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Putting an end to elder abuse

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Cathy Dobson

Local police and Bluewater Health workers are spearheading a new initiative to assist seniors and their families when elder abuse is suspected.

A “Situation Table” could dramatically change response times and help the growing number of older adults who are financially, emotionally, sexually and physically abused, says Lambton OPP Sgt. Ross Stuart.

The concept involves a group of professionals who will meet weekly in Sarnia to review specific cases of abuse and determine which services need to be called in, he said.

It’s often difficult to “plug in quickly” with the right local experts needed to address often complex abuse cases, Stuart said.

“A Situation Table will streamline the response and make everyone more efficient.”

While no firm numbers exist, police and elder abuse officials say the problem is increasing in Sarnia-Lambton as the population ages.

This region will be among 20 jurisdictions in Ontario to establish a Situation Table, Stuart said.

“We are working with mental health and addiction services at the hospital to form a steering committee but this will be a community-wide initiative that involves everyone.”

About 45 nurses, social workers, police and retirement home personnel gathered recently for a daylong conference to talk about their duties to report suspected abuse, the red flags that should not be ignored and the resources that can help.

The conference is an annual event hosted by the Sarnia-Lambton Elder Abuse Awareness Network.

“This is to increase awareness about a hidden crime in our community,” said President Christy Primmer. “We recognize it’s an issue that we have to talk about more.”

Some of the red flags that could suggest abuse include missed payments when a senior is in a long-term care facility, and more obvious signs such as bruising, malnutrition or dehydration.

Stuart and other professionals at the conference who regularly deal with elder abuse, urged the community to call 211 or 1-866-299-1011 if abuse is suspected.  That’s a seniors safety line operating 24/7 in 150 languages across Ontario.

Primmer also encouraged anyone with questions to visit www.sleaan.com  and request help.

Local service providers who deal with seniors’ care, housing, finances and mental health, don’t currently have a formal communication system, but the new Situation Table will change that, Stuart said.

He and Sarnia Det. Const. Ken McLaughlin said at the conference that local police need more training to handle elder abuse cases.

“Our guys and girls are terrified of dealing with it because they are unfamiliar with it and, as a result, they are sometimes hesitant,” said Stuart.

“Our frontline officers definitely need more training too,” said McLaughlin. “A lot of the time they just don’t know what to do with it. If there was a single point of contact like a Situation Table, it would give them a place to start.”

Elder abuse is not always a police matter, he added.

If you go:

What: An information session to discuss the formation of a Situation Table in Sarnia-Lambton.

When:  Monday, Nov. 9; 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.

Where: Bluewater Health’s boardroom on the second floor

Who: Any professional who works with senior citizens

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