Board recognizes Elder Abuse Awareness Day as monthly abuse and neglect case reports top 1,100

June 13, 2022

The Board of Commissioners on Thursday, June 9 adopted a proclamation declaring June 15, 2022 Elder Abuse Awareness Day in Multnomah County. The proclamation, recognized annually, sheds light on the risk of elder abuse among the 150,000 residents ages 60 and older in Multnomah County.  

(left to right): Brian Hughes, Christa Jones, and Ron Kates testify before the Board of Commissioners

Elder abuse affects millions of older adults each year. It takes many forms, including physical abuse, verbal abuse, neglect, financial exploitation, as well as self-neglect. Many older adults may not be able or willing to report themselves.

“Abuse is not always easy to recognize,” said Brian Hughes, who manages the Adult Protective Services program. “We know that for every case that is reported there are many more that go unreported.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges for older adults, including isolation and disrupted social connection. That isolation poses a risk to older adults’ safety and well being, with cases of elder abuse sometimes going unseen. 

Commissioner Sharon Meieran sponsored the proclamation. As an emergency room physician, Commissioner Meieran said she sees firsthand the impact of elder abuse on older adults. “They are brought to us because someone somehow was able to call for help,” Commissioner Meieran said.

“No wrong door” to reporting elder abuse

This year’s proclamation highlights the work of Multnomah County’s three abuse investigation and Adult Protective Services programs. Those programs belong to Aging, Disability and Veterans Services (ADVSD), Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) and the Behavioral Health (BH) divisions.

The three programs address reports of abuse of older and other vulnerable adults collaboratively. Teams work together across disciplines to screen, assess, and respond to cases, which are often complex. 

Hughes said the County maintains a “no wrong door” approach to addressing elder abuse. Anyone contacting any one of the Adult Protective Services programs will have their report taken, regardless if the individual meets the criteria for that program. Combined the three programs receive about 1,100 reports per month.

Last year, the Behavioral Health unit received more than 1,200 reports of abuse and neglect. The program has authority to investigate alleged abuse cases in which the victim is engaged in behavioral health services.

In one example, the Aging, Disability and Veterans’ Services Division referred an individual to the Behavioral Health unit. Given concerns about his ability to care for himself, the program connected him to a case manager and to behavioral health treatment. Now he is also getting professional cleaning assistance to help with his inability to care for himself.

“When we work together across systems, we equip ourselves with more information, more resources, and we increase our ability to support our community to better health outcomes,” said Christa Jones, who manages the Community Mental Health Program.

Noting the intersecting nature of disabilities, aging, and houselessness, Commissioner Susheela Jayapal asked whether abuse clients may also have a higher risk of houselessness. 

“We know that elders are at risk for houselessness,” Commissioner Jayapal said. “We know elders experience disabilities and disability can lead to houselessness in various ways. I’m curious whether you see that intersection in the abuse work as well.”

In response to these concerns, Jones said the Behavioral Health team has hired a risk case manager that connects people to housing, shelters, and emergency crisis motels. “I believe around 80% of our caseload are individuals experiencing houselessness,” Jones said. 

In a separate example of the collaborative’s work, the County received an audio recording of an abuse incident involving a disabled client. Within hours, the County identified the group home where the incident took place and worked with the parent company to terminate the abuser and a staff member working with him at the incident.

“As a parent of a disabled adult son, I have a personal connection to the work we do,” said Ron Kates, a program supervisor with the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Division. His team screened nearly 1,500 referrals in the last year.

“There are many people that don’t have that support system and how critical the care that we provide to these individuals is,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann said.  “I want to really thank you and appreciate you for being that family to so many who don’t have relatives that can care for them.”

Program staff urge anyone who suspects abuse or neglect to contact one of the four reporting lines: 

  • Oregon’s Statewide 24 hour abuse reporting Hotline: 1(855) 503-SAFE (7233)
  • Older Adults and People with Physical Disabilities Abuse Investigations: (503) 988-4450
  • Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Abuse Investigations: (503) 988-1285
  • Health Department Behavioral Health Abuse Investigations: (503) 988-8170

“I’m proud of the work that we’re all doing and the importance that we have for this,” Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said. 

“I’ll add my thanks to the three of you for coming today and talking about this important topic, as well as talking about the ways that you are all working together,” Chair Deborah Kafoury said.