Thursday, August 23, 2007

Region Ahead of the Game in Responding to Elder Abuse


When it comes to serving and protecting senior citizens, Southern Illinois is working ahead of the curve statewide.

Last week, Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed House Bill 734 into law, ensuring that seniors always have access to critical elder abuse services when needed the most.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, and Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, is also supported by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the Illinois Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

Although the Department on Aging runs a 24-hour Elder Abuse Hotline, many elder abuse situations are reported locally, where providers rarely have 24-hour, weekend or evening hotlines available. Such is not the case in this region, however.

Carol Aronson, director for Shawnee Alliance for Seniors in Carterville, said the agency, which serves 13 counties, has maintained a 24/7 access program since the late 1980s.

"We're way ahead of the game in that regard," Aronson said. "We have five management staff members who are part of an on-call rotation. Even if it's after hours or on the weekend, anyone can call and our answering service will pick up and relay the message to our on-call person."

Aronson said calls alleging elder abuse are prioritized. First-priority calls are those in which the alleged victim may be at risk of physical harm.

"In that case, we will send a case worker out to see the person before the end of the day."

Financial exploitation allegations, for example, are a lower priority, but case workers still respond in less than a week.

Aronson said her agency received 775 elder abuse calls in 2006, a number that continues to rise with each passing year. She said David Mitchell is director of the Protective Service Unit at Shawnee Alliance.

"Of those 775 calls, 62 occurred after hours," she said. "And about 47 percent of the total calls had allegations that were substantiated after we conducted an investigation."

Sadly, Aronson said nearly 14 percent of every 1,000 residents in the Southern Illinois region have either reported or been victims of elder abuse. That is nearly triple the state average of 4.9 percent.

"Elder abuse is a serious problem that demands an immediate response by elder abuse service providers, no matter when they occur," Bradley said. "To give seniors the protection they deserve, but hopefully never need, provider agencies must ensure that they are always ready to respond to reports of neglect or mistreatment."

Forby said every moment counts when responding to elder abuse.

"Rep. Bradley and I will keep working diligently with senior advocates and service providers to ensure that our older citizens never have to wait to receive assistance in their most vulnerable hour."

For more information on the bill, contact Bradley at 997-9697 or Forby at 439-2504. Shawnee Alliance for Seniors may be reached by calling 985-8322.


No comments: