By Melissa Klaric
Herald Staff Writer
MERCER COUNTY —
An elderly woman is dropped off at a senior center in a horrible state – starving and emaciated. Her grandson said she ran out of money and he couldn’t pay the rent. Turns out he spent $86,000 of her money on drugs and other amenities for himself.
“This is not an untypical case for us,” Mercer County District Attorney Robert G. Kochems said.
It was just one example Kochems used Monday to illustrate the horrors of elder abuse in the county.
“She said it was OK because he takes care of her,” Kochems said.
Through a state grant, AWARE Inc. of Mercer County was able to team up with the district attorney’s office and the Area Agency on Aging for the past three years to fight elder abuse.
The agencies’ mission is to create awareness with the public, and help seniors in need.
The three agencies were part of a group discussion at St. Paul’s in West Salem Township to respond to concerns people may have about that type of abuse.
AWARE defines elder abuse as the mistreatment of a senior citizen, 60 years or older, by a family member or caregiver resulting in harm or loss to that elder.
It can be physical, sexual, financial, emotional or mental abuse or neglect.
Kochems noted that most of the time, the elderly being abused may not even realize it, or are afraid to report it.
“Why aren’t they here today? They don’t think it’s happening to them,” Kochems said.
One theme of discussion was that elderly people will not talk about the abuse because of certain “barriers,” such as the threat of being placed in a nursing home.
The agency representatives hoped Monday’s discussion would help elders overcome their fears by realizing that there are people who care about them.
Sam Bellich, executive director of the Area Agency on Aging, said his office investigates every call its gets on physical abuse or neglect of the elderly.
“Within the last five to six years, I’ve seen an escalation in elder abuse,” Bellich said. “I believe it is because more people are coming forward.”
Bellich said anyone can make a report in order to save an elder from physical or mental abuse.
He used the example of a call he received from the neighbor of an elderly, college-educated couple living in a home in a great neighborhood. The house was beautiful on the outside.
Inside, garbage was piled to the ceiling. The room in the best shape was covered with three inches of garbage and human feces, he said.
“If you see a situation that doesn’t look right or feel right in your stomach, it’s worth a phone call,” Bellich said.
An observant neighbor may help Area Agency on Aging provide a life- saving service, he said.
“We need to send out a message that this cannot be tolerated.”
For AWARE, Jackie Landfried, direct services supervisor, and Marty Vansickle, counselor advocate, are the last pieces of the puzzle in helping the abused.
“We’re there to be that emotional support for the elder person,” Landfried said. “We provide counseling and explain the legal system.”
Vansickle said that abusers of victims age 60 and older are usually spouses or family members.
“This is extremely emotional,” Vansickle said. “The abuser may be the only person who comes to visit them.”
Vansickle said she wants those elders to know there are people who will listen and are ready to help.
The grant for this program uniting AWARE, the DA’s office, and the Area Agency on Aging in the fight against elder abuse was awarded by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the Grove City Area United Way.
Lizette Olsen, executive director of AWARE, said this is the first program on elder abuse in the state that has been approved by the commission for replication in other counties.
The next step is for AWARE to procure further funding for the program, as the grant has almost run its course, she said.
To report elder abuse, call AWARE at 1-888-981-1457 or Mercer County Area on Aging at 724-662-6222.