Governor Steve Bullock today signed an executive order establishing the Eastern Montana Elder Justice Council, which aims to address the exploitation, abuse, and neglect of Montana’s aging population.
“Today we’re sending a clear message that we will protect Montana’s seniors and not allow exploitation, abuse, and neglect to go ignored,” Governor Bullock said. “As Montana’s population ages, this task force brings together experts and stakeholders who will have the partnership and resources they need to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens.”
The executive order designates the task force as a criminal justice agency, which provides the group with additional tools to address and prevent elder abuse.
Experts from government agencies, nonprofits, and financial institutions recently established Eastern Montana FAST (Fiduciary Abuse Specialist Team), a local team in Billings dedicated to addressing financial abuse of seniors and other vulnerable adults. The group was limited in its ability to rapidly respond to suspected financial abuse without access to confidential criminal justice information. Governor Bullock’s creation of a task force and designation as a criminal justice agency will allow the group to move forward with coordinating investigations across multiple jurisdictions and areas of expertise. The task force will also offer education and outreach in local communities.
Montana has the second oldest population in the country. Agencies providing oversight and services to senior citizens report an increasing number of cases of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation being investigated and prosecuted in Montana.
In 2019, Montana’s Adult Protective Services received over 11,000 calls for services for elderly and disabled Montanans. Of these cases, 2,453 were for abuse, 2,486 for neglect, and 1,599 for financial exploitation.
Senior financial exploitation is often underreported due to shame, fear, and confusion, or lack of resources in rural communities. People can be financially exploited by strangers, but are often victimized by family members, friends, and others who have access to financial assets.
The task force’s work will serve as a pilot project with the goal of expanding a successful model statewide.
Members of the task force will include experts in the public and private sector, including law enforcement, Adult Protective Services, aging services, financial institutions, healthcare, insurance, and guardianship.