Maryland Overdue on Vulnerable Adults Protections

By Corey Johns.

Baltimore County is seeing an increase in the populations of both the elderly and adults with autism. Both groups would fall into the category of vulnerable adults, but under state law, there are no protections against emotional abuse for vulnerable adults like there are for juveniles.

District 42B delegate Michele Guyton introduced a bill to the House in the last session to add emotional and psychological abuse protections for vulnerable adults. While it did not pass last year, she has re-introduced it this year, and it deserves much more attention and support. Showing her dedication to supporting the bill, Guyton took the rare Annapolis action of pre-filing it so it was introduced the very first day of session, January 8. It is labeled HB 0033.

Michele Guyton
District 42B delegate Michele Guyton was named the 2019 Legislator of the Year by the Baltimore County Commission on Disabilities for her advocacy for disabled communities. This year she is re-introducing a bill to protect vulnerable adults from emotional and psychological abuse.

While the elderly and autistic populations in Baltimore County are increasing, this bill would increase protections against abuse for any adult with disabilities who needs a caregiver.

Personal care is naturally tense and can lead to moments of frustration for both the caretaker and the person in need of care, but consistent, constant, and intentional maltreatment of the person who has no choice but to get help can take a severe psychological toll.

Current state law already protects vulnerable adults from physical, sexual, and financial abuses but not severely emotional or psychological abuse. These protections are there for juveniles, however.

Emotional and psychological abuse includes but is not limited to:

    • intentionally embarrassing a person by spreading rumors that they had an accident after being unable to get to the bathroom on time
    • consistently and aggressively telling a person receiving care to hurry up when trying to get ready despite physical limitations slowing them down
    • convincing a person of lies to isolate them from others in order to take advantage of them

All three of these were actual, real-life examples submitted last session that led to Delegate Guyton to craft her bill.

Another example involved a person showing signs of Alzheimers and dementia. A family member convinced this person that the rest of their family was just out to get all of their money. By creating this false narrative for this individual with a compromised mental state, a trust was eventually legally changed to take out all other family members and left everything to the abuser. Legally, it was not financial abuse, because all paperwork and transfers were done through the legal process. However, isolating this vulnerable adult from the rest of their family, leaving them feeling like nobody else cared for them, and leading them to do things they certainly would not normally do is psychological abuse.

Recently in North Carolina, staff of an assisted-living and memory-care facility for people with dementia intentionally fed troubling misinformation to residents with the intention to get them to fight one another. The fights were filmed, posted on social media, and the staff was egging them on in the video.

These types of psychological abuse can leave a person feeling alone, like a burden, and worthless. Psychological abuse and emotional bullying can lead to more psychological issues that would require more care. It could even lead to a person’s death if they decide to starve themselves, not take their medicine, or kill themselves to no longer be in that situation of despair every day.

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, roughly 5 million vulnerable adults are victims of abuse and 95-percent of them experience some sort of emotional or psychological abuse. Psychological abuse protections for vulnerable adults are already in place in several states, including Alabama, Hawaii, South Dakota, South Carolina, and Utah. Maryland should be the next on that list.

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