Forum discusses elder abuse
When Suzanne Kingsbury was a law student, her uncle embezzled her grandfather’s estate by tapping into his bank account and pawning off antique tools and steam engines. These heirlooms made up about a quarter of the estate.
The “final insult” to Kingsbury was when her uncle cleaned out her grandfather’s bank account when he was dying.
Thus, the El Dorado County Superior Court judge was introduced to elder abuse, she told a group assembled by the El Dorado County Commission on Aging to talk about the subject last week. About 50 people turned out for the forum at the South Lake Tahoe Recreation Center.
Kingsbury mentioned one case she dealt with as a judge in which a son bilked his older mother out of her property with an excuse he was responsible for maintaining her quality of life.
Kingsbury joined a high-powered group of panelists in stressing that elder abuse takes on many forms, including physical, psychological and financial exploitation. It can occur in a senior facility or in individuals’ homes.
There are related problems with the issue as difficult to solve as the problem itself.
“We firmly believe elder abuse is a much greater problem than what’s reported,” El Dorado County District Attorney Gary Lacy said, addressing the group.
Why is it under-reported?
Lacy listed the fatigue, shame and confusion of the age group often associated with this form of abuse that can lead to assault, battery, neglect, intimidation, torture or even homicide.
“The very nature of these crimes conflicts with the inherent ability of law enforcement to investigate them. If you have an 80-year-old senior citizen who dies, it isn’t going to get the same attention (as a younger person),” Lacy said. “But the scope of this problem is immense.”
Of the reported cases between 1986 and 1996, the number has grown 150 percent to 293,000. Sixty-five percent were victimized by family members, adding to the stigma of the crime, Lacy said.
“Something is wrong here, and we need to do something about it,” he said.
And to add insult to injury, many of the victims insist on staying in an abusive setting because they have no place to go, said Teri Boldt of Adult Protective Services. There is no shelter care provided in town for such victims.
Those who suffer from elder abuse and someone who knows of those who do were urged to call for help, Boldt said. She’s seen the number of reports in the county jump from three cases a month to 15 in the last 12 years.
Mandatory reporters are required to notify the authorities of such abuses. But anyone can call in an anonymous tip. Boldt gave out the county’s phone number, like the other presenters who gave out their numbers.
“Please don’t be a victim,” Boldt said. “I’m not going to drag you out (of your home).”
El Dorado County lauds a zero tolerance for elder abuse, forming a protective council consisting of members of the D.A.’s office, sheriff’s department and South Lake Tahoe Police unit.
Still, there appears to be a breakdown in the system to care for those who suffer from the abuse, city Councilwoman Judy Brown told the panelists. Brown runs Tahoe Manor on the South Shore.
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