By Joe Durwin
03:40AM / Monday, June 18, 2012
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Local officials and elder services administrators gathered at the Ralph J. Froio Senior Center on Friday to outline issues affecting area senior citizens as part of the international effort for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
Now in its seventh year, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day was begun by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse in 2006 to draw attention to what experts say is an all too often invisible problem. In Washington, the White House Office of Public Engagement held an all-day symposium yesterday to discuss issues and approaches to the elder abuse problem.
Incidents of elder abuse are on the rise in Massachusetts in recent years, with reported incidents received by the state’s Executive Office of Elder Affairs rising from around 16,000 in 2009 to 18,000 in 2011. Compounding this, federally-funded research suggests that elder abuse is significantly underidentified and underreported, and that as few as 1 in 5 cases come to the attention of authorities.
More alarmingly, the National Center for Elder Abuse estimates that in domestic settings, this number may be closer to 1 in 14 cases that reach the attention of authorities.
Pittsfield state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, who was instrumental in organizing the event, said one of the most unfortunate aspects of this problem is that often it is the victim’s own adult children perpetrating the abuse, which can be a major obstacle to the reporting and investigation of incidents.
“I really think it’s one of the most important roles of government, to protect our most vulnerable populations,” Farley-Bouvier said at the Friday morning press conference.
“Before we can even begin to solve this problem, we need to raise awareness,” said state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing. “To make sure the senior citizens of Pittsfield, Berkshire County and this commonwealth know who to reach out to, and how to reach out.”
In the Berkshires, multiple agencies coordinate to try to safeguard seniors from the growing dangers of abuse in today’s society, issues which affect more individuals every day as the vast “baby boomer” generation continues to enter this demographic.
Mayor Daniel Bianchi said that while Pittsfield is a small city, it has many of the same services and offices as some larger communities.
“We’ve got a lot of resources here,” Bianchi said. “We’re very fortunate in this community to be able to link seniors to a lot of agencies where they can relate with other seniors, and staff there to help with a lot of issues.”
Such agencies in attendance Friday included Berkshire Elder Protective Services, Elder Services of Berkshire County, and Pittsfield’s Council on Aging. In a county that has the largest elder population per capita in the commonwealth, though, these services must meet a significant challenge.
Mary O’Brien, protective services supervisor for BEPS, an offshoot of the Franklin County Home Care Corp., oversees five protective service workers from its Pittsfield office at 152 North St. Seniors can report abuse, ask questions and get connected with services there to address a wide variety of issues affecting the elderly.
O’Brien said that in Massachusetts, 55 incidents of elder abuse or neglect are reported every day statewide, and there are more than 1,800 under active investigation. Here in Berkshire County, the agency has received 530 reports just in the last eight months, 379 of which were deemed serious enough to demand assessment.
Given that statistically even this deluge of complaints represents only the tip of a largely unreported iceberg, the most important thing citizens can do is disseminate information about the services that are available.
“Make sure you tell people. Get the word out,” O’Brien told those gathered Friday morning. For this purpose, BEPS is distributing “Show You Care” bookmarks that list numbers to report elder abuse directly.
Opportunities for socialization and staying connected to the community and its resources is an important part as well, officials said, and this is part of the mission of the Ralph J. Froio Senior Center.
“I consider Pittsfield one of the best centers in the state,” said Vincent Marinaro, director of the Pittsfield Council on Aging. “It’s just a place, with all the activities we do, for socialization, for people to not be alone, to feel comfortable, for people to have access to the information and be able to come to a place where they know they can ask the questions they need when they’re unsure of something.”
In addition to physical and verbal abuse, the problem of financial fraud and scams targeting the elderly was discussed. Local elder services programs work regularly with police and the district attorney’s office, who were represented at the conference by Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Keegan, director of victims services.
“Any time we’re 50 percent or more sure that a crime has been committed, we’re required to report to the DA,” said O’Brien, but they often consult with this office even in instances where the situation is more uncertain.
Elder Services of Berkshire County also provides free seminars on money management for seniors to help them avoid scams and other financial pitfalls, according to Client Services Director Maureen Tuggey.
Farley-Bouvier concluded by applauding the “teamwork” between the various local agencies involved, and called on citizens to take a more active role in curbing this rising social ill.
“The member of the team that we’re calling to be part of this the public, and that’s why we’re here today,” said Farley-Bouvier, “If you see abuse, please report it. As the bookmark says, show you care.”
Incidents of elder abuse can be reported 24 hours a day to the Elder Abuse Hotline at 1-800-922-2275. All reports are confidential.
• Berkshire Elder Protective Services: 1-855-874-3242
• Elder Services of Berkshire County: 1-800-544-5242
• Pittsfield Council on Aging: 1-413-499-9346
• Elder Abuse Hotline: 1-800-922-2275