The sage connection

The Growing Problem of Elder Abuse: Part 3

What to do if you suspect elder abuse

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Now that you know what constitutes elder abuse (or see previous stories) whom do you contact if you suspect someone is being abused? 

Getting Help:

There are three main entities in our area to go to for help, beginning with Adult Protective Services. While most everyone knows about Child Protective Services the same cannot be said for vulnerable adults in distress. The second hero in this piece is the Ombudsman Program and the third is the Thurston County Vulnerable Adult Task Force. Depending on the circumstances, usually concerning financial scams, the FBI and Secret Service can also be involved.

Adult Protective Services?

Adult Protective Services (APS) is dedicated to serving vulnerable adults. They investigate reports about abuse, abandonment, neglect, exploitation and self-neglect of vulnerable adults in Washington State and collaborate with other agencies to offer protective services as needed. Their goal is to promote lives free of harm while respecting individual choice.

What is the process for APS investigations?

  1. Intake: When you make a report online, in person, or by phone or fax, intake specialists gather information to begin the investigative process.
  2. Assignment: Each intake report is reviewed to determine if APS has jurisdiction and assigns an investigation time frame.
  3. Investigation: Investigations include thorough interviews, observations, record reviews, and coordination with law enforcement and other agencies as needed.

Offer Services:

APS works with community partners to offer protective services, such as emergency shelter, food, medical care, personal assistance, counseling, and more.

What APS Does Not Do:

Adult Protective Services does not have the authority to:

  1. Remove a client from their home against his or her own will
  2. Detain or arrest an individual
  3. Provide guardianship services
  4. Act as an emergency responder (such as law enforcement or EMT)
  5. Force people to accept services

According to the Adult Protective Services Director, Kathy Morgan, the COVID-19 crisis has really hit this vulnerable population hard. Reports are way down from previous years, due to the isolation of frail homebound elders and the inability of anyone to check on them.

Self-neglect and financial abuse are at the top of their list for problem areas. Staffing is also down and recruitment is a top priority at this time. New scams are rampant and Morgan urges everyone to refuse to give any personal information over the phone.

 “We rely on the public at all times, but especially during the COVID pandemic, to be our eyes and ears”, Morgan explained. If you are not sure if someone is considered a vulnerable adult, report your concerns anyway. We’ll take care of the rest. All calls are confidential and we never give out the name of the person making the report”.

To make an APS Report, you can report online or Call 1-877-734-6277.

The Ombudsman Program:

While Adult Protective Services concentrate on elders still living at home the Ombudsman Program was designed to protect those living in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and board and care homes.

Under the federal Older Americans Act, every state is required to have an Office of the Long-Term Care (LTC) Ombudsman to address complaints and advocate for improvements in the long-term care system.

The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA), also known as the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987, has dramatically improved the quality of care in nursing homes over the last twenty years by setting forth federal standards of how care should be provided to residents.

Staffing:

Under OBRA, the facility “must have sufficient nursing staff to provide nursing and related services to attain or maintain the highest practicable physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being of each resident, as determined by resident assessments and individual plans of care.”

Freedom from Chemical Restraint:

Residents have the right to be free from physical or mental abuse, corporate punishment, involuntary seclusion, and any physical or chemical restrains imposed for purposes of discipline or convenience and not required to treat the resident’s medical symptoms.

How Does the Ombudsman Program Work?

Patricia Hunter is the Director of the Washington State Ombudsman Long-Term Program and she is running into COVID-19 related problems also.

While there is Ombudsman staff, this program operates primarily with volunteers who visit facilities, establish relationships with residents, family members and long-term staff members and work to resolve, or if necessary, report problems to the appropriate authority.

“When it comes to long-term care problems, we are the first line of defense”, Hunter said.

Being unable to enter long-term care facilities during the pandemic, Hunter has also lost staff and volunteers. Hunter states the Ombudsman Program volunteers have gone from about 350 statewide to 150. She will be actively recruiting new volunteers during the next 12 months.

Ombudsman Volunteers must pass a background check and undergo 32 hours of training both in the classroom and shadowing experienced Ombudsman volunteers inside facilities. Volunteers visit their assigned long term care facilities on a ongoing basis.

To learn more, download information on Chapter 388-97 WAC:  Nursing Homes – Resident Rights, Care and Related Services. To learn how to become a volunteer, visit their website or call 800-562-6028.

Thurston County Vulnerable Adult Task Force:

Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Joseph Jackson is the Chair of this task force and Megan Winder, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, is the Team Leader for Special Victims. Together they work with others, including, but not limited to, members of local police, APS and St. Peters Medical to meet and discuss cases and new and old scams. If you want to report any concerns email PROSECUTORSOFFICE@co.thurston.wa.us and enter Mr. Jackson’s or Ms. Winder’s name in the subject line and the email will be forwarded to them.

I know this is a lot of information – but it needs to be shared for the safety of our elder population.

If you see something, say something. It’s really that simple.

Editor's Note:  This story will remain on TheJOLTnews.com website. To find it in the future, type "elder abuse" into the search window on the top of any page on this news site.

Kathleen Anderson writes this column each week from her home in Olympia.  Contact her at  kathleen@theJOLTnews.com or post your comment below. 

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