Spotlight shown on extent of elderly abuse at awareness breakfast

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There were 1,377 reported cases of elderly abuse in 2017 in Rhode Island, and Saint Elizabeth Haven for Elder Justice wants to change those numbers for the better.

True peace is not barely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice, Roberta Merkle, Saint Elizabeth Community Executive Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, quoted Martin Luther King Jr. Elders deserve to live their lives not only in peace and free from abuse, but deserve to be treated fairly, equally, and with a deep and profound respect. That is elder justice, Merkle said at an awareness for elder justice breakfast Friday at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day was created by the United Nations international in 2005 to recognize the significance of elder abuse. According to the National Center for Elder Abuse, knowledge about elder abuse lags as much as two decades behind child abuse and domestic violence.

The World Health Organization defines elder abuse as a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.

The Saint Elizabeth Community chose the occasion to announce their new name as the Saint Elizabeth Haven for Elder Justice. Saint Elizabeth has been providing a safe haven since 2009.

Most of the time they take in people for no payment, said Steve J. Horowitz, President of Saint Elizabeth Community. They are there to make sure they get the best care possible. A study done by the National Academy of Sciences estimated that only 1 in 14 cases of abuse are reported to authorities. In Rhode Island that means there could be as many as 19,279 cases or more annually.

The problem is too often neglected or pushed aside, said Charles Fogarty, Director of the RI Department of Elderly Affairs, who spoke at the breakfast.

Fogarty said tat the Adult Protective Services Unit (APS) is the largest part of the Division of Elderly Affairs, being one-third of the DEA staff, with more than 1,600 seniors in their care. The APS is responsible for the investigating complaints of abuse of Rhode Islanders 60 years of age and older by a family member, caregiver, or person with a duty to care for the elder.

Attorney General, Peter Kilmartin, spoke about how elderly abuse is similar to child neglect and abuse, since there is interaction with medical communities, advocates, all together helping individual cases to help the victim.

In many cases elder abuse is not reported since some cases it is a family member or loved one causing the harm. Rhode Island statistics show an increased amount of reported cases, from 933 cases in 2012 to 1,377 in 2017.

Horowitz was pleased to announce multiple awards for those who have provided services and support to an elder, and placed them into somewhere safe and loved. They were presented an award and flowers at the breakfast for their dedication to the program.

The award winners were Catherine Harrington, Protective Services Investigator, RI department of Elder Abuse; Lieutenant Raymond Blinn and Sergeant Mark Bourget, East Providence Police Department; Mickaela Driscoll, Elder Abuse Investigator, RI Office of the Attorney General; Robin Covington, Supervisor of Elder Case Management, East Bay Community Action; Jane Palumbo, Public Housing Coordinator, Bristol Housing Authority and Lori N. DiPersio, Executive Director, Womens Resource Center, Newport and Bristol Counties.

Its the silent tragedy in America, Jeanne Gattegno, Program Director of Saint Elizabeth Haven for Elder Justice said of elder abuse. With education we can recognize the signs, and take action.

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