Older adults in Multnomah County continue to fall victim to incidences of abuse, neglect and exploitation, county representatives told the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners Thursday, June 22, before introducing a new public awareness campaign aimed at tackling elder abuse in the community.
“The effects of this abuse cause widespread social problems,” said Wendy Hillman, the program manager for the county’s Adult Protective Services program, which investigates reports of abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable adults throughout Multnomah County.
Nationwide, an estimated 5 million people, about 1 in 10, older Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect or exploitation each year, according to the Administration on Aging, the federal agency that advocates for older adults. For every reported case, as many as 23.5 go unreported.
“(Elder abuse) remains a critical public safety and public health issue that affects millions of people each year,” Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said. “The effects are often devastating.”
In addition to investigating abuse, Multnomah County protects seniors by operating the Gatekeeper Program to identify, refer and respond to at-risk seniors and people with disabilities and the Public Guardian and Conservatorship Program to obtain and implement guardianships or conservatorships for people who are unable to care for themselves and who are at risk of abuse. The public awareness campaign, which was commissioned by the Interagency Committee for Abuse and Prevention (ICAP), is designed to educate caregivers, seniors, elected officials and the public on abuse. Education is a key component of prevention and intervention efforts.
ICAP, whose members include judges, law enforcement officials, the district attorney’s office, county employees and members of the faith community, works to build safer communities for older adults. This year, for instance the group is involved in advocating for older adult-friendly features in the new county courthouse, said ICAP member Mark Sanford, who is also the program manager for the Multnomah County conservatorship program.
The public awareness campaign features a video explaining elder abuse and urges people to report suspected cases of abuse to Multnomah County Adult Protective Services. The campaign’s June launch coincides with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which took place June 15.
Commissioner Sharon Meieran lauded the video, saying it shines a spotlight on the problem of elder abuse.
“In the emergency department, as a physician, I see the effects of elder abuse all too frequently,” Commissioner Meieran said. “Maybe every shift, I see some sort of effects along the continuum, some horrifying that I can bring to mind as I sit here right now.”
Commissioner Loretta Smith, who hosts forums across the county to educate older adults about financial fraud, said the older people she has encountered are ashamed to tell people that they have been victimized.
“Seniors are embarrassed,” Commissioner Smith said. “That’s the single biggest reason why they won’t report something, because they are embarrassed that they let something like this happen to them and they don’t want others to know.”
Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson welcomed the PSA, saying that financial fraud can be “so sophisticated” that it is difficult to differentiate what is legitimate from what is not. Nearly one- quarter of the cases reported to Adult Protective Services were about financial abuse.
“It makes it all the more obvious that as community members – as family members – we need to be aware that this is happening and that there are ways to help,” Commissioner Vega Pederson said.