By MADDISON BOOTH, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama’s first center for elderly abuse victims is set to open soon in Montevallo.
The new Center for Elder Justice and Advocacy will serve many purposes for Alabama residents. It will initially act as Alabama’s Elder Justice Resource Center, providing assistance to the elderly and their caretakers and training on elder care for the local community. Then in early 2023, the center will be available as a temporary emergency shelter for older adults from around the state.
Carolyn Fortner, Executive Director of the Middle Alabama Area on Aging, known as M4A, said that the idea for the cent came about during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a result of older individuals becoming more isolated…we encountered older individuals who were being abused,” she said. “We realized that something had to be done.”
According to the Alabama Department of Human Resources, over 11,000 reports of elder abuse were called into Adult Protective Services in the fiscal year 2021. About 67% of these were categorized as neglect.
The center will somewhat resemble existing abuse shelters, such as those for domestic violence, but will be fully equipped to provide not just escape, but basic care for the elderly.
Fortner said many times, police will respond to a 911 call by an older person claiming physical, emotional, or even financial abuse, but the officers aren’t able to arrest the caretaker because no one would be there to provide basic care for that person.
Caretakers perform a wide variety of tasks, such as managing a person’s medications and personal business, assisting with their personal hygiene care, providing meals, transporting the older individual to doctors appointments, and much more.
M4A stated in a press release that “for each one case of elder abuse that comes to light, another twenty-three remain hidden.”
Fortner said that just like domestic violence cases, the abuser is often a family member.
The Alabama Department of Public Health reported that in Alabama, “rural areas have a higher rate of adult abuse cases.” This is one of the reasons that Shelby County is an ideal place to launch this initiative.
Jean Brown, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Senior Services, said there are “fewer than 16 abuse centers in the whole nation that are just for senior adults.”
Many abuse shelters allow for senior adults, but aren’t always equipped to provide the care that the elderly need.
The Shelby County elder abuse center will have a geriatric nurse on staff to provide medical assistance, as well as a social worker and additional staff responsible for managing medications and other things for individuals suffering from dementia.
Brown and Fortner report the project is moving forward quickly. They have already purchased a former 16-bed assisted living facility and are currently applying for a federal grant from the Administration for Community Living. The Alabama Legislature is also preparing to award the Department of Senior Services $1 million from the 2023 General Fund Budget to help with the project. M4A has created a non-profit organization called 4 All, which is helping to raise even more funds for the shelter.
The shelter will focus not only on the elderly, but the people they depend on as well.
“We will provide elder abuse prevention training for professionals and community education across local communities to identify , report, and prevent adult mistreatment of older Alabamians,” Fortner said. She emphasized that the center will be “accessible to all Alabama residents.”
The Adult and Caregiver Respite Program is set to begin at the center this summer.
“We want to be a leader…to be a model for the whole state,” Brown said. She and Fortner are hopeful that this project will be a huge start in eliminating elder abuse in Alabama.