HENRICO, V.A. — U.S. Representatives Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07) and John Katko (R-NY-24) introduced bipartisan legislation to create medical-legal partnerships — multidisciplinary teams that combine clinical staff with social workers and lawyers at a single healthcare site — to improve seniors’ and other vulnerable elders’ access to legal and social services in healthcare settings and help protect them from elder abuse.
Recent studies have found that approximately one in 10 seniors have experienced some form of abuse in the last year, including psychological abuse, financial abuse, and neglect.
The bipartisan Linking Seniors to Needed Legal Services Act would create a grant program for individual states to develop medical-legal partnerships to establish, improve, or maintain linkages between health and social services for vulnerable seniors in healthcare settings. These linkages would help meet vulnerable patients’ social and legal needs that can be detrimental to overall health when unmet, such as housing, food, education, and access to care.
Specifically, this bill would also require states to fund the development and expansion of legal assistance hotlines to identify seniors who could benefit from access to these services. These hotlines would help connect more vulnerable patients to professionals who can best address seniors’ social determinants of health and combat neglect, isolation, and exploitation.
“The U.S. population is aging, and our seniors deserve the resources required to make informed decisions about their care. However, seniors and vulnerable patients cannot always determine when they require legal aid in addition to medical treatment and, in many cases, may not be aware of the large array of resources that are available to them” said Spanberger. “When vulnerable seniors have access to social workers and legal expertise at healthcare sites, the likelihood of meeting the whole of their needs and finding solutions to their challenges greatly increases. Elder abuse is a silent epidemic in the United States, and the Linking Seniors to Needed Legal Services Act would give our seniors valuable tools to prevent abuse before it happens. I am proud to lead this bipartisan legislation to make sure our seniors can access the care and resources they need — and I thank Representative Katko for joining me in this effort.”
“I’m glad to introduce the Linking Seniors to Needed Legal Services Act alongside Rep. Spanberger,” said Katko. “During the pandemic, we unfortunately saw increased rates of elder mistreatment and neglect as well as a rise in scams aimed at our nation’s senior population. The Linking Seniors to Needed Legal Services Act aims to combat these trends by providing funds to expand the availability of legal and social services within medical facilities serving older adults. Doing so would allow more patients to have access to trained advocates dedicated to preventing abuse and fraud and ensuring housing, food, education, and healthcare needs are met.”
“We thank Rep. Spanberger for her leadership on behalf of vulnerable older Americans,” said Edward F. Ansello, Ph.D., Director, Virginia Center on Aging, Virginia Commonwealth University. “This legislation recognizes that some older adults are at a preventable risk of poor health and living conditions, mistreatment, and exploitation. Appropriate multidisciplinary teams have been shown to be effective means of responding to these risks, both in prevention and care. State-based medical-legal partnerships would marshal the most appropriate resources to help such vulnerable older adults.”
“The Elder Justice Coalition commends Reps. Spanberger and Katko for introducing the Linking Seniors to Needed Legal Services Act and fully support its inclusion in the Elder Justice Reauthorization and Modernization Act of 2021,” said Bob Blancato, National Coordinator, Elder Justice Coalition. “By supporting the services of medical-legal partnerships and expanding the work of senior legal hotlines, underserved older adults will be able to reach legal supports, many for the first time. As advocates for elder justice, we too often hear of older adults who are unable to gain access to the justice system. This bill would help solve that problem.”
“On behalf of the more than 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, we are grateful to Rep. Spanberger for introducing the Linking Seniors to Needed Legal Services Act of 2021. People living with Alzheimer’s are at heightened risk for experiencing elder abuse, and this new bill would seek to address through the creation of medical-legal partnerships to ensure a holistic and inclusive approach to care and improve vulnerable elders’ access to legal and social services,” said Robert Egge, Chief Public Policy Officer, Alzheimer’s Association & Executive Director, Alzheimer’s Impact Movement.
“Social Security Works applauds Representative Abigail Spanberger for her important leadership in sponsoring the Linking Seniors to Needed Legal Services Act of 2021,” said Nancy Altman, President, Social Security Works. “Social Security and Medicare are essential for economic security, and so are services to ensure that people can access the medical, legal, and other support they need. Rep. Spanberger understands this. Her visionary approach will bring together interdisciplinary teams in every state to ensure that seniors can get their needs met at a single location. There is no question that this important legislation will improve all of our economic security.”
The Linking Seniors to Needed Legal Services Act would directly appropriate $125 million for each of fiscal years (FY) 2022 through FY 2025 to fund these programs as part of the Elder Justice Act.
The Spanberger-Katko legislation would also require states to report to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for evaluation and a report to Congress from the Secretary every four years.
Click here for the full bill text.