Dentists are mandatory reporters for children and vulnerable adult abuse. Are you aware of the signs of abuse? Do you know how to report it? And who qualifies as a “vulnerable adult”?
An article by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime states that research indicates most injuries from abuse are found on the head and neck. Examples include: bruises, fingermarks, chipped teeth, and broken jaws. This puts us in a unique position to address possible abuse concerns and report them. Other types of abuse, such as emotional or neglect, may not be as visible.
After a discussion with the patient, what is your next step in reporting suspected abuse? Generally it is to call in and provide information regarding the incident. The number to call is state-specific. There is Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services. A quick online search should yield these numbers and you can have them readily available to you in practice so you are prepared to make the call.
Who is a ‘vulnerable adult’? According to this Minnesota dababase a vulnerable adult is any person 18 years of age or older who:
– Is a resident/inpatient in a facility (e.g. nursing home, hospital)
– Receives services at a state-licensed facility to serve adults (e.g. adult day care, chemical abuse treatment facilities)
– Receives services from a home healthcare providers who is licensed to offer or arrange personal care assistant services
– Possesses a physical or mental infirmity or other physical, mental or emotional dysfunction that impairs to care adequately for themselves without assistance and has an impaired ability to protect him/herself from maltreatment
That is the definition of a ‘vulnerable adult’ in Minnesota. This may vary state-by-state so please check this for your own state.
Some of the biggest reported barriers for intervention reporting by dental professionals are lack of practical experience on how to intervene, lack of local referral information, and embarrassment about bring up the topic. Let’s break down these barriers by being observant of signs, being sensitive to the patient’s situation, and being prepared with referral and reporting information.
~Katie Divine, Editor-in-Chief, Minnesota ’13