Star Bradbury | Guest columnist
Have you noticed the purple pinwheels around town? This is to remind us that June 15 marked World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
Sadly, the elder abuse numbers just keep going up. More than 5 million Americans are abused every year and the annual financial loss is estimated to be “at least $36.5 billion,” according to the National Council on Aging.
When you add in the global numbers, it is appalling. Abuse comes in many forms and includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse, exploitation of any kind, neglect and abandonment.
There are many local agencies working together to try and make a difference: Elder Options, the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, the State Attorney’s Office — Eighth Circuit, Peaceful Paths Domestic Abuse Network, Three Rivers Legal Services, the Gainesville Police Department, the Alachua County Senior Recreation Center, the Miller Elder Law Firm and more. These agencies partner with Elder Options on the Abuse in Later Life grant project, offering programs to help at-risk seniors and to stop abuse in Alachua, Bradford and Union counties.
Agencies such as these can partner with their local legal aid program by using the Florida Department of Elder Affairs’ Elder Law Risk Detector tool that anyone working with at-risk seniors can use. It is a free web-based legal health “check-up” tool that allows individuals “serving seniors to screen older adults for common legal issues, and refer them to a partnering legal service program,” according to Sarah Halsell, state legal services developer with the Florida Department of Elder Affairs.
Now used in over five states, Florida has expanded this program to be used to help seniors at risk across the state. The idea is to foster partnerships with professionals already in the senior care field to help identify problems early. By empowering law enforcement, social workers, nurses, family caregivers or medical staff who interact regularly with seniors, those at risk can be helped.
Financial institutions, victims’ advocates, senior centers and even adult protective services can use this tool. By using this program, certain risk factors will be screened such as health, housing or financial situations, all areas potentially related to abuse or neglect.
Maybe they need help paying for prescriptions or need access to medical care. The risk detector tries to rate the urgency of the need. If they are facing eviction, for example, timely assistance is critical! If they appear to be in an abusive situation, this is handled carefully and confidentially.
The program can be accessed via a link using any device: a computer, laptop, tablet or phone. Just go to www.floridaelderlaw.org and click on “Florida Elder Law Risk Detector.” There is no app to download, no password needed. If you are an advocate, you will be provided with a guided interview to use
Based on input, the senior will receive a referral for whatever the issue is — housing, health care or a legal issue they need help with. For those working with seniors in their home or in the field, this tool will be especially helpful way to refer seniors not in immediate risk, so they don’t fall through the cracks.
Seniors looking for information on legal resources for themselves can access the other important information available at FloridaElderLaw.org, including the Florida Senior Legal Helpline available at 1-888-895-7873 for eligible seniors across the state.
As Sarah Halsell said, “While there is no guarantee that their case will be accepted by the legal aid program, it does ensure a meaningful referral and will help expedite the application process.”
The goal is for an experienced intake specialist to call the applicant within two business days and complete a full application for services over the phone. If the senior meets eligibility requirements (based on age and possibly income) and has a legal matter within the scope of the legal aid program, an appointment will be scheduled with an attorney.
If a senior is clearly being abused, a report will also need to be filed with Florida’s Adult Protective Services Program. Remember, under Florida law, if you even suspect abuse, neglect, or exploitation of any kind, you are required to report this. Either call 911 for immediate abuse issues or the Elder Abuse Hot Line at 1-800-962-2873, or go online to www.myflfamilies.com.
Let’s do what we can to keep our elders safe and report abuse when we see it.
Star Bradbury (www.starbradbury.com) is an aging life care specialist with Senior Living Strategies.
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