As Rhode Island’s population continues to age, there is a growing but “silent” epidemic for our elderly population, an issue St. Elizabeth Community and their Haven aims to bring awareness to. …
As Rhode Island’s population continues to age, there is a growing but “silent” epidemic for our elderly population, an issue St. Elizabeth Community and their Haven aims to bring awareness to.
June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month, and last Wednesday St. Elizabeth Community, as well as the Division of Elderly Affairs, recognized the official World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
Despite its lack of attention, seniors are abused in numerous ways including physically, sexually, financially and through isolation, often occurring in a trusted relationship, with either a family member or caregiver.
For this reason, many abused elders fear reporting their abuse according to Jeanne Gattegno Program Director for Saint Elizabeth’s Haven, which provides a safe space for elders fleeing abusive situations and connects them with various resources for a smooth and safe transition back into the community.
Elders are abused all over the world. Gattegno said that, statistically, for every elder that reports their abuse, there are five that don’t. According to the National Center of Elder Abuse, 10 percent of elderly experience abuse.
“They are afraid to come forward for fear of losing their home, their independence in the community, or they are dependent on their abuser. It is very difficult for these people to come forward,” Gattegno said.
She also believes that as a society we “accept” certain behaviors towards the elderly, in particular verbal abuse.
Roberta Merkle, executive vice president of strategic initiatives for St. Elizabeth Community, said a lack of respect is an issue many seniors identify with. She said people don’t always value seniors and realize they still have a lot to contribute to society.
For these reasons, seniors are often targeted, especially for financial exploitation, one of the fastest growing types of abuse in the country, according to Gattegno. Between financial scams and family members or caregivers living off the assets of the elderly, Gattegno said their needs to be more awareness and the community needs to be able to recognize signs of abuse to report it.
Merkle said 99 percent of professional caregivers are “trustworthy and honorable,” but there are still those that take advantage of their client’s dependency, purchasing cars or taking over their homes.
“These are people that have built a trusted relationship and may be the only people these elders see day in and day out,” Merkle said, “It’s so insidious. This isn’t on a lot of people’s radar to look out for either.”
For Rhode Island, as baby boomers continue to age, the fear is that the prevalence of abuse will continue to grow. Currently, individuals over the age of 65 make up 14 percent of the state’s population and that is expected to increase to 23 percent by 2030. Rhode Island has the ninth highest percentage of seniors over 65 in the country and is actually number one for percentage of persons 85 and older in the country according to Merkle.
St. Elizabeth’s Haven is one of only 10 similar programs nationwide, and there are only about 15 elder specific shelters across the country, even though elder abuse is a growing problem.
“We need to bring this issue to the forefront, increase the coordination between the state, case management agencies, and the community to better assist these elders in times of trouble,” Merkle said. “We need to raise awareness so more people can recognize the signs and report abuse.”
Over the next year, St. Elizabeth and the Division of Elderly Affairs are spearheading an initiative to establish a coalition that can tackle the issue of “elder justice” and to put into action an educational plan for caregivers, family, hospital staff and even bankers to be able to recognize the signs of abuse and how to report it.
Bankers will need to pay closer attention to elderly accounts to see exactly how money is being used and who seems to be in control, whether certain purchases make sense, and for neighbors to recognize “ranting and raving” by a caregiver. All reports are to be made to the Division of Elderly Affairs.
Gattegno explained that alongside the very obvious human toll, elder abuse takes, it also exacts an economic toll. Abused elders are sicker and have to visit the hospital more and elders who are robbed costs “the system” too.
“We know there are voids in the system, gaps in care, but we are working on identifying and resolving them. We are making stronger links between services and agencies so we can intervene in and reduce elder abuse. We want to come together to improve the quality of life for our seniors,” Gattegno said.
At the ceremony for Elder Abuse Awareness Day, held at the State House, St. Elizabeth Community presented the Elder Justice Hero award to Cheryl Patnaude, who exemplified the connectedness St. Elizabeth is striving for. In her work with a community case management agency Patnaude recognized the signs of abuse and went “above and beyond” to see said abused individual removed from the situation into a safe space in the Haven bringing together law enforcement, legal teams and various community resources.
Gattegno said, “We want to ensure that level of coordination and team approach in the future across the board. We want to bring people together, who have the resources, brain power and experience to see this through.”
For more information about St Elizabeth Community and their Haven visit www.stelizabethcommunity.org.
For more information on elder abuse, the signs and how to report it visit the Division of Elderly Affairs website at, www.dea.ri.gov.
ELDER ABUSE AWARENESS: Roberta Merkle (left) and Jeanne Gattegno, right, both from St. Elizabeth Community, are working with the Division of Elderly Affairs to decrease elder abuse and raise awareness.
ELDER JUSTICE HERO: Cheryl Patnaude was awarded the Elder Justice Hero Award on Elder Abuse Awareness Day, June 15, at a ceremony at the State House. From left are Steve Horowitz, president and CEO Saint Elizabeth Community, Patnaude, Kathy Parker Director of admissions Saint Elizabeth Community and Charles Fogarty director of the division of elderly affairs. (Warwick Beacon photos)