Legal Services for the Elderly
Legal Services for the Elderly
June 6, 2019
With John T. Gorman Foundation support, Legal Services for the Elderly greatly expands the number of Maine seniors receiving assistance for elder abuse and financial exploitation
Seniors deserve better than abuse and exploitation
After caring for their families, contributing to the community, and driving our state’s economy, Maine seniors deserve to spend their later years where they wish—predominantly, in their own homes and communities. In many ways, the John T. Gorman Foundation works to support this desire to age-in-place, with grants to organizations that provide seniors with daily meals, transportation, home repair and companionship supports.
But seniors should not only be able to live independently, but safely. That means, in part, protecting them from abuse and financial exploitation, which impacts one out of nine seniors nationally. Through a long partnership with Legal Services for the Elderly—a longstanding statewide nonprofit offering free legal assistance to Maine seniors—the Foundation has worked incrementally to ensure that the victims of elder maltreatment have someone to turn to.
First Step: Building Awareness of Elder Maltreatment
As part of the Foundation’s strategic planning efforts in 2012, we met with community members from around the state. Over and over, we heard that Maine seniors are not only struggling to meet their basic needs, but are dealing with abuse and exploitation, with serious effects on their limited financial resources, health, and well-being. A U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report buoyed those observations and identified two critical needs—greater public awareness of elder maltreatment and training of direct service providers to help prevent elder abuse and recognize its symptoms.
Based on the GAO report and additional data, Legal Services for the Elderly (LSE) approached the Foundation in 2013 to request our support for a public awareness campaign. The Foundation provided LSE with a one-year grant, which served as local match for a federal Administration on Community Living grant.
These combined funds supported a targeted television, radio, and newspaper media campaign focused on raising awareness of elder financial exploitation, which most often involves family members taking or misusing seniors’ assets for their own benefit. The grant also supported the distribution of an elder rights handbook, which included extensive new material focused on elder abuse prevention, and financial exploitation in particular. As a result of the 2013 targeted media campaign, LSE’s calls from victims of elder abuse increased by 44% (up from 176 calls in the prior year to 249 calls).
Second Step: Strengthening Legal Assistance and Outreach
Based on the effectiveness of the initial grant, the Foundation then approved a three-year grant to expand LSE’s statewide media campaign and to hire a full-time elder abuse attorney to manage the significant increase in calls for assistance. It also funded a pilot project where institutions referred elders at risk of financial exploitation to LSE for a one-on-one financial “safety” consultation.
In 2016, LSE was able to use Foundation funds to add an Elder Abuse Prevention Advocate to the project. The Advocate conducted 59 presentations to numerous community organizations and programs, covering the many forms elder abuse can take, red flags to watch for, and available resources to help victims.
As a result of the statewide campaign and outreach, the number of elder abuse victims seeking help from LSE increased 20% each year between 2014 and 2017. LSE served a total of 765 individuals from all 16 Maine counties, and was able to improve the situation for victims who sought timely assistance with their problems 94% of the time.
Third Step: Proactively Identifying At-Risk Seniors
A 2017 Maine report by the Muskie School of Public Service looked at data collected by LSE and Adult Protectives Services (APS) between 2010 and 2016. The report documented that $28 million had been stolen from these seniors over those seven years. But, considering only 1 of every 14 incidents are reported nationally, the study estimated the total financial loss to Maine’s elder abuse victims to be somewhere between $75 million and $451 million.
With so many cases going unreported, LSE has used its third Foundation grant to proactively identify seniors who may be at risk of exploitation. As it continues raising public awareness on the issue and cultivating new referral sources in the community, the organization is now proactively screening those calling for legal assistance for signs of potential victimization or other types of legal problems. The screening is focused on callers who have characteristics identified by the 2017 Report as being common among victims. This includes things like having been recently hospitalized; having been recently widowed; or being 70 years of age or older and dependent upon someone else to meet basic needs.
It’s sad and tragic to think that so many of our elders are abused and taken advantage of. We must make sure that they can turn to someone for help, and that members of the community are looking out for them. The Foundation appreciates LSE’s continuing work on both fronts and has been proud to help them make a positive impact on hundreds of seniors who deserve better than the mistreatment they have received.
- 11 statewide Public Service Announcements (PSAs) created to increase public awareness of elder abuse and where victims could turn for help. Ninety-one percent of Maine residents over 50 years of age saw PSAs seven or more times every quarter they ran.
- As a result of the 2013 targeted media campaign, LSE’s overall call volume increased 16% over the prior year (810 calls) and calls from victims of elder abuse increased by 44% (up from 176 calls in the prior year to 249 calls).
- As a result of the expanded public awareness campaign that ran from 2014 through 2017, the number of elder abuse victims seeking help from LSE increased 20% each year and LSE served a total of 765 individuals from all 16 counties.
- LSE had a 16% average annual increase in affirmative evictions—cases where safety concerns are raised by the presence of a problem tenant living in the home or property of the senior, which is likely to involve one or more forms of elder maltreatment.
- LSE was able to improve the situation for victims who sought timely assistance with their problems 94% of the time.
- From 2010 to 2014, intakes at APS involving reports of victims who are 60 years of age and older went up 29%. Nearly half of this increase happened between 2013 and 2014 when intakes went up 13% (from 3,154 to 3,562). Prior to 2013, the annual increase had been 4.5% on average.
- The Elder Abuse Prevention Advocate made 59 presentations to civic organizations, senior colleges, adult education programs, senior companion programs and various associations and organizations across Maine. The presentations included the definition for elder abuse, what it might look like, red flags to watch for, PSAs and Maine resources available to help victims. The presentations created by LSE are currently being used by members of the Maine Council for Elder Abuse Prevention.
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