On Monday, June 18, the Ashe County Department of Social Services wrapped up a campaign to educate residents about the abuse of the elderly, what it entails, and how it can be stopped.
More than 100 complaints of elder abuse come in each year to the Ashe County Department of Social Services, and many of those complaints include charges of self-neglect.
Between Mother’s Day in May and Father’s Day in June, the Ashe County Department of Social Services set up a display on the first floor of the Ashe County Courthouse with pamphlets and information on the types of abuse that befall the elderly and what can be done to stop it.
“There are three types of abuse that we look at,” said Ashe County Department of Social Services Adult Services Supervisor Tommy McClure. “These include abuse, neglect, and exploitation.”
McClure said, by far, the number one elder abuse complaint the DSS receives is self-neglect.
“It’s typically a disabled or elderly person that is living alone, or in a place with no primary caregiver,” said McClure. “Many times these folks are not taking their medicines or eating properly, and they’re being negligent about things like doctor’s appointments.”
McClure said DSS has a screening protocol they follow that is used to determine whether the agency has the authority to act.
“In order to accept the report and do our evaluation, the elderly person must be disabled,” said McClure. “Are there allegations or complaints of abuse, neglect, or exploitation, and is the elderly person in need of protective services?”
McClure said elderly persons, due to their physical and mental capacity, who are unable to perform for themselves essential services, or obtain essential services, and if that person is without someone who is willing, able and responsible, they can be classified as needing protective services.
“If the answer is yes to all of the above questions,” said McClure, “as the supervisor, I’d look to the severity of the allegation and appoint a social worker to evaluate it immediately, within 24 hours, or within 72 hours.”
McClure said the appointed social worker would meet with the individual in question and anyone else may be able to provide input on the situation, including a spouse, children, neighbors, doctors, or a guardian.
“We then make an assessment as to whether or not that individual is truly being abused, neglected, or exploited,” said McClure. “We then go back and try to determine if the individual in question has the mental capacity to consent. Yes, all these things can be going on, but if this person has the capacity to determine they don’t want to change their situation, then we may not infringe on their rights.”
McClure said in cases where the abuse has been substantiated, and the elderly person being abused does not have the capacity to understand their situation or what is happening to them, DSS may then be forced to take action.
“Our appropriate action may include appealing to the clerk of court for a guardian to be assigned,” said McClure. “And we don’t necessarily try to appoint ourselves as that person’s guardian. We try to look at family to determine someone who is able, willing, and responsible.”
McClure said DSS tries to set up a support network for family members who are willing to step up and protect an elderly family member in their task as caretaker.
“We also try to keep that person in their home environment if at all possible, and if it can be done safely,” said McClure. “If not, we may petition the guardian or the court to send that person to a facility where they can be cared for, but that’s an absolute last resort.”
Over the past year, McClure said DSS had been forced to send four such elderly persons to the proper care facilities.
“It has happened,” said McClure. “We’ve had to do it several times, but it’s always a last resort. I certainly want people to know that.”
McClure said the recession and resulting weak economy have also increased the financial exploitation among the elderly in Ashe County and across the country.
“We are seeing a great increase in financial exploitation,” said McClure. “And it typically comes from within the victim’s family.”
McClure said he would tell elderly residents concerned about, or know someone who may be vulnerable to, financial exploitation that they must build a safety net around their finances of more than one person.
“They should have multiple folks to oversee and suggest financial courses of action,” said McClure. “I also suggest people designate a power of attorney while they are still competent so that if, and when, the time comes when they are no longer competent, they will have somebody they trust entirely to make those decisions.”
McClure said many times, financial decisions made by the elderly happen by default.
“There are predators who would prey on their own family members,” said McClure. “These days, there are also people who have fallen on hard times and think stealing grandma’s social security check is their only course of action. We see that quite often now.”
McClure said the elderly should also protect themselves as best they can against scams, especially those that take place over the phone or through the mail.
“Recently, one person was being scammed by a magazine publication,” said McClure. “They were making threatening phone calls to this person and said they owed the publication several hundred dollars in back fees, and that they would send someone to personally collect those fees.”
McClure said the person was told they, “would regret that visit.”
“To the person living alone, who may or may not be able to remember if they actually did order these things, this sort of stuff scares them to death, so they comply and send the money,” said McClure.
If you have questions about elder abuse, contact McClure and the staff of the Ashe County Department of Social Services Adult Protective Services at 336-846-5719, or the Ashe County Sheriffs Department at 846-5600.