Focus on abuse of the elderly

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day falls on Father’s Day Sunday this year, but two days before, on June 13, residents are encouraged by the Buckeye Hills Area Agency on Aging to wear purple throughout the day to draw attention to the issue. Elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation are problems that officials say are growing every year.

June 15 is a worldwide day launched by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations in 2006, but as people of all ages go about their day the Friday before, the purple is meant to serve as a reminder.

Local cases are handled by the Washington County Department of Job and Family Services’ Adult Protective Services and Buckeye Hills, and officials said the day is meant to encourage facilities and the community to speak up and report cases of elder abuse.

“If you see it, don’t be shy, report it,” said Kelly Bauerbach, the WCDJFS social services supervisor. “Your name is kept confidential, and we go out and make contact and try to alleviate whatever may be occurring.”

Bauerbach said the agency has 10 to 15 cases of elder abuse at any given time in Washington County alone, and cases typically include everything from food being withheld, substandard housing, problems paying for medication and self-neglect.

According to WCDJFS reports, from July to December 2013 alone, Washington County had 67 reports of abuse of people over the age of 60, with the most common types being self-neglect and neglect by others when compared to physical and emotional abuse and financial exploitation.

“That day we are asking individuals to wear something purple to help raise awareness of the need to protect our elders,” said Buckeye Hills AAA8 Director Rick Hindman in a press release. “Throughout the world, abuse and neglect of older persons is largely under-recognized or treated as an unspoken problem.”

Bauerbach said reports are increasing, and hopes that potential new laws like House Bill 49 currently circulating in Ohio will pass to increase funding and increase the number of people mandated by the state to report abuse.

Currently, the state of Ohio gives the county’s Adult Protective Services agency $3,000 annually to fund its work, a total that Bauerbach said is nowhere near enough.

“Lawyers, doctors, hospitals are all mandated to report abuse, but financial institutions are not, so these laws will take care of that,” Bauerbach said.

From the latest July to December 2013 reports, Adult Protective Services saw five cases of emotional abuse; five cases of financial exploitation, 15 cases of neglect by others; two cases of physical abuse and 40 cases of self-neglect.

Buckeye Hills in Marietta, which serves not only Washington County but seven other surrounding counties, deals more with financial exploitation in families and abuse that occurs in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

“A lot of times elders do not want to prosecute because they don’t want to sever that tie with family, which further complicates the problem,” said Long-Term Care Ombudsman Director Kim Flanigan. “But we support the right of people to make decisions, so we educate them about what might happen if it is a bad decision.”

The Long-Term Care program is in place to provide advocacy for elders to improve quality of life, and ombudsmen work closely with APS in reporting cases.

“Reports have more than doubled since 2009, but it’s being publicized more, so I think it’s getting more and more attention,” Flanigan said. “So I think the public will be more and more aware of the issue, because it is a real problem.”

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported 16,000 allegations of elder abuse in 2013, and it estimated that for every one case of abuse reported in the U.S., 23.5 cases go unreported.