Reporting Elder Abuse: What are the rules?

June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. This month's On the Radar looks at the law on reporting known or suspected abuse of seniors in Ontario.

Long-term care homes and retirement homes

Reporting abuse is mandatory when the victim lives in a long-term care home or a retirement home. (For an explanation of these terms, see our On the Radar bulletin from June 2012.)

The law requires reporting by anyone who knows or has reasonable grounds to suspect that a resident has been, or might be, harmed by any of the following:
  • improper or incompetent treatment or care,
  • abuse of a resident by anyone,
  • neglect of a resident by a staff member or the owner of the home,
  • illegal conduct,
  • misuse or fraud involving a resident's money, or
  • misuse or fraud involving funding provided by the government to the home (long-term care homes only).
This obligation to report applies to everyone except other residents of the home. Members of regulated health care professions, social workers, and naturopaths must report even if the information is otherwise confidential.

How to report

If the victim lives in a long-term care home, the abuse must be reported to the Director at the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. This can be done by calling the toll-free ACTION Line at 1-866-434-0144.

If the victim lives in a retirement home, the abuse must be reported to the Registrar of the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority. This can be done by calling 1-855-275-7472 (1-855-ASK-RHRA).

The Director or the Registrar must look into all reports of abuse, and must send an inspector to the home immediately if the report is about harm or risk of harm due to:
  • improper or incompetent treatment or care,
  • abuse of a resident by anyone,
  • neglect of a resident by a staff member or the owner of the home, or
  • illegal conduct.
The operator of the home is also required to immediately contact the police if there is an alleged, suspected, or witnessed incident of abuse or neglect of a resident that may be a crime.

Other settings

If the victim of elder abuse lives in their own home or in any other setting, the law does not require anyone to report the abuse. In some cases, reporting might be required by someone's employment duties, a contract for services, or a professional code of ethics.

But victims, or anyone else who suspects elder abuse, can report their concerns to the police, health or social services, or a legal service. No matter where cases of abuse and serious neglect happen, these may be crimes and should be reported to the police.

There are also situations where reporting, although not mandatory, is exempted from what would otherwise be a duty of confidentiality. For example, health care providers may disclose confidential information to the Ontario Public Guardian and Trustee when that office is investigating allegations of serious personal or financial harm. And lawyers may, but are not required to, disclose confidential information to avoid an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm.

Facts about elder abuse

Whether voluntary or mandatory, reporting is no guarantee that the abuse will be confirmed or stopped, or that the underlying problems that led to the abuse will be solved.

There are many different kinds of elder abuse, and many different ways to help. Depending on the situation, responses other than reporting may be appropriate as well.

For more information about identifying and responding to elder abuse, see the resources listed in the right hand column.

For more information and help

This email alert gives general legal information. It is not a substitute for getting legal advice about a particular situation.
June 2013

On the Radar is a monthly email alert from CLEO that highlights timely legal information.

Related CLEO Resources:

Elder Abuse: The Hidden Crime

Other Resources:

The Duty (or Not) to Report: Options in Elder Abuse Response (Advocacy Centre for the Elderly)

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