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Crunching numbers to fight elder abuse

Agency releases annual report, forms streamlined investigative branch


Financial exploitation is the most widespread form of elder and disabled adult abuse, according to a recent report issued by Oregon’s Adult Protective Services Agency.

“There has been a big push from our central office to really look at abuse and neglect investigations, (which) directly affect the safety of a pretty frail and vulnerable population,” Jessica Soltesz of the agency explained. Soltesz serves as the agency’s manager for District 16, which primarily covers Beaverton.

The report concluded that 2,935 seniors and adults with disabilities were found to be victims of abuse statewide in 2011. Local numbers released this week after a request by The Times show that 169 of these cases occurred in Tigard, Tualatin or Beaverton.

The 2011 Adult Protective Services Community and Facility Annual Report was released this past December as part of a new initiative to raise awareness of adult abuse trends and to strengthen preventative efforts statewide. The report details the agency’s approach to investigating allegations of adult abuse, as well as the incidence of elder and disabled adult abuse throughout Oregon.

As an agency of Oregon’s Department of Human Services, Adult Protective Services’ team screens all reports of abuse and determines whether each allegation merits investigation. The agency investigates cases that are believed to involve abandonment; emotional or verbal abuse; neglect; physical abuse; sexual abuse; involuntary — or forced — seclusion; wrongful restraint; or financial exploitation, which is defined as using “deceit, theft, coercion, fraud, undue influence or other means” to take advantage of an adult’s financial or medical resources.

When a referral merits further investigation, the agency then determines the level of risk that is posed to the alleged victim.

“If someone’s at immediate risk — for example, the alleged perpetrator is still involved with the victim — then we would go out that same day,” Soltesz explained. “If the situation (poses) low risk, we’re still going to investigate, but it might be up to five days before we get out to start the investigation.”

The agency also investigates claims of “self-neglect,” meaning situations where an adult appears unable to comprehend the effect of his or her actions, specifically when this lack of understanding may lead to self-harm or danger to others.

Examples of self-neglect include an elderly individual refusing to surrender his driver’s license when poor eyesight or dementia should prevent him from driving, or an individual who is mentally unable to remember to take vital medication or adhere to a reasonable regimen of self-care.

The agency investigates claims of abuse and self-neglect in both care facilities and the community, which includes private residences.

When a referral is deemed ineligible for investigation, staff often refer concerned parties to other agencies, such as law enforcement, mental health programs, the Department of Justice’s Medicaid Fraud division or Legal Aid.

In some cases, staff provide a consultation, which connects callers to specialized information.

Abuse by the numbers

Adult Protective Services reports that in 2011, 61 percent of alleged victims statewide were female. About 76 percent were 65 or older, and 22 percent of alleged victims were younger than 65 and physically disabled.

In cases where claims of abuse were substantiated through an investigation, an overwhelming majority of victims — 76 percent — suffered the abuse in their own homes, with the remainder found to suffer abuse in licensed care facilities.

In order to streamline reporting and investigation procedures, the agency merged with the Office of Investigations and Training statewide in the spring of 2012 to become the Office of Adult Abuse Prevention and Investigation.

Soltesz emphasized the importance of public reporting of possible adult abuse.

For members of the public wondering whether to call in their suspicions, the numbers may not be reassuring: Data from the 2011 report refined to include only Tigard, Tualatin and Beaverton revealed that just over 7 percent of statewide reports of possible adult abuse originated in the region. Of those calls, only a third were investigated and, ultimately, only 8.2 percent of the allegations were found to be actual cases of abuse.

“But we would encourage anyone who has a suspicion that someone might be abused to call our APS line,” Soltesz said. “It may not be followed up with an investigation, but we’d rather have more reports that we end up screening out, than to miss a case of abuse.”

Soltesz added that members of the public should not place the burden of deciding whether to make that call on themselves. She explained that even members of her agency turn to Child Protective Services staff, for example, to determine whether their suspicions of child abuse are founded — and vice versa.

“If we’re internally having to do that, then certainly the general public shouldn’t be expected to understand what will or will not start an investigation,” Soltesz said. “If you have concerns, we suggest just running them by someone in the system.”

  • information about adult abuse
  • 2011 Adult Protective Services Annual Report



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