Interdisciplinary teams unite to stop elder abuse in Ohio

They say that a nation can be judged by how it treats its weakest citizens -- which include the disabled and the elderly.

Unfortunately, the elderly are a high-risk population when it comes to abuse and neglect. The longer that people live, the less likely they are to remain active in their community. This means that they aren't a visible presence.

That makes it harder for people to know when abuse and neglect are happening, especially if they're living with supposedly loving family members who are more interested in the senior's Social Security benefits or pension than they are in that person's health and well-being.

Even social service agencies can have a hard time stopping abuse. First, someone has to alert them that there is a problem -- a big hurdle because family members often are afraid that they'll be found out if they tell and face retaliation. Second, these agencies have to find the senior.

Take the case of the 78-year-old man who couldn't bathe himself or take his own medication. To keep social services from putting the former pastor in a home (which would have meant an end to any income provided by the elderly man's benefits), his grandson hid him from caseworkers at a private nursing home, a hotel and then in an empty apartment. When caseworkers finally found the man, he was sitting alone in a room without a bed, food or supervision.

One of the problems that has faced caseworkers is that many work for different agencies with similar goals, but they weren't able to share information with each other easily.

Ohio is taking steps to change that. The creation of interdisciplinary teams, or I-Teams, makes it easier for the various agencies to combine their efforts and manpower when dealing with a difficult case of suspected abuse or neglect.

While social service organizations like the Agency on Aging and the Job and Family Services Department (which overseas the Medicaid program many senior are on) are already working together, I-Teams would like to see help from area hospitals, the coroner's office, local prosecutor's, probate courts and local banks -- all of whom may know information that could help.

Elder neglect and abuse is a national problem that can happen whether the senior is at home with a relative or in a supposedly safe environment like a nursing home. If you suspect neglect, talk to an attorney today.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch, "‘I-Teams’ unite agencies to take on toughest cases of elder abuse," Encarnacion Pyle, accessed Aug. 11, 2017

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