ACL Update 12-06-2019


Reflections from the Fall 2019 EJCC Meeting: Addressing Elder Abuse Wherever it Happens

December 6, 2019
Lance Robertson, Assistant Secretary for Aging and Administrator, ACL


On Tuesday, I had the privilege of chairing the fall 2019 meeting of the Elder Justice Coordinating Council.  The meeting featured an impressive panel of experts offering insights from the field, and the release of ACL's National Adult Maltreatment Reporting System (NAMRS) data report for 2018. Leaders from across the federal government also shared updates on their departments' efforts to combat elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

Robert Blancato speaking at EJCC meeting as ACL Administrator Lance Roberts takes notes.
Robert Blancato speaking at the EJCC meeting as ACL Administrator Lance Robertson takes notes.

I want to share four key themes that stood out throughout the presentations and discussions. A central focus was the need to address abuse across all residential settings, from communities–where most elders reside–to congregate residential long-term care settings, like nursing homes and assisted living. The importance of data, the criticality of partnerships, and the need to engage the public were reinforced, as well. 

Addressing Abuse in All Settings

Our meeting opened with a panel on elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation across residential settings.  Expert panelists described unique dynamics and challenges of addressing abuse in each setting and shared recommendations for the Council’s consideration.

Read panelists’ testimony 

Lori Smetanka, J.D., the Executive Director of the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, shared heartbreaking stories of abuse in long-term care facilities. She noted that this abuse can take many forms and that the perpetrators could be either staff or other residents. She also expressed concern that older adults experiencing abuse in facilities often lack access to the victim services available to people living in the community.

“As a society, it is incumbent upon us to intensify our efforts to combat elder abuse and neglect at all levels and in all settings, as well as support and seek justice for those who are victimized,” Smetanka concluded.

Dr. Pamela B. Teaster, director of the Virginia Tech Center for Gerontology, reinforced the need for evidence-based approaches.

“We must support people whose decision-making is compromised so that they can exercise the greatest autonomy possible and enjoy a life that is as full and healthy as possible,” Dr. Teaster told the audience. “And we must do this morally and ethically, and grounded in a foundation established by the best science and thinking possible.”

Elder Justice Coalition National Coordinator Robert Blancato noted that although recent high profile cases of abuse in nursing homes have captured media focus, the vast majority of abuse occurs in the community, because that is where most older adults live.

“The average victim of elder abuse is an older woman living alone between the ages of 75 and 80,” Blancato noted. Addressing isolation and developing strong supports is critical to addressing elder abuse in the community.


The importance of data was a constant theme throughout the meeting. As Elder Justice Coalition National Coordinator Robert Blancato put it, “you can't stop what you don't know.”

That’s why ACL worked with Adult Protective Services (APS) systems across the country to establish the first national system for collecting data on the abuse, neglect, and exploitation of older adults and adults with disabilities investigated and validated by APS programs. We are now working with federal partners on an elder abuse predictive analytics initiative, which will use advanced technology to find patterns in data from NAMRS and other data sets that can inform future elder justice work.

The 2018 NAMRS report represents the third year of NAMRS reporting.  One thing is clear – abuse is a growing problem. Between 2016 and 2018, APS reported a 15% increase in investigations, and the number of substantiated cases increased by nearly 6% (across the 44 states who reported these data for each of the three years). This underscores the need for robust programs to combat abuse, neglect, and exploitation as the population of older adults and adults with disabilities continue to grow.

Although participation in NAMRS is voluntary, all 56 states and territories have contributed data, and each year, they are increasing their capacity to report more, and higher quality, information. This level of participation is a testament to the dedication of APS programs to informing critical elder justice efforts.


The meeting also drove home the importance of partnerships of all types.

Our panelists highlighted the need for a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach as critical to combating elder abuse. Smetanka pointed to Georgia as one example. A partnership between Georgia’s long-term care ombudsman, adult protective services, state and local law enforcement and prosecutors, and other partners is working to stop benefits trafficking of adults living in board and care homes. Blancato highlighted the opportunity to build partnerships that bring emergency response professionals to the elder justice table.

EJCC members also talked about partnerships in their work. For example, the Social Security Administration is working with phone companies to block fraudulent calls that are “masked” so they appear to be coming from legitimate Social Security Administration numbers and the United States Postal Inspection Service is working with Jamaican authorities to stop lottery scams.

Public Engagement

Finally, the discussion highlighted ongoing engagement with the public.  

One memorable story came from Deborah Cox Roush of the Corporation for National and Community Service, who shared how a volunteer Senior Corp theater troupe used performances to start deeper conversations about elder abuse. Similarly, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been expanding their popular collection of placemats with information about common scams.

Smetanka pointed to the success of efforts to raise awareness around child abuse and domestic violence as models in expanding public awareness around elder justice. This is an issue ACL has been actively working on for a number of years, and our National Center on Elder Abuse, in partnership with the FrameWorks Institute, has made strides with the Reframing Elder Abuse project.

