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MERCER: State to tackle abuse of elderly

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PIERRE | South Dakota’s special task force on elder abuse gathers Oct. 29 to discuss its final report. Based on the statistics, findings and recommendations that comprise the core of the draft, this promises to be a call to action.

Drawing on real situations in South Dakota and upon proven practices in other states, the report will lay out changes to be made. Accomplishing the reforms identified in the report will demand a stronger focus on elderly protections from the Legislature, the courts, the attorney general, governor, local law enforcement, banks, lawyers and caregivers.

The takeaway is South Dakota has a long way to go to protect older citizens.

David Gilbertson, chief justice of the South Dakota Supreme Court, called for the study during his State of the Judiciary speech to the Legislature in January.

An earlier attempt by Gilbertson to put elder abuse on the political agenda went unheeded. Legislation sponsored by Sen. David Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, led to establishing the task force. With the Legislature’s approval came the chief justice’s offer for the Unified Judicial System to fund and lead the work.

In his speech to the Legislature, Gilbertson used the word tsunami to describe the problem. Based on demographic trends in the draft, tsunami wasn’t too strong.

Presuming the final report is generally similar to the draft version, the task force will present a set of recommendations for achieving much stronger protection of elderly people in South Dakota. Next will be action by the Legislature in the 2016 session that starts Jan. 12.

The task force chairman is another Supreme Court member, Justice Steve Zinter. Six legislators serve on the panel. They are representatives Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City; Kris Langer, R-Dell Rapids; Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown; and senators Jim Bradford, D-Pine Ridge; Bruce Rampelberg, R-Rapid City; and Novstrup.

The governor’s task force appointees are Sara Dahlin Jennings, South Dakota director for AARP; Jennifer Murray, a regional manager for adult services and aging in the state Department of Social Services; and Robert Kean, a lawyer and retired head for South Dakota Advocacy Services.

The chief justice appointed seven people including Justice Zinter. The others are: Dr. Victoria Walker, chief medical and quality officer for The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society; Quentin Riggins, an attorney who chairs the Real Property, Probate & Trust Law section for the State Bar of South Dakota; Tim Neyhart, executive director, South Dakota Advocacy Services; Dr. David Brechtelsbauer, a geriatrician, and faculty member at the USD Sanford School of Medicine; Rick Rylance, regional president for Dacotah Bank; and Kristina Schaefer, a vice president and general counsel for Fishback Financial Corp., where she is director of risk management.

Attorney General Marty Jackley appointed Paul Cremer, an assistant attorney general and the director for the office’s Medicaid fraud control unit.

They are South Dakotans of substance. So promises to be their report.

“It is probably not the final answer but I think it is an impressive start to a most serious issue,” Chief Justice Gilbertson said Friday.

Bob Mercer is the state capitol correspondent for the Rapid City Journal. He can be reached by emailing

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