How to Report Elder Abuse in California | (2024) Guide, Tips, Info

Elderly man covering his face, distraught.

Last Updated on: 12th July 2023, 06:48 am

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 about known or suspected abuse? This guide will cover everything you need to know about reporting elderly abuse in California including how to recognize it and where to report elder abuse.

You’ll also learn if you are a mandated reporter, state law surrounding both elder or dependent adult abuse and failure to report, and how to seek help from a California elder abuse lawyer.

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, unlicensed or licensed staff in a nursing home, or a health practitioner.

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

  • Psychological or Emotional Abuse: This includes victim-blaming, demeaning, terrifying, intimidating, and threatening, among other behaviors. Mental and emotional abuse is one of the most commonly reported types of elder mistreatment.
  • Physical Abuse: This includes assault, rape, over or under medicating, hitting, scratching, and other forms of physical harm. According to the World Health Organization, physical abuse accounts for approximately 16.5% of reported senior abuse.
  • Sexual abuse: Sexual assault is frightening and underreported. Reports indicate sexual abuse in nursing homes is a rampant problem.
  • Financial Abuse: This refers to 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.
    Abandonment: This is desertion of a dependent elderly victim by the caretaker.
  • Isolation: This refers to confining a senior to the home, preventing them from contacting friends or family, or otherwise keeping them alone.
  • Neglect: This can include failure to provide proper food, water, attire, and/or medications or failure to maintain appropriate hygiene for a dependent adult. Neglect can result in dehydration, infection, bed sores, falls, and other types of serious injury. Neglect may be intentional, the result of caregiver burnout, due to a lack of resources, or self neglect by older adults. Understaffing in nursing homes is a common cause of neglect.
  • 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 recognize 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.

Signs of abuse in seniors with dementia can be particularly challenging to recognize. You may notice evidence of physical restraint like marks around the wrists, unexplained bruises or injuries, or a sudden change in behavior, particularly around caregivers or staff. If your loved one is in a nursing home and unable to speak for themselves, installing a nursing home camera in the resident’s room may be an option.

How to Report Elder Abuse in California

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 elder abuse to the appropriate state department or law enforcement agency. Reports of abuse can be cross-reported to licensing boards, government agencies, and law enforcement to ensure action is taken.

Where to Report Elder Abuse in California

Reporting elderly abuse in California can be confusing with many agencies accepting abuse and neglect reports. The correct agency or department depends on where the senior lives (community, public or private facility) and sometimes the type of abuse.

Here is an overview of the appropriate community agencies you should contact.

  • California Adult Protective Services (APS): Investigates abuse of an elderly person or dependent adult in a private home, apartment, hotel, or acute or inpatient hospital in California.
  • California Long Term Care Ombudsman: Handles reports of abuse in nursing homes, adult residential facilities, adult day programs, and day health centers.
  • Attorney General’s Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud & Elder Abuse: Investigates and prosecutes elder abuse and Medi-Cal fraud committed by care facility employees, Medi-Cal providers, and operators of hospitals, residential care facilities, and skilled nursing homes.

Other agencies allow you to file a complaint against a facility for neglect or abuse.

The California Department of Social Services accepts complaints against licensed facilities including adult day programs and Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly (RCFEs).

The California Department of Public Health accepts complaints against licensed skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), intermediate care facilities, adult day health centers, rehab centers, and acute care hospitals.

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.”

Your county adult protective services department investigates cases of suspected abuse and cross-reports abuse to law enforcement, licensing boards, and other pertinent government agencies.

What does Adult Protective Services do? The older adult’s individual needs will be assessed to develop a service plan. This may include removing the adult from their living situation and assisting with admittance to a facility or involving other agencies to protect an older adult from an abusive environment or caregiver.

When to call Adult Protective Services: Call APS if you have reasonable suspicion or knowledge that neglect or abuse is occurring. You do not need proof of abuse; APS will conduct its own investigation.

How to contact APS and report abuse: Call the APS elder abuse hotline at 1-833-401-0832. When prompted, enter your zip code to be connected to your county APS 24 hours per day.

