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Protecting Our Elders

news22Annual CAP report shows rise in elder abuse in Santa Cruz County

According to the most recent Community Assessment Project (CAP) report, senior citizens are the largest growing population in Santa Cruz County. Households with elders 65 and older rose from 19.7 percent in 2006 to 26.3 percent in 2012, and the total population of people 60 years and older increased 3.5 percent since 2006. 

The 19th annual CAP report was released on Tuesday, Nov. 19 and contains a comprehensive look at six aspects of quality of life in Santa Cruz County—from demographics, to economics, to public safety—using primary data from local surveys, and secondary information from local, state, and national sources.

The data from the CAP report is collected and aggregated by Applied Survey Research, a nonprofit social research firm with offices in Watsonville, which works in conjunction with United Way of Santa Cruz County, Dominican Hospital, and a number of other organizations to give the public a snapshot of life in Santa Cruz County.

One alarming trend found in the 2013 CAP report is a nearly 20 percent increase in investigated cases of elder abuse from 2006 to 2012. Abuse of the elderly can come in many forms, such as neglect, physical, psychological, and financial.

According to Kari Beuerman, division director of Adult and Long Term Care Services, the entity that houses Adult Protective Services (APS) in the county, there is not one specific cause of the rise in reported cases of abuse, but many.

news222The Adult Protective Services team (L-R)—Diana Hodge, Nancy Dybdahl, Melissa Klein and Gabriel Barraza—works to address elder abuse in Santa Cruz County.“In the last five years, there has been an overall increase in elder abuse being reported to us, and we attribute that to a lot of different things,” says Beuerman.

One of the factors that Beuerman believes has caused an upward trend in reports of abuse is the economic recession, which she feels can breed more criminals trying to take advantage of the elderly, and may also lead to a loss in more ongoing, case management programs.

“With the elimination of community resources, and state funding in certain areas being cut, I think there is more reliance on programs such as Adult Protective Services, which is a more crisis-oriented program,” says Beuerman.

One of the largest contributors to the increase in elder abuse reports, according to Beuerman, is a state law passed in 2005 dubbed the Elder Abuse Reporting Act, which makes employees of financial institutions, such as banks and credit unions, mandated reporters of suspected financial abuse. A mandated reporter is an individual, such as a doctor or police officer, who is required by law to report suspected cases of abuse to APS or be penalized for their inaction. “There was a big spike at that point,” she says.

Beuerman states that financial abuse is one of the most prominent types of abuse in the county, and comprises 34 percent of the total reported cases that come in to APS.

The local ageing population is also a factor that Beuerman attributes to the rise. With the 2013 CAP report showing a steady increase in the population of those 60 years of age and older in Santa Cruz County since 2006, there are simply more chances for criminals to abuse senior citizens.

Since elder abuse is an underreported crime—many times the transgressions are committed by family members or trusted friends of the senior citizen—Beuerman perceives the increase in reports as a good indicator that people are aware of the services that are available to help the elderly, and are reaching out for that assistance. 

“In some ways we consider a rise in referrals a good thing because it means that people know about us and are reporting to us, and that’s what we want,” says Beuerman. “We know elder abuse is out there and we want the opportunity to address it.”

APS takes reports 24 hours a day. After a referral is made, one of their social workers first determines whether the report meets the criteria to be investigated, and, if it does, they follow up at the residence of the elder abuse victim. All reports made to APS are confidential.

In the future, APS will be launching an outreach campaign in local communities, with a focus on South County, and partnering with churches and other local organizations to educate people about the warning signs of elder abuse and the programs they can offer to those in need. APS also plans on establishing an online reporting program to make it easier for mandated and non-mandated reporters to address abuses they observe occurring around them.

Above all, Beuerman believes that a community support system of relatives, friends and neighbors is one of the best preventive measures in the fight against elder abuse.

“We really try to address the issue of isolation and encourage people to reach out to their natural support systems,” says Beuerman. “It’s important for people to stay connected and stay sharp so that they are not as vulnerable as targets when perpetrators are out there.”

Stay tuned to subsequent issues, wherein Good Times will further examine other noteworthy trends in this year’s CAP report.

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