Sacramento Elder Abuse Team Report Identifies Few Suspicious Deaths Not Previously Reported
A review of more than 100 deaths of elderly Sacramento County residents found that few resulted from abuse and none of the cases were referred for prosecution, according to a report the county Elder Death Review Team will present to the county Board of Supervisors Tuesday, the Sacramento Bee reports.
The team, which was created by District Attorney Jan Scully and county Health and Human Services Director Jim Hunt after a 1999 campaign to encourage reporting of elder abuse, conducted the "in-depth analysis" of elderly deaths from its start in December 2001 through December 2003, according to the Bee. The team is the first of its kind in the state, the Bee reports.
For the analysis, the team -- which is composed of law enforcement officials, prosecutors, the coroner, officials from adult protective services, officials from hospitals, state licensing officials and the state's long-term care ombudsman -- reviewed the deaths of patients ages 65 and older that had open cases of alleged abuse, blunt trauma, prior allegations of suspected abuse or disagreement about the cause of death.
The report recommends:
- Additional scrutiny in investigations into the deaths of patients who could not communicate their medical condition or living situation;
- Immediate access for law enforcement officials and social workers to geriatric physicians;
- An educational campaign to warn about risks to the elderly associated with common medications;
- A volunteer telephone contact program to check on seniors within Adult Protective Services; and
- An ongoing case management unit of APS to monitor patients age 85 and older who are at high risk for abuse because of frailty.
Deidre Kolodney, EDRT founder, said she is concerned that more abuse-related deaths actually occurred but were not found because physicians did not identify them appropriately. Kolodney said physicians often conclude, "You're 90, you're expected to die." She added, "Doctors do sign off pro forma on many elder deaths."
Assistant District Attorney and EDRT Chair Jeff Rose said physicians can attribute a death to natural causes without questioning whether the patient was abused or neglected because autopsies are not routinely performed. Rose said, "We need more education for doctors that deal with geriatric issues and more training for the first responders so if there are suspicious issues, we catch them" (Weaver Teichert, Sacramento Bee, 11/23).