How to Recognize and Report Elder Abuse in California | (2022) Guide, Tips, Info

Elderly man covering his face, distraught.

For seniors over the age of 65 in California, abuse and neglect are serious and highly prevalent issues. It’s estimated that one in six seniors are the victims of abuse, and many of those suffer from multiple types of abuse simultaneously. As a relative, friend or provider for a senior, it’s your responsibility to ensure they are adequately cared for in a safe and loving environment.

So what do you do when you suspect elder abuse? In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know about elder abuse, neglect, and mistreatment, including how to recognize abuse and who to call when you suspect it. You’ll also learn if you are a mandated reporter, the laws surrounding both abuse and failure to report, and where to seek help for your civil elder abuse lawsuit

What is Elder Abuse in California?

California has a litany of laws regarding Elder abuse, ranging from financial exploitation to sexual abuse. Generally, elder abuse is defined as any abusive act, be it mental, physical or financial, which causes suffering to a senior victim. Elder abuse is usually perpetrated by a “caretaker,” be it a family member, nursing home staff member or medical professional.

The typical types of abuse against elderly or dependent adults include: 

  • Psychological Abuse: Including victim-blaming, demeaning, terrifying, intimidating or threatening, among other behaviors. Mental abuse is one of the most commonly reported types of elder mistreatment.
  • Physical Abuse: Including assault, rape, over or under medicating, etc. According to the Wolrd Health Organization, physical abuse accounts for approximately 16.5% of reported senior abuse.
    • In California, the penalty for physical or mental abuse “under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death” is punishable with at least one year in county jail, plus a $6,000 fine, or up to four years in state prison. Significant injury or resultant death of the senior can increase the state prison penalty by up to seven years.
  • Financial Abuse: Embezzling, or taking funds from a person over 65, without their express consent. The U.S. Department of Justice lists financial fraud as the most prevalent type of elder abuse. 
    • California’s Penal Code section 368 states that when the value of the fraud exceeds $950, the penalty for financial abuse is one year in county prison, plus a $1,000 fine, or up to four years in state prison.
  • Abandonment: Desertion of a dependent elderly victim by the caretaker.
  • Isolation: Confining a senior to the home, preventing them from contacting friends or family or otherwise keeping them alone.
  • Neglect: Failure to provide proper food, water, attire, medications, and maintain appropriate hygiene for a dependent elder.
  • Abduction: Forcibly removing an elder from their home or long-term care facility, usually across state lines.

How to Recognize Elder Abuse

One reason that elder abuse is only reported for one out of every 14 cases is that many people don’t understand how to recognize senior mistreatment. To help you understand what constitutes elder abuse and how to “see” what’s happening, here are a few common indicators of abuse:

  • Malnourishment or dehydration
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Seen or suspected injury
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Agitation, anger, anxiety or fear
  • Unwillingness to talk about care or the caretaker
  • Nonresponsive
  • Making unreasonable excuses for their situation
  • Social isolation or inability to get in contact with the senior
  • Conflicting accounts of events from the caretaker and the victim
  • The caretaker speaks “for” the senior when not necessary
  • The caretaker has an indifferent or angry attitude towards the elder

For financial abuse specifically, indicators include adding a name to the elderly person’s bank account, frequent withdrawals to CASH or frequent withdrawals by the caretaker without a previous compensation agreement.

Who is a California Mandated Reporter?

Elder abuse reporting in California is mandated for those in direct contact with an elder or those who care for them, including those who perform medical care, assist or handle finances, or otherwise care for an elder. Mandated reporters include:

  • Secondary caretaking family members
  • Medical providers
  • Care custodians
  • Social workers
  • Financial advisors or employees of financial institutions
  • Police officers
  • Clergy members

Elder Abuse Reporting in California: Who to Contact

If you suspect elder abuse and are concerned for the victim’s immediate health, the first and most important thing to do is call 911. Law enforcement and first responders will be able to quickly assess the situation, and provide medical care to victims in need. In addition, you’ll need to call or report the abuse to your county’s Adult Protective Services provider.

Reporting Elder Abuse to Adult Protective Services (APS)

Adult Protective Services is a state and county funded program designed to help seniors and dependent adults who are “unable to meet their own needs.” Each county has it’s own APS, which not only investigates cases of suspected abuse, but also cross-report to law enforcement, licensing boards, and other pertinent government agencies.

To report senior mistreatment to APS, start by calling the 24-hour hotline for your county’s APS office. You can find a full list of APS contact information by county here.

You should also print and fill out a report for elder abuse and mail it to your local APS office. APS has a special reporting form for financial institutions who suspect fraud/embezzlement, which you can find here.

Other Places to Report Elder Abuse in California

In addition to contacting APS, you should also report abuse and neglect to the following community resources:

Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman (OSLTCO): This government agency holds jurisdiction over investigations of elder abuse in long-term care facilities, nursing homes, day programs, and other care institutions. You can find a full list of Ombudsman offices by county here

  • Statewide CRISISline phone number: 1-800-231-4024

Attorney General’s Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud & Elder Abuse: This agency is devoted to protecting elderly citizens specifically from medical fraud and financial abuse. It also works to safeguard children and disabled persons! Call for suspected medical abuse or neglect.

California Department of Health Care Services: This service provides health care assistance to lower-income families and individuals. They also provide healthcare benefits to Medi-Cal beneficiaries. Call if you suspect financial fraud by an in-home supportive service provider.

Misreporting and failure to report elder abuse: Legal Penalties

As long as an elder abuse report is given in good faith, with all details believed true by the reporter, there is no legal penalty if the report turns out to be misinformed. However, not reporting suspected abuse is a punishable offense. In California, failure to report can be either a misdemeanor or a felony.

  • For a misdemeanor failure to report, where the failure did not result in grave bodily harm or death, the penalty if six months in county jail and a $1,000 fine.
  • A felony failure to report occurs when the abuse resulted in the victim’s death or significant bodily injury. The punishment for this felony is one year in county jail and a $5,000 fine.

Protecting Your Loved Ones From Elder Abuse

Before placing your loved one in a care facility, or hiring in-home supportive services, make sure you do your research online to see if there have been cases of abuse or neglect against that institution. You can also call your local APS office to ask about existing or closed cases that are in the public domain. If a family member is the primary caretaker, and you have concerns, make sure to voice them to your family, and present other options for eldercare.

If you suspect your relative, friend or client is a victim, report the abuse immediately, and ask for help removing them from their situation and finding a new care solution. Seeking assistance for a civil case regarding physical or psychological elder abuse? The elder abuse attorneys at Berman & Riedel, LLP are eager to help. Fill out our online contact form or give us a call today at (858) 252-3143 to begin on the path towards justice for your elderly loved one.

About Berman & Riedel, LLP firm managing partner attorney William M. Berman:

Attorney William M. Berman focuses his practice in the areas of catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death and elder abuse and neglect. Strictly a plaintiffs’ dedicated firm, he never represents insurance companies in the defense of claims. Mr. Berman’s firm remains staunchly committed to helping those who have suffered serious injury or loss due the negligence, intentional misconduct or wrongful acts of others.

Mr. Berman has grown his firm to what is considered one of the largest and most successful elder abuse/neglect practices within California. Through his continued successes in handling claims involving nursing home and elder abuse and neglect, Mr. Berman remains a prominent figure in advocating on behalf of this vulnerable class of citizens.

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Attorney Bill Berman

William M. Berman, Esquire
Berman & Riedel, LLP
12264 El Camino Real, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92130
ph: (858) 350-8855
fax: (858) 350-9855