An overdue thank you

With November being National Adoption month and the time for our annual mass adoption ceremony, and December being the month where we collect gifts and host holiday parties for the children in our care, we have had a very busy two months.

But before the year is over, I do not want to forget a “thank-you” owed to the voters of Hamilton County for approving the Senior Services levy in November. Seventy-two percent of voters approved an increase to the levy, which helps fund our Adult Protective Services unit that investigates abuse, neglect and exploitation of senior citizens age 60 and older in our community.

The agency is mandated by the State of Ohio to receive and investigate reports of elder abuse in Hamilton County. An “elder” is defined by state law as an adult 60 years or older who is handicapped by the infirmities of aging, or who has a physical or mental impairment which prevents the person from providing for the person’s own care or protection.

In Hamilton County, we investigate nearly 500 allegations of abuse each year. Referrals usually come from professionals (mandated reporters), friends, neighbors and family members. Mandated reporters include attorneys, physicians, clergy members, other senior service providers and many more members of our community.

Elder abuse is a significant social issue which affects 1 in 20 older adults. One study estimated that only one in six cases of elder abuse is ever reported. Elder abuse is largely under-reported because the older population most effected by elder abuse tends to be isolated and therefore unnoticed. Also, elder victims do not report for because of shame or embarrassment, fear of retaliation, sense of resignation or powerlessness, family loyalty, lack of credibility, fear of nursing homes or institutions.

Elder abuse takes many forms:

  • physical abuse, sexual and emotional abuse.
  • Neglect by caregivers
  • Self-neglect
  • Exploitation in which the elder’s funds or assets are misused or misappropriated.

More than half of the reports we receive are for self-neglect. Self-neglect is where the elder person is no longer providing adequately for their own care.  Self-neglect occurs when older adults are unwilling or unable to care for themselves due to mental confusion or physical inability. Examples of self-neglect include: hoarding, failure to take essential medications or refusal to seek medical treatment for serious illness, leaving a burning stove unattended, poor hygiene,  not wearing suitable clothing for the weather, confusion, inability to attend to housekeeping, and dehydration. But OTHERS can neglect the elderly, too. Neglect occurs when the daily living needs are not met by the caregiver.   Neglect can be intentional or unintentional. Unintentional neglect could be an elderly husband who is caring for his elderly wife and not meeting her needs because he is forgetful or unable. In a case like that, we really have two victims. An example of intentional neglect is a caregiver deliberately withholding necessities such as food, medical treatment or personal care is a form on intentional neglect.  

Exploitation is the illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a vulnerable elder. This is often reported as self-neglect when an elder’s bills are not getting paid. We investigate and find that the elder person has given someone their money to pay the bills and that is not occurring.

The elder victim has a say in what happens. The majority of the older adults we see are competent to make decisions for themselves. They generally drive what services or assistance they may want from APS, even to the point of refusing APS intervention. There are situations though where the older adult lacks the ability to make informed decisions due to dementia or other related impairments and APS is able to intervene in their best interest and provide the support and services they need to reduce the risk.  We look to maintain the older adult in their home as that is where most people want to remain.

If you know of someone who needs our help, report elder abuse to our hotline by calling 421-LIFE (5433). 421-LIFE is available 24 hours/ seven days a week. When a person calls us to report elder abuse, we will need basic information including their name, address, and why a person suspects elder abuse. This is not disclosed.

After the report is made, we respond within 24 hours if it is an emergency and three working days if it is a non-emergency. An emergency situation would be an elder person in a life-threatening situation such as being without heat, utilities, food; caregiver or recent physical abuse.

Our investigation includes a home visit for a face-to-face with the older adult and contacts as needed with other collateral sources. We follow-up by sending a social worker to their home to investigate and assess risk to the older person and offer services which can reduce the risk to them. While we investigate, we may also involve other agencies to help assess risk, including the county and City health inspectors, the police, mental health services and medical providers.

The operation of our Adult Protective Services unit would not be possible without the support of our voting public. Thank you for supporting us as we help our community’s senior members.

by Jane Prendergast

Filed Under: From the Director

Tagged: 421-life, Elder abuse, hamilton county department of job and family services, hamilton county job and family services, moira weir, senior services