If you're concerned that an elderly person may be being abused, it's important to take action – particularly because she may not be able to do so herself. If you live in Oregon, you have the protection of an elder abuse statute that's considered to be one of the most powerful in U.S. Under Oregon law, victims of elder abuse may be awarded damages for emotional distress and pain and suffering, and recover economic damages. Victims of elder abuse are also reimbursed for any legal fees paid to bring the action.
Definition of Vulnerable Person
Oregon law protects vulnerable persons from a wide range of acts constituting abuse or neglect. A "vulnerable person" includes a person age 65 or older, an incapacitated person and a "susceptible" person with a mental or physical disability. Anybody can make a report of suspected abuse of an elder person, and certain public and private officials are legally required to make a report if they have a reasonable suspicion of abuse or neglect.
Elder Abuse Statutes in Oregon
The laws pertaining to elder abuse in Oregon are contained in Title 13, Chapter 124 of the Oregon Revised Statutes. These laws provide a definition of elder abuse, guidance for mandatory reporting of abuse and neglect, and civil and criminal penalties for abuse. The law defines an elderly person as any person who is age 65 or older.
What Is Elder Abuse?
Oregon law has a broad definition of elder abuse, which includes:
- any non-accidental physical injury that cannot be justifiably explained;
- abandonment or neglect by a person with duties to care for the elderly person;
- willful infliction of pain;
- verbal abuse;
- financial abuse;
- sexual abuse;
- involuntary seclusion by a caregiver to punish; and
- wrongful use of physical or chemical restraint inconsistent with medical treatment or court order.
Elder abuse can occur in many locations, including the elder person’s home, a family member’s home, an assisted living facility or a nursing home. Oregon law applies the same definitions and standards for abuse of adults with developmental or physical disabilities or mental illness who are under the age of 65.
Read More: How to File Charges for Elder Abuse
Mandatory Reporting of Elder Abuse
Under elder abuse laws in Oregon, workers in certain professions are required to report reasonable suspicions of elder abuse or neglect. These mandatory reporters play a vital role in protecting Oregon's vulnerable senior citizens. They have a legal obligation to report a suspicion of abuse or neglect to the Oregon Department of Human Services or a law enforcement officer if suspicions arise during contact with an elder person while acting in an official capacity.
Mandatory reporting is required by (but not limited to) the following professionals and caregivers:
- licensed physicians or physician assistants
- license practical nurses, registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nurse's aides
- Department of Human Services employees
- peace officers
- clergy members
- regulated social workers
- physical, speech or occupational therapists
- senior center employees
- licensed professional counselors and marriage and family therapists
- emergency medical services providers
- adult foster care providers
- home care workers
Warning Signs of Physical Abuse
It's important to recognize the warning signs of elder abuse and neglect, because seniors may not be forthcoming in reporting the abuse themselves, or even have the mental capacity to realize that they are being abused or neglected.
Common warning signs of elder abuse include:
- an unexplained injury or an injury that doesn’t fit with the provided explanation;
- an elder person who is very withdrawn, non-responsive or non-communicative;
- unexplained or unexpected depression;
- persistent arguments between the elder person and a caregiver;
- sudden, unexplained changes in the elder person's financial circumstances; and
- signs of poor financial management, such as unpaid bills or overdue rent.
Warning signs of physical abuse include:
- cuts, lacerations, punctures and wounds;
- bruises, welts, discolorations and grip marks;
- burns, possibly caused by cigarettes, caustics, acids or friction from ropes or chains;
- an injury which has not been properly cared for;
- dehydration and/or malnutrition not related to an illness; and
- unexplained weight loss.
Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse is sexual contact with a non-consenting adult or with an adult considered incapable of consenting to a sexual act. It's important to note that a failure to object is not the same as giving consent. Sexual harassment or sexual exploitation of an adult, exposing an adult to, or making an adult the subject of sexually explicit material or language are other types of sexual abuse.
Sexual contact between an employee or volunteer of a facility or a caregiver and an adult served by the facility or caregiver is also considered sexual abuse under the law, unless a pre-existing relationship existed, but sexual abuse does not include consensual sexual contact between an adult and a caregiver who is the spouse or domestic partner of the adult.
Warning signs of sexual abuse include:
- unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding;
- torn or bloody underwear;
- bruised breasts;
- venereal diseases or vaginal infections;
- sudden changes in the emotional or psychological state of the person;
- abrupt changes in responses or behavior around certain people; and
- a disclosure by the person that she has been sexually abused.
Warning Signs of Emotional Abuse
Abuse isn't always physical or sexual. Verbal or emotional abuse includes threatening significant physical harm or threatening or causing significant emotional harm to another person.
Warning signs of verbal or emotional abuse include:
- humiliating, insulting, or threatening language directed at the person, such as derogatory or inappropriate names, insults, verbal assaults, profanity, ridicule, harassment, coercion, threats and intimidation, humiliation, mental cruelty or inappropriate sexual comments;
- being emotionally upset or agitated;
- being extremely withdrawn and non-communicative or non-responsive;
- unusual behavior usually attributed to dementia (e.g., sucking, biting and rocking); and
- an adult's report of being verbally or emotionally mistreated.
