Grand Jury Concludes County Must Do Better Job Fighting Elder Abuse

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Abuse of elderly residents, rich and poor, is on the rise in Orange County, and local law enforcement and county agencies need to modernize their rules and programs for dealing with the issue, according to a report released by the Orange County grand jury Thursday.

“Elder abuse reporting has been rising and will probably increase because of a projected expansion in the population partially due to an influx of baby boomers,” said the report titled Elder Abuse: The Perfect Storm.

It also said the county needs to conduct a study that specifically examines coordination and communication between agencies; outreach and communication with the public; law enforcement and prosecution of elder abuse cases; and modernization of computers to make sure information is handled properly.

“The computer system in the Public Guardian’s Office has been ‘inadequate for its intended use’ for many years impacting the ability of the Public Guardian to provide documentation in areas of elder abuse,” the report observed.

Grand jury reports in 2009 touched off a scandal in the administration of the county’s public administrator-public guardian office and eventually led to the resignation of Administrator-Guardian John Williams amid allegations he mismanaged the office.

A ballot proposal to allow the Board of Supervisors to appoint the public administrator rather than keep it as an elected office was rejected by voters June 5. Supervisors did split the guardian’s and administrator’s roles and last year appointed a new public guardian.

This year, the grand jury is urging the Board of Supervisors to appoint a one-year, independent, volunteer commission to delve deeply into how the county’s law enforcement and administrative agencies deal with elder abuse.

“Orange County Adult Protective Services (APS) receives more than 600 reports of abuse each month and national experts estimate that for every report of abuse, 23 are unreported,” stated the grand jury report.

It urged the volunteer commission to analyze how the Sheriff’s Department and local police departments investigate reports of abuse and how the Orange County district attorney’s office prosecutes them.

“Many individuals in the elder abuse community confidentially expressed to the Grand Jury that: Law enforcement agencies needed more training to handle elder abuse complaints and; The District Attorney’s office needed greater diligence in prosecuting elder abuse cases,” the report stated.

It cited San Diego County as one area where officials are actively tackling the issue.

The report also called on the Board of Supervisors to order the county’s performance auditor to evaluate Adult Protective Services, the Office on Aging, Adult Mental Health Services and the public guardian.

“The evaluation would determine their individual effectiveness; assess their coordination and communication; and discover any overlap in services among them,” the report asserted.

The report cited research by the UC Irvine’s Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse that found “elder abuse is one of the most overlooked public health hazards in the United States.”

Nationally, it estimated between one and two million elderly adults have suffered some form of elder abuse.

— TRACY WOOD

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