, which was adopted in 2010. It is time for this Committee to revisit the key programs authorized under this important law. It authorized the Elder Justice Coordinating Council and resources to support long-term care ombudsmen and forensic centers to investigate elder abuse. I am working closely with the members of the Elder Justice Coalition, whose leader is testifying today, on legislation to accomplish that goal.
The Des Moines Register last year published reports suggesting a troubling lack of compassionate care for elder residents in some of the nursing homes in my state. Reports also surfaced in 2017 of nursing home workers in at least 18 different facilities taking humiliating, unauthorized photos of elderly residents and posting them on social media websites. 
In the past couple years, I have seen an uptick in news reports about elder abuse done via social media. In response to those reports, I wrote to social media companies to better understand the steps they had taken to prevent their platforms from being a tool of abuse. In addition, I wrote to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services about the problem. In response, in 2016, that Federal agency issued guidance to state health departments on the misuse of social media in nursing homes to make clear that taking photos and videos of a demeaning nature are forms of abuse.
In March, this Committee convened an oversight hearing at which we heard from the daughters of two elderly women who resided in federally funded nursing homes. One testified that her mother, an Iowan, died due to neglect, in a facility that held the highest possible rating, five stars, on a Federal government website. The family discovered that the nursing home was the subject of multiple complaint investigations in recent years. Another testified about her mother’s rape in a nursing home. Many nursing homes offer excellent care, but these and similar cases around the country point to the need for greater oversight.  
Families facing the decision to put a loved one in a care facility or nursing home deserve to have reliable tools to help make the best choice possible. They shouldn’t have to worry that their loved one will be abused at the hands of a caregiver. I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses on what more Congress can do to help ensure that government-provided information on nursing homes and care facilities is accurate and reliable, and that oversight efforts will continue to increase quality standards and keep them high.