Montana's elder abuse growing, says coordinator of Elder Justice Coalition

2011-05-25T19:45:00Z 2011-05-26T00:30:10Z Montana's elder abuse growing, says coordinator of Elder Justice Coalition

By CINDY UKEN

Of The Gazette Staff‌

The Billings Gazette

In March 2010, Congress passed the first comprehensive elder abuse prevention law, the Elder Justice Act. It was an important victory for advocates of the aging. But, more than a year later, the law remains unfunded, said the national coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition.

“Vulnerable older adults who should be protected by the law are confronted with the same threats they faced a year ago,” Bob Blancato told more than 150 people gathered in Billings for a one-day conference on ways to protect elders. “This is a sad reality given the increasing severity of elder abuse in this country. Montana’s elderly population is growing and Montana’s elder abuse problems are growing.”

In 2010, Yellowstone County reported 155 cases of abuse, 192 cases of exploitation and 697 cases of neglect, according to Denise Armstrong, executive director of Big Sky Senior Services. Statewide, there were 867 cases of abuse reported, 1,143 cases of exploitation and 3,516 cases of neglect.

The goal of the conference is to increase awareness, said Denise Armstrong, executive director of Big Sky Senior Services, one of the sponsors. “It’s happening in our own backyard.”

Donna Lehm of Laurel attended the conference. She said her father-in-law resides in an assisted-living facility.

“I want to know how to protect him,” Lehm said. “I simply want to know what the problems might be and what to do if they arise.”

Deb Goffena of Roundup said both an aunt and uncle, who have died, were allegedly exploited by someone who worked for them. She traveled to the conference looking for ways to help stop other offenders.

“You can’t tell someone they are being manipulated, especially if they are 95, lonely and vulnerable,” Goffena said. “I see a need for the elderly population to have someone protect them.”

According to a recent National Institute of Justice study, about 5.7 million people ages 60 and older, or almost 11 percent, faced some form of elder abuse in the past year. A 2009 study estimated that 14.1 percent of noninstitutionalized older adults nationwide had experienced some form of elder abuse in the past year.

Financial exploitation of older adults is increasingly alarming. A 2009 report by the MetLife Mature Market Institute and the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse estimates that seniors lose a minimum of $2.5 billion each year.

“Elder abuse, neglect and exploitation are a serious and widespread social justice problem and a major health issue,” Blancato said. “It is critical that funding for the Elder Justice Act become a reality this year. Those who commit crimes of elder abuse will continue to have the upper hand unless we provide new funding for those who would stop them.”

Blancato called on attendees to contact Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., who serves as chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. This subcommittee oversees funding for the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Labor.

“Protecting vulnerable, elderly Montanans is a top priority for Denny, which is why he used his authority last year to preserve funding for programs to combat elder abuse. While Washington needs to tighten its belt, Denny will continue to do everything he can as chairman to make responsible investments in federal programs that work for Montana,” said Jed Link, Rehberg’s communication director.

Victims of elder abuse are often abused by family members or someone close to them and victims tend to be older, frail and often dependent on their abusers for basic necessities and care, Blancato said. Victims of elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation have three times the risk of dying prematurely. Elder abuse is the only form of family violence for which the federal government provides virtually no resources.

Funding the Elder Justice Act would send money directly to the states to create jobs and protect our seniors from abuse, keeping them out of harm, from losing their life savings, and needing expensive care, Blancato said. “Elder justice unfunded is elder justice denied,” Blancato said.

Contact Cindy Uken at cuken@billingsgazette.com or 657-1287.

Contact Cindy Uken at cuken@billingsgazette.com or 657-1287.

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