New focus to combat elder abuse

ERIN O’NEILL The Marietta Times Jennifer Westfall, left, and Karen Pawloski, right, employees of Buckeye Hills, adjust a banner at the armory on Front Street that marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Each flag in the grounds represents a case of abuse. Buckeye Hills, as well as Job and Family Services and other agencies are hoping to shed light on an increasing problem.

Elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation are growing problems and World Elder Abuse Awareness Day hopes to shine a light on the subject.

The United Nations has designated today, June 15, as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which aims to focus global attention on the problem of physical, emotional and financial abuse of elders. Locally, Buckeye Hills Regional Council and its Aging and Disability Division are hoping to raise awareness by asking people to wear purple.

“Obviously our goal is to draw people’s attention to this issue,” said Jennifer Westfall, Buckeye Hills aging director. “It’s something that’s forgotten or hidden. Those who are victimized are often embarrassed or scared.”

A new state law goes into effect Sept. 29 that would require certain people to report suspected cases of elder abuse. Ohio Revised Code 5101.63 says that attorneys, doctors, chiropractors, nurses, EMTs, social workers, financial planners, firefighters, pharmacists, bankers and others who have contact with seniors would be required to report suspected physical, mental or financial abuse. The law also states that there can be no retribution from a person’s employer for reporting the incidents.

Local cases are handled by the Washington County Department of Job and Family Services’ Adult Protective Services division.

“In 2017 we had 189 allegations of abuse, which can include physical, emotional, sexual, neglect and exploitation,” explained Deanna Green, social services worker with APS. “We completed 151 of those investigations and 108 were validated. But even the ones that aren’t validated, we’re getting out there. They’re seeing us and know that they can reach out to us for support.”

Green said that financial and theft crimes against the elderly are increasing, whether it be from family members or home health providers. The opioid epidemic is a contributing factor, she said.

“We have an aging population that is growing and we’re expecting to see a huge uptick in reporting when the (state) law goes into effect,” she said.

A U.S. Administration on Aging study found that five million people over the age of 60 are abused or neglected each year or one in 10 older Americans are victims.

Signs of abuse can include a change in finances or ability to pay bills, hiding bruises or injuries, withdrawing from family or friends, living in filthy conditions or not taking care of hygiene. If abuse is suspected it can be reported anonymously to Adult Protective Services by calling 740-434-0531 or 740-373-5513.

At a glance

Know the signs of elder abuse

¯ Has trouble sleeping

¯ Seems depressed or confused

¯ Loses weight for no reason

¯ Displays signs of trauma, like rocking back and forth

¯ Acts agitated or violent

¯ Becomes withdrawn

¯ Stops taking part in activities he or she enjoys

¯ Has unexplained bruises, burns, or scars

¯ Looks messy, with unwashed hair or dirty clothes

¯ Develops bed sores or other preventable conditions

Source: National Institute on Aging

Where to get help

¯ Washington County Adult Protective Services

740-373-5513 or 740-434-0531

¯ Buckeye Hills Area Agency on Aging


¯ Eldercare Locator


¯ National Center on Elder Abuse


¯ National Adult Protective Services Association


¯ National Domestic Violence Hotline



¯ U.S. Department of Justice