June 15 for elder abuse awarenessPublished 4:14pm Thursday, June 14, 2012
ST. JOSEPH — Today is Worldwide Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
With an aging population, “Elder abuse has become a much more significant issue and needs a transformation like child abuse and domestic violence did. It’s seriously under-reported,” Berrien County Prosecutor Art Cotter advised the Board of Commissioners Administration Committee Thursday.
A year-old task force developed an eight-page Berrien County Vulnerable Adult Protocol distilled into a laminated page officers carry in patrol cars.
“People who abuse and neglect the elderly isolate them,” Cotter said. “It’s moving when you see someone with a black eye assaulted by their son. We need to change the attitude of the public in general to get involved, to break the silence and to educate them on what to do, i.e., call Adult Protective Services (855-444-3911 or local law enforcement) and get an investigation going. Problematic in a lot of these cases is first responders like firemen and paramedics who have the opportunity to see key evidence I need to successfully prosecute might not understand what red flags they should be looking for.”
Cotter recalled the plight of a bedridden woman.
“Instead of changing her they just put a new diaper on over the old one. She was lying in her own filth. It was more about protecting the bed than cleaning her. Jurors in the CSI age like to be able to see videos, touch and smell. In arson cases I bag sooty accelerant smell. Can you imagine saving 10 diapers and opening it up in the courtroom? Our statistics on elder abuse are minuscule. It’s not that it’s not happening, we’re just not getting reports.”
Chairman R. McKinley Elliott, an attorney, related a “Harbor Country” case where a woman was denied medical care while relatives looted accounts her late husband established which should have assured her perpetual care.
In another case, in Cass County, Elliott said, “A man was literally sleeping in excrement, but it wasn’t his, it was the dog’s in the basement. The caregiver kept him pickled on Jack Daniels and Coke all day. I’ve had four of these cases involving big bucks in the past three years.”
Some elder abuse bleeds into related charges, such as domestic violence or embezzlement.
“It’s a growing problem that’s not being reported as it should be because people think it’s a ‘private family matter,’ ” Cotter said. Many victims suffer in silence out of fear, shame, dependence on their caregiver or they do not know help is available.
“When they don’t stand up for themselves, others need to,” the prosecutor said.
Vulnerable adults are 18 or older with a condition in which he or she is unable to protect him or herself from abuse, neglect or exploitation because of a mental or physical impairment or because of advanced age.
There are many forms of abuse (a developmentally disabled woman living in her father’s home, enduring beatings), neglect (a physically disabled man left in front of the TV all day without a meal or access to toilet facilities) and exploitation (an elderly woman’s son using his mother’s money for his own needs without her knowledge or approval).
Certain individuals are mandatory reporters, required by law to act on their suspicions — doctors, nurses, hospital staff, teachers, administrators, counselors, social workers, mental health professionals and law enforcement.
Cotter said new legislation awaiting Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature “does a couple of things,” such as shielding seniors while testifying and stiffening financial exploitation penalties from a five-year felony for $1,000 to $20,000 to 10 years; $50,000 to $100,000, 15 years; and over $100,000, 20 years.
Break the silence
People are wearing purple for the first Worldwide Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
In Berrien County there will be a tree-planting ceremony at 10:30 a.m. at River Valley Senior Center, 13321 Red Arrow Highway, Harbert.