By Michael Hill
Turns out the elderly needed protection from former Atlantic County Adult Protective Services workers: a lawyer, a senior home care company owner and an aide. All in prison or on the way after pleading guilty to stealing money from the elderly, some of them as much as $2.7 million from a dozen clients.
The state attorney general’s office calls them “The lowest of con artists” and the case “…One of the most egregious cases of elder fraud that we have prosecuted in recent years.”
The AG reports abuse of the elderly goes well beyond the financial. Its 2014 numbers show assault and harassment make up more than 80 percent of the reported offenses against those 60 and older.
Jewish Home Family in Rockleigh takes in abused seniors. It finds an empty room and houses those referred here for three to four months and helps them find a permanent home. These new residents are not identified as abused and can take full advantage of the home’s café, beauty salon, medical services and grounds — all for free in a program called Senior Haven.
How are they able to do this and absorb all of the cost?
“Because it’s the right thing,” said Jewish Home at Rockleigh Director of Social Services Naomi McDermott. “It gives them hope when they had no hope. It gives them possibilities when they thought there were no possibilities. It gives them the potential to have a fulfilling life. Just because you’re in your 80s doesn’t mean it’s over. It can be a new beginning.”
Jewish Home opened Senior Haven last year, calling it the 14th elder abuse shelter in the country — different from typical domestic violence shelters with stairs and children’s toys and more.
“One of the objectives of Senior Haven is to educate the community on how to identify problems. Because that one person could make the difference. The bank teller who notices the transactions, the beautician who notices the elderly person winces when they touch them,” McDermott said.
Advocates say complaints of abuse against the elderly are rising because more education leads to more awareness leads to more reports.
Statistics from three fiscal years show complaints from long-term facilities are rising and so are the number of cases opened for investigation.
Ten years ago, Ria Sklar began working to form SAAFE — Save Abused And Frail Elderly. SAAFE offers a hotline to receive calls and refer callers.
“One of the questions once given to me was that I have a friend and she is upset because she has a son and every time he comes he wants money,” said SAAFE Publicity Coordinator Dorothy Kaplan.
SAAFE says in 2016 the effort needs better agency-to-agency coordination and, “Resources. Particularly for agencies that go out to investigate. They need people to go out and do it,” Sklar said.
SAAFE spends thousands of hours a year educating the public, police and professionals about senior abuse.
“It’s hard to understand but there are many people who won’t say anything because it’s their child,” said SAAFE Presenter Doris Koenig.
SAAFE will teach the public about how to address such delicate issues and more at a conference Oct. 14 in Mahwah.