Mini-Windows: Addressing a Steep Rise in Elder Abuse

An interim series aimed at highlighting lesser known Majority Coalition Caucus-led budget accomplishments in the 2015 & 2016 sessions.

An alarming and largely unreported trend in recent years has been a steep rise of vulnerable adults being abused in our state. The current budget adds significant staff to stem, and hopefully reverse, that tide.

A.   The Unrecognized Abuse Epidemic

In the current year there’s projected to be an all-time high of over 31,000 reports made to the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) of vulnerable adults being abused.  This is a 50% increase over three years and a nearly 100% increase over six years ago.

Abuse Cases

“Vulnerable adults” are defined as adults:

  • over 60 years old that cannot care for themselves and receive in-home care and support;
  • with a developmental disability; or
  • living in a DSHS licensed facility, such as a nursing home or adult family home. 1

The abuse takes many forms with financial (25%), neglect (18%), mental (17%), and physical (13%) being the most common. 2

B.   Moral & Financial Concern

This dramatic rise is concerning on multiple fronts:

  • First, these are vulnerable adults, and it is the state’s (and society’s) moral obligation to protect these individuals.
  • Second, the vast majority of these vulnerable adults have caregivers that have been licensed and paid by the state.
  • Finally, creates significant lawsuit implications for taxpayers and the state budget, which can run into several millions of dollars. 3

C.   Steps to Stem the Tide: Historic Investment in New Staff to Investigate Abuse Claims

The current budget adds funding for more than 100 new staff dedicated to investigating claims of vulnerable adult abuse. 4 This is the single largest infusion of workers to investigate elder abuse in state history.

It is the Legislature’s expectation that these new workers will help conduct more timely claim investigations, stopping abuse sooner, and ultimately reduce the instances of abuse by weeding out unfit caregivers.

The dramatic upward trend in recent years is simply unacceptable and increasing oversight is the first step in stemming this tide.

Bottom Line

The Legislature made a historic investment in new workers to investigate, and ultimately reduce, the number of instances of vulnerable adults being abused.


  1. RCW 74.34.020(21)
  2. Senate W&M staff analysis of FY 15 claims accepted for investigation. The other major reported type of vulnerable adult abuse is self-neglect (19%).
  3. See, for example, the Linda David case. The state paid her husband to care for, but she was subject to years of horrific abuse.   Ultimately the state paid $9 million for this one case alone.
  4. Adult Protective Services staff will increase from 194 FTE in FY 15 to 298 FTE in FY 17 under the 2015-17 operating budget.