Elder Abuse: Out of the Shadows, Into the Spotlight
Learn about the Elder and Dependent Adult Protection Team and ways to identify and report suspected elder abuse in this interview with Shannon Morgan of the Aging and Adult Services division of the San Mateo County Health System. Hosted by Marshall Wilson from the County Manager's Office.
The following is a transcript of the interview available on the County's SoundCloud site:
The fastest growing part of the population here in San Mateo County is people over the age of 65. And one of the fastest growing crimes is elder abuse.
The most common type of elder abuse is financial. A family member raids a relative’s bank account or steals valuables. A stranger befriends an older adult whose money suddenly vanishes. Older adults are also prey to physical and emotional abuse.
That's why the County in 2015 created the Elder and Dependent Adult Protection Team, or EDAPT. The team consists of social workers backed by the County Counsel’s office and the District Attorney.
Together, they investigate and prosecute cases of elder abuse and raise public awareness about ways seniors can protect themselves.
Joining me now is Shannon Morgan. She’s a member of the protection team from the County’s Health System, and she’s seen an increase in the number of reported cases of elder abuse. Welcome, Shannon, and tell us why you think that is.
Morgan: It’s important for the listeners to know that there are individuals in this county and all throughout various counties – they wake up every morning figuring out a way to take advantage of an older and dependent adult, and it's our job to stay two steps ahead of them.
Two things that we know that’s expected to happen in 2030 is that our older adult population is estimated to grow by over 70 percent. Also, it's estimated that in 2030 that older adults, 65 and older, 130,000 of them will have an income 400 percent above the federal poverty line.
We're going to have a large group of older adults aging in San Mateo County, and even a larger group of those individuals who will have a substantial amount of assets at their disposal.
Wilson: And some of those perpetrators are out there waiting to pick those pockets when they can.
Morgan: They’re going to attempt to, and we’re going to be there to prevent them.
Wilson: So what are the signs of elder abuse, either financial abuse or physical abuse or emotional abuse, that really anyone could be looking for?
In San Mateo County, call 1-800-675-8437 to report elder and dependent adult abuse. All calls are confidential. If you see something, say something.
Morgan: With financial abuse, some signs could be an older adult who's making irregular trips to their bank to withdraw large sums of money. And their explanation for the withdrawals could be related to sending that money to an unknown person that you as a loved one, may not be aware of.
It can also be an individual who is going through some cognitive challenges and is forgetting the amount of money they’re withdrawing, losing that money or giving that to individuals who may not have the best intentions for an older adult.
Physical abuse symptoms could be an actual older adult with physical injuries, whether that's a black eye, broken bones.
Neglect can be seen as an older or dependent adult looking disheveled, unkempt.
There's a lot of physical observations that a person can see and also just asking a person a question, Are you okay? And that can open the door to an older or depend on adult talking about their world and talking about challenges they're facing.
Wilson: What happens when someone calls you? Does that immediately launch an investigation, or how do you go about looking into that?
Morgan: When a report is made, we have screeners who are dedicated to receiving the information. That screener along with a supervisor will evaluate the information on the report and determine whether it fits our criteria.
So if it meets our criteria, then a case will be open for a social worker to make contact with that older adult and to start the investigation.
One case I want to highlight, which is a success story, is the case of 96-year-old woman who lives in the southern region of the county who was being financially victimized by a niece.
This older adult had a substantial amount of wealth. Her niece began to live with her and began to steal her assets. Through the work of EDAPT and an investigator assigned to that program, we were able to partner with law enforcement -- the District Attorney's Office -- to investigate and recover $80,000 in the possession of this perpetrator.
And long story short, a successful outcome of this is that the perpetrator has been tried for elder abuse, has been convicted, and our 96-year-old older adult was able to continue to live in her home and had all of her finances intact. So that's a success story that I'm proud to talk about.
Only one in every 24 cases of elder abuse is reported to authorities
Wilson: Well I could certainly see the situation where I might have a neighbor or someone I'm concerned about, but I don't necessarily know I want to get involved and get my name out there. Is it possible to call you anonymously to report concerns or how does that whole process work?
Morgan: Absolutely. All calls that are made to Aging and Adult Services concerning abuse or neglect are confidential. You can remain anonymous. We are able to take reports 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
And definitely. I'm glad you brought that up. I want to highlight the aspect of being anonymous. We're less concerned on who's making the report and we're more concerned on what is in that report. What do you have to say.
If you have any suspicions about an older dependent adult being a victim of abuse, please call 1-800-675-8437. Also, you can go online to SMCHealth.org/elderabuse where you can learn more about the signs and symptoms of abuse.
Wilson: And what is the Health System doing to get the word out about your protective team and ways to contact you?
Morgan: We're very happy and we're very fortunate to have Measure K half-cent sales tax dollars, which is helping with the outreach.
We have a dedicated outreach person who goes out into the community and does hundreds of outreach events, training opportunities to public citizens, community-based agencies – anyone and everyone who's interested in learning about the signs and symptoms of elder abuse.
Wilson: Do you think the number is growing because elder abuse is becoming more common, or because of the outreach you've been doing to get people to talk about it more and to recognize it?
Morgan: It may be a little bit of both. I think it's definitely due to the outreach that we're doing and also that it's being talked about more. I see older adult, dependent adult abuse as a social issue of high importance as other social issues that are talked about in the media: child abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking. So I'm happy to see that elder abuse is being put to the forefront, that a spotlight is being shined on this epidemic that we’re seeing.
Wilson: Shannon Morgan, thank you for being with us today.
Morgan: Thank you.