Fighting Elder Abuse – Behind the Front Lines

Cynthia Hubler, Practice Lead, Compliance Training and Education
February 5, 2019

Having worked as a cancer patient advocate for over 18 years, it is difficult to embrace using statistics or numbers in equation with people, their lives and their welfare. We are trained to look at individuals and not consider the numbers in which they are captured by circumstance and default. In treating cancer, the numbers can be numbing, dulling your senses to what’s really happening.

In our industry, all we do, as a rule of thumb, is work with numbers: balancing them, reallocating them, assessing them and putting them to work. And whether or not we’re prepared to consider it, we may even become unmindful that “Mrs. Miller’s account” isn’t an account; it’s an accounting of Mrs. Miller: her wellbeing and her financial welfare. Applying sense and sensibilities to numbers is an unusual task: it is asking you to combine wisdom with sincere and deep feeling. Any one will tell you that numbers are numbers – they are the act of counting. But in our work, the simple act of counting is translated more surely into the faces and lives of those counting on us.

In my role, which is to bring timely subject matter and education to our advisors, I have come to the same conclusion about the numbers and statistics about elder abuse and financial exploitation. And my greatest concern is that espousing numbers may end up numbing us to the reality: that elder abuse and financial exploitation occurs everywhere, in every nation, takes place in every demographic and economic group and for some, sadly, it is very much an “expected” way of life. Those born into small rural communities or long-term economically challenged regions don’t necessarily “expect a lot” and if some of it is “taken away,” well, that’s life.1

In 2018, federal and state government agencies along with the U.S. Department of Justice announced an intense, full-fledged war on those who would financially cripple and emotionally or physically harm an elderly person in America.2 They have turned to training federal and state staff, social workers and law officials as a front line of defense by ensuring they understand the methodology and character of those who have and will most likely repeat abusing an elderly person. They were defined by Attorney General Sessions as the front line.3 What was implied in his words is the rest of us will be backing it up.

After reading several books and many articles from international care organizations, the one point that was blaringly clear is that America’s reputation for being the “country of opportunity” and the “land of plenty” has been quickly translated to our senior citizens becoming ripe fruit, ready for picking, by those who would see them divested of their financial security. Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid equal financial security and supportive medical care that millions in countless other nations will never have.

Many of those who globally “go without” have the misconception that American seniors on Medicare or those receiving Social Security are living on “easy street.” Money must seem to fall from trees on a monthly basis. Imagine what an eye-opener for them to learn that the average monthly Social Security benefit check is $1,422 or $17,064/year. The poverty level, or minimum level of income that is considered adequate for survival, for 2018 was $12,140 for a household of one; in a household with two adults, the poverty level “jumps” to $16,460.4 Neither the average single-member nor two-member household can afford to lose its savings or means for taking care of themselves to schemers, fraudsters, bogus romance plots and “misinformed” criminals. Foreign or otherwise.

It is this illusionary perception of wealth in our senior population that has prompted an international criminal element to rise and take action—negative action, focused on the most vulnerable of our citizenry. Yes, the majority of your clients worked hard, owned/sold successful businesses, put their children through college, own three cars and maybe bought a beach house. But each year, almost $3 billion is stolen or defrauded from millions of “average” American seniors.

Here’s where you come in: that extended, well-populated “line behind the front line.” Click here for guidance on understanding and recognizing common indicators of elder financial abuse and how to report suspected incidences, as well as insights into the nature and signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, recommended actions to take to protect vulnerable clients, resources you can share with your clients and their families and educational opportunities. It is important that you familiarize yourself with who you should contact in your state, county or city if you should become aware of such a situation.

Finally, it is important that all of us embrace the civil responsibility assigned to us as fellow citizens – that accountability not only applies to a client – it is given to neighbor, friend, fellow pew-sitter at church, or yes, even a co-worker.

 

Federal and State Updates:

Fourteen states passed legislation in 2017-2018 to protect the elderly from abuse and/or financial exploitation. Details can be found listed, by state, on the NCEA Elder Justice website.

In continuing its work on a national level, the Department of Justice is providing federal grants to qualified state courts to determine the efficacy and integrity of adult guardianship and conservatorship proceedings. The reason for this is the abysmal reality that many seniors suffer abuse and financial loss at the hands of their appointed caregivers and guardians.

The issuance of a “Stamp Out Elder Abuse Semipostal Stamp” has been proposed as a way to promote awareness of the issue of elder abuse and provide additional monies to the Department of Justice to fund training and education to staff and the public. To read more on this subject, check out the congressional notice: Postal Stamp to Help End Elder Abuse.

A critical and often unidentified cost of caring for the elderly is the impact such an effort has on the caregiver(s). For some, family members rally and work collectively but for many, it is a sole family member who gives up their job and independence to care for an aging parent/relative. It is this sacrifice that leads them to feel frustration, anger and helplessness. And unfortunately, they may strike out at the very person they are assigned to care for. The RAISE Family Caregivers Act passed the House & Senate in January 2018 and has allowed for the formation of a Family Caregiving Advisory Council to address gaps and propose strategies for supporting family caregivers.

We encourage you to visit and support the Ageless Alliance website and the important work this organization is doing with seniors. This organization has been working diligently at the grassroots level to provide education, assistance and a “live stage” to seniors who have suffered financial and physical abuse. Desiring to do more than publish statistics, Ageless Alliance lets you meet seniors who have suffered at the hands of scammers, experienced being ripped off and financially harmed. Every month, they put faces to the numbers in their Public Service Announcements.

 

 

1UN Principles for Older Persons, General Assembly December 1991
2Dept of Justice, Office of Public Affairs, Justice.gov/elderjustice
3Dept of Justice, EAGLE, October 11, 2018 
4Social Security Administration, Fast Facts Figures 2018

 

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