The Center was a happening place about 1 p.m. Wednesday.
Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” belted from a stereo as as a group of senior citizens shimmied around a room in the adult care facility in Gastonia. Soon, it was on to bingo.
As many as 24 people a day take advantage of the facility, which provides a place for older adults to receive care and community.
“It becomes an opportunity to converse,” said Karen Creech, who oversees the Gaston County-run center on Roberts Drive and its sister facility in Mount Holly. “A lot of the caregivers have even seen improved relationships with their loved ones because they don’t have to be the sole caregiver.”
Staff with the county’s Department of Health and Human Services is using World Elder Abuse Awareness Day — June 15 every year — to raise awareness about The Center and similar programs that can help provide alternatives to neglect.
The United Nations established the day in part because countries around the world are expected to see increases in elderly populations between now and 2030. Gaston County is no stranger to the issue. And the topic is not as straightforward as it sounds.
“Exploitation could be of an adult’s medication or their finances, so it might be alleged that their medications have gone missing,” said Jennifer Butler, an adult protective services supervisor at Health and Human Services. “Neglect can be self-neglect or caretaker neglect, so for that maybe they’re not getting the medical care that they need, not following through with medication management or not providing supervision to the level that the adult needs due to their disability. Abuse can be verbal or physical.”
Last year, Gaston County’s Department of Health and Human Services received 877 reports of alleged abuse, neglect, or exploitation of adults. Of those, 588 met criteria to be examined further, and in 253 or them staff was able to confirm some sort of abuse, neglect or exploitation occurred.
In 153 cases, social workers found protective measures were needed.
In order for cases to be taken up, they need to involve someone over the age of 18 who is disabled, the alleged abuse, neglect or exploitation must have already occurred, and there must be no one else able to intervene on the person’s behalf.
Health and Human Services takes reports from the public, and keeps law enforcement informed if any cases rise to the level of suspected criminal behavior.
“(Social workers) know what they’re looking for out in the field,” Butler said. “We have very systematic ways of gathering the information, and during the evaluation we are exempt from HIPAA, so we’re allowed to have information from any source … so that we can do the most thorough evaluation we can. No matter what the allegations are, we’re going to look for red flags in all areas of that person’s life so that we get them the best and most thorough evaluation.”
Butler says that the majority of cases don’t involve any intentional harm.
“Most of the time what we find, particularly in caretaker-neglect allegations, is that the caretaker is just overwhelmed. It’s a family member — an adult child of an elderly person or it could be a spouse and the adult has dementia that has progressed or the medical issue has progressed to the point that the caretaker has been overwhelmed with that care and fatigue, and that burden causes them to maybe not meet the needs to the level that we would hope they would.”
One of the key indicators that family members, friends and neighbors can look out for is a change in a person’s behavior — especially fearfulness.
After evaluations, they can take protective measures through the court system, if that’s required, or work to resolve the issues through education or programs like The Center. A main focus there is stopping potential neglect issues before they begin.
“If you have a loved one you didn’t want to place in long-term care but you’ve got to work, this is a solution,” Creech said.
The Center, which is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, costs $35 a day. Caretakers can drop off their loved ones, or transportation can be arranged. There are enrichment activities throughout the day, and Creech says it provides a change to socialize — something that could be lacking in many older adults’ lives.
“Seniors often become isolated,” Creech said. “They can’t drive any longer and even if they can stay home by themselves, their loved ones are at work all day and their form of stimulation becomes the television. This is a program that they can attend just to socialize with others.”
Butler encourages residents to call Health and Human Services any time they suspect an elderly person or disabled adult is not receiving adequate care so social workers can look into the situation.
To make a report, or to learn more about programs like The Center, call 704-862-7540.
You can follow Dashiell Coleman on Twitter @DashiellColeman