It was out of the blue when elder care lawyer and architect of the Elder Care Justice Act, Marie-Therese Connolly, received a phone call telling her that she had been selected to receive $500,000 in no-strings-attached support over the next five years. Connolly was one of the 22 fellows selected to receive the 2011 MacArthur Fellowship, popularly nicknamed the Genius Grant.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation distributes the award to 20 to 40 United States residents or citizens each year who “show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.” The 22 selected include an architect, a developmental biologist, a poet, a public historian, a technologist, a cellist, and a clinical psychologist.
Connolly has a work history rich in elder rights advocacy. She spent years prosecuting civil fraud cases at the Department of Justice. Later, she worked as director at the Department of Justice’s Elder Justice and Nursing Home Initiative that was established by the Clinton administration in 1999. In this role, “Connolly developed new legal theories of liability and novel investigation and litigation strategies that overcame loopholes in federal statutes and led to successful prosecution of cases of abuse and neglect in nursing homes,” the Foundation wrote.
Connolly played an instrumental role in the development and passing of the Elder Justice Act, which the foundation has described as “the first piece of federal legislation to address the issue specifically.” Most recently, Connolly has started a non profit organization, Life Long Justice, which works to advance elder justice. She is currently writing a book dedicated to the same subject.
The Foundation describes Connolly as “a leading voice in efforts to prevent the suffering of older adults and ensure that elder abuse becomes a priority on the national agenda.” Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for Aging at the Department of Health and Human Services, depicts Connolly as “one of the major leading figures in the development of a broader social movement to address elder abuse.”
In a recent interview with NPR, Connolly stated that research found that 1 in 10 people over the age of 60 were abused, neglected or exploited and that among people with dementia, about 47% are abused or neglected. Even more startling, for every one case that is brought to light, another 24 are never even acknowledged.
Connolly is hopeful that her recent fellowship announcement will help to shed some light on the often-overlooked problem of elder abuse.
To read more about Connolly and the MacArthur Fellowship, click here.