SARCOA amplifies mission during World Elder Abuse Awareness Month

Published: Jun. 16, 2023 at 9:19 PM CDT
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - One in 10 people aged 60 and older who live at home experience abuse, neglect, or exploitation according to the CDC.

June is a month where awareness is brought to the forefront.  That’s why SARCOA is amplifying its mission to educate the Wiregrass.

“This is a problem that is significantly underreported,” Debra Hodgett, the outreach coordinator at SARCOA, said.

Although it is underreported, those numbers are surprising. The National Council on Aging reports that up to five million older Americans are abused each year. This abuse can be physical, emotional, and financial, among other things.

“The reason why we should care about this is number one human dignity and we want to keep people independent, but it also affects programs like Medicaid and Medicare,” Hodgett said. “There is a significant cost to those programs and this is a problem that goes across all social economic backgrounds, cultures and races.”

Hodgett said this is why SARCOA focuses on prevention and works to save seniors across the Wiregrass and beyond.

“Elder care is what we do here, that’s our business,” Bobby Hamil said.

Hamil is the compliance officer and staff attorney at SARCOA.

“Everybody should be aware,” Hamil said. “Abuse is not always going to be visible to the eye. It’s going to be in talking with people and sensing what’s going on, do they seem like they are malnourished, lonely, and you may pick up on signals that may not be as evident as you would like.”

He said elder abuse is an ongoing concern nationwide.

“It’s a concern that you are probably not aware of that doesn’t directly affect you or some of your relatives and it’s not easily observable,” Hamil said. “The physical abuse could be observable, but emotional abuse, financial abuse, unless it’s reported, which a lot of times it’s not, then it goes unrecognized and unaddressed.”

He said some elderly are reluctant to report due to embarrassment or fear, but he assures people he and the SARCOA team are there to help.

Hodgett said education is key in prevention. She shares advice for people with loved ones in long-term care facilities.

“Visit them often, make sure that you look at their bank accounts regularly, make sure that you talk to them and that you’re not being isolated from their support groups or family and friends,” Hodgett said. “Things to look for would also be during medical checkups, you know is there anything unusual in their doctor visits that they want to talk to their medical provider about and make sure that the senior feels comfortable talking to you about all kinds of unusual situations.”

Not every senior has eyes and ears looking out for issues that may rise. This is where SARCOA’s Ombudsman comes in to do exactly that. Their job is to monitor facilities in the area and be there for these seniors.

“They are constantly in long term care facilities, assisted livings and nursing homes,” Hamil said. “If they don’t have family that they can talk to and confide in then that is what we are there for is to talk to and to address issues whether it’s with the staff or whether it’s with any facility itself. "

SARCOA also has case managers to monitor signs of abuse  while also caring for seniors on a daily basis.

“If there are any signs of physical or emotional abuse, they are the front line that can identify that can report it to us or DHR or one of the authorities to address,” Hamil said.

Hamil said at SARCOA they draft powers of attorney and wills and, even here, he sees attempted financial abuse, but they quickly put it to an end.

“We have a great opportunity to have the antennas up when we are talking to clients,” Hamil said. “An example of power of attorney if they want to give it to a person who is not a relative, well we want to drill down and see well what’s the relationship, you can do what you want but if it’s a caretaker, which is not uncommon, we want to know who’s idea is this? Is it the caretakers or yours?”

He said it’s common for caretakers to do this. They saw an attempt just a few months ago.

“We felt like there was something wrong there because the caretaker was pushing to have financial power of attorney, and then we come to find out that he had loaned money to the caretaker,” Hamil said. “We drilled down.”

However, Hamil emphasizes this is not the case for all caretakers.

“I am not casting them all in the same light because most caretakers are good, but that’s the things we look for,” Hamil said.

If you see something unusual or if you have questions about neglect or elder exploitation, you can reach out to SARCOA at (334)793-6843.

Click here to view their website.

READ ALSO: SARCOA gives back to the Wiregrass by assisting thousands of seniors and individuals with disabilities each year.

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