Abuse of the elderly in Southern Nevada comes in many guises.
Physical harm inflicted by spouses or adult children.
A lack of air conditioning in the midst of summer heat.
“The number of elder abuse reports continues to increase slightly every year,” said Jill Berntson, social services chief for the state’s Aging and Disability Services Division for Elder Rights.
During the first quarter of the current fiscal year, which began July 1, 2013, there were 2,839 reports of elder abuse in the Silver State that were opened for investigation by the state agency, according to data from the Division of Elder Rights. Abuse was substantiated in 24 percent of those cases.
A total of 5,562 elder abuse reports were investigated in the state during fiscal 2013. Twenty-eight percent of those cases were substantiated.
About 82 percent of those substantiated cases involved people living in their own homes, while 18 percent involved those living in a facility setting. Thirty-five percent involved abuse committed by adult children. A spouse, significant other or relatives were to blame in 30 percent of cases.
Other factors include self-neglect and abuse by a care provider or neighbor.
In fiscal 2012, there were 5,374 cases of elder abuse, and 26 percent were substantiated. That was slightly up from fiscal 2011, when there were 5,237 cases of elder abuse with 22 percent substantiated.
But research has shown that for every case reported five go unreported, said Tammy Sever, social services manager for Elder Protective Services in Las Vegas.
“We take every call very seriously,” she said Thursday. “We go out there and investigate the allegations.”
If a call meets the criteria for elder abuse, a protective services social worker has three days to respond. The reports are prioritized, and in many cases a social worker responds the day the report is made.
Sometimes the investigations might not lead to change because, unlike child protective services, elder protective services cannot remove the elderly person from a home.
“We are dealing with adults, and they still have their legal rights,” Sever said. “Some people choose to stay in the environment that they live in.”
If they suffer from an illness such as dementia, officials might be able to intervene, possibly by getting a public guardian involved, she said.
Regardless, officials still offer services and referrals to other resources in the community. One common need among seniors is food assistance, Sever said. They often refer senior citizens to Meals on Wheels programs.
If the case is more serious and officials believe a crime has been committed, they turn over the case to law enforcement agencies, Sever said.
A representative with the Clark County district attorney’s office said the agency doesn’t track the number of elder abuse cases that are prosecuted and referred questions to the Metropolitan Police Department. Metro didn’t respond to a request for information.
Elder Protective Services also makes referrals to the Nevada long-term care ombudsman’s office and the state’s Bureau of Health Care Quality and Compliance, Berntson said.
During the past federal fiscal year, from Oct. 1, 2012, to Sept. 30, 2013, 748 cases were opened for investigation by the ombudsman’s office, she said. They involved 1,586 complaints, with some cases involving multiple complaints.
Poor treatment, discharge and eviction from care facilities and problems with medication are the top three complaints from the elderly to the state agency, Berntson said.
Her message to the community is for people to be aware of seniors in need.
“They should reach out to someone and report it so that it can be investigated,” she said.
All reports are confidential.
Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada offers a few programs that help seniors in need, but the demand is high, and there is a long waiting list of those in need of services.
The nonprofit organization serves about 1,400 seniors through its Meals on Wheels program, which delivers a week’s worth of food to seniors who are living in their own homes, said Leslie Carmine, spokeswoman for Catholic Charities. When delivering the food, the driver also does a wellness check on a new senior client to make sure he or she is healthy.
When a senior first joins the program, staff members look for signs of abuse and neglect. A few months later, staffers do another check, Carmine said.
If necessary, they file a report on behalf of the senior with Elder Protective Services.
There usually are close to 600 seniors on a waiting list for the Meals on Wheels program. That is a problem that Catholic Charities would be able to address if it had more funding, Carmine said.
Other services include the senior companion program and the telephone reassurance program, which help prevent isolation among seniors.
“They are really needed services,” she said.
Contact Yesenia Amaro at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0440. Find her on Twitter: @YeseniaAmaro.