Thursday, February 24, 2011

Elder abuse and neglect complaints are on the rise in Massachusetts

BOSTON — Complaints of elder abuse and neglect have risen statewide in recent years while resources to investigate them have failed to keep pace.

Case workers investigated about 16,000 reports of elder abuse or neglect in the year ending June 30, 2009, the most recent statistics available. The data cover people 60 and older in private living environments.

“It could be the economy. It could be any number of reasons,” said Deborah Fogarty, director of protective services for the state Executive Office of Elder Affairs. “We have a rapidly growing population of people who are 60 and over.”

Only when an extreme case of neglect is alleged, as in the case of a 68-year-old Hanover man charged this week with allowing his 93-year-old father to live in squalor, does elder abuse attract widespread attention.

Prosecutors say John T. Hallinan, 68, left his father duct-taped to a chair while he went to work. Police found the elderly man lying in a diaper on the floor in excrement, with sores on his feet.

Hallinan has been charged with assault and battery on a disabled person over 60.

Massachusetts law defines elder abuse as physical, emotional and sexual abuse, caretaker neglect, self-neglect and financial exploitation of a person 60 or older.

There are 22 regional agencies in Massachusetts in charge of investigating cases of elder abuse, and they have a total of 179 case workers assigned to investigate complaints.

After someone files a report of abuse, it is screened by a supervisor at one of the local protective service agencies to determine whether it is covered by the elder abuse law. Cases then are assigned to three priority levels from emergency to routine response.

Emergency cases call for contacting the alleged victim within five hours and visiting within 24 hours. Routine responses involve a home visit within five days.

Protective service agencies can assist elders with medical, legal, psychological, financial and housing assistance. In extreme cases of abuse, they refer cases to local district attorneys.

But investigations can come to an end if the senior refuses to answer the door or declines assistance.

“Self-determination is one of the underlying philosophies,” Fogarty said. “If an elder has the capacity to make decisions and declines an investigation, they have that right.”

Educating members of the community on how to spot signs of elder abuse is a priority of the state and local agencies, Fogarty said. A housekeeper visiting the Hanover residence reported the alleged abuse Aug. 23 after finding the 93-year-old man bound to a chair with duct tape.

Agencies held public events around the state in June to commemorate World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. They also have worked with local banks and trained employees to spot signs of financial exploitation, such as seniors withdrawing large sums of money frequently.

Elder abuse and neglect complaints are on the rise in Massachusetts - Fall River, MA - The Herald News

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