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Mandatory reporting of elder abuse

Question: Who must report what under Colorado’s new law for mandatory reporting of elder abuse?

Answer: Between 2011 and 2021, the number of older adults in Colorado will increase 54 percent, according to the Colorado Department of Human Services. As the number seniors in Colorado rises, the  possibility and opportunity for elder abuse unfortunately increases as well.

In view of Colorado’s aging population and the concerns surrounding elder abuse, Gov. John Hickenlooper on May 16 signed into law a bill that requires certain professionals  to report abuse of an “at-risk adult” to law enforcement. Before enactment of Senate Bill 111 this year, Colorado was one of only three states without a mandatory reporting law.

Professionals now required by the new law to report abuse of an at-risk adult include, but are not limited to:  medical professionals, mental health professionals, court-appointed  guardians and conservators, pharmacists, care facility personnel, home health care providers, social workers, clergy members, law enforcement officials and personnel of lending or financial institutions. These professionals are characterized as “mandatory  reporters.”

The new law defines such abuse to include not only physical or emotional abuse, but also financial exploitation. An at-risk adult is defined as any person who is 70 years of  age or older or any person who is 18 years of age or older and is a person with a disability as defined in the law. Eight different conditions constitute disability as defined, including inability to walk, see, hear or speak; inability to breathe without mechanical  assistance; mental illness or impairment; and developmental disability.

If a mandatory reporter observes abuse of an at-risk adult, or has reasonable cause to believe that such abuse has occurred, he or she must report the abuse to a law enforcement  agency or officer within 24 hours of making the observation or discovery.

From there, the law enforcement agency is required to notify the department of social services (specifically Adult Protective Services) for the county in which the victim lives,  and notify the district attorney’s office where the abuse occurred. When appropriate, law enforcement will complete a criminal investigation.

The new law includes liability protections for mandatory reporters who do report. If a designated mandatory reporter willfully fails to report such abuse of an at-risk adult,  he or she can be charged with a class 3 misdemeanor.

The Colorado Bar Association welcomes your questions on subjects of general interest. This column is meant to be used as general information. Consult your own attorney for  specifics. To submit general legal questions to the CBA, e-mail Sara Crocker at scrocker@cobar.org.

 About Legal Lines

Legal Lines is a question-and-answer column provided as a public service by the Colorado Bar Association. Attorneys answer questions of interest to members of the public for  their general information.

The Colorado Bar Association is a voluntary bar association with more than 18,000 members — almost three-quarters of all attorneys in the state — founded in 1897. The bar provides  opportunities for continuing education, volunteering and networking for those in the legal profession while upholding the standards of the bar. The bar likewise works to secure the efficient administration of justice, encourage the adoption of proper legislation  and perpetuate the history of the profession and the memory of its members. For more information, visit cobar.org.

This story was posted on July 12, 2013.