State aging secretary highlights discussion to examine elder abuse

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WAYNESBURG – State Department of Aging Secretary Teresa Osborne opened her speech Thursday to Greene County Elder Abuse Task Force with a startling statistic that one in 10 adults over 60 will face some type of abuse, but only one in 24 cases are reported.

“This means that very few seniors who have been abused get the help that they need,” Osborne said.

Reports of abuse, neglect and abandonment of elders continue to rise each year and the investigations are increasingly complex, she said.

“Last year at the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, we received 28,633 reports of need for protective services for older adults,” Osborne said. “This was an increase of 17.3 percent from the prior year. In Washington, Greene and Fayette counties, last year nearly 1,500 reports of need of protective services were received, an increase from two years ago of about a thousand reports.”

Trista Thurston/Observer-Reporter

Trista Thurston/Observer-Reporter

Audience members listen to Leslie Grenfell, at podium, executive director of Southwestern Pennsylvania Area Agency on Aging, as she kicks off Greene County’s first Elder Justice Day Thursday at Valley View Farm outside Waynesburg.

In her first official visit to the community during the county’s inaugural Elder Justice Day at Valley View Farm near Waynesburg, Osborne and others attempted to raise awareness of the vulnerabilities older adults face, including fraud and abuse.

Across the state, the most common allegation reported is caregiver neglect. Victims are commonly women in their 80s who still live in their homes alone. Perpetrators are often between 30- to 59-year-old women.

Osborne shared some anecdotes from her over 28-year career working with older adult populations. Despite the difficulty and heartache she experienced, it “paled in comparison to anything” her clients faced. At the core of every case was a real human being who was hurting.

She recounted the case of Eloise, a widowed woman who turned to a neighbor for assistance. This neighbor moved Eloise out of her home and into his, selling off her belongings and property and pocketing the cash. The neighbor would throw things at her so they would just miss, but still be enough to frighten her, she said. Osborne helped Eloise move into a personal care home and she eventually saw justice through theft charges and a $28,000 restitution check.

“She could move on, finally, with her life, but really, her life was never the same and six months later, she passed,” Osborne said.

She thanked attendees for taking the time to come to the event and to work on this issue, to ensure people learn to recognize elder abuse and know what to do when they see it.

“Your voices are incredibly important in this effort,” Osborne said.

Osborne is set to return to the area next month so she may meet with local Southwestern Pennsylvania Area Agency on Aging staff. Because of their caseloads, the protective service investigators were too busy to attend Thursday’s talk.

Osborne recently attended a small listening session with grandparents who are raising their grandchildren due to their children’s substance abuse disorders in Luzerne County and said she would like to do the same when she returns to Greene County next month. The conversations capture the needs and gaps in services offered to these seniors.

She said this event was a great opportunity to elevate awareness, as the number of reports keeps rising and resources are limited.

Following Osborne’s opening statements was a question and answer session with guardianship attorney Kathleen Gustine, Marie Christinis with protective services, and First Federal President and CEO Charles Trump, who provided expertise on bank fraud and financial exploitation, to share their experiences. Greene County President Judge Farley Toothman also commented on issues he experiences in the court. Area seniors, healthcare professionals, service providers and local lawmakers were among the audience.

Trista Thurston/Observer-Reporter

Southwestern Pennsylvania Area Agency on Aging Executive Director Leslie Grenfell, center, kicks off Greene County’s first Elder Justice Day, Thursday at Valley View Farm outside Waynesburg.

Greene County Area Agency on Aging’s Executive Director Leslie Grenfell said the day provided “information on how to identify elder abuse, report it, and the resources that are available in the community to help support older victims.”

Chris Gardner, court assistant for program development at Greene County Courthouse and member of Elderly Abuse Task Force, said Thursday’s event was aimed to sparking a cultural change. The goal was to increase awareness of the financial abuse that takes place, as well as the impact of the drug epidemic on the elderly population. She also wants to emphasize it’s okay to stand up and ask for assistance when needed.

Those that suspect elder abuse can call the 24-hour statewide hotline at 1-800-490-8505 or contact their local Area Agency on Aging. Those that report are protected from retaliation and calls are confidential. The Southwestern Pennsylvania Area Agency on Aging covers Washington, Greene and Fayette counties and can be reached at 724-489-8080.


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