CINCINNATI — Pioneers in providing shelter for elder abuse victims are combining forces to expand efforts to give seniors an emergency refuge.
Eight such shelters have formed an alliance and will meet this week in suburban Cincinnati to share best practices and hear from experts on elder abuse, increasingly recognized as a problem for the aging U.S. population. It’s estimated that at least 2 million older Americans are abused, exploited or neglected every year, with many more cases likely going undetected.
The model of giving older victims a safe place to get emergency health, counseling and legal help while they stay among peers in a senior community has worked well, said Joy Solomon, who helps lead the Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention that opened in 2005 at New York City’s Hebrew Home.
“People are coming into an already established community of older adults with professional care and where their dignity is primary,” Solomon said. “Victims can begin to heal.”
Solomon, a former Manhattan assistant prosecutor, said awareness of elder abuse appears to be growing as the nation’s baby boomers head toward their 70s. The number of people in the U.S. age 70 or older is expected to more than double, to 64 million or about 16 percent of the population, by 2050. Elder abuse experts say most mistreatment is at the hands of family members or other people close to the victims, and that it’s important for bank employees, neighbors and other people to be alert for indications of physical and mental abuse. Solomon has provided prevention training to such groups as New York City doormen and apartment workers.
“People are being forced to take note,” Solomon said, adding, “There’s a lot more work to be done.”
The Weinberg Center has helped other nonprofit organizations set up shelters. The Shalom Center opened in 2012 at Cedar Village Retirement Community in Mason, Ohio, and has sheltered 15 elder abuse victims so far, usually giving a 90- to 120-day stay in the community free of charge with a range of services aimed at helping them resume their lives in a safer environment.
Carol Silver Elliott, Cedar Village’s CEO, described “heartbreaking” examples of its shelter clients during recent testimony before Ohio lawmakers: “A woman who weighed under 80 pounds and had both malnutrition and dehydration as the result of her husband’s abuse; a man whose Parkinson’s kept him from walking and whose son dragged him around by the neck until the man one day crawled to a neighbor; a woman who was knocked to the floor by her son and left there for more than 24 hours.”
Most of the shelters that are operating, including in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Minnesota, are part of the Spring (Shelter Partners: Regional, National Global) Alliance, which was formed last year. Solomon said people in other states who want to start shelters are also expected to attend this week’s meeting.
The alliance members have a monthly conference call.
“I felt it was really important that we have conversations, that we create best practices and that we share successes and challenges,” Solomon said, with the goal of helping the shelter movement continue to grow.
Shelter providers will start gathering Tuesday at Cedar Village.