The Vermont House recently passed H. 105, an act requiring the Commissioner of Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living, part of the VT Department of Human Services, to provide quarterly information on the number of adult abuse reports received by the department, the number actually investigated, the number declared unsubstianted after an investigation, and the reasons why some reports were not investigated at all.
This bill was a response to press stories about how Vermont lags behind other states in investigating abuse reports and coming to the rescue of victims. An August 2011 news article by VT Digger asserted that Adult Protective Services, the responsible department at Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living, had the worst response times in the country to abuse reports, that investigations drag on for months longer than the national average, and that a suspiciously low number of investigations, compared to those in other states, result in the substantiation of abuse. The VT Digger report can be read online at http://vtdigger.org/2011/08/07/abused-vulnerable-adults/.
At the time of the VT Digger article, disability rights groups were working with the Department of Human Services to resolve the problem, but the groups sued the department in December of that same year (http://www.benningtonbanner.com/news/ci_19550098). As far as we have been able to ascertain, that suit is still pending.
It would be naive
to think that passage of H.105 (when and if the Senate acts on it) will solve the problem. During the testimony about assisted suicide in the Senate last February, we learned that an unrelated hospice access expansion bill passed in 2011 has not been implemented because Medicare denied the waiver it required the state to request. A senator who had experienced the vote on that bill had to go ask someone whether it had been implemented. Even if the reporting requirements in the bill were fulfilled exactly, further legislation would be required to address the concerns that arise from the reports. The path to making Vermont a state in which vulnerable people are not abused will be long and torturous, if even possible.
Elder abuse is a huge problem that is widely acknowledged to go unreported in most cases, precisely because the abusers are those on whom the elderly depend not only for care but also often for the only companionship they have (http://www.ccvs.state.vt.us/pub_ed/index.html). In a state where even reported cases are not investigated, how can we even think of introducing legal assisted suicide, which, by putting lethal drugs into the homes of vulnerable people and requiring no witnesses at the time the drugs are taken, provides the perfect cover for murder pure and simple?