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Senior care workers fight elder abuse in Scranton

Senior care advocates and lawmakers gathered at Telespond Senior Services in Scranton before World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
Isabela Weiss | WVIA News | Report for America
Senior care advocates and lawmakers gathered Friday at Telespond Senior Services in Scranton before World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

Advocates and lawmakers gathered at Telespond Senior Services in Scranton Friday to promote the facility’s new Older Adult Advocacy Center.

Caregivers highlighted the signs of elder abuse and ways to take action on the eve of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

Every June 15 on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, communities across the globe recognize ageism and violence older adults can suffer at the hands of their loved ones or someone they trusted.

CEO Helen Schmid hopes the center will uplift vulnerable older adults.

“When we see mistreatment or brutality towards any being who cannot defend itself, why? Why would someone choose to be so unkind, so inhumane? Abuse can take many shapes and have many different root causes,” said Schmid.

The center’s will open in October. Schmid said it will provide seniors individual-based care, but did not not elaborate on the services. Elder care consultant Brian Duke said that the facility will have four beds for seniors in need of immediate relocation and an office space for them to meet with lawyers and other providers.

Pennsylvania Department of Aging Secretary Jason Kavulich speaks Friday at Telespond in Scranton.
Isabela Weiss | WVIA News | Report for America
Pennsylvania Department of Aging Secretary Jason Kavulich speaks Friday at Telespond in Scranton.

Secretary Jason Kavulich with the state’s Department of Aging (PDA) applauded Telespond’s commitment to older adult care.

“It will be able to make sure that older adults have a safe haven, that there’s a place for them to go where they are treated with respect and dignity like they deserve,” said Kavulich.

Elder abuse: Is it getting worse in Pennsylvania?

Over the past five years, Pennsylvania’s seen a 67 percent increasein elder abuse reports to the Department of Aging. Officials say that’s because of three main changes, including a quickly growing aging population, smarter and more high-tech financial scams and increased awareness of elder abuse.

Mary Ursich, director of Wayne County’s Area on Aging, said the pandemic really kicked off financial exploitation. Older adults were more isolated, and therefore more vulnerable, than ever before. She explained how financial scams work.

“It could be from someone that you know, like someone that you’ve trusted to help you with your finances,” said Ursich. “But it could also be a stranger that strikes up a relationship [with you.] It’s almost like a grooming process.”

Ursich emphasized that victims should not blame themselves for falling prey to a scammer. The most dangerous thing, she said, is not admitting it.

“[It’s about] normalizing for people that scammers are very cunning and very good at getting people to believe what they’re saying. So, it can be embarrassing when something like that happens. So, just being open,” said Ursich. “We’ve had a few older adults that have come forward and have shared their stories. And I think, y’know, making it not be something that you have to be ashamed of.”

Telespond's new senior advocacy center will work alongside the facility's existing services, including its transportation care and adult day care center.
Isabela Weiss | WVIA News | Report for America
Telespond's new senior advocacy center will work alongside the facility's existing services, including its transportation care and adult day care center.

The PDA added that 47 percent of substantiated allegations over the past year were for self-neglect.

Secretary Kavulich said most of these cases dealt with older adults who could not access resources because of medical, mental, transportation or financial difficulties.

“You…see situations where people live in condemned structures and they can’t be there anymore, and their self-neglect has grown so out of control that they become protective services cases,” said Kavulich. “We can bring them here, and stabilize them, and we can get them into a safe and affordable place to live.”

The PDA released in April its 10-year Master Plan on Agingto help older adults age independently and safely. Kavulich said it will support caregivers and provide resources for abused older adults. He added that the PDA is waiting on the Shapiro Administration’s budget to finance the plan. PDA is asking for about $28.8 million for Area Agencies on Aging, the master plan and other services.

“So, we can’t really get started right away because we don’t know what kind of resources we’ll be working with but we’re optimistic,” said Kavulich.

Telespond’s new Older Adult Advocacy Center will serve older adults across Lackawanna County and in NEPA.

Isabela Weiss is a storyteller turned reporter from Athens, GA. She is WVIA News's Rural Government Reporter and a Report for America corps member. Weiss lives in Wilkes-Barre with her fabulous cats, Boo and Lorelai.

You can email Isabella at isabelaweiss@wvia.org