A state advisory committee has recommended Montana direct $645,000 of federal COVID-19 recovery funds to increase efforts to fight exploitation of senior citizens by adding three elder councils to the state and hiring more staff to focus on crimes that hurt the elderly community.
Mark Mattioli, chief of the Office of Consumer Protection and Victim Services within the Montana Department of Justice, told the Montana Health Advisory Commission at its June 24 meeting that his agency has seen the need for such help for years and “frankly we are relieved you are reviewing it.”
“Senior exploitation can happen in several forms, but in whatever manner it occurs, it is devastating,” Mattioli said. He said such crimes against older people significantly decrease the quality of life of those who are victimized.
The funds would be used to hire two full-time prosecutors at the Montana Department of Justice to handle elder justice cases and to hire 1.5 investigators with the Department of Public Health and Human Services to handle elder justice matters. It would also be used to start up three more elder councils throughout the rest of the state and to reach out to tribal communities regarding issues impacting senior members.
The money would fund the programs for two years, state officials said.
Lynne Egan, deputy securities commissioner for the office of Securities and Insurance, said the Elder Justice Act, as authorized and funded through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, provides funds for “establishing, expanding, or enhancing state-wide and local-level elder justice networks for the purpose of removing bureaucratic obstacles and improving coordination across the many state and local agencies interacting with APS (Adult Protective Services) clients who have experienced abuse, neglect, or exploitation.”
Adam Meier, director of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, said there has been an increase in financial exploitation of senior citizen cases.
He said the current system lacks the capacity to handle it. He said the funds can be used to train other public sector attorneys to help. He said county attorneys from across the state have let his department know about the need.
The commission then approved the recommendation to seek the funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, and a request will be filed with the Administration for Community Living.
This follows a June 15 meeting held by Troy Downing, the commissioner of securities and insurance, in which his Senior Financial Exploitation Task Force discussed expanding the Eastern Montana Elder Justice Council program that now serves 22 eastern Montana counties with three more councils to serve the rest of the state.
In early 2019, Downing’s predecessor, Matt Rosendale, created a multi-jurisdictional task force to combat financial exploitation. The group, the Eastern Montana Elder Justice Council, coordinates community efforts in eastern Montana to address and reduce abuse, neglect and abuse of senior citizens and adults with disabilities. Then-Gov. Steve Bullock in 2019 classified the group as a criminal justice agency.
Egan described them as a “robust council” that has “done amazing things” to prevent, detect and provide resources for the prosecution of elder abuse.
“Councils work well,” she said, echoing comments from Mattioli earlier in which he said Montana had the sixth-oldest population in the country.
“Our population is one of the oldest and getting older,” Egan said. “The time is right to have a council covering every corner of the state.”
Downing said Tuesday he was glad there was agreement on more elder justice councils in Montana.
“The councils give us more legal and interagency investigatory help,” he said. “It takes resources to effectively combat elder exploitation. Through coordinated efforts of financial experts, law enforcement, prosecutors, health care providers and victim services, we can provide the multi-agency response necessary to protect Montana seniors who are often targets of fraud and abuse.”