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July is Elder Abuse Awareness month, with a campaign to raise awareness about abuse of senior citizens, ways that abuse is reported and what agencies can do to address the problem. The campaign, called “Break the Silence,” will roll out this month with pamphlets, banners and talks about abuse of those who sometimes cannot vocalize what is happening to them.

Metropolitan Family Services is the designated “reporting agency” for Evanston and Niles Township, said Tana Paul, executive director. The agency investigates reports of abuse or suspected abuse in the community. Nancy Flowers, the City’s long-term-care ombudsman, does the same for reports about seniors in long-term care facilities.

The investigation and follow-up in either case is to follow the wishes of the senior citizen and to make the senior feel safe in his or her living environment, said Ms. Flowers and Ms. Paul. Except by order of a court or with permission of the senior, the identity of anyone who reports elder abuse is kept confidential, said Ms. Paul.

The Illinois Department of Aging, which funds the campaign, delineates seven categories of abuse: physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; confinement; passive neglect; willful deprivation; and financial exploitation.

Emotional abuse and financial exploitation were the most common abuses reported to Metropolitan Family Services
so far this year, said Carla Frisch, LCSW, of Metropolitan. The agency’s figures show that of the 158 cases reported this year in Evanston and Niles Township, 31 percent involved emotional abuse; 30 percent, financial exploitation; and 24 percent, passive neglect. Yet, said Ms. Paul, it is estimated that only about 1 case of abuse in 10 is reported.

Suspected Abuse in The
Community at Large

Certain professionals – doctors, social workers, dentists, nurses, psychologists and law enforcement personnel – are required by law to report abuse. In addition, says Ms. Paul, a neighbor, family member or church member may make the call “when people can’t report for themselves.”

Ms. Frisch then makes a personal visit to the household to assess the situation and meet with the senior citizen. “I make sure to talk privately with the senior there, or later, in a phone call,” she said.   

If the abuse turns out to be criminal, the police become involved, said Ms. Frisch. If it has not reached that degree, then the agency works with the senior, the family and any care-givers involved to create a safe and workable situation, she said.

Unless an order of protection is required to keep the abuser away, the agency makes referrals and helps secure support services for the senior.

“We follow the social-services model,” said Ms. Paul. “Metropolitan Family Services always does what the senior wants. Our goal is to do what the senior wants. We help get services needed – for example, securing a good power of attorney or getting someone’s name off a checking account.”

“The hope is that the older adult is safe and will have [caring] family members around,” added Ms. Frisch. “Anyone suspecting elder abuse can help by reporting to us.”

Suspected Abuse in A
Long-Term-Care Facility

As long-term-care ombudsman for the City of Evanston, Ms. Flowers responds
to reports of elder abuse in facilities.
“In some ways the residents of facilities are so vulnerable,” she said, adding that she makes regular visits, as well as
unannounced ones, to all long-term-care facilities in Evanston.

Sometimes she or members of her staff will identify abuse themselves in their visits. “We get reports from just walking around the facilities. People know us and pull us aside – or sometimes we notice something,” she said.

Ms. Flowers said her staff has also found that most of the reports are of financial exploitation.

Reports of abuse can be “from staff members or from residents themselves. … About 50 percent of the calls are from facilities seeking help – for example, because of financial exploitation of a resident by a family member,” she said. However, as Metropolitan Family Services does in the community, Ms. Flowers and her staff encourage self-reporting. “We try to help [the residents] make the report themselves.”

Once a report has been made, “There are very clear rules,” said Ms. Flowers.

“If it is staff-on-resident abuse, then by law the facility must suspend the staff member while the incident is being investigated. If [an incident in a facility] would be a crime in the community, then the police will have to be called. We will work with family, the staff, church members, and the police. Our role is to make sure the rules are followed and to make sure the resident feels safe. … We try to do what the senior wants – even if it  means getting a restraining order against a family member.”

Ms. Flowers and her staff conduct in-service trainings with staff members of several facilities in Evanston, teaching them about awareness and prevention of elder abuse.

Anyone who suspects that a neighbor, family member, church member or other friend or acquaintance is being abused may make an anonymous call to either Metropolitan Family Services, 847-425-7400, or to the Elder Abuse Hotline, 1-866-800-1409.

Anyone who suspects abuse in a long-term-care facility may call Ms. Flowers at 847-866-2919. If the caller is not a professional mandated by law to report abuse, his or her name will be kept confidential unless he or she gives written permission for it to be disclosed or unless a court orders disclosure.