Program helps victims of elder abuse
Story and photos by John Hummer
Their bank accounts might get raided by overseas, or even domestic, fraudsters. They may be taken advantage of financially by a relative, neighbor, or close friend or acquaintance. They may be physically abused. Who are these people? They are our seniors, our patriarchs, and matriarchs of our families. Our eldest loved ones.
“Sometimes we see more of this than we want to,” said Lenawee County Undersheriff Troy Bevier, who spoke at a recent fundraiser for a program called Safe Haven. “Years ago, this wasn’t something that we dealt with every day, but now it is.”
A Safe Haven. It’s just what some of the elderly and most vulnerable of our population need in such instances. Safe Haven is a program established by Region 2 Area Agency on Aging in the past two years to help the elderly who need it to get their lives back on track.
“With elder and disabled adult abuse, there’s just not as many resources, so this program fills a little bit of a gap,” said Kara Lorenz, Region 2 Area Agency on Aging’s clinical director at the first Safe Haven Benefit last Thursday at The Pointe Bar & Grill on Clark Lake.
The first year of the Safe Haven program was funded by a grant through the state of Michigan.
“This year our board thought it was important to keep it going so they funded it,” Lorenz said. But additional funds are needed for everything the program does – and it’s a lot.
The Safe Haven program at Region 2 Area Agency on Aging provides an immediate, safe situation for elderly and disabled adults who are victims of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.
“We have tons of awesome staff at Region 2,” Lorenz said. “We have other people helping with the Safe Haven program out in the community. I can call our staff members and they know the resources out there and how to help the people.”
Safe Haven offers care coordination, temporary housing for six to eight weeks for a person in need, and any support services needed in order to transition to a long-term safety plan.
“Whatever they need for six to eight weeks to help them feel safe and secure,” said Lorenz. “We also have a housing specialist who can work on a long-term housing plan for them, with the ultimate goal to get them back into their home or into a new place.”
Lorenz says her agency also works with adult protective services and other organizations.
“They’ll call us, or another agency will call us, or we find out about [someone] in the community, and we help them,” she said.
Betsy Clark is with Hillsdale County Adult Protective Services.
“We have an aging population of baby boomers and people in a lot of need,” said Clark. “We have a large population of dementia clients. Relatives and family are stepping in to care for them. They need services.”
But those resources and services are very few, she said.
“You’ve got to be very creative and think on your feet. You really need to rely on your family and those agencies.”
Clark said she is hopeful that the state of Michigan is going to start beefing up services for older adults that desperately need transportation, medication management, and help in other areas of their lives.
“We have a lot of seniors on fixed incomes – they’re being exploited,” she added.
Another speaker at the fundraiser, Lenawee County Undersheriff Troy Bevier, said law enforcement doesn’t have all the answers to help the elderly they encounter.
“We find a lot of vulnerable people and they just need help,” he said. “Safe Haven is one of those resources we can go to. We want to make sure we get the help to the people that need it.”
Katie Hawkins, with the Jackson County prosecutor’s office, said she sees a lot of situations where a relative or someone close to a vulnerable adult or an elderly person is taking advantage of that person. Adult children may take checks or put themselves on a bank account of an elderly relative and empty the account. She added that there are quite a few cases where there are substance abuse issues going on.
“Those are difficult to prosecute because the victims aren’t always willing to cooperate in prosecuting someone they are close to. We have to handle those situations much differently,” Hawkins said.
Ron Tatro of Elder Law of Michigan told the crowd that Friday, June 15 was World Elder Abuse Awareness Day when there were events around the world to recognize the impact of elder abuse and to recognize the worth of victims that fall under elder abuse.
Tatro said there are 40 community-based elder abuse prevention groups throughout the state – one in Jackson and one in Hillsdale.
Tatro is working on a national pilot project in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. to bring a diverse group of people including medical service providers, law enforcement, civil legal services, the aging network, and others around the table to address the issue of financial exploitation. He is also involved in an identity theft of seniors program.
State Rep. Bronna Kahle, who was the final speaker at the event, is on the Family, Children, and Seniors Committee in the state legislature.
“We all know, it’s no secret, that seniors are a demographic of our population that is growing the fastest,” she said. “This isn’t going away – we’re going to see more and more of it – because there are more and older adults coming in every day.”
Rep. Kahle said that there is some pending legislation to deal with elder abuse, including an increase in penalties for those convicted.
“I’ve seen it happen to people personally, most in the area of financial exploitation,” she said, adding, “If you suspect it, if you think it’s happening, call [law enforcement or assistance numbers below].”
“You’re protecting somebody who can’t speak up for or protect themselves. Be watchful and know that it’s real. Know that I’m standing up for older adults. We can all come together and help.
Safe Haven is a program of Region 2 Area Agency on Aging, a private, not-for-profit agency located in Brooklyn, Mich. that serves Jackson, Hillsdale, and Lenawee counties. For more information on Safe Haven, contact Region 2 at 800-335-7881 or one of the assistance numbers below.