Nancy Murphy, Regional Ombudsman, Triangle J Council of Governments Larry Johnson, Senior Well Check Program, Wake County Sheriff’s Department Kimberly Lea Williams, Human Services Senior Practitioner, Wake County Human Services Helen Savage, Advocacy Director, AARP, NC Office Steve Schuster, Adult Protective Services, Wake County Human Services Lila Forro, Attorney, Legal Aid of NC, Raleigh Office Victor Boone, Attorney, Legal Aid of NC, Raleigh Office Linda Muriera, Disaster Preparedness Coordinator, Wake County Human Services
Key Issues Consumer Protection Senior adults represent 30% of all scam victims. They are often targeted because of their likeliness to have cash on hand, their vulnerability to high-pressure sales tactics and willingness to help those in need. Women age 70+, who live alone, are specifically targeted for scam operations. Most at risk are women whose husbands traditionally handled household bills, repairs and other business. Unfortunately, the concept of victimization is new to many seniors who grew up in an era where doors were not locked and preying on vulnerable citizens was shameful. The reality of being scammed is difficult for senior adults to accept. Victims are often ashamed for not recognizing the scam, and, consequently, do not tell anyone about it. The result is that the crime goes unreported. The loss of money, life savings, or home, can be devastating to an older person who has no means to replace their losses.
Safety at Home Seniors, especially those who are disabled, often become isolated in their homes due to lack of mobility or lack of transportation. Isolation puts them at risk for illness, accidental injury, depression, abuse, exploitation, and crime.
Elder Abuse Abuse and neglect of elderly and dependent adults is a growing concern nationally and in our local community. Elder abuse is often a crime. The abuser can be a family member, a friend, caregiver or others. Abuse and neglect can come in many forms:
Abuse—is the willful infliction of physical pain, injury, mental anguish, unreasonable confinement or willful deprivation by a caregiver of services that are necessary to maintain the disabled adult’s mental or physical health. Self Neglect—is the inability of a disabled adult living alone to care for his/her basic needs in order to maintain mental and physical health. Caretaker Neglect—is the failure of the caretaker to provide services necessary to maintain the physical or mental health of the disabled adult. Exploitation—is the illegal or improper use of the disabled adult or his resources for another’s profit or advantage.
Abusers are often individuals who are experiencing overwhelming stress such as financial problems, drug abuse, alcoholism, or chronic mental and medical problems. Many times, abusers are dependent on their victims for financial support. Typical victims of abuse are elderly adults who require special assistance to remain in the home. The abuser often lives with the victim and is a caregiver or relative.
Disaster Preparedness Natural disasters such as hurricanes and ice storms are near-annual occurrences in our community, and we need to be prepared to respond to them appropriately. Many older and disabled adults suffer even more than other members of the community when a disaster strikes, because of lack of mobility, physical limitations, health conditions, and economic insecurity. A minor problem, such as a branch that falls across a driveway, may be an inconvenience for a younger person, but a serious, even life-threatening situation for someone who is physically limited. Loss of electricity can be a calamity for someone relying on an oxygen generator.
Existing Resources and Challenges Consumer Protection According to the NC Division of Aging website, “The North Carolina Senior Consumer Fraud Task Force was established in 1998 by the Office of the Attorney General, the North Carolina Division of Aging and AARP to fight consumer fraud that targets seniors in our State. Federal, state and local law enforcement, consumer networks, crime prevention agencies and the state's aging network have formed an alliance to take action against consumer fraud.” The task force provides e-mail alerts to members of the aging services network and the media, to educate the public about possible scams and other consumer fraud.
The Consumer Protection division of the Attorney General’s office is also available to assist consumers who have complaints about possible fraud, identity theft, or other issues. There is an ongoing need to educate the public, and particularly vulnerable elderly, about such threats.
Safety at Home The Wake County Sheriff’s Department has recently started a program called Citizen Well Check, which provides an automated daily check-in phone call, with provisions for a live follow-up if there is an indication of a problem. The Center for Volunteer Caregiving, in cooperation with Resources for Seniors, provides Friendly Visitors and Telecare volunteers to visit or call isolated elderly or disabled individuals. Hopeline provides a similar telephone reassurance service with volunteers. These programs are limited largely by public awareness and by the availability of volunteers.
Our community also needs to consider supports for those seniors with developmental disabilities who may need to have communication in an alternate form, such as those who are visually or hearing impaired or have cognitive limitations regarding telephone usage.
A number of companies offer Personal Emergency Response Systems, which use a pendant-mounted “panic button” that a senior can use to initiate a call for help in the case of a fall or other accident that prevents them from getting to the phone. These systems can provide an extra safety net for a senior who lives alone or is home alone all day. Prices range from $30-35 per month, with initial installation charges from $15-60. However, Medicare and Medicaid do not cover these devices and even this relatively modest expense can be prohibitive for very low income seniors. WakeMed sponsors the Wakelink program through its Home Care division, and is able to provide some limited assistance for indigent clients; however the need is much greater than the available funds.
Wake County Human Services’ Adult Protective Services division receives and investigates reports of abuse or neglect of adults. However, their mandate limits their intervention to situations in which abuse or neglect has already occurred. This leaves many vulnerable elderly at risk.
Disaster Preparedness According to the Environmental Readiness Scan, Wake County falls short when it comes to providing disaster shelters for adults with special needs. While the county has the capacity to open 5 shelters for the general population in various schools during events such as hurricanes, ice storms, floods, chemical spills, nuclear power plant accidents etc., it has no identified shelter sites for adults with special care needs. Since the county experiences weather-related emergencies almost annually, it is imperative that we address this void in community preparedness. Currently, during emergency events, many senior adults contact the Wake County Emergency Operations Center asking for assistance in obtaining medical supplies, medications, portable generators to operate medical equipment, etc. These needs are met on an individual basis whenever possible. If a senior adult with special needs must evacuate his/her residence and relocate, however, there is currently nowhere for the adult to go other than a local hospital. During emergency events, hospital resources need to be reserved for true medical emergencies.
In addition, Wake County does not currently maintain a registry of senior adults with special care needs. The benefit of such a registry would be in the help it would provide in locating sites for special needs shelters, and in identifying specific individuals most vulnerable and at-risk during emergency situations.
The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program helps train people to be better prepared to respond to emergency situations in their communities. When emergencies happen, CERT members can give critical support to first responders, provide immediate assistance to victims, and organize spontaneous volunteers at a disaster site. CERT members can also help with non-emergency projects that help improve the safety of the community. CERT training includes disaster preparedness, disaster fire suppression, basic disaster medical operations, and light search and rescue operations. Further development of this resource could be very beneficial to the well-being of our senior population.