By Janet Draper, CPN Adult Protective Services Director
In fiscal year 2019, the Tribe used Office of Victims of Crime funding it had set aside to establish and develop the first adult protective services program to address elder abuse issues within our community. Officially established in January 2020, the program made great strides in its first few months. We were excited to provide these necessary services to our Tribal elders. Then the unthinkable happened — COVID-19.
Aging adults are a particularly vulnerable group to the deleterious effects of COVID-19. With numerous shelter-in-place orders in effect to promote social distancing during the pandemic, and increased dependency of older adults on others, the pandemic heightens the potential for elder abuse. Most perpetrators are often close relatives. Now that a lot of people are working from home or are quarantined, elders are at a greater risk of abuse.
Many abuse hotlines are claiming the number of calls are down, but that should not be perceived as a positive sign. Elder abuse has not “gone away.” The lower amount of abuse calls received should be considered a red flag that people are unable to reach out for help. Abusers are using the threat of the virus and quarantine to further isolate their victims. Being locked in the house with the person they might be most afraid of — who might be threatening, hurting or manipulating them — makes their fear even worse. Isolation is one of the greatest risk factors for elder abuse, and the coronavirus pandemic is a breeding ground for social isolation.
This isolation is also occurring in long-term care facilities. Denied visitation from family members, friends and clergy has only added to the stress, fear and hopelessness our elders are experiencing. As many elders are attending virtual church services and doctor appointments, this is an excellent time for others to observe and be alert for any signs of abuse.
We agree that masks should be worn, caution should be taken and social distancing should occur; however, we must be allowed to visit our elderly, especially if they are in a long-term facility. It is a known fact that abuse and neglect occurs in these facilities. Now that no one is “putting eyes” on our elderly, we wonder, what is happening?
Since COVID-19 is a new virus, we must put laws into place to address these special circumstances. Most of our elderly cannot make phone calls without assistance. If abuse or neglect is occurring, they cannot make this issue known, especially if the abuser is the one assisting them to make or receive a phone call. The visits must somehow be made in person, if not by a family member, by a trained professional APS worker.
Please contact the CPN Adult Protective Services if you suspect abuse/neglect is occurring or has occurred. Call 405-878-4831, Janet Draper, ext.1171 or Brian Moore, ext.1186.
The statewide reporting hotline is 1-800-522-3511, or you can contact them at OKHotline.org.
If the victim is Native, the state will contact the proper tribe. Citizen Potawatomi Nation Adult Protective Services has a memorandum of understanding with the State of Oklahoma.