Elder abuse victims have a place to be cared for

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It’s difficult for seniors to feel comfortable in domestic violence shelters, but the Saint Elizabeth Community aims to offer a safe haven for elderly victims. The Saint Elizabeth Haven, a program for elderly victims of abuse, is committed to victims of emotional, physical and financial abuse.

Director of Community Outreach Mary Rossetti said the program is for usually dire situations. Their victims have experienced family or caretakers’ taking of funds, keeping them locked in rooms and are sometimes bruised from physical altercations.

“There is lots of abuse out there, but it doesn’t always require someone stepping in, requiring that the victim leave their home,” she said.

This is the only program in the state that offers this kind of protection for the elderly, according to Steven Horowitz, the president and CEO who adapted the idea following a trip to New York where he learned about a safe haven program for seniors.

“Domestic violence shelters don’t offer the right care for elderly men,” he said. “I wanted to create a setting more conducive.” Because victims of abuse are often women, men lack treatment and care from the usual shelters, he said.

To seek help from the Safe Haven program, a victim must be referred by one of the many partners Saint Elizabeth works with. Among the 16 partners are the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center, Meals on Wheels, Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office, Rhode Island Department of Elderly Affairs and Westbay Community Action and police departments.

“We need to work with our partners with the situation that was occurring,” said Horowitz.

As police deal with the case, Saint Elizabeth’s social workers work with the victims. Duration of a stay with the program is contingent on the living and physical conditions of the victim.

“We often return victims [to homes] with different care givers who can better assist them,” said Rossetti.

The Rhode Island General Assembly has recognized problems occur between seniors and caregivers.

The Rhode Island Senate approved legislation June 5 to require criminal background checks for individuals applying to be providers. The legislation now goes to the House of Representatives for their approval.

In a press release, Sen. Frank Lombardi said, “This is another step to ensure the safety of our state’s elderly, who rely on others for the proper care.”

The bill would automatically update an individual’s criminal history using the state’s national background check system. The current system does not notify employers of crimes committed after a caregiver has been hired.

“We must be serious about checking the background of individuals who work in the general occupation of dealing with the elderly,” said Lombardi.

Since 2009, the Saint Elizabeth Haven program has admitted 12 people. Their records show a minimum stay of four days and a maximum of 66.

“If we only took one victim [in], that would mean the program was worth it,” said Horowitz.

Rossetti and Horowitz said that it’s difficult to advertise a place where someone might seek shelter.

“We’re respectful of victims’ privacy,” said Horowitz.

He said they bring their information to organizations and to their partners who will recognize abuse and bring the victims to Saint Elizabeth.

“We depend a lot on our partners,” said Rossetti.

She added that all citizens should report any abuse and self-neglect they witness. Abuse reports can be made by calling 462-0555, the Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs.

Saint Elizabeth is hosting a free educational session, “Keeping Seniors Safe in the Information Age,” on Thursday, June 15 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. That will be the ninth annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Professional panelists will discuss Internet and social media safety, protecting against fraud and identity theft, providing banking safety and understanding Medicare bills.

“These professionals deal with emotional, physical and financial abuse,” said Rossetti. “We are trying to educate others so we can avoid abuse and get help when problems arise.”

To register for the educational session, call Donna Birmingham at 471-6060 ext.148.

For more information on Saint Elizabeth Haven, visit their website at www.stelizabethcommunity.org.

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