According to best estimates, between one and two million Americans over 65 have been the injured, exploited, or otherwise mistreated by someone on whom they depended for care and protection. June 15 marks the fifth annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Broadly defined, elder abuse is any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable elder. Victims may experience:
*Physical Abuse – Inflicting, or threatening to inflict physical pain or injury on a vulnerable elder, or depriving them of a basic need
*Emotional Abuse – Inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts
*Sexual Abuse – Non-consensual sexual contact of any kind
*Exploitation – Illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a vulnerable elder
*Neglect – Refusal or failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care or protection for a vulnerable elder.
*Abandonment – The desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
Elder abuse is an under-reported problem. For every case reported, the U.S. Administration on Aging estimates that five cases go unreported. It can occur anywhere and affects all socio-economic groups. The older you are, the more likely you will be abused. About 40% of cases involve financial abuse. Most perpetrators are family members. Unfortunately our locality is not immune to this problem.
Upper Shore Aging, Inc., reports that the incidence of complaints is increasing. “Some people think that preying on the elderly is the solution to their financial dilemma,” says Ed Sadler, Ombudsman for Kent, Talbot, and Caroline Counties.
The federally-mandated Ombudsman Program operates in every community, acting as an advocate for long-term care residents, which include those in assisted living and in nursing home facilities. The Ombudsman helps maintain residents’ legal rights, control over their own lives, and their personal dignity. Anyone may call to report a problem and may do so anonymously. County departments of social services handle complaints affecting those who are in the home or a hospital. In both cases, an investigation will be done.
Several recent cases on the Eastern Shore have resulted in criminal prosecution.
“Our initial investigation focuses on mediation, but I do not hesitate to get the police or the State Attorney General involved if warranted,” Sadler says. “Some people have the impression that their actions will never be discovered, but they’re in for a surprise. We take every call seriously.”
The Ombudsman can be reached at 410-778-6000 or 1-800-721-6651.