'Elder Summit' examines elder abuse protocols

By Roberta M. Gubbins Legal News Police officers, firefighters, attorneys general, lawyers, prosecutors, members of the legislature, medical examiners, social workers, adult protective services workers and ordinary citizens concerned with the increasing problem of elder abuse came together on October 25th at Thomas M. Cooley Law School to build a comprehensive response protocol for those situations. The objective of the summit, explained Traci Ruiz, chair of the Ingham County Triad, a partnership among law enforcement, senior citizen outreach groups and community members to promote quality of life for senior citizens, was to modify current procedures and create a consistent statewide protocol for multiple disciplines to address physical, sexual, and financial abuse of Michigan's senior citizens. Elder abuse cases are often difficult to prove when physical evidence is unavailable due to failure to initially detect or delays in reporting. This is evident, explained Ruiz, by the low number of elder abuse cases reported by mandatory reporters, the lack of thorough investigation and the inability to effectively prosecute the cases once reported. "Our mission," said Maura Corrigan, Director, Michigan Department of Human Services, keynote speaker, "is to protect our elderly from the abuse and neglect at the hands of others when they can no longer help themselves. On January 1st the first of the baby-boomers reached 65 and every day for the next 19 years 10,000 baby boomers a day will turn 65 or 'officially old.'" Corrigan noted "the adult protective services model we've had in place for decades is no longer viable. We are facing an unprecedented growth in our older population. DHS received 20,635 referrals for adult protective services in the past year, which is nearly double the number from ten years ago." In the future, Corrigan predicted the number of complaints will increase exponentially as the baby boomers reach old age. She urged collaboration among the agencies to find the most effective use of "our scarce dollars to meet the expanding need." The ways to encourage teamwork among the agencies are "1) information sharing and 2) being concerned with outcomes without assigning blame to one other." DHS received a grant in 2008 and worked with Elder Law of Michigan to break down the barriers. Intensive workshops were held among law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, domestic violence advocates and DHS staff. They found that each agency was using different language to describe elder abuse--"we know that accurate translation from one discipline to another will help ensure a senior's safety." In March of next year, Corrigan said, there will be one centralized number for citizens to call for child abuse and neglect. There will no longer be local control. This will bring uniform standards in the application of the laws affecting children. Maybe this is a model to consider for adult protective services in the future. One number to call and one systematic approach to applying the law across our state." "I believe that there needs to be a standing collaborative among all the disciplines to deal with the problems of seniors in coming years," Corrigan concluded. In the coming decades we will need more services, the old methods won't apply and on going partnerships are needed to reach our goals." Elder abuse, neglect and exploitation, according to the Michigan Attorney General, involves behavior by licensed and/or non-licensed individuals, often family members or neighbors, toward an elder person who does not reside in a licensed facility and is defined as: * Elder abuse is harm or threatened harm to an adult's health or welfare caused by another person. * Elder neglect is harm to an adult's health or welfare caused by self-neglect or the conduct of a person responsible for the adult's care. * Elder exploitation is the misuse of an adult's funds, property or personal dignity by another person. To raise awareness of elder and vulnerable adult abuse in Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder declared the week of June 13th Elder and Vulnerable Adult Abuse Awareness Week. He stated that Michigan is home to approximately 1.8 million citizens older than age 60 and an estimated 10 percent are abused, neglected or exploited each year; and, in 2010, nearly 19,000 cases of suspected abuse, neglect or exploitation were reported to the Michigan Department of Human Services' Adult Protective Services program. Parties responsible for the event included: * Cooley Law School, sponsorship of facility, lunch and supplies * Elder Summit Planning Committee, Dr. Gary Anderson, Josh Ard, JD, Linda Damer, Mike Ferency, JD, Bill Fleener, JD, Dr. Kevin Foley, Dr. Clare Luz, Rachel Richards, Inspector Kelly Roudebush, Sgt. Traci Ruiz, Dr. Dean Sienko, Special Agent Supervisor Dan Southwell and Sherri Wiegman * Ingham County TRIAD Board, Nancy Bailey, William Cleary, Renee Korrey, Kathleen Richardson, Lorrie Ridenour, Sgt. Traci Ruiz. * MSU Department of Communications, Dr. William Donohue, Facilitator * MSU School of Law, sponsorship of breakfast. The group plans for follow-up meetings to finalize a protocol. Published: Mon, Nov 14, 2011

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