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Minister says new legislation will crack down on senior abuse

Tinée Furbert, the Minister of Social Development and Seniors, outlines the budget plan at a press conference (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Legislation to further crack down on senior abuse have been proposed, the House of Assembly was told.

Tinée Furbert, the Minister of Social Development and Seniors, said that three people were added to the Senior Abuse Register last year; however many of the island’s elderly were hesitant to press charges.

“Sometimes it can be very challenging for people to make reports, particularly when the accused is a child and the older adult doesn’t want to report offences,” she said.

“It could be because they help them in the home. It could be because they don’t want any backlash.”

She added: “There have been some proposed amendments to the Seniors Abuse Act to strengthen that particular act – there will also be some upcoming changes to the Human Rights Act that includes age discrimination, but we are overall looking to improve and build upon the Seniors Abuse Act.”

Ms Furbert told the House this week that efforts have been made to raise awareness about senior abuse and how seniors can raise complaints.

Senior abuse figures

In the 2023-24 Budget Book, the Government reported that 84 senior abuse complaints were filed during the 2021-22 year.

Among them were 15 complaints of physical abuse, 18 complaints of psychological abuse, one complaint of sexual abuse, 31 complaints of financial abuse and 19 complaints of neglect.

No final figures were available for the 2022-23 fiscal year, but 85 complaints had been forecast.

One Bermuda Alliance MP Susan Jackson noted the figure during the budget debate, stating: “That’s a lot of people, and those are just the people that have been reported.”

Ms Jackson also raised questions about the challenges stemming from the ageing population and cost-of-living increases, asking what efforts could be made to support the island’s rest homes.

“Its time for us to find a way to develop our seniors and put them in a situation where if they can’t age at home they can age at a place that feels like home,” she said.

She questioned if public-private partnerships could be used to help bolster the work of the facilities, or if there could be collaboration with other ministries to help make them more efficient, suggesting solar panels could help to reduce costs.

Ms Furbert responded that the ministry has been working alongside the Bermuda Health Council to provide long-term solutions to improve efficiency at rest homes.

“That includes a financial assessment of the nursing homes to improve efficiency and sustainability,” she said.

“We can all appreciate that every home is different. They have different overheads, different levels of debt and their financial statuses are being evaluated.”

She noted that the grants given to rest homes by the ministry were smaller than last year, but said additional funds were provided to the rest homes last year to help them in the wake of Covid-19.

“This ministry supported our rest homes with hardship benefits when they were going through difficulty in Covid,” Ms Furbert said. “We gave additionally to our nursing homes I think about $500,000.”

She also told the House that the ministry was still moving forward with its plan to implement a National Seniors Strategy, although the work had been hindered by economic challenges.

“We have had difficulty executing upon this because of the ministry’s current resources,” Ms Furbert said. “However, we have recently developed a National Seniors Strategy framework where we are trying to implement the development of the strategy over the next six months.

“We do have the support of the Bermuda Health Council and Cabinet recently approved the position of a policy analyst, so we will be working on this with a Ministry of Social Development action plan to implement over a three-year period.”

In a press conference, Ms Jackson raised concerns about the lack of progress on the strategy.

“It has been ongoing for a number of years under a number of PLP ministers and we still find that it’s in development without any progress,” she said.

“My other concern is there were no increases for rest home grants, and rest homes have the same high cost of living as everyone else. There are no additional funds for them to pay for the rising costs and the high cost for food, electricity and supplied.”

Ms Jackson said senior abuse cases had “skyrocketed” and action to protect seniors was urgently needed.

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Published March 03, 2023 at 7:53 am (Updated March 03, 2023 at 8:40 am)

Minister says new legislation will crack down on senior abuse

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