Protecting the state’s seniors has become a passionate cause for Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo.
He and others from his office, along with partners from across the state, have spent the last 22 months working on the program Minnesota S.A.F.E. Elders – Stop Abuse and Financial Exploitation.
This initiative combines awareness and resources surrounding elder abuse.
Palumbo met with the Philolectian Society last week at Green Haven Golf Club in Anoka to share more on this type of abuse.
“As we get older we lose faith in our own decisions and rely on others for help,” Palumbo said.
And sometimes that help turns into abuse.
A growing problem
Elder abuse happens later in life and can be physical, sexual or physiological abuse, neglect, financial exploitations or stalking of an adult older than 50, according to Palumbo, who has been with the Anoka County Attorney’s Office for more than three decades. He was elected county attorney in 2010.
“Throughout the years I have seen many of these kinds of cases come into the office and I felt very strongly it is something the community should be reacting to,” Palumbo said.
Examples range from a 78-year-old who was duped into a relationship with a woman in her 30s and lost more than $85,000 to the discovery of a woman so neglected she eventually died from the infection in her bedsores. Law enforcement found her daughter and granddaughter in the next room, Palumbo said.
Some of those victims are vulnerable, as defined as a resident or inpatient of a facility, or someone who receives services at or from a facility or a home care provider or medical assistant.
Palumbo said one in 10 seniors have suffered abuse at least one time and victims of elder financial abuse in the U.S. total close to $3 billion each year.
Those abusers can use manipulation and lying against their victims or withhold medical care or access to money.
Typically, Palumbo said, the victim has an ongoing relationship with the perpetrator, who could be family member, a guardian with power of attorney, a caregiver or a new friend or partner.
“Two thirds of the people who do this kind of abuse are family members,” Palumbo said. “It’s all about control – control over finances, property or assets.”
In one week he saw the same case three times – a son lost his job, moved in with his mom, took care of her and then started taking advantage of the mom’s finances.
And it was siblings who turned him in each time.
As the number of seniors continue to grow, it can be assumed elder abuse will follow suit.
The Administration on Aging expects by 2030 the U.S. population over 65 will have doubled from 2000 and will represent 19 percent of the population.
Led by the Anoka County Attorney’s Office, the S.A.F.E. Elders initiative is a collaboration of agencies, including more than a dozen counties throughout the state, who have come together to address the rising abuse and exploitation of seniors.
The group is putting together a toolkit to be provided to advocacy groups, victim service centers, financial institutions, medical center, assisted living centers and prosecutors.
That toolkit includes a video outlining abuse as well as training materials and resources.
This will help these groups identify elder abuse and provide resources for victims.
A trial notebook for prosecutors is also part of the kit.
“Financial exploitation cases are long and difficult and complex,” Palumbo said. “They can be complex for small agencies to prosecute.”
And sadly, many of the victims suffer from cognitive impairment, dementia or even sometimes die before a case can be prosecuted.
S.A.F.E. is also developing an app to be used by law enforcement in the field to bring together information and resources that will be available on a smartphone while investigating abuse, neglect and financial exploitation cases. The app gets as specific as showing pictures of bruises that are normal and not normal that could indicate elder abuse.
The program and toolkits will be rolled out June 14 – World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. They will be provided free of charge to any agency in the state that requests them. The group is also working with the public television station TPT to produce an educational video that will be shown throughout the year.
Awareness is key to the S.A.F.E. initiative.
“If you can help your friend avoid a situation like this, then you are the best friend in the world,” Palumbo said.
Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]