ELIZABETHTOWN — Elder abuse in Bladen County remains relatively the same as last year, with more than 90 cases reported to social services.
“Adult Protective Services can encompass abuse, neglect, or exploitation, explained Janet Miller, Adult Protective Services supervisor at Bladen County Department of Social Services, “but by and large, what we see in this county are cases of neglect.”
Neglect can look like a variety of things.
“It’s about 50/50 with caretaker neglect and self-neglect,” Miller informed. “Half are people who are not being cared for by their caretaker, and half are people who aren’t taking care of themselves. They may not be taking their medication, or not eating, or living in substandard conditions.”
Not all of the 94 reports result in cases being filed. Miller said that last year, 64 percent of the calls DSS received about adult protection were screened in, meaning they required additional follow-up. Statewide, 40 percent of reports are taken further.
“Our community does a good job,” Miller commented. “Usually by the time we get the report, a neighbor, or a pastor, or a family member has already intervened and made an effort to correct the situation.”
The numbers reflect a slow but steady rise. In fiscal year 2011-12, there were 67 cases, followed by 74 in 2012-13, 78 in 2013-14, 96 in 2014-15, 94 in 2015-16, and 93 in 2016-17.
Director of Social Services Vickie Smith believes demographics play a role in the county’s elder abuse rate.
“We’re a rural, relatively poor county,” she explained. “If you’ve lived in poverty all your life, you’ll put up with a lot more than people in an urban area will. You’d be amazed the way people live, and what they live off of.
“To get the stand of living up, though — to get a better quality of life, we have to have better job availability.”
Also contributing to the numbers of elderly being abused is the high percentage of disabling conditions in the county. To fall under the umbrella of Adult Protective Services, the victim must be over 18 and have a disability — everyone else would fall under Child Protective Services or law enforcement. Statewide, 14.7 percent of the population ages 21-64 have disabilities, compared with 22.1 percent of the people in Bladen County, according to the Disability Institute.
Miller and Smith agreed that in most cases in which DSS gets involved, the issue is resolved without legal intervention.
“The options may not be appealing — it could be assisted living,” Miller said. “If people own their property, they don’t always want to leave their home. I wish we had enough support services to help people stay in their own home, but there are plenty of times we can’t do that.
“We’re also challenged in helping people understand that it’s temporary. Many of them don’t want to leave, because they think at their age, the move is permanent. It takes a lot of confidence-building to get them to trust that a move isn’t permanent.”
Both Smith and Miller agreed on one thing the community can do to squelch the environment in which elder abuse thrives.
“Isolation is not a good thing for an older person,” Miller informed. “Things can change really quickly.”
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.