Elder abuse cases on the rise in Clark, Champaign counties

At 66, William Borden is being forced to start over.

A man he trusted to pay his bills and assist him as he battles kidney failure and other health problems wiped out his bank accounts, charged thousands of dollars to his credit card and crashed his car.

“It’s horrible. If I could walk out in front of a semi I would,” said Borden, who retired from Navistar and is now on dialysis.

Borden is among a growing number of Clark and Champaign County seniors who have been the victim of elder abuse, even though the complaints statewide have dropped.

Since 2010, the number of referrals to Clark County Adult Protective Services has increased by about 57 percent.

But funding for services to protect seniors has lagged until recently. Clark County has only one elder abuse case worker, compared to 37 child protective services case workers.

For the last several years, all 88 counties shared $500,000 in state funding. This past year, the governor signed a bill increasing funding for Adult Protective Services to $10 million.

The additional money is expected to provide funding for a variety of services, including a statewide database and a hotline.

Clark County Adult Protective Services has received about $5,000 from the state for several years.

“It’s woefully underfunded,” said Pamela Meermans, deputy director of the Clark County Department of Job and Family Services, Family and Children Services Division.

Vulnerable adults

Elder abuse refers to any “knowing, intentional or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging.

The abuse may be physical, emotional, sexual, exploitation, abandonment, neglect and self neglect, according to the administration.

Research shows an estimated 1 in 10 adults older than 60 has experienced abuse or neglect, and that people with dementia are at higher risk for abuse, according to Health and Human Services.

“Family members who abuse drugs or alcohol, who have a mental/emotional illness, and who feel burdened by their caregiving responsibilities abuse at higher rates than those who do not,” according to the National Center on Elder Abuse.

Statewide more than 13,600 cases of elder abuse and neglect were reported in fiscal year 2014, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. That’s down from about 14,600 cases in 2013 and more than 15,200 cases in 2012, according to the state DJFS.

In Clark County, 528 cases were reported last year. That’s up from 336 cases in 2010.

The number of reported cases in Clark County is on the rise, officials say, due in part to increased awareness of services that help older adults as well as the opiate and drug epidemic.

Most of the cases referred to Clark County involve self neglect, when adults cannot properly care for themselves, said Angela Evans, a social services supervisor for the Clark County Department of Job and Family Services.

“Very seldom do we get a self-referral. We get neighbors, friends, a nurse, a physicians, a bank,” she said.

Other cases involve physical abuse and exploitation cases when people take money or other items.

“We do see that, unfortunately, quite often with our population,” Evans said. “People just take the adult in and say they’re going to provide care for them and they spend all of their money.”

Few cases in Clark County since Evans has been a supervisor have resulted in a prison sentence, Evans said, including Borden’s case.

Elder abuse, as in child abuse cases, often involves perpetrators who are close to the victim, Meermans said.

“Overwhelmingly, there’s a relationship between the victim and the exploiter or the perpetrator. Very often it’s somebody in that person’s family, an adult child,” Meermans said.

Meermans said she’s heard of cases in which an adult child relies on the senior’s benefit money. They come in and live in their home, take their assets, take their food and use their monthly income.

Abusers may use the victim’s money for drugs instead of paying the victim’s rent, causing the senior to get evicted, said Denise Bell, a Clark County protective services case worker.

Victims often suffer in silence.

“The dynamic that’s so difficult is that adult, that’s their daughter, that’s their son,” Meermans said.

Victims often don’t want to report their children or caregivers to police because they fear retaliation, Evans said, getting their family member in trouble or that they will be sent to a nursing home.

“They say, ‘If I turn him in nobody will take care of me and I’ll have to go to a nursing home.’ It is very common to see these folks who have been exploited explain it away,” she said.

Few case workers

Between 2010 and 2014, elder abuse and neglect cases in Champaign County jumped from 49 to 71. In 2009, the number of cases totaled 89, according to Susan Bailey-Evans, director of the Champaign County Department of Job and Family Services.

Champaign County has one person dedicated to Adult Protective Service cases and she is considered part time, Bailey-Evans said.

That worker is also the independent living worker for the children the county has in custody ages 15 and older and also provides other supportive activities to the county’s children services staff, Bailey-Evans said.

“We had a full time APS staff person until first of 2010. When that worker retired, due to our budget constraints, we absorbed the APS work within our children services team. It has remained that way since,” Bailey-Evans said.

In Logan County, the number of elder abuse and neglect cases dropped from 55 in 2010 to 21 in 2014, Bailey-Evans said.

Logan County has one adult protective services worker, who also has additional duties, Bailey-Evans said.

A woman was indicted in October in connection with the death of Blanche Cowen, a 100-year-old Rushylvania woman after the coroner ruled her death a homicide because of neglect.

Her daughter, Mary Strawser, 66, was charged with involuntary manslaughter, failure to provide and theft from the elderly.

The alleged neglect is one of the worst cases Marshall Pierson, a case worker for Logan County’s Adult Protective Service, said he had seen in 25 years on the job.

“I’ve seen nothing to this extent,” Pierson has said.

Cowen was in good health for a 100-year-old woman, Logan County Sheriff Andrew Smith told the News-Sun.

“The neglect in the case contributed to her death,” Smith has said. “We are talking about feces on the body, food being found on the body. We are talking someone who was not moved off a couch that was used for a bed for a number of years.”

Rebounding

Monica Spencer of United Senior Services is helping Borden rebound.

Spencer said Borden, who is in poor health and has an autistic son, was completely dependent on the man who took all of his money and totaled his car in a crash that killed two other people.

Borden took the man in because he felt sorry for him.

“He left him destitute. He didn’t have any money to pay his bills for that first month. Plus his good car is totally destroyed,” Spencer said.

“He was just so sick, he was just almost incapable of taking care of himself or his finances … He just left him in a bad state,” Spencer said. “Didn’t pay any bills, didn’t pay his mortgage. Everything had a shutoff notice.”

Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly helped United Senior Services and Borden in the case, obtaining online bank passwords and other information from the man who took advantage of Borden.

Law enforcement officers started an elder abuse task force last year with United Senior Services and Clark County Department of Job and Family Services to protect seniors.

The initiative is important because of the growing 60 and older population in the county and that seniors can be more susceptible to scams, Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly said.

The first case for the task force involved the arrest of Ron Massie and Everette Eugene Scott who were accused last April of scamming Ben Cox, 84, out of more than $12,600.

Massie and Scott were charged with felony theft, according to court records.

“They were forging his name. They were moving in with him. They were trying to get this guy to pay for their kids colleges,” Kelly said.

“He just kept going back to him and getting more and more money,” Kelly said.

Penalties increase for crimes against those 65 and older, the sheriff said, but elder abuse cases are difficult to prosecute.

In some cases it’s hard to tell if the alleged victim wanted to give away their money, Bell said.

Signs of abuse

Residents and businesses that suspect elder abuse should look for changes in behavior in a senior, decline in self care, unexplained injuries, changes in money habits, or that they’re suddenly unable to pay for necessities, Clark County advocates said.

There’s help for caregivers of older adults who become overwhelmed or need assistance.

“There are services that are out there. We need people to call, whether it’s for services like Meals on Wheels, things United Senior Services can do. If there’s concern that someone is really being hurt, call us and/or law enforcement,” Meermans said. “Please don’t be afraid. We screen out way more than we take in. If we can’t act this time, we track and maintain a file on every referral.”

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