Government agencies look back on 2015, ahead to 2016

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Antibiotic resistance, elder abuse and fraud were among the topics mentioned in end-of-the-year reports from federal governmental agencies noting major activities during 2015 and plans for 2016.

Department of Health and Human Services

In a message posted on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell noted the observance of the 50th anniversaries of Medicare and Medicine as well as the once-a-decade White House Conference on Aging that the department helped organize in 2015.

White House Conference on Aging

Timed with the end of the year, the White House Conference on Aging released its final report (PDF) on the once-a-decade event held in 2015. The report noted the numerous public and private initiatives announced over the course of the year in conjunction with webinars and regional and national events organized by conference staff. The need for responses to the aging of the U.S. population, support for professional and family caregivers, and collaboration across sectors were themes emerging from the conference that will continue to be important in 2016 and beyond, the report noted.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Antibiotic resistance was one of the six most pressing public health challenges of 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's review of the year.

The CDC noted that the National Action Plan to Combat Antibiotic Resistance was announced at the first-ever White House Forum on Antibiotic Stewardship in 2015. The CDC also said it learned in 2015 that when healthcare facilities coordinate their efforts, they can prevent the spread of carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae. The year also marked CDC's publication of guidelines for how state and local health departments can alert local facilities when antibiotic-resistant bacteria are reported in their areas, to prevent spreading.

In 2016, the agency said, it will continue to focus on reversing the number of deaths from infections resistant to antibiotics. The CDC will debut the AR Patient Safety Atlas, an interactive web platform, with open access to antibiotic resistance data on healthcare-associated infections reported to CDC's National Healthcare Safety Network. Also in 2016, the CDC said, it will release its first antibiotic stewardship report, describing progress in prescribing practices in human medicine.

The CDC said that antibiotics are “miracle medications” that must be preserved to avoid a return to the pre-antibiotic era, when minor infections often led to death. At least 23,000 Americans died from largely preventable infections in 2015, the agency said.

Securities and Exchange Commission

Elder abuse was one of six primary policy areas for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Office of the Investor Advocate in 2015, the office said in its Report on Activities (PDF) for 2015. The office was established by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, and the first investor advocate was named in 2014.

The Office of the Investor Advocate has looked for ways to give financial service professionals more effective tools to protect vulnerable clients, Rick A. Fleming, the investor advocate, wrote in the report. “Any law or regulation in this area must balance two potentially conflicting goals: to respect every individual's right to self-determination, and also to prevent his or her unwitting financial self-destruction,” the report states. “We should remove undue restraints that keep financial professionals from acting to protect their clients. Yet, if we confer new authority on broker-dealers and investment advisers to intervene in clients' accounts when they suspect elder exploitation, we must place appropriate limits on that authority.”

In 2015, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the North American Securities Administrators Association separately announced new proposals to combat elder financial exploitation, according to the report. FINRA's proposal would allow a firm to place a temporary hold on a disbursement of funds or securities and notify a customer's trusted contact when the firm believes that financial exploitation is occurring. NASAA's proposal would provide broker-dealers and investment advisers with the authority to delay disbursement of funds from an adult's account if it is believed that such disbursement will result in the financial exploitation of the adult.

Fleming said that the office will continue to follow the progress of these two proposals as well as look for additional ways to protect older adults from financial abuse.

Additionally, according to the report,  the Investor Advisory Committee, which includes among others the investor advocate,  a representative of state securities commissions and a representative of the interests of senior citizens, asked the SEC in July to develop a database that will allow elders and other investors to conduct searches of any person or firm sanctioned for security law violations, begin to simplify the background search process and work with regulators to develop a single site where users can search databases for background information on financial market professionals.

Separately, the SEC cited its efforts related to the former CEO and CFO of Assisted Living Concepts as one of the “significant financial fraud and issuer disclosure matters” it handled in fiscal year 2015.

The SEC filed fraud charges against former CEO Laurie Bebo and former CFO John Buono in late 2014. The commission alleged that they directed employees to include phony residents in occupancy rate and coverage ratio calculations to avoid defaulting on the financial covenants in a lease agreement with Chicago-based real estate investment trust Ventas Inc., which owned the eight ALC-operated facilities at the time. If ALC defaulted, it would have been required to pay tens of millions of dollars to cover the remaining rent due for the full term of the lease, the commission said.

Buono settled his case, and an SEC administrative law judge ruled in October that Bebo should pay a $4.2 million civil penalty. Dec. 8, however, the SEC said it would review that decision.

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