You can find a full list of APS contact information by county here.

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

Report Elderly Abuse to Your Local California Long-Term Care Ombudsman

The Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman (OSLTCO) is a government agency that holds jurisdiction over investigations of elder abuse in long-term care facilities, nursing homes, day programs, and other care institutions. You can learn about the California ombudsman program here.

A long-term care ombudsman represents families and nursing home residents to investigate and resolve complaints quickly. Your ombudsman can help you understand your legal rights and reach a resolution with services provided free of charge.

Below are resources to contact your local ombudsman. The CRISISline number takes calls and refers complaints from long-term care residents.

California ombudsman number: 1-888-452-8609
Statewide CRISISline number: 1-800-231-4024
Find your local ombudsman office

Report Suspected Abuse or Neglect to the 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, older adults, and dependent adults. The bureau has three divisions to investigate and prosecute reports of abuse.

Attorney General’s elder abuse phone number: 1-800-722-0432
Online Elder Abuse Complaint Form

Report Financial Abuse by In-Home Providers to the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS)

The DHCS regulates In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) to provide health care assistance to lower-income families and individuals and provide healthcare benefits to Medi-Cal beneficiaries. Call if you suspect financial fraud by an in-home supportive service provider.

IHSS fraud hotline: 1-800-822-6222

What Happens When You Report Elder Abuse?

After reporting elder abuse, an investigation will begin. An APS worker or other responder may contact you to get additional information about the incident. Depending on the circumstances and results of the initial investigation, additional agencies such as a licensing agency, long-term ombudsman, or local law enforcement may be contacted to further investigate or take action.

The outcome of your report will depend on the type of intervention needed. An ombudsman may work with a facility and staff to better meet the needs of a resident or help family members use community resources and/or relocate the senior to another facility. Law enforcement may respond to arrest caregivers committing elder abuse. Facilities may also be fined or face a wider investigation as the result of a report.

California Elderly Abuse Laws & Elder Abuse Reporting Requirements

California takes elder abuse very seriously with many laws designed to protect vulnerable older adults and dependent adults.

All older adults have the right to be free of abuse and neglect. Nursing home residents have specific rights under the California Nursing Home Resident’s Bill of Rights. Residents and family members can file a civil lawsuit against the facility for violations of a resident’s rights.

California Penal Code 368 also makes elder abuse a crime. This California elder abuse law imposes criminal penalties for elderly 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.

In the case of financial abuse of a senior, the penalty is up to one year in county prison plus a $1,000 fine, or up to four years in state prison when the value of the fraud exceeds $950.

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.

California law defines a mandated reporter for adults who are dependent on care as someone who has “full or intermittent responsibility” for the custody or care of an elder or dependent adult “whether or not they receive compensation.”

California mandated reporters include:

  • Secondary caretaking family members
  • Medical providers
  • Care custodians
  • Social workers
  • Financial advisors or employees of financial institutions
  • Local law enforcement agency employees including police officers
  • County Adult Protective Services workers
  • Clergy member

If you are a mandated reporter, you must report known or suspected abuse or neglect as soon as possible by phone. You must follow up with a written report within 2 days.

Penalties for Failure to Report Elderly Abuse

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 is up to six months in county jail and a fine up to $1,000.

A felony failure to report occurs when the abuse resulted in the victim’s death or great bodily injury. The punishment for this felony is up to one year in county jail and a fine up to $5,000.

Can You Report Elder Abuse Anonymously?

You can report elderly abuse anonymously or confidentially. You may wish to make an anonymous report if you are afraid of retaliation or concerned about your job as a medical provider.

Mandated reporters are required to identify themselves on written reports. Their identity can remain confidential. If you are not a mandated reporter, you can choose to report elder abuse anonymously.

Even if you are not a mandated reporter, it’s ideal to give your contact information to Adult Protective Services (APS) or your local law enforcement agency so they can follow up and make sure they have all relevant information.

What to Do if You Suspect Elder Abuse & How to Protect Your Loved One

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.

Are you seeking assistance for a civil case regarding physical or psychological elder abuse? The San Diego 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