Shining a light: Elder Abuse MDT works together to help seniors in Garfield County – Enid News & Eagle

Partly cloudy early followed by cloudy skies overnight. Low around 65F. Winds SSE at 10 to 20 mph..
Partly cloudy early followed by cloudy skies overnight. Low around 65F. Winds SSE at 10 to 20 mph.
Updated: September 14, 2022 @ 5:56 pm

ENID, Okla. — For three months, an elderly Enid man lived in a house without electricity and running water, with only a loaf of bread to eat.
One of the man’s family members was supposed to be paying the bills but ended up leaving with the man’s Social Security benefits card.
With no cellphone or access to resources, the man didn’t reach out for help. One day, a neighbor called the Enid Police Department to conduct a welfare check.
The man’s living conditions and the financial exploitation were discovered, and the Garfield County Elder Abuse Multidisciplinary Team stepped in, coordinating efforts to ensure the man was taken care of and that the family member was brought to justice.
Now, the man has electricity and running water and is a recipient of RSVP of Enid’s Mobile Meals program, executive director Christy Baker said.
“That is a success story,” Baker said. “Before the (Elder Abuse MDT) was formed, we would see things like that go on, but we would never know what to do about it or what the next step would be, so having that in place and knowing that all of the members will help someone is amazing.”
District Attorney Mike Fields formed the Elder Abuse MDT in early 2018 to prepare for increases in the elderly population.
The U.S. Census Bureau states that the nation’s 65-and-older population has grown by more than 34% since 2010.
Additionally, the Elder Abuse MDT was formed to better address cases of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. One in 10 adults over the age of 60 are abused, neglected or financially exploited, according to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
But, Fields said, a lot of cases of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation can go unreported due to any number of reasons, including feeling embarrassment and shame from being victimized.
With those three dynamics — demographics, underreporting and improving the response to elder abuse, neglect and exploitation — taken into consideration, the Elder Abuse MDT was formed in Garfield and Canadian counties.
“Really, the goal of the Elder Abuse MDT — when you boil it down to the core service that it provides — is that it gets all these professionals together, who all play a role in elder abuse and exploitation cases, in the same place at the same time,” Fields said.
The Elder Abuse MDT, which meets monthly, is made up of representatives from Adult Protective Services, law enforcement agencies, banks, hospitals, long-term care facilities and nonprofits like RSVP of Enid.
Each person on the Elder Abuse MDT brings a unique set of eyes to the table, Fields said. Bank employees may be able to recognize signs of scammers or financial exploitation, and medical personnel may be able detect any signs of abuse or neglect in elders.
Baker said RSVP of Enid staff members and volunteers interact with seniors daily through Mobile Meals and other programs, serving around 1,000 seniors per month.
Because of this, Baker said they can spot any changes in seniors’ lives or signs of abuse, neglect or exploitation and report it to the proper authorities, and can immediately help when seniors are found to be without basic necessities.
“Our essential role (on the Elder Abuse MDT) is doing what we do anyways,” Baker said. “The people that we serve are not just an address. We know, love and care for them, so if there are any changes in their living conditions, we’re aware … because we are face-to-face with so many seniors.”
The role of Adult Protective Services on the Elder Abuse MDT is to bring substantiated cases of elder abuse, neglect or exploitation to the other members to discuss how to best help the client, said APS specialist Esther Fischer.
Fischer said having the Elder Abuse MDT has impacted APS by helping bring justice to victims of abuse, neglect and exploitation through increased prosecuting and charging of individuals who committed the crimes.
“One of the most important things is just collaborating on these cases so that we see them through to holding individuals accountable,” she said. “It’s helpful that the vulnerable adult sees that validated and that whatever was going on with them was truly wrong.”
Fields said since the Elder Abuse MDT was formed four years ago, communication among members has greatly increased.
The “free-flowing” conversations among the members help improve outcomes, he added.
“Whenever these people who have built relationships with each other, come across a situation, they know who on the team can help,” Fields said. “The magic of the MDT is in the personal relationships.”
Senate Bill 1163, which would authorize district attorneys to develop multidisciplinary teams to investigate and prosecute crimes against the elderly and vulnerable adults in Oklahoma, is now being considered in the state House of Representatives.
Fields, who is the DA over five counties, said he hopes the bill, if passed, would help bring awareness and more resources to “society’s most vulnerable citizens.”
“The passage of that bill, I hope, will be a catalyst for us to start to shine light on this issue of elder abuse and exploitation,” said Fields.
Each year, APS in Oklahoma receives and investigates more than 18,000 referrals.
From April 1, 2021, to April 1, 2022, in Garfield County, more than 500 referrals were made to APS, Fischer said.
Of those, 107 were assigned as investigations; 135 were assigned as service cases, which mainly consisted of self-neglect issues; 97 were assigned as long-term care investigations; and 171 did not meet the criteria for APS.
Fischer said there are a lot of victims of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation in Garfield County who aren’t getting any help.
“That’s why raising awareness is important,” Fischer said. “The more that people are aware … the more they can help these people.”
Some warning signs of vulnerable adults who may be suffering from abuse, neglect and exploitation can include environmental signs, like hoarding and offensive odors; financial signs such as unpaid bills, missing credit or debit cards and unusual activity in bank accounts; and physical signs including injuries that haven’t been cared for properly, dehydration or malnutrition without any illness-related causes, lack of necessities such as food, running water and utilities and forced isolation.
According to DHS, reporting is an individual responsibility. Anybody who has reasonable cause to believe a vulnerable adult is suffering from abuse, neglect or exploitation, shall report the situation to authorities.
Reports can be made to APS or local police or sheriff’s departments, as well as by calling the Abuse and Neglect Hotline at (800) 522-3511 or online at www.abu seisnotok.org.
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