Warning Signs of Neglect
Neglect may be at the hands of another person (i.e., a family member or caregiver) or it may be self-neglect. Neglect occurs when the person who is responsible for the care, supervision and protection of a vulnerable person fails to meet those responsibilities, and in doing so, puts the vulnerable person at risk of serious harm, or results in physical harm, emotional harm, unreasonable discomfort or severe loss of personal dignity.
Warning signs of neglect include:
- health and safety hazards in the elder person's living environment, such as dirt or a fecal/urine smell;
- an elder person left in an unsafe or isolated place;
- rashes, sores or lice on the elder person;
- malnourishment, dehydration and/or sudden weight loss;
- an untreated medical condition;
- soiled clothing or bed linens; and
- poor skin condition or hygiene.
Warning Signs of Financial Exploitation
Financial abuse, also known as financial exploitation, includes the wrongful taking of assets, funds, property or medications belonging to or intended for another person. This may involve deceit, duress, fraud, trickery, harassment, subterfuge, coercion, threats or undue influence. Financial exploitation often occurs at the same time as another type of abuse or neglect. If you suspect an elder person is being financially exploited, then he may also be suffering another type of abuse or neglect.
Warning signs of financial exploitation include:
- unusual or inappropriate activity surrounding investment properties or in bank accounts, including the use of ATM cards, to make large or repeated withdrawals;
- signatures on checks, etc., that do not resemble the person's signature, or signatures when the person cannot write;
- power of attorney given, or recent changes in or creation of a will or trust, when the person is incapable of making such decisions;
- unpaid bills, overdue rent, utility shut-off notices;
- excessive spending by a caregiver on himself for new clothing, jewelry, automobiles;
- lack of spending on the care of the person, including personal grooming items;
- missing personal belongings, such as art, silverware or jewelry, and
- recent sale of assets and properties.
Involuntary Seclusion and Wrongful Restraint
Other types of elder abuse are involuntary seclusion and wrongful restraint. Involuntary seclusion is when an adult is confined, isolated or restricted to her room or a certain area, or restrictions are placed on the adult's ability to associate, interact or communicate with other people. Wrongful restraint involves the wrongful use of a physical or chemical restraint, including situations in which a licensed health professional has not conducted a thorough assessment prior to implementing a licensed physician's prescription for restraint, where less restrictive alternatives have not been evaluated prior to the use of the restraint, or where the restraint is used for convenience or discipline.
Warning signs of involuntary seclusion include:
- an adult's report of not being allowed to see or talk with people whom she would reasonably see or talk to;
- a person being kept away from locations where others can go;
- not being allowed to use the telephone; and
- not bring allowed to receive or send mail.
Warning signs of wrongful restraint include:
- being sedated;
- going to bed at an unusually early time or uncharacteristically early bedtime;
- bruises or marks on both wrists, both ankles, or a strip-like mark or bruise across the chest; and
- an adult's report of being tied up or sedated or not allowed to move.
Reporting Elder Abuse in Oregon
You don't have to be a mandatory reporter to report elder abuse. If you have suspicions of abuse, neglect or financial exploitation of an elder person in Oregon, contact your local Department of Human Services office.
Alternatively, call the toll-free number (1-855) 503-7233 to report abuse or neglect to the Oregon Department of Human Services.
If you think an elder person is being hurt or in immediate danger of being hurt, call 911.
When reporting a suspicion of elder abuse, it helps to provide as much information as possible, such as the elder person's identifying information (name, address, date of birth, etc.), the name of the person believed to be responsible for the care of the elder person and his position or relationship to the elder person, the nature and the extent of the abuse (including any evidence of previous abuse), the explanation given for the abuse and any other information which may be relevant.
Anyone who reports a suspicion of elder abuse or neglect in good faith in Oregon is immune from any civil or criminal liability that might otherwise arise, and her identity will be treated as confidential information.
When the Department of Human Services or law enforcement agency receives a report of suspected elder abuse, an investigation is started to determine the nature and cause. An investigation includes a visit to the elder person and communication with all individuals who may have knowledge of the case. If the alleged abuse takes place in a residential facility, the DHS will carry out an investigation regardless of whether the suspected abuser continues to be employed there. Under Oregon law, the investigation must be completed on or before 120 days after receipt of the report of abuse.
Legal Action For Elder Abuse
The elder person, his guardian, conservator or attorney-in-fact, a personal representative of the elder person's estate or a trustee for the elder person may bring civil action for elder abuse. A statute of limitations applies to legal action for elder abuse. Action must be commenced within seven years after discovery of the abusive or neglectful conduct.
- Oregon.gov: Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Rights and Abuse Prevention
- Oregon State Legislature: Oregon Revised Statutes Title 13 Chapter 124 — Abuse Prevention and Reporting; Civil Action for Abuse
- Oregon Department of Justice: Elder Abuse
- Orgeon.gov: How to Report Abuse and Neglect
- Oregon Department of Human Services Adult Abuse Prevention and Investigations: Oregon Administrative Rules Chapter 411 Division 20 Adult Protective Services – General
Claire is a qualified lawyer and specialized in family law before becoming a full-time writer. She has written for many digital publications, including The Washington Post, Forbes, Vice and HealthCentral.