Houston County Probate Judge Patrick Davenport signed a proclamation recognizing June as Elder Abuse Awareness Month. To draw attention to elder abuse the county lit the fountain located in Justice Park purple at night throughout the month of June.
The event’s timing proves to be critical as cases of elder abuse – especially with financial exploitation incidents rising in recent years.
“One of the big rises in the last couple of years … is financial exploitation,” said Summers Bell, Houston County Department of Human Resources adult protective service supervisor. “Scams are a huge portion of the reports we get -- elderly people getting taken advantage of in online scams, phone scams, sweepstakes scams, sweethearts scams. People are losing all of their retirement money, and they’re taking out second mortgages.”
Bell said her department investigates roughly 60 new allegations of abuse each month in Houston County alone, including reports of abuse/neglect, financial exploitation of the elderly, and reports filed involving the elderly person just can’t properly take care of themselves any more.
“Today, the elderly like the rest of us are facing a situation they have never faced before—COVID-19,” Bell said.
With many elderly residents in complete isolation because of COVID-19, Bell said she believes several cases of elder abuse will go unreported.
“Before safety restrictions were put in place to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, most of our elderly population received visits from church groups, family members, and several even visited their local senior center, but now, due to safety reasons, some facilities are not open yet, and certain family members can’t visit due to health issues. So, that extra eye that might have been able to report any issues related to abuse is not there. That’s why it’s so important we draw attention to elder abuse. For those who can go visit their elder family members do so. Check on their well-being, check on their finances and make sure they have not fallen victim to any abuse.”
Since January Dothan Police have investigate roughly 18 elder abuse cases and 35 cases involving exploitation of the elderly.
According to Dothan Police Lt. Scott Owens, 13 of the 18 cases of elder abuse were unfounded (no arrests made, case closed), two arrests made, one case closed due to lack of prosecution and two other cases handled without prosecution that could include Alabama Department of Human Resources implementing a safe plan for the victim. Out of the 35 financial exploitation cases, 15 of those cases were deemed unfound (no arrests made, case closed), nine closed by other factors other than an arrest, one case is inactive and 10 cases are still pending.
The Houston County Department of Human Resources works closely with law enforcement, local fire departments, area rescue squads, medical health providers and other community partners to meet the needs of the elderly and disabled adults.
“It is our responsibility to investigate allegations of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation,” Bell said. “We know this is an especially difficult time for this population and some have become more isolated due to health concerns. We encourage the community to contact their local county DHR with any concerns.”
To report an elderly abuse concern in Houston County, call 334-677-0400 or your local law enforcement agency.