D.A. and partners go to the mat to fight elder abuse
- A Citymeals-on-Wheels volunteer recently delivering a hot meal to a local senior. During Thanksgiving, the volunteers also handed out specially designed placemats from the District Attorney’s Elder Abuse Unit sporting phone numbers for seniors to call to report any abusive behavior toward them.
BY HEATHER DUBIN | More than warm holiday meals were delivered last week to those in need, thanks to a partnership that is raising awareness about elder abuse. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, Citymeals-on-Wheels and the Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale have joined forces to help train staff and volunteers to recognize signs of elder abuse, which is a frequent and underreported problem.
Rachel Sherrow, chief program officer at Citymeals-on-Wheels, discussed the ongoing program.
“Over Thanksgiving the city shuts down, and meals served to the homebound are done by us,” she said. “We made sure people had food the day before, day of and day after, because some places were closed last Friday.”
In addition to providing 20,000 meals throughout the five boroughs for three days to seniors, including 18,000 homebound and walk-ins, Citymeals-on-Wheels staff and hundreds of volunteers also distributed placemats designed by the Manhattan D.A.’s Elder Abuse Unit.
“We created these placemats in Spanish and English, which give basic information — what is elder abuse, who to contact and don’t be afraid — in larger font,” Sherrow said. “It’s to go along with their lovely meal to keep, in case they, or someone they know, is a victim of elder abuse.”
The placemat prominently displays a hotline number from each partnership member that seniors can call anonymously. After they do, an assistant district attorney from the Elder Abuse Unit will investigate the case.
According to the D.A.’s Office, 20 attorneys who are specially trained in elder abuse work on roughly 900 elder abuse cases per year, on top of their regular caseload.
Since the partnership began in 2011, more than 300 Citymeals-on-Wheels staff and regular volunteers have been trained to look for evidence of physical, verbal or financial abuse in meal recipients.
“They’re the first line of defense,” Sherrow said. “They would notice if something wasn’t right. They’re there every day, and they develop relationships.”
There have been seven trainings so far led by a representative from the D.A.’s Office or the Weinberg Center, who outlined specific cases and examples of elder abuse.
“We want people to understand elder abuse can happen to anyone,” Sherrow said. “There isn’t one type of a person who is abused.”
Elder abuse is often perpetrated by senior citizens’ own family members and children.
“There’s so much shame and stigma involved because elders don’t want to get their relatives in trouble,” she said. “Outside people see them as caregivers, and can’t see them as abusers. We want to break them from these ideas.”
Sherrow noted that age should not be a factor when it comes to guaranteeing people’s rights; exploitation has no bounds, especially with seniors.
“It’s mostly financial, physical, verbal and mental abuse, but sexual abuse does happen, and no one believes them — it’s very intense,” she said.
The initiative has been successful, and the training sessions are making an impact.
“We’ve gotten some feedback from supervisors at agencies that there’s a lot more talk about what their deliverers have seen, and a lot more questions,” Sherrow said. Several deliverers have called the D.A.’s hotline to report abuse incidents, but Sherrow did not have follow-up information on whether action had been taken.
The D.A.’s Office will conduct trainings for other groups soon, while Citymeals-on-Wheels plans to do one more session next year after it secures funding.