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July 16, 2018
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Sonoma County elder abuse on the rise, RP reports still high

  • The Elder Justice Initiative of Sonoma County is encouraging people to be "smarter than a scammer" with their information "scam pyramid" on how to detect and prevent scams and elder abuse. Graphic courtesy of Sonoma County Senior Advocacy Services

By: Katherine Minkiewicz
June 22, 2018

Neglectful care center treatment, cuts and bruises and a dwindling bank account can all be signs a senior is being abused and more often than not, many of these cases are staying in the shadows; however, according to a new report released by the Sonoma County Senior Advocacy Services center, it is clear that elder abuse throughout the county is widespread and on the rise. Reports of elder abuse have gone down by a measly one percent in Rohnert Park-Cotati and reports of abuse throughout the county increased a whopping 14 percent last year alone.

Data gathered by the advocacy center shows that the Rohnert Park and Cotati area is the third highest region for elder abuse with 549 reports in 2017 alone. Coming in second was Petaluma and Penngrove with a total of 732 reports. But both of these figures were dwarfed by the Santa Rosa statistic with 3,166 cases of reported elder abuse. 

Donata Mikulik, elder justice coordinator with the Sonoma County Senior Advocacy Services center, says these figures may not even reflect the true amount of elder abuse that occurs throughout the county since it tends to be one of the most underreported crimes in the U.S. In fact, studies from New York senior advocacy groups have shown that only one in 23 cases of abuse or neglect in seniors are reported.

“It is a difficult statistic to get a hold of” Mikulik says. “A lot of times the victim may feel shame or may not want to come forward, or people may not want to call it abuse. For instance, your son or daughter could be helping themselves to your bank account and you may not necessarily think of that as financial exploitation.” 

Yet in a county where residents over the age of 60 make up 20 percent of the population and with an expectation for that number to grow to 25 percent by 2030, elder abuse may become even more prevalent.

Mikulik says there are various kinds of elder abuse that seniors may experience, including financial abuse — lottery, Medicare and IRS scams, exploitation, physical abuse and neglect.

For instance, one of the reported cases of physical abuse and neglect that occurred in Rohnert Park last year involved the death of a 77-year-old Santa Rosa woman who was under the care of Bishop’s Care Home. The woman, Marie Giordano, had developed severe bed sores that eventually rotted away parts of her skin. Bed sores, also known as pressure ulcers, develop when a person experiences prolonged pressure from lying in bed and not being moved regularly. If left untreated, the bed sores can cause an infection which can spread through the body.

It’s cases like Giordano’s that make prevention and awareness the number one goal for Sonoma County Senior Advocacy Services. 

“A lot of this awareness is just getting the word out there and saying, ‘hey pay attention and look out for one another.’ If you say something now when something is a little questionable then it might prevent someone from going down the path of something really horrible happening later,” Mikulik said.

That’s why the center also encourages folks to be the “nosy neighbor,” to look out for fellow residents and to say something if you see something that may be suspicious.

In addition to these tips, the center has delved into a large community awareness campaign, providing informative presentations at local senior centers and developing a “scam pyramid” for people to learn how to avoid scams or abuse.

Tips on the scam pyramid include reminders to never wire money, hang up the phone if it is a suspicious call, reduce isolation and to ask someone you trust if you’re in a questionable situation.

“We went out to senior centers and did up to 500 calls (of reports) to adult protective services and there was a direct link to doing that outreach and the number of cases that were reported. People were thinking about their neighbors and friends or even just talking about it gives the confidence to people to pick up the phone,” Mikulik said.

In addition to education and preventative tips, senior centers throughout the county will be flying purple flags throughout the month of June (elder abuse awareness month) to reflect the number of elder abuse reports in each town and raise awareness.

“We will be flying the purple flag for each report since last year, one flag for each (report),” said Cindy Bagley, community services manager for Rohnert Park.

Amanda Foley, the new director for the Rohnert Park Senior Center, said while the center offers resources (such as the adult protective services hotline) for elder abuse victims, they do not take reports of abuse and would refer the victim to the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety (707-584-2600).

“Being aware of what common scams are and what’s out there and how to help can help,” Mikulik said.

For more prevention tips and resources, visit: senioradvocacyservices.org or if you need to report a scam, theft or elder abuse crime, call: (707) 565-5940 and if you are a resident in a long-term care home and have concerns, call: (707) 526-4108.