Reports of elder abuse rising in Sonoma County

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Reports of elder abuse, by city

Cloverdale, 138

Healdsburg (includes Geyserville, Healdsburg, Knights Valley), 146

Petaluma (includes Penngrove, Petaluma, Valley Ford), 672

Rohnert Park and Cotati 342

Russian River Area (Cazadero, Duncans Mills, Forestville, Guerneville, Monte Rio, Rio Nido, Villa Grande), 189

Santa Rosa (Fulton, Larkfield, Santa Rosa), 2,198

Sebastopol (Camp Meeker, Graton, Occidental, Sebastopol), 257

Sonoma Valley (Boyes Hot Springs, El Verano, Glen Ellen, Kenwood, Sonoma), 295

Windsor, 204

Reports of elder abuse and neglect in Sonoma County, which last year surpassed 4,400, have increased by 70 percent in the past five years, according to a recent county report.

Cases of physical, emotional or financial abuse involving seniors in Santa Rosa accounted for more than 2,000 of these reports. County officials said the problem is much bigger than the numbers show, because only one in 23 cases of elder abuse is actually reported.

The dramatic increase in reported abuses is likely the result of the county’s growing senior population, as well as stepped-up efforts to educate the public about the need to report abuses, said Tara Underly, community liaison for adult protective services.

“A lot of times we’re seeing different types of abuse at the same time,” Underly said. “You might see financial abuse with neglect.”

She said that in some cases, for example, a trusted individual manages an older adult’s funds but fails to use those resources to meet the senior’s basic needs or medical care.

Beyond efforts at educating the public, the county has been beefing up its staff at adult protective services to address the growing problem.

In Sonoma County, adults 60 and older comprise 23 percent of the overall population, compared to an average of 17 percent for the state.

Diane Kaljian, the county’s director of adult and aging services, said studies and interviews with seniors suggest that elder abuse is widely underreported. In some cases, those with knowledge of the abuse are unaware of how to report it, or they don’t know to whom they should make a report.

“We hear it from individuals in the community; they say that they didn’t know that elder abuse was something they could report,” Kaljian said.

Kaljian said the various types of abuse include physical, financial, neglect, isolation, psychological and mental suffering and even sexual abuse. She said that half of the cases reported are matters of neglect, where either the senior is neglecting themselves or they are being neglected by a caregiver.

In the case of self-neglect, an older adult may not be taking care of their health, home or personal care because they don’t have the capacity or the resources to do so.

“In the most extreme cases, a person may need health care and they don’t get it,” Kaljian said.

Another 25 percent of all cases involves financial abuse, she said. These situations often involve family members who have access to a senior’s bank account, but instead of using the money to care for their older relative they use it for personal things.

County adult protective services, or APS, staff will work with law enforcement officials in some cases of financial abuse.

“If a crime has been committed, then we cross-report to law enforcement ... they use their detectives to do their work. We take care of the social services part.”

Kaljian and Underly said that some abused seniors will refuse to involve the authorities for fear of getting their loved ones in trouble. Other times they seek to avoid disruption in their family situation.

“The other risk is that they’re worried that they are going to have to leave their home and go to a nursing home,” said Kaljian, adding that some seniors prefer to remain in a “compromised situation.”

Reports of elder abuse, by city

Cloverdale, 138

Healdsburg (includes Geyserville, Healdsburg, Knights Valley), 146

Petaluma (includes Penngrove, Petaluma, Valley Ford), 672

Rohnert Park and Cotati 342

Russian River Area (Cazadero, Duncans Mills, Forestville, Guerneville, Monte Rio, Rio Nido, Villa Grande), 189

Santa Rosa (Fulton, Larkfield, Santa Rosa), 2,198

Sebastopol (Camp Meeker, Graton, Occidental, Sebastopol), 257

Sonoma Valley (Boyes Hot Springs, El Verano, Glen Ellen, Kenwood, Sonoma), 295

Windsor, 204

Lastly, 25 percent of cases involve psychological, physical and sexual abuse.

“Often times there’s more than one type of abuse,” Kaljian said. The 4,400 reports made countywide last year may involve more than one report of abuse for the same senior.

Reports of elder abuse are documented by county APS staff and the federally and state mandated Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, which investigates elder abuse complaints from residents in long-term care facilities.

On Thursday, the county released a breakdown by city or town of the number of abuse cases reported in 2014. Santa Rosa, with 2,198, had the largest number of reports, followed by Petaluma and surrounding communities in south Sonoma County, with 672 cases.

In commemoration of World Elder Abuse Awareness Month on June 15, a coalition of local senior advocates, service providers and law enforcement agencies are planning a demonstration that seeks to raise awareness about elder abuse. The group will display more than 4,300 small purple flags in front of a number of senior centers throughout the county, with each flag representing an individual report of abuse.

To learn more about elder abuse, visit www.socoelderprotect.org. To report a case of elder abuse, call adult protective services at 565-5940 or 800-667-0404. Reports of elder abuse at a licensed residential facility can be made by calling the Ombudsman Program at 526-4108 or 800-231-4024.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

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