Number Of Elder Abuse Cases Increasing

Susan Williams to talk with seniors at center on Aug. 20

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Susan Williams looks at her e-mail at least three times a day to see if she must investigate another case of alleged elder abuse, neglect or exploitation.

"One of the big problems I encounter is people who have begun to have memory loss or dementia (they) don't see it in themselves and are not prepared for aging. Then my job becomes difficult," Susan Williams, a social worker for Gila County, said.

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Susan Williams is a human services specialist for Adult Protective Services in the Payson DES office. The hotline to report elder abuse or exploitation is toll-free, 1-877-767-2385.

New reports of exploitation, physical, verbal, sexual and self-abuse of the elderly and vulnerable in Payson are on the rise, partly because someone is now in the Payson office, she said.

There were 16 reports made and cases investigated in June of 2007, compared to four in August of 2006.

"For the past year there has been no local person in the office," Williams said, who started in November.

"We think that there have been more calls now that people know someone is here who can respond quicker and knows the local resources," she said.

Social workers from Globe or Apache Junction investigated an average of 4.6 cases per month from August 2005 -- July 2006.

The greatest number of cases Williams has seen in the past 10 months stem from self-abuse.

Perhaps the senior is forgetting to eat, has trouble making decisions, cannot remember that they have already paid a monthly bill or is otherwise confused much of the time.

Anyone can report abuse to the Adult Protective Services Hotline at 877-767-2385, either giving their name or anonymously.

The calls route through central office in Phoenix where they are assigned to a specific county, in this case, Pinal-Gila, then placed in the computer.

Next, Williams receives an e-mail about the case.

She has 48 hours to make contact with the alleged victim.

"I usually make contact within a day," she said.

The hotline might have gotten a call from a bank officer stating that Mrs. XYZ, a longtime customer might be a victim of exploitation.

For instance, Mrs. XYZ has deposited her Social Security check once a month for years and now she has asked for a $5,000 loan. In addition, Mrs. XYZ seems nervous and has someone with her the bank has never seen with her before.

It is legal for financial institution employees to report suspicions of abuse, because they are not disclosing financial information.

While the need for a loan might be legitimate, Williams has seen younger family members move in with an aging parent or grandparent and then continue to ask for additional help. The senior values family and wants company and finds it tough to set limits.

Williams' first job is to determine if the alleged victim is vulnerable or incapacitated.

The law allows Williams to interview whomever she deems necessary and gain access to medical and financial records to do her job.

Vulnerable is a broad term.

If a senior is willing to listen, Williams can offer advice. If she discovers abuse or exploitation, she refers the case to the police or sheriff's office.

Incapacitated is a stronger term and means that the senior cannot make decisions for themselves.

If Williams feels the person is unable to make decisions for themselves Williams refers the case to the courts. If the court agrees with Williams, a judge will appoint a guardian or conservator who is responsible to act in the senior's best interest.

In the event that Williams determines there was no abuse, but she sees some areas where an organization in the community or state might meet the person's needs, she makes those referrals.

Williams will be speaking to members of Payson Senior Circle at their luncheon Monday, Aug. 20, 11:30 a.m. -- 1 p.m.

"I'll talk about what kinds of decisions and preparations seniors can make now to avoid seeing me in my office later on," Williams said.

For more information about Payson Senior Circle, call (928) 472-9290.

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