State, local officials join forces to raise awareness about elder abuse
News from DPHHS
Governor Greg Gianforte, Attorney General Austin Knudsen, Department of Public Health and Human Services Director Adam Meier, Mike Grove, President/CEO Bank of the Rockies and Michael Hagenlock of DPHHS Adult Protective Services came together Friday, June 15, to raise awareness about elder abuse in Montana.
Meier said in 2020 a record number 4,500 Montanans were victims of elder abuse, an increase of nearly 30 percent since 2018. Investigations into these cases involved adults aged 60 and older and adults with disabilities age 18-59. The investigations were conducted by 32 APS investigators.
While neglect and self-neglect are both investigated and substantiated most often, financial exploitation is also on the rise nationally and in Montana. The average victim nationally loses $120,000 through financial exploitation.
Meier said in many cases, the person abusing, neglecting or exploiting the elderly is a person in a trust relationship to the older person such as spouse, child, or friend.
There are resources available to help. For example, to help prevent financial exploitation, Meir said it’s crucial that individuals have their legal documents, such as estate planning and Powers of Attorney, prepared well ahead of a medical emergency and to share those documents with a trusted circle of family and friends.
Meier offered the following suggestions:
— Review all of your legal documents, especially your estate planning documents with a legal professional.
— Make sure that you have valid, and protective Health and Financial Durable Powers of Attorney. Creating specific, limited and well-drafted documents can help protect you against financial exploitation and make it easier to honor your wishes, when you are not able to speak for yourself.
— Draft a detailed plan and communicate it with friends and family members. This is a vital step to prevent future abuse, as well as ease strain on your family and caregivers.
— Estate planning documents should be reviewed periodically, but especially anytime there is a death of a named person, a divorce, a new decade passes, a new diagnosis is received or there is any significant decline in physical or mental well-being.
Attorney General Knudsen said the Montana Department of Justice is committed to protecting seniors from exploitation and cracking down on people who abuse them.
“Unfortunately, government lockdowns last year increased social isolation – a root cause of elder abuse – making seniors more vulnerable,” Knudsen said. “Our Division of Criminal Investigation and Office of Consumer Protection are working to hold those who commit elder abuse accountable and keep Montana’s older population safe.”
Elder abuse awareness training is provided to all new law enforcement officers at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy. Officers are trained on how to recognize and report adult maltreatment; identify the signs of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of at-risk adults; and receive information about criminal statutes and investigations related to elder abuse.
The number of referrals to APS from law enforcement is on pace in 2021 for a 50 percent increase.
“Law enforcement has been an excellent partner with DPHHS in addressing elder abuse,” Meier said.
To report abuse, neglect or exploitation call APS intake at 1-844-277-9300 or go to www.aps.mt.gov.