Reading Eagle Letter to the Editor

November 22, 2017
A series of articles in the Reading Eagle this week (“Failing Care: abuses in nursing homes
seldom get reported to police”) raise important questions about the abuse and neglect of
vulnerable older Pennsylvanians. As Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, it’s a top priority of my
office to ensure we’re doing everything we can to protect Pennsylvania seniors who are care-
dependent, including answering some questions your readers may have about the law that these
articles didn’t address.
Under current Pennsylvania law, the Office of Attorney General is limited to investigating and
prosecuting neglect cases in nursing and personal care homes. However, state law does not
permit our office to investigate and prosecute abuse cases, a clear gap. Pennsylvania law defines
“neglect” and “abuse” differently, and only allows the Office of Attorney General to file criminal
charges under the neglect statute. I support reforms to allow our office to prosecute those who
abuse care-dependent persons.
The Reading Eagle stories reported data about patient abuse and neglect cases, and suggested
these incidents are under-reported to local law enforcement and state regulators by
Pennsylvania’s network of senior-care facilities and nursing homes. It’s true that neglect and
abuse must be reported and Pennsylvanians have a right to know whether their loved ones are in
a good home.
As Attorney General, I’m focused on protecting all Pennsylvanians, including seniors who are
care-dependent and living in facilities. We’re taking a number of action steps and support
reforms so we can investigate and prosecute cases of abuse. Under current law, the Attorney
General does not have that authority.
In 2014, the Office of Attorney General formed a neglect team which works continuously to
educate state agencies along with state and local law enforcement to protect Pennsylvania’s care-
dependent population. As part of this process, the team established a direct referral source from
the Pennsylvania Department of Aging and conducts monthly in-person meetings to discuss
cases of neglect.
This team conducts investigations into allegations of neglect based on referrals from the public,
state agencies, health care facilities and law enforcement. Our investigations have led to several
successful prosecutions in neglect cases. In addition, we regularly conduct public outreach with
Adult Protective Services, local coroner’s offices and nursing schools, on signs to look for
indicating neglect.
The Reading Eagle’s series notes five cases that federal authorities referred to the Office of
Attorney General in 2016. Four of the five were acted upon before I was sworn in as Attorney
General, and all were abuse cases, which had to be referred to local police. The fifth case that
was reviewed by the Attorney General’s office this year was jointly investigated by our office
and local police and neither neglect nor abuse were found.
The Office of Attorney General supports legislation to expand our ability to prosecute and hold
accountable those who physically abuse care-dependent persons. I strongly support House Bill
1124, sponsored by Representative Jim Cox, which would allow my office to investigate and
prosecute those who abuse care-dependent persons. I’m hopeful our partners in the legislature
will approve this reform legislation, and the Governor will sign it into law.
My office will keep using every resource at our disposal to protect vulnerable Pennsylvanians
living in care-dependent settings from harm. We owe our elderly that, and much more. I won’t
allow anyone to compromise their welfare.
Josh Shapiro is the Attorney General of Pennsylvania.