Council On Older Persons hosts candidates for Ohio attorney general

The Council On Older Persons (COOP) hosted two roundtables with the nominees for Ohio attorney general a few weeks before the election, one with the Democratic nominee, former United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Steve Dettelbach, the other with the Republican nominee, Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost.

Roundtable with Steve Dettelbach (October 15)

Dettelbach opened with his thoughts on the job responsibilities of the Ohio attorney general. He said he envisioned the position as a way to protect the most vulnerable citizens among us, which includes seniors and children. He said the officeholder carries a very important responsibility of protecting populations and holding people and organizations accountable when they are wrong. In his stories, he talked about the devastating impact of the opioid crisis, as well as the importance of protecting programs such as Medicaid that serve Ohio’s senior and disabled populations. In his previous experience as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, he highlighted a settlement reached in a lawsuit against a company accused of operating a kickback scheme to supply drugs to Medicaid and Medicare patients.

Many individuals are victimized by their own family members, which means that seniors may be hesitant to call law enforcement

Georgia Anetzberger, a member of COOP and national expert on the topic of elder abuse, shared facts about public policy funding disparities. She mentioned that out of every $1.00 spent on family abuse, only two cents is spent on elder abuse. She also summarized the history of the Ohio Elder Abuse Commission (EAC), which is housed within the Ohio attorney general’s office and now codified into law. She explained that the EAC is an extraordinary opportunity for the next attorney general to work with EAC members to institute much needed policy changes to benefit Ohio seniors.

Stacey O’Brien, vice chair of COOP and Assistant Professor at Ursuline College, added that in addition to physical elder abuse, financial exploitation among seniors is of great concern. Many individuals are victimized by their own family members, which means that seniors may be hesitant to call law enforcement. Even when victims are willing to report their situations, seniors need to be aware of available government services that can help. How to contact them may be unclear.

Catherine Ciha, chair of COOP and Director of Development for Senior Transportation Connection (STC), asked how the Attorney General can play a role with the General Assembly. Dettelbach replied that the attorney general actually has a large role to play in the policy making process, including through advocacy, and by providing perspective on policy positions that affect Ohioans. For example, he said that Governor John Kasich deserves credit for his position in protecting Medicaid expansion. Dettelbach observed said that whoever wins the governor’s race, will have been an Ohio attorney general. Since he has worked with both gubernatorial candidates, he believes they are familiar with the role that the attorney general’s office plays in protecting seniors.

Roundtable with Dave Yost (October 18)

Later in the week, COOP hosted Auditor Dave Yost. He opened with his personal story, detailing when he was a county auditor, county prosecutor, then Ohio Auditor. Yost then asked to hear from attendees about their experiences and what they would like to see from the attorney general’s office when it comes to protecting seniors.

Semanthie B. Brooks, longtime COOP member and recent retiree from the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, asked Yost about older adults impacted by opioid use. She specifically pointed out that thousands of African-Americans are in prison due to mandatory sentencing from the 1990s crack epidemic. She said she strongly believes that there are disparities in the sentencing of black people 20-25 years ago, who she said were more likely to be imprisoned with longer sentences. Today, this has changed, she said, and people facing drug crises are more likely to be seen as needing rehabilitation instead of incarceration.

Yost explained that prison sentences today are different than they were 20 years ago and that they reflect changes in approach He cited the example of how some first time offenses are now classified as misdemeanors instead of felonies. He vowed that, if elected to the office of attorney general, he will continue to identify ways to curb the opioid epidemic using all of the tools available to him and his office. He also stated support to reclassify a “personal use” misdemeanor that would help steer people toward treatment.

Yost heard from other COOP members, including Stephanie Fallcreek, CEO of Fairhill Partners, who lamented the financial exploitation of seniors. Fallcreek and other attendees spoke passionately about the need to get the word out about resources available to seniors, and suggested that Yost work closely with the Elder Abuse Commission to coordinate efforts and outreach to Ohioans about programs and services available to them.

The Council On Older Persons had an extraordinary opportunity to speak with two public servants who shared their personal and professional experiences.

Attendees also suggested that Yost research Senate Bill 158, sponsored by State Senator Steve Wilson (R-Maineville), which would increase the financial penalties for those who financially exploit seniors.

Yost said that he would be very interested in reading a report by The Center for Community Solutions, which examined the current levels of senior levies across the state, as well as how counties across the state have had different experiences implementing Adult Protective Services changes.

Finally, Yost said that he would work with mental health advocates and elected officials to prevent social isolation among older adults.

The Council On Older Persons had an extraordinary opportunity to speak with two public servants who shared their personal and professional experiences. The candidates also listened to public policy opportunities to improve quality of life for seniors across the state. Regardless of who is elected as the next attorney general, he must prioritize the needs of older adults.

COOP thanks both campaigns for their time and their support of older adults in the State of Ohio.

Election Day is November 6.