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Toughen laws on elder abuse

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opinion Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

In a case that garnered national attention, Christopher Wise of Seattle, a college graduate, was recently sentenced to more than three years in prison after being charged with murder for allowing his 88-year-old mom to rot to death. He was her sole caretaker.

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Disturbingly, if Wise had lived in Minnesota instead of Washington state, he might never have been charged with murder. Minnesota is one of only five states without a felony-level penalty for criminal neglect of a vulnerable adult.

Outrageous? You bet. Minnesota shouldn’t be a place where caregivers can lock grandma in a sweltering car while they run errands and never be charged with a felony, even if she ends up in the hospital from the maltreatment (a real-life case).

Nursing homes and other caregiver businesses shouldn’t be exempted, though that’s what it likely would take for senior providers in order to get behind any felony-level law, according to Darrell Shreve, vice president of health policy with Aging Services of Minnesota.

That view is shortsighted and self-centered. It’s like the outcry from clergy in 1993 when Minnesota passed a statute prohibiting them from having sex with anyone seeking their spiritual counsel. Minnesota’s vulnerable children are already afforded these legal protections. While the national cost of child abuse is estimated at $100 billion a year, the high cost of elder abuse has yet to be counted.

“We have a whole raft of issues hitting the state with our aging population, and this is a piece of that,” Gottwalt said. “We ought to have laws on the books.”

Minnesota needs to send a strong message that caregivers can’t mistreat the elderly. Such despicable behavior is usually driven by greed — inheritance is often a motivation — and it should draw a stiff criminal penalty.

— Star Tribune

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