By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Wood County Probate Court is seeing more cases of elderly abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Judge David Woessner who presides over the court, said Wednesday, that he hopes it is because of greater awareness leading to more reports.
Raising that awareness was the purpose the program presented by Wood County Job and Family Services after the annual Flag Day Pause for the Pledge observance.
Tying the two programs together is fitting Woessner said: “So today when we recognize the flag and all it stands for, we should also recognize our need and our responsibility to help the elderly avoid abuse, neglect, and exploitation.”
Mark Briseno, the adult protective services supervisor at Job and Family Services, said that in all of 2016 his office handled 260 cases. So far this year, there have been 149 reports, putting the office on track to handle 300 in 2017.
He said that the increase probably reflects both heightened awareness leading to people reporting more readily as well as more cases.
“It’s hard to really tell,” he said. “It’s a combination of both. Hopefully the efforts we’re taking to get the word out is contributing to more reporting. On the other hand, the elderly population is growing.”
And he knows there are many more cases. Nationally only 1 in 14 cases is reported.
“We have abuse by family members, neglect by family members or someone who may be in charge of someone’s care or an elderly person who is neglecting themselves,” he said. This may be because of memory loss or physical conditions that prevent them from taking care of themselves.
Wood County, he said, is better situated to handle the situation, he said. His office has a supervisor, two case workers, and six homemakers, who help older residents handle light housekeeping.
This service makes it possible for them to stay in their homes “which what we all want,” Briseno said.
They also serve as another set of eyes, watching for signs of trouble.
They are part of a network of people and agencies combating the problem, he said. They include hospitals, nursing homes, law enforcement, and mental health agencies. “It’s a collaborative effort.”
It often takes more than one of those to resolve a case, Briseno said.
Woessner said that the state has expanded the number of people now mandated to report suspicions of elderly abuse.
The state is offering training on the topic to a range of professionals. Last week, he said, the state’s probate judges heard a presentation on the financial exploitation of senior citizens.
Briseno said that the state is developing a database to better track cases.
He also said it would be good if other counties had the same resources that Wood County offers.