Successful public engagement also requires a lot of listening. The EJCC declared 2019 a “year of listening” and has held 10 listening sessions across the country to collect input that will shape our ongoing work. (We also are collecting public comments online until the end of the year.) We are incredibly grateful for the valuable insights and wisdom that so many people across the country have shared.

In conclusion, it is fitting that the EJCC met just a few days after Thanksgiving, when we celebrate the intergenerational bonds of family and friendship. These bonds are the reason that each of us has a responsibility to act when an elder in our community is deprived of their inherent dignity and rights. I am proud to work alongside champions like our expert panelists and all of the partners who participated in this EJCC meeting, and I know we will continue to make progress.



ACL Update 11-29-19


National Family Caregivers Month: Learning More about Caregiver Needs

November 29, 2019
Lance Robertson, ACL Administrator and Assistant Secretary for Aging

At this time of year, we stop to give thanks and spend time with our friends and loved ones to reflect on our many blessings. We spend time renewing the ties that connect families and sharing in the joys of the season. Because November is also National Family Caregivers Month, this is a time of year when we pause to think about the people whose support makes it possible for their loved ones to live independently in their homes and communities, as well as the increasing number of grandparents and other older relatives who take over raising children when their parents cannot. Without them, we could not effectively support community living for older adults and people with disabilities, and millions more children would enter the already overburdened foster care system.

Being here at ACL has given me the opportunity to meet some truly amazing individuals, including many family caregivers, grandparents, and older relatives who provide support for their loved ones. I have also met many talented and dedicated professionals whose mission is all about supporting family caregivers, grandparents, and older relatives. While nearly every program ACL administers, along with many others across the federal government, supports these folks in any variety of ways, I know we have the opportunity to do more on behalf of these incredible people.

Last year, Congress passed two important pieces of legislation that hold tremendous potential to strengthen how we support and sustain family caregivers, and grandparents and older relative caregivers. The Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act will establish a Family Caregiving Strategy to better support families. The Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act focuses national attention on better understanding the complex needs of grandparents and older relative caregivers. It also will help to make information about promising practices and programs more available to them.

Earlier this year, the Family Caregiving Advisory Council and Advisory Council to Support Grandparents Raising Grandchildren met for the first time here in Washington, DC. I chaired these meetings and came away from them more confident than ever about the potential they have for improving family caregivers’ access to needed support. It was an inspiring two days, and I was so happy to see the level of interest and engagement from members of the public, key partners, and other stakeholders.

At ACL, we know that input from the people most affected by our programs is critical to ensuring our work is relevant and responsive to their needs. Public input will help shape the ongoing activities of the two advisory councils and inform their recommendations. Right now, ACL is seeking responses to a few key questions for each of the councils. We especially need family caregivers, grandparents, and older relatives who are raising children, and people who have been in those roles in the past, to share their experiences and insights. We also need our partners and other advocates to share their expertise.         

We are collecting input online at Click this link to provide input to the Supporting Grandparents Advisory Council or this link to provide input to the Family Caregiving Advisory Council. (These requests for information will be published in the Federal Register next week, as well.)

The information we collect will provide up-to-date information to the councils and enable them to better understand the challenges facing family caregivers, solicit recommendations for how we can better engage with family caregivers in meaningful ways, and identify the latest promising practices for supporting family caregivers and grandparents raising grandchildren.

I’m asking for your help in two ways. First, please provide your input! Second, please help spread the word so we can ensure we are considering the needs and experiences of the widest possible range of people.

Related links:


ACL Update 11-11-2019


The Honor of Serving Those Who Served

November 11, 2019
Lance Robertson, ACL Administrator and Assistant Secretary for Aging

Approximately 200,000 Americans will join the U.S. military by the close of 2019. This year’s volunteers will join the ranks of the 24 million Americans who either currently serve in the military or are veterans. When each of them made the decision to join, they knew the sacrifices that lay ahead, the risks they might be asked to take, and the responsibilities one assumes when they put on the uniform. As a small token of appreciation, our nation sets aside the second Monday in November as a day to honor their service and remember that our freedom rests on the shoulders of those who agree to serve.

In 1988, I was one of those fresh recruits, and more than 10 percent of my colleagues here at the Administration for Community Living have served in the military, and some continue to serve as reservists. The Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force all are represented in our hallways, with service spanning from World War II through our current conflicts. I could not be prouder to serve alongside them.  (You can get to know a few of them in this blog post and in our Facebook album.)

Let me share the stories of two veterans, one who is a member of the ACL staff and another who has been served through one of our grantees.

When Omar Valverde was a freshman at the University of Idaho in 1985, he observed a fellow student become transformed from “party animal” to focused adult in a matter of months. His friend had joined the Army Reserve and a few months at boot camp had helped him mature. Inspired, Omar and two other friends soon signed up under the buddy system. The three of them were shipped off to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.

Omar laughs now as he recalls his 19th birthday. He was being disciplined for a minor infraction and his sentence was to perform a lot of pushups – so many pushups that a pool of sweat formed under his face. That sweat formed a pool so deep and wide he could see the reflection of his own face. Omar knows that the Army took in an inexperienced student and helped him become a finely tuned instrument.

