Forget Me Not: Applauding lawmakers for protecting elders

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I started the Forget Me Not mission seven years ago, after my grandma Mary Elizabeth Leavitt died in a nursing home after being severely neglected by medical staff in a Santa Fe, N.M., facility.

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Noelle Leavitt Riley

She had broken her hip, and as three months wore on after her hip replacement, the staff did not administer physical therapy on my poor grandma — none. Unfortunately, not a single member of my family lived in Santa Fe, so we didn’t know that she was being neglected.

When my husband and I — he was my boyfriend at the time — drove to Santa Fe to visit her, we found her confined to her bed, her body covered in bed sores and her knees completely locked.

Essentially, they rarely took her out of bed and never got her moving, and if they did, it was to only put her in a wheelchair to cart her to and from the dining room. What’s worse is that she had a terrible bladder infection because the nursing home staff didn't change her incontinence briefs.

It was a horrifying situation. My family decided to bring her to Denver, and she unfortunately passed away two months later in a metro-area nursing home. Her death, and the neglect that led up to her death, changed the way I viewed the elderly, nursing homes and what happens to us when we grow old.

Why must our senior citizens go through such hell as they near the end of life? I had to do something, so I formed the Forget Me Not foundation and began taking donated flowers to nursing homes, letting seniors know they are not forgotten by society.

Yet my mission does not change poor medical practices, neglect or thievery that happens to elders. That’s where our lawmakers come into play.

In 2013, the Colorado Legislature passed a wonderful law to cut down on elderly neglect and abuse. Under Senate Bill 13-111, a new class of protections was formed for what the bill calls “at-risk elders.”

The bill states that “certain professionals who observe the abuse or exploitation of a person who is 70 years of age or older (at-risk elder) or who have reasonable cause to believe that an at-risk elder has been abused or has been exploited and is at imminent risk of abuse or exploitation are required to report such fact to a law enforcement agency within 24 hours after making the observation or discovery. A mandatory reporter who fails to report commits a Class 3 misdemeanor.”

Bravo. The bill passed with hardly any opposition, and it was the first of its kind in Colorado to make it illegal if elderly abuse is not reported. I fully support this bill and applaud Colorado lawmakers for implementing such a law.

This year, the Colorado General Assembly is making amendments to strengthen the law under Senate Bill 98, which — if passed — will better define certain provisions in the law.

Again, bravo.

The safety of our elderly loved ones is just as important as the safety of our children and the disabled population.

The bill not only protects senior citizens from the type of abuse my grandmother endured, but it also protects them against those who try to take their money, homes and/or investments.

“We’re wanting to clarify what elder abuse is,” said state Rep. Sue Schafer, a co-sponsor of SB 98. “The new law is clarifying the language and statues.”

Schafer told me a few real-life stories of physical and sexual abuse that have happened to our senior citizens, and she also told me about family members who have stolen money and home deeds from their elderly loved ones.

“This is becoming a huge problem because, unfortunately, family members are becoming the biggest abusers of taking money from their checking accounts and the deeds on homes,” she said. “There are all kinds of creative scams going on against the venerable population.”

Money scams absolutely are a problem among the senior population, in addition to unimaginable abuses.

“I know these nursing homes supervisors are taking this bill very seriously,” she said.

Good, they should. It’s unfortunate that it took a new regulatory law to ensure abuse is reported, but at least it’s now in place.

“Before we passed the bill, there was no protection of at risk elders,” Schafer said, adding that she is pleased with the overwhelming support from her fellow lawmakers. “We didn’t have any state laws for additional responsibility for Colorado nursing homes.”

I hope our society can see “old people” as a viable segment of our population. Without them, we wouldn’t be here. My hat is off to lawmakers for recognizing the same sentiment.

Noelle Leavitt Riley is the managing editor of the Craig Daily Press and the Saturday Morning Press. She and her husband, Shawn Riley, run the Forget Me Not foundation, where they take donated flowers to nursing homes to let seniors know they are not forgotten by society. Contact her at 970-875-1790 or nriley@craigdailypress.com.

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