LUMBERTON — The Department of Social Services on Friday took a step toward obliterating abuse of older people with a presentation at the department and a walk around the property.
According to Sarah Purcell, supervisor of Adult Protective Services for the Department of Social Services, in Robeson County there were 307 reports of mistreatment of adults and the elderly between July 2011 and May 2012.
“We received more reports but they were screened out. They didn’t meet the criteria for adult protective services,” Purcell said.
Of those, 171 cases were confirmed, meaning the mistreatment occurred but there was no longer a need for protection. Ninety-three cases have been substantiated: of those, 62 were for self neglect, 27 were for caretaker neglect, five were for assets exploitation, two were for abuse and three were for multiple types of mistreatment.
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is marked on June 15. The ceremony on Friday included appearances by Robeson County Commissioners Noah Woods, Raymond Cummings and Jerry Stephens, and state Reps. Charles Graham and Garland Pierce.
Pierce, the keynote speaker who is also a Baptist minister, delivered a fiery speech to about 75 people during which he called on audience members to love others as they love themselves.
“I remember what one of the Ten Commandments said, not the Ten Suggestions,” Pierce said. “Honor thy mother and thy father and thy days will be long upon the Earth. All of our elders, not just our biological parents, but all of our parents are very important to us.”
Pierce said times and attitudes toward the elderly have changed, and that he’s “taken back by the predatory behavior” of people today. His voice at times echoed across the assembly room. Throughout his speech, shouts of “Mm-hmm,” “Amen” and “That’s right” rippled through the audience.
“They don’t mind keeping Mama or Aunt Jane, but if there’s not a check involved … then they don’t want to be bothered,” Pierce said, adding that senior citizens lose an estimated $2.9 billion per year to financial abuse and exploitation, “not by strangers, but people who know them.”
Pierce said younger people today need to realize that they will eventually be senior citizens and will require assistance.
“As we are, so once were they. As they are, so shall we be,” he said. “We need to know that we’re gonna need somebody to care for us down the road and we’re gonna be in the same position that a lot of them are.”
Pierce closed by asking the audience to have patience with the elderly.
“How many times have some of us, standing in a store and in our minds (thinking), ‘I sure wish that old person would get out of my way’? he said. “Sometimes, consciously or unconsciously, we have a sense of abuse in our hearts, in our minds.”
After the presentation and some refreshments, many of the attendees walked in the parking lot around the building, carrying an orange sign that said “No Excuse for Elder Abuse.” Many wore purple T-shirts that said “Don’t stand for elder abuse.”
In the lobby of the building is a tree covered in lights, purple ribbons and cards with facts about World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
Catherine Baker, program manager for the Department of Social Services, said elder abuse awareness programs have been held there before, but none that involved the entire department.
“This year, we wanted to open it up a little more and bring recognition to our county because it seems like the referrals are increasing,” she said. “What we’re really hoping is to do it countywide next year so that then you can involve people out in the community as well as other agencies in the county.”
Baker said elder abuse is under-recognized and under-reported across the United States.
“A lot of people, they’re embarrassed. They don’t want to talk about it,” she said.
Baker said there are numerous signs to look for that indicate an elder is being abused, including physical and behavioral signs, signs by a caregiver and signs of financial abuse.
Anyone wishing to report abuse can call the Department of Social Services at 910-671-3500 from 8:15 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. People calling after hours are asked to call the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office at 910-671-3100 and ask to speak with the adult services worker on call.
Callers can leave their contact information to find out what happened in a case, or they can remain anonymous, Baker said.