Today, as an Aging Services Program Specialist in ACL’s Office of Elder Justice and Adult Protective Services, Omar harnesses the strength the Army gave him to protect the rights, financial security, and independence of older adults. Omar works with states to build innovative legal service delivery systems to address priority legal issues for older adults most in need, including veterans. 

Erin Cobb’s story is another demonstration of how the aging and disability networks  supported by ACL help veterans.  

Erin was a college student when she joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 2003. While she was in boot camp, the invasion of Iraq began. Erin returned to college and also went on to complete her combat training. In 2005 her studies were interrupted when she was deployed to Iraq. In 2011, after eight years of service, she was discharged from the military. Two months later, Erin’s life changed dramatically. Erin was the victim of domestic violence that culminated in an attempted murder-suicide on September 24, 2011. She suffered a severe spinal cord injury and left the hospital with what soon become a life-threatening pressure sore.

Things were going from bad to worse as the sore progressed. Erin is convinced she would not have survived if she had not become connected to Bernadette Mauro at the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation’s Military Veterans Program, part of ACL’s National Paralysis Resource Center. Instead, Erin continues to serve her country as both a peer mentor and Veteran Council member at the Military and Veterans Program.

Bernadette is quick to point out that ACL’s funding has allowed the Foundation to expand its support of veterans, including Erin. Bernadette reports that ACL funding has allowed the Foundation to take their deep knowledge of spinal cord injury and match it to their veteran outreach efforts.

The programs ACL administers under the Older Americans Act serve veterans in a variety of ways.  For example, an estimated 129,000 veterans receive home-delivered meals, and another 178,000 participate in programs at community centers and other congregate meal sites. Approximately 26,000 receive transportation services, and 22,000 receive caregiver support services.

ACL is determined to help bridge the gap between available resources and veterans in need. We applaud efforts such as the St. Mary’s County, Maryland, Department of Aging and Human Services Veterans Resource Day, which is being held today. Through their efforts, older veterans are being connected to social and health programs that help them continue to live in, and contribute to, their communities.

On this Veterans Day, as I contemplate the impact of our work, I feel blessed to be part of the ACL mission. The stories I shared are just a small glimpse into the work we do that helps veterans nationwide. To all those who have served, or are serving, in our armed forces, we thank you. On Monday, may you know that a grateful nation appreciates your sacrifices, and that ACL will always work to support you in living independently, in your community.


ACL Update 10-25-19


National Drug Take Back Day is Oct 26

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is Oct 26

The National Prescription Drug Take Back Day addresses a crucial public safety and public health issue. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9.9 million Americans misused controlled prescription drugs. The study shows that a majority of abused prescription drugs were obtained from family and friends, often from the home medicine cabinet.

On Saturday, October 26, police stations, pharmacies and community centers will be hosting prescription drug take back at over 4,000 locations. To find a location near you, visit

Go to your medicine cabinet and check for any unused or expired medications including opioids. Opioids go by many names, including morphine, codeine, oxycodone, hydromorphone, methadone, buprenorphine, and fentanyl in addition to other names such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, Opana, Codeine, Fentanyl, Tramadol or morphine such as Kadian and Avinz.

Unused medicine is a threat to the lives of children, older adults, and pets. Accidental drug misuse sends thousands of Americans to the emergency room each year. If you don’t need it, get rid of your “left-over” drugs for your family’s safety. Each Take Back Day, thousands of pounds of prescription drugs are returned, helping to prevent incidents of drug abuse and misuse across the nation.

Learn more by visiting

ACL Update 10-15-19


Residents' Rights Month: Know Your Rights, Stand for Quality

October is Residents' Rights Month, an annual event recognizing the respect, dignity, and rights to which all residents of long-term care facilities are entitled. The federal Nursing Home Reform Law guarantees residents’ rights and places a strong emphasis on individual dignity, choice, and self-determination.  The law also requires nursing homes to “promote and protect the rights of each resident.”

The Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care has selected "Stand for Quality" as this year's theme. This theme "emphasizes the importance of quality in all aspects of residents’ experiences – quality care, quality of life, quality services, and quality choices – to name a few."

To celebrate Residents' Rights Month, ACL is releasing a new infographic and handout highlighting the rights of people living in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other residential facilities.

Know Your RIghts Graphic

Help us spread the word:

The Consumer Voice has many more resources for Residents' Rights Month including factsheetsa PSA and other promotional materials, and  artwork by residents.

ACL funds Long-Term Care Ombudsman programs in every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam. These programs work to resolve problems affecting residents’ health, safety, welfare, and rights. Residents, their families, and others have the right to contact their local Ombudsman program to help them understand their rights, learn about community resources, and work through problems. In 2017, Ombudsman programs:

  • Worked to resolve 201,460 complaints initiated by residents, their families, and other concerned individuals.
  • Resolved or partially resolved 73% of all complaints to the satisfaction of the resident or complainant.
  • Visited 68% of all nursing homes and 30% of all board and care, assisted living, and similar homes at least quarterly.

Learn more about the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program.

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