Oregon Law Clarifies Elder Abuse Reporting

The Elder Abuse Bill (House Bill 4151 in 2014, which amended several parts of the Oregon Revised Statutes) was passed by the Oregon Legislature based on the efforts of the Elder Abuse Work Group, which included our firm’s Lara Johnson.

The Elder Abuse Work Group was given a broad mandate to look at a variety of issues, including the definition of “abuse.” The definition of abuse determines what mandatory reporters must report, what state investigators must investigate, and what conduct the State may punish with financial penalties. The Elder Abuse Work Group decided to strengthen the protection against sexual abuse and simplify the definition of neglect to provide better guidance to mandatory reporters and state investigators, and to provide more consistency with enforcement.

After this law was passed, it was made explicit that sexual contact between a resident of a care facility and an employee of the care facility is abuse and is not permitted. A resident or the resident’s family does not need to prove that sexual contact was non-consensual for the State to take action. Such conduct was inappropriate under all circumstances.

“Neglect,” under the statute as revised, means the “failure to provide basic care and services that are necessary to maintain the health or safety of an elderly person.” It is not necessary that the elderly person experience actual physical harm if the conduct itself is dangerous and may later result in actual harm to others. “Neglect” is not a failure to provide non-basic care.

Another part of the revised law was to have a more systematic approach to the abuse registry. The Department of Human Services (DHS) was tasked with creating and updating a registry of all persons who work and seek work at facilities or as home health care workers. The idea was that this list would include all caregivers who have committed crimes that would disqualify them from working with the elderly, or who have previously been found to have committed abuse by the State. The DHS was directed to develop rules establishing what a facility must report to DHS, what form such reporting must take, the procedures for administering the registry, and guidelines for release of information from the registry.

The unanimous passage of this Bill was a testament to the professionalism of the Elder Abuse Work Group, which includes members with very different interests and backgrounds. We are proud of their efforts and look forward to additional measures to protect vulnerable Oregonians.