Most cases of elder abuse go unreported in Ohio per state and county agencies

Published: Jun. 29, 2022 at 10:17 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Elder abuse is a heartbreaking problem local officials believe happens far more often than its reported.

This month advocates across the nation are trying to spread awareness about elder abuse.

That’s what got us wondering, how bad the problem is here in Ohio.

Attorney General Dave Yost believes if his office can find the perpetrators and hold them accountable, it would significantly protect our seniors going forward.

“Our senior citizens our uniquely vulnerable. They’re often at the end of their lives,” he said.

Elder abuse can be anything from sneaky scams targeting older people to actual physical harm.

Below are examples of cases the AG’s office has worked on recently:

  • A family member contacted the Elder Justice Unit regarding an 81-year-old with Parkinson’s Disease who was living in a long-term care facility in Medina County. The caller expressed suspicions that there had been misappropriation of $200,000 from the elder, improper execution of a financial power of attorney and multiple transfers of the beneficiary of assets. The Elder Justice Unit worked with the Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, local law enforcement, the long-term care ombudsman, and the local Persecuting attorney to protect the victim from further financial harm and hold the suspect accountable. Support services have been put in place for the victim while the criminal investigation case remains open, and she was able to maintain her long-term residence and required care, pending the outcome of the investigation.
  • A nursing home administrator in Ashland County assisted living contacted the Elder Justice Unit seeking support in how to proceed in the case regarding one of the residents, a 92-year-old disabled man that suffer from blindness and wheelchair dependent was a victim of suspected a case of financial exploitation by a family member. It was reported that his family was misusing the victim’s social security checks and not using the funds for the victim’s care, thus jeopardizing his placement at the facility. The Elder Justice Unit brought together the local long-term care ombudsman, the department of Medicaid and local law enforcement to protect the victim from further financial harm and work with the victim to maintain his residency at the assisted living. Currently the victim’s care needs are being met at the assisted living facility; his funds have been redirected for his care while the criminal investigation remains open.

Yost says the bad guys prey on seniors, often because they’re hard of hearing, easily persuaded or tend to forget important things.

“It happens in the shadows people don’t like to talk about it,” he said.

The state’s Adult Protective Services department gave us this breakdown of the cases it worked in 2021.

While most were related to self neglect, nearly a quarter were deemed abuse cases and 17 percent were considered exploitation.

The state spokesperson said, “Typically in Cuyahoga County our exploitation cases are about 18% to 20% of the reports we receive. [In] 2021 it was 19%. We had 2,402 unduplicated cases we investigated in APS... The state is close to the same percentages regarding allegations. Self- neglect is always about half of our reports and investigations, as is true across the state. Last year we [saw] an increase in neglect, so self-neglect was slightly lower.

The attorney general’s office says it prosecuted about 230 cases specifically related to elder abuse last year.

The problem is, the numbers are likely way higher than we know.

Officials believe only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse are reported.

“If you’ve gotten to the point, let’s say you’re 75 years old, and you’ve lived this great life, and you’ve been successful and got a little money in the bank, and you own your house, and you raised your kids, and you’re pretty proud of your life for good reason, and then somebody comes in and tricks you and walks away with $10,000 a year money, do you want to report that? Not only does it hurt your pride, because you got taken advantage of like that. Then, you worry about people thinking you are slipping are they going to take you to probate court,” Yost said.

He says that’s not what’s going to happen if someone makes a report.

Instead, his office and law enforcement officials want to try to track down the person who did the damage.

That way they can hopefully keep the person from hurting others in the future.

“If you if you report it if you reach out for help the folks are there and want to help. We should be protecting the most vulnerable in our society, whether that’s people who are under five years old or whether those people are 75-years-old,” Yost said.

People who want to report elder abuse should first contact the Cuyahoga County’s Division of Senior and Adult Services at 216-420-6700. APS investigates all elder abuse allegations.

DSAS invites the public to join in creating awareness around elder abuse throughout the month of June. Visit their website to learn about free events planned, including the national Walk for WEAAD; the #WEAAD615 Challenge; and Wear Purple Wednesdays (particularly June 15). Download helpful resources including a Red Flags of Abuse fact sheet or a See It, Stop It, Report It poster. DSAS is hosting its annual Elder Abuse Awareness Forum, and there are other informative in-person or virtual seminars being offered.

“We are calling on the community to assist us in protecting the County’s older residents, not only in June, but all year long,” said DSAS Interim Administrator Natasha Pietrocola. “Calls to our reporting portal continue to increase, with 2021 being one of our busiest years. If you see it, stop it and report it. We depend on you to help us keep our elders safe.”

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