Speaker after speaker at the Elder Abuse Symposium hammered away at the same point: this abuse is on the rise, and most people are taking it much too lightly. Entitled “Could It Happen To You?” and hosted by the Alpert Jewish Community Center, 3801 E. Willow St., on Friday, June 15, the symposium featured 14 speakers who told unsettling stories and presented disturbing facts and figures pertaining to the abuse and neglect of elderly people.
The Long Beach Elder Abuse Prevention Team, in partnership with Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal– who could not attend the event because of budget deliberations in Sacramento– coordinated the event, which drew up to 225 people and coincided with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
Reiterating the theme of the event, Long Beach Elder Abuse Prevention Team member Theresa Marino, who served as moderator, explained that elder abuse can happen to anyone regardless of their race, religion or socio-economic class.
Joseph Prevratil, the first featured speaker, agreed with Marino. Prevratil, president and CEO of the Archstone Foundation, told the audience that crimes against seniors are far more widespread than most people realize. “It is too often ignored,” he stressed. “An advanced society must find solutions to the problem of elder abuse and neglect.” Founded in 1995, the Long Beach-based Archstone Foundation is a private grant-making organization that provides funding to groups that meet the needs of the elderly, deal with abuse and neglect issues, and educate seniors on how to prevent falls.
Prevratil noted that, according to US federal government statistics, 5.7 million older adults (11 percent of the elderly population) experience one or more forms of elder abuse every year. He added that 4.1 million seniors live in California, and more than 1 million live in Southern California.
He also warned that, as more and more Baby Boomers are entering into old age, crimes against seniors are increasing. “As society ages, we should take steps now,” he insisted. “Elder abuse should not be the norm of what it means to be an elder.”
Richard Franco, a manager with Los Angeles County Adult Protective Services (APS), was next at the podium. He noted that in his 17 years with APS, he has seen every kind of elder abuse imaginable. “I wish I could say things are getting better, but they are not,” he said. “People over 85 are the fastest-growing population in the US, and many of them are highly vulnerable to being harmed by someone.” He stressed that many seniors fall prey to one or more forms of abuse every year, but only a fraction of abuse cases is reported to authorities. “We need to have more people aware of what abuse looks like, and more people involved in preventing it and stopping it.”
The next speaker was Ralph Pascual, APS supervisor. He defined various forms of elder abuse. “Physical abuse is the intentional use of force causing pain or bodily harm,” he said. “Psychological abuse is the intentional infliction of mental suffering by the use of intimidation or threats.”
Pascual stressed that neglect is another form of abuse, and while it may or may not be intentional, it can lead to serious harm or death. “Neglect is the failure of a caregiver to meet his or her obligation to maintain an elder or dependent adult’s health and well-being,” he said. Neglect includes the failure to feed, hydrate, bathe or medicate an elderly person who is not able to do those things on their own.
Pascual also discussed self-neglect. “This involves giving little or no attention to one’s own household or personal care and could include hoarding,” he added.
According to Pascual, while all the above-mentioned forms of abuse directly assail an elderly person’s physical and emotional health, elderly financial abuse– also rising– can significantly impact a victim’s physical and emotional health. “Financial abuse is the taking, secreting, appropriating or retaining of real or personal property including cash and bank accounts of an elder or dependent adult,” he explained.
Pascual also noted that caregivers sometimes isolate, abandon or abduct elderly people in order to hide other forms of abuse.
Later in the symposium, Long Beach Police Department Sgt. Janet Cooper spoke about another crime against seniors– sexual abuse. She explained that any kind of sexual contact without consent is a crime punishable by law, but many cases of elder sexual abuse are never reported to the police.
Another speaker, Corrina Gallegos, noted that the various forms of elder abuse can happen in nursing homes and residential care facilities. Gallegos is a social worker employed by Wise and Healthy Aging, the agency that manages Los Angeles County’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman program. The agency is charged with investigating reports of suspected abuse in long-term care facilities.
Those who suspect elder abuse or neglect can contact the following agencies:
Los Angeles County APS: (888) 202-4248
Long Beach Police Department: (562) 435-6711
Signal Hill Police Department: (562) 989-7200
Emergency situations: 9-1-1
Elder Abuse Hotline: (877) 477-3646 or (800) 992-1660
Long-Term Care Ombudsman Crisis Number: (800) 334-9473 or (310) 394-9871
Next week, the Signal Tribune will publish part two of this series on elder abuse.