A proclamation by Teller County commissioners this month states that the community has a collective responsibility to ensure older people live safely and with dignity.
Along with proclamation that pays tribute to the role of older people as important members of the community, the commissioners set aside June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day in Teller County.
“It is nice that the commissioners really value our senior citizens as an active and vibrant part of our community and want to make sure they’re protected,” said Mary Longmire, child and family services administrator for Teller County’s Department of Human Services.
At a time when senior citizens are the most vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic, there has been an increase in reports of abuse, Longmire said. In the proclamation the commissioners term elder abuse a “tragedy … that crosses all socio-economic boundaries.”
She added, “We at DHS are worried, just like other agencies, about seniors being isolated. Some are self-isolating, being afraid, because of health issues, to come into the community.”
According to a report by The Innovation in Aging Collaborative, Teller County is projected to become the sixth oldest county in Colorado by 2030, with almost a quarter of the population over the age of 65. The 2015 report, titled “Aging in the Pikes Peak Region,” was compiled by Summit Economics LLC and the Colorado State Demography Office.
Longmire cites a variety of resources currently available for older residents. “Teller Senior Coalition is doing a wonderful job of reaching out and getting food to seniors,” she said.
But with the shutdown, checking on the welfare of senior citizens can be critical. “During these difficult times, if people have concerns that somebody is at risk and being mistreated, which includes self-neglect, they can call our hotline at 719-686-5550 for adult protection,” Longmire said.
The commissioners’ proclamation states: “Combating abuse of older people will help improve the quality of life for all seniors across the country and will allow seniors to continue to live as independently as possible and contribute to the life and vibrancy of Teller County Seniors.”
While many calls to DHS cite self-neglect issues of older neighbors, there has been an uptick in instances of financial exploitation, Longmire said. “Financial institutions now are mandatory reporters for financial exploitation for at-risk adults,” Longmire said. “We cross-report and do joint investigations with law enforcement.”
The crux of the issue is determining the at-risk adult’s capacity to make financial decisions, said Teresa Stillwell, adult protection supervisor for DHS.
Determining capacity can be tricky. “We as adults have the right to make our own decisions, even if they’re bad,” Longmire said. “It all comes down to the issue of capacity.”
The process to determine capacity is lengthy and detailed, she added. “It should be, because we don’t want to just take control of somebody’s life,” she added.
But when the calls warrants a visit from DHS, Jill Laramie-Moran is on the front lines. The adult protection caseworker has been with Teller County DHS since 2016. Prior to working in Adult Protection Services, Laramie-Moran worked in the field of mental health.
“Our child welfare and adult protection case workers are first responders,” Longmire said. “They are going out into the field and sometimes it’s a question of worker safety we go with law enforcement,” she said. “Most of time it’s the caseworker knocking on that door.”