Elder abuse alert

Whether they're suffering as relatives pilfer money from their Social Security checks or experiencing outright physical beatings, Mary Cay Sengstock knows the state could do more to protect its elderly citizens from abuse and neglect.

The state even said so, says Sengstock, a Wayne State University sociology professor, when it produced the 2006 report by the Governor's Task Force on Elder Abuse that found, in part, the state should develop better local investigative teams with better legal authority to identify and prosecute elder abuse.

With limited exceptions, the report went nowhere, says Sengstock, who did her own study, interviewing front-line investigators in metro Detroit about problems with Michigan's system.

"It appalls me that no one is paying any more attention to this," she said on Tuesday, presenting her findings on Wayne State's campus.

About 1.3 million people age 65 or older lived in Michigan in 2008, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census, up 100,000 since 2000.

Under Michigan law, the mistreatment of elderly or other vulnerable adults — those with physical or mental disabilities — is defined as physical or psychological neglect or abuse as well as financial abuse. All such abuse is mandated by Michigan law to be reported to Adult Protective Services, part of the Michigan Department of Human Services.

But APS, like many state departments, is woefully understaffed. In 1998 it had 649 employees, but, 10 years later, staffing dropped to 328 people. With budget cuts, training and other supports are missing, Sengstock says, that are crucial to helping elder abuse investigators do their jobs.

In addition, unlike the registry that exists for people suspected of abusing or neglecting children, there is no such reporting for elder abuse. That means workers or guardians who deal with the elderly or other vulnerable adults mostly escape detection for previous suspected or substantiated abuse, Sengstock says.

Money, of course, would solve many of the system's problems: more employees, better communication systems and more training.

"None of the agencies have time or money to do it," Sengstock says. "It's sad, but I understand why."

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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