Although Tennessee law requires residents to report any suspicion of elder abuse or neglect, the reality is that most cases go unreported. In Memphis/Shelby County, the Coordinated Response to Elder Abuse (CREA) is a collaborative effort to streamline the services available to older adults who have been neglected or abused.
“There is a misperception that elder abuse only happens in nursing homes with neglected patients. Actually, it is all around us, and as a community we owe it to our elders to protect them,” says Olliette Murry-Drobot, Executive Director of Family Safety Center. “Approximately 88% of the cases we handle are the result of neglect, financial exploitation, or physical abuse, and they occur in relationships where there is an expectation of trust. As in domestic violence, victims know their perpetrators.”
CREA care coordinators and other team members are housed at the Family Safety Center, where the infrastructure is in place to provide civil, criminal, health, and social services to victims of family violence. The Family Safety Center and CREA are participating in the world-wide effort to raise awareness about elder abuse and neglect in our communities. The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations have declared Friday, June 15, 2018, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
Since they depend on the perpetrator for care, or basic needs such as grocery shopping and trips to the pharmacy, or because they don’t want to turn in their relative, older adults who are in abusive situations hesitate to come forward. Two-thirds of perpetrators are adult children or spouses.
Further complicating matters are the subtle, prolonged effects of abuse. The signs are not always obvious. One recent case began as a report of an abandoned house in the neighborhood. The grass was overgrown and there were no lights on at night. The neighbor assumed that the elderly woman who lived there had died. Investigators found the victim alive, but under-nourished with no electricity. The son who was in charge of groceries and paying the utilities was using the money for himself. MLGW had finally turned off the power, and that is when the neighbor noticed something was wrong.
“One thing we hear all the time is ‘I don’t want to get my child in trouble,’” says Chassity Taylor, one of two full-time CREA care coordinators assigned to elder abuse cases at Family Safety Center. “Many of our referrals come from concerned family members, neighbors, and home health care workers. Often people will admit that they suspected something was wrong for a long time, but they did not want to appear nosey by getting involved in someone’s personal affairs.”
When she is out in the community, Taylor reminds audiences that reports of suspicious behavior are anonymous. When Adult Protective Services (APS) receives a report of suspected abuse, they investigate and involve the CREA care coordinators or the Memphis Police Department detectives on site at the Family Safety Center if necessary. The person who reports a case of elder abuse does not have the “burden of proof,” the professionals will investigate and make that determination.
The care coordinators can spend from six months to a year on a case as they work with the other agencies to arrange for housing, a higher level of care, or legal advice related to the victim’s finances. Cases are complex, and they cut across all socio-economic levels of our community. Taylor says she has worked with victims on a fixed income of $1000 a month and victims with incomes of $7000 a month. And the abuse of older adults is not limited to the old and frail, she adds.
“You can be sharp, relatively healthy, living independently, and still be victimized. All it takes is one person with bad intentions to slowly gain your trust,” says Taylor. “They will befriend you and slowly gain your trust. Anyone can be taken advantage of.”
The theme of World Elder Abuse Awareness in 2018 is Building Strong Support for Elders. As the baby boomer generation ages, the need for senior support services increases. Older adults who have been abused or neglected tax our healthcare system. The National Council on Aging estimates that these older adults have a 300% higher risk of death. Financial exploitation of older adults costs Americans more than $36 billion a year.
In Shelby County, the most populated county in Tennessee, there are more than 170,000 individuals over the age of 60. Research indicates that one in ten of them will be a victim of abuse or neglect, though only a small percentage of those cases will be reported to authorities.
“The numbers tell the story. We need to rally around the older adults in Memphis and Shelby County and do what we can as a community to make sure we have supports in place to protect them,” says Murry-Drobot. “Our premise is that for our community to thrive, we need everyone in the community to thrive as well. By helping our older adults feel safe and empowered, we make all of Memphis and Shelby County stronger.”
Created in 2015, CREA is a hub for a network of agencies to improve the protection of older adults. Through CREA, the community services that interact with older adults…care homes, police, paramedics, emergency rooms, financial institutions…are working together to protect seniors against abuse. About CREA.
The law requires that you report concerns about elder abuse to Adult Protective Services (APS) in Tennessee. Call 888-APS-TENN to investigate allegations.