Elder abuse on the rise

By Pat Caldwell, Observer correspondent November 08, 2013 09:33 am

Three Eastern Oregon counties among those that show increase in abuse of elderly

A significant number of Oregon counties — including three in Eastern Oregon — show a higher rate of financial abuse of the elderly and individuals with disabilities than the rest of the state, according to a report issued earlier this week.

The report — framed by the Oregon Department of Human Services Office of Adult Abuse Prevention and Investigations — covered all of Oregon but listed 14 counties that recorded “ … disproportionately higher rates of financial exploitation than others.” Included in that list of 14 counties with higher rates of financial abuse were Grant, Harney and Malheur counties.

The study of more than 400 cases also exposed a number of disturbing trends regarding financial mistreatment of some of Oregon’s most vulnerable including the reality that the abuse falls under a broad spectrum of criminal misconduct.

The mistreatment includes such acts as theft of medications, jewelry, vehicles, food stamp benefits, embezzlement of money, pilfering of ATM cards and other personal property.

The study also illustrated cases where unwanted pressure was exerted upon victims to modify or adjust their estate plans or where an identity was appropriated to obtain credit. The study also reviewed incidents where skilled malefactors utilized international scams to cheat people.

The architect of the report, Office of Adult Abuse Prevention and Investigations’ Rebecca Fetters, said the results regarding crime against the elderly and people with physical disabilities is not just a regional challenge.

“I don’t know if I’d say Oregon is alone in this issue. It is something we have to understand better,” she said.

The counties that the report showed exhibited higher rates of financial abuse of the elderly and those with physical disabilities include: Tillamook, Clatsop, Multnomah, Douglas, Coos, Curry, Clackamas, Josephine, and Jackson, Douglas along with Grant, Harney, Malheur and Columbia.

Fetters said the high rate of abuse in some of those counties may be tied to a number of elements, including the fact that there is a greater awareness of the problem in those areas and, therefore, more reported cases.

“I do think in Jackson, Josephine, Coos and Curry counties, in particular, it is probably not a matter of it being a common problem but an area that has done a lot of work and have a higher rate of reporting. A greater awareness of the problem,” she said.

Fetters said that kind of community awareness conveys a certain amount of hope the problems outlined in the report can be addressed in a viable manner.

“I think it’s good news. I think it is a positive,” she said.

Fetters said, however, the high rates of financial abuse of the elderly and those with physical disabilities in the three Eastern Oregon counties was somewhat unexpected.

“That came as a little bit of a surprise,” she said.

Fetters said Eastern Oregon’s considerable and secluded geographic area may play a role in the high rates outlined in her report.

“That area is so large and there are such small (Office of Adult Abuse Prevention and Investigations) offices and there are not a lot of resources to do community outreach,” she said.

Union County District Attorney Tim Thompson said financial abuse of the elderly and those with physical disabilities is often an unseen wrongdoing in a community.

“It is one of those hidden crimes that are out there,” he said.

Thompson said Union County does not deal with a large number of cases connected to financial elderly abuse. He said, however, that once a case is discovered the damage is extensive.