Protecting Seniors – a Top Priority
Seniors are among society’s most vulnerable communities. They often have limited mobility, a fixed income and live alone or rely on others for certain aspects of care. Unfortunately, even when supportive family members are present, misinformation and fear often make seniors less likely to report when they are the victims of fraud or other types of abuse. Seniors worked hard their entire lives to care for us, and I believe that we have a responsibility to empower and protect them from abusive opportunists.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, senior citizens are prime targets for scam artists seeking to defraud them of money or personal information. And with so much information available to strangers through the Internet and other mass media, it is hard to know which opportunities are legitimate, and which are not. In the past year, the Crescenta Valley Weekly has reported on numerous scam victims in the Glendale and Foothills communities, including an elderly Glendale woman who received a phone call from a man pretending to be her grandson and asking for bail money to be sent to him in Spain, and a La Cañada senior who lost her entire life savings to a phone scam.
That’s why I’ve taken proactive measures to educate, empower and protect seniors from scams and other forms of fraud. In my very first term as a legislator, I authored AB 1624 (2012). This important legislation protects senior citizens and others from having their bank accounts drained by a co-signatory. I’ve also been teaming up with state and local organizations to host free “Senior Scam Stoppers” events and help seniors avoid becoming victims of fraud and financial abuse. The events feature a team of experts that discuss fraudulent scams relating to home repair, finances, identity theft, Medicare and other topics.
But financial fraud and identity theft are not the only ways that seniors can be abused. While running for office in 2010, I heard stories from constituents about their parents and grandparents having their right to vote stolen by caretakers. As we approach another election cycle, and with a rising number of our seniors in living situations where they are under continuous care or supervision, some may feel intimidated or coerced when it comes to participation in elections. That’s why I authored AB 547 (2011), which made it a misdemeanor for anyone providing care or direct supervision to a person who is at least 65 years of age to coerce or deceive that senior into voting for or against a candidate or measure contrary to the senior’s intent.
Of course, even if actions aren’t intended to harm seniors, we must always remain vigilant of their vulnerable status and unique needs. For the past year, the Crescenta Valley Weekly has been a staunch advocate for elders right here in our community, as they have faced numerous challenges following the rapid and unexpected closure of the Twelve Oaks Lodge.
I believe that seniors deserve to know their housing will not simply disappear without being afforded the opportunity to find another place to call home. Sixty days was clearly insufficient time for seniors to find appropriate housing alternatives that could meet their medical, psychological or financial needs. That’s why I was proud to support the efforts of former residents and local community members to save the Twelve Oaks Lodge, including drafting a letter asking Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate the legality of the closure, encouraging the Glendale City Council to explore emergency measures to temporarily halt the facility’s closure, and urging amendments to AB 2171 (2014), which established a set of statutory rights to protect the safety of elderly residents of assisted-living facilities and require a 90-day notice be given to all residents before any senior assisted-living facility may be closed.
I remain committed to protecting our seniors, and advocating on their behalf. If you have ideas for additional legislation or events on this topic, or if you are a senior in need of assistance with a state or local agency, please contact my district office at (818) 558-3043. My staff and I will be happy to assist you.
Mike Gatto is the chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the California State Assembly and joint author of the 2014 Water Bond. He represents Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Atwater Village, East Hollywood, Franklin Hills, Hollywood Hills, Los Feliz, and Silver Lake. Follow him on Twitter @MikeGatto or visit www.asm.ca.gov/gatto.