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Op-Ed: Protecting Vulnerable Adults from Abuse and Neglect through Legislation

Opinion Section: Op-Ed
Photo by: Swaraj Tiwari


I am blessed to have been raised in an intergenerational household and to have my own mother currently living less than five minutes away from my family. I also have had the terrible experience of trying my best to care for my aging father at the end of his life and needing to rely on caregivers. Unfortunately, some of those caregivers were more compassionate than others.

In addition, through my work as an advocate for those with disabilities and more recently through concerns shared with my office from residents of District 42B, I have heard horror stories about the treatment of vulnerable family members at the hands of those who were being trusted to care for them. That is why I feel such a strong responsibility as a state lawmaker to protect our elderly and most vulnerable citizens from abuses and why I introduced House Bill 33 (HB33) to criminalize emotional abuse against vulnerable adults in Maryland.

At some point most of us will be considered vulnerable adults; a term described as a person over the age of 18 who lacks the physical or mental capacity to provide for their own daily needs and requires the assistance of caregivers, either in the home or in a residential setting.

Five million vulnerable and elderly adults are abused annually in the United States and 95 percent of these experience some sort of emotional abuse. Recent studies show that half of dementia patients experience abuse. There are protections in place against physical, sexual or financial abuse against vulnerable adults, but engaging in behavior that is intended to cause extreme emotional distress through humiliation, threats or verbal abuse is not currently a criminal act in Maryland.

Maryland advocacy groups and agencies describe emotional and psychological abuse in their online and paper resources, but when these instances are reported there is no way to prosecute even the most extreme cases.

We know that emotional and psychological abuse can be just as damaging as other forms of abuse and can shorten the lifespan of a vulnerable adult and contribute to the destruction of brain cells and neural connections. This poses increased dangers for elderly adults and those who are already mentally compromised.  In addition, it is common for these citizens to be socially isolated, depressed and to have much higher incidences of suicide than those who are not abused.

Under current state law, children are protected from psychological and emotional abuse, but vulnerable adults are not.  If HB33 is passed, Maryland will join many other states that do hold abusers accountable.

This legislation was inspired by the many horrific stories of psychological and emotional abuse that have been shared with me and my office since being elected to the House of Delegates in 2018 and which illustrate a need for additional protections for vulnerable adults.

Each one of us will someday find ourselves or our loved ones in the position to need help with daily tasks. Our disabled and elderly citizens are no less deserving of respect, dignity and quality of life than the rest of us. That is why I am introducing and championing HB33 this legislative session in the Maryland General Assembly, a bill which is designed to protect our most vulnerable adults.

The hearing for this legislation has been scheduled for Tuesday, January 21 in the House Judiciary Committee. If you or someone you know is interested in supporting this bill, please contact my office at 410-841-3793 or Michele.guyton@house.state.md,us by Monday at noon.

Thank you,

Delegate Michele Guyton

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