Editorial | S.C. senior protection reform due

March 2, 2014 

The movie “Nebraska,” one of the Best Picture nominations in the 86th Annual Academy Awards this evening, is about a senior citizen’s determined quest to collect the $1 million he thinks he has won in a sweepstakes. It is a poignant story and so true to the real-life experiences of many whose parents have been the victims of all manner of scams.

In real life, of course, the exploitation of seniors often is much more serious than a misleading announcement of sweepstakes winnings. S.C. Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, whose responsibilities include the Office on Aging, has proposed legislation called the Senior Trafficking and Exploitation Reform of 2014.

In summary, the legislation “strengthens vulnerable adult abuse, neglect, and exploitation laws.” The legislation closes loopholes and addresses forms of abuse not defined in the current law. The legislation “beefs up punishment for anyone who attempts to threaten or intimidate a vulnerable adult or senior involved in an abuse-related investigation,” according to a summary of the bill. Senior citizens are defined as persons 60 years of age or older; a vulnerable adult is a person 18 or older who is impaired by a physical or mental condition.

In both Horry and Georgetown counties, the senior population increased significantly in the 10 years from 2000 to 2010. Hank Page, spokesman for McConnell, has the over 60 population in Horry at 65,841 and Georgetown at 17,020. The numbers are from the 2010 U.S. Census. Horry’s senior population increased 64 percent from the 2000 census, and Georgetown’s increased 49 percent.

The state’s 60 and older population was nearly 915,000 in 2010 and is projected to increase to 1.2 million in 2020, according to the bill. Projections of 2020 numbers for individual counties are not available.

The Omnibus Adult Protection Act of 2006 pertains to seniors in long-term care facilities or who are disabled but “does not protect the many seniors who are able to live independently.” The new legislation says “human trafficking of senior citizens is a growing problem, whether through deprivation of food and medication by a caregiver or placement in or transfer to a facility with unsafe and unsanitary conditions.”

In the reform legislation, “exploitation” includes specific language on causing vulnerable adults or senior citizens to purchase goods or services by means or “undue influence, harassment, duress, force, coercion or swindling by overreaching, cheating or defrauding.”

McConnell says of the legislation: “We want to send a clear message that if you intentionally set out to exploit or abuse a senior or adults with disabilities, you will get more than a slap on the wrist.”

A growing population of seniors probably means an increased number of people all too willing to cheat a segment of the overall population that is more vulnerable than younger adults.

The Senior Trafficking and Exploitation Reform of 2014 legislation deserves serious consideration in the General Assembly. We urge Grand Strand state representatives and senators to support it.

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