Local Officials Pleased About New Elder Justice Hotline
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong was joined last week by multiple state officials when he formally launched a “one stop shop” for older adults in Connecticut in need of information, aid, and justice: The Connecticut Elder Justice Hotline.
Elder justice issues can range from age-based discrimination in the workplace to scams and frauds, abuse, neglect, and exploitation. As a result, no single state agency can answer every question. The Consumer Assistance Unit of the Office of the Attorney General will staff the hotline and refer matters to the appropriate agencies across state government.
AG Tong, Aging and Disabilities Commissioner Amy Porter, Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle H. Seagull, and the Coalition for Elder Justice in Connecticut launched the hotline, which can be reached at 860-808-5555. Individuals may also access information about the hotline, resources, and a complaint portal at portal.ct.gov/ag/elderhotline.
“If you have been the victim of a scam, or have been neglected, exploited, or abused, we are here to help. It’s hard sometimes to know who to call, so we want to make it easy. The Elder Justice Hotline can answer your questions, connect you with trained investigators, and help you access aid, support, and justice,” AG Tong said July 19 during the formal unveiling.
Porter said she and others feel the hotline “will make it that much easier for older adults and their families to make connections that support their independence with dignity and respect.”
Reports of suspected abuse, neglect, or exploitation received through the hotline will be referred to the Protective Services for the Elderly program of the Department of Social Services (DSS). DSS social workers investigate reports of elder maltreatment and neglect, including self-neglect, and intervene with services and connections to community partners.
Locally, the Newtown Municipal Agent and at least one Newtown Police Department officer are pleased with the new resource.
Natalie Jackson and Maryhelen McCarthy both spoke with The Newtown Bee concerning the Elder Justice Hotline. Each expressed hope that the state’s new tool will offer another route through which senior citizens can find support and, when needed, protection and/or assistance.
As the Newtown Municipal Agent, one of Jackson’s roles is to ensure that elderly persons in town have an officially appointed representative who is responsible for providing them with information and assistance on services and benefits.
Jackson also serves as Director of Human Services, which includes the Newtown Senior Center under that department’s umbrella.
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) says elder abuse can include physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, neglect, willful deprivation, and abandonment. Perpetrators include children, other family members, and spouses, as well as staff at nursing homes, assisted living, and other facilities.
Unfortunately, the topic is familiar to both women.
“We see elder abuse happening in many ways, from scams, seniors who are no longer able to meet their needs and fall victim to self-neglect, emotional abuse, and control of their actions or finances, to sadly, incidents of physical abuse,” Jackson said July 27.
“Seniors can be very intimidated and embarrassed to have to seek help in these situations,” she continued. “While we see situations of elder abuse, my fear is that there are cases happening out there that we don’t know about. I hope with the creation of the hotline and The Newtown Bee getting information like this article out there, we can continue to empower seniors in these vulnerable situations to come forward.”
Newtown Police Officer McCarthy — who serves as a liaison between the police department, the senior center, and the Center for Support and Wellness in addition to being a patrol officer — said one in ten senior citizens is a victim of elder abuse.
“We get our share of cases, and it’s tough,” she said.
Just a few years ago, Newtown PD got a conviction based in large part due to investigative work by McCarthy in a criminal case involving the abuse of an elderly male relative by a woman who had been entrusted with the man’s care.
“We had a lot of officers working on that case, and we were crushed by that incident,” McCarthy shared.
Shannon Marie Simko was charged in April 2018 with intentional cruelty to persons, a felony; and reckless endangerment in the second degree. She was sentenced to two years probation and two years in jail, suspended after four days served, according to state judicial report.
“That was a pretty serious one,” McCarthy recalled. “We had so many agencies working — protective services, social services, everybody working together for this common goal, and that’s how the arrest was made. That case has been talked about across the state when we go to training.”
For her work on that case and others, McCarthy was honored in October 2018 by the Agency on Aging of South Central Connecticut.
McCarthy continues to keep her focus on some of the more vulnerable residents. She does not want to see another person become victim of financial exploitation, for instance.
“You’ve got nearly 5 million people every year” who have that happen to them, she said last week.
In February, the National Council on Aging released a report that corroborated that statistic and also estimated the annual loss by victims of financial abuse at at least $36.5 billion.
McCarthy understands, she said, the reticence of people of any age to contact the police.
“I encourage people to call the police, but you have a lot of seniors who get embarrassed or afraid of a bad reprisal,” she said July 23. The state hotline, she pointed out, “is not someone who is law enforcement. I would encourage people to use this hotline.”
Jackson agreed with the idea that more people may be happier contacting people outside law enforcement.
Calling it “an incredibly important new resource for seniors,” Jackson said she hopes the Elder Justice Hotline “will help to streamline access to support and will offer a non-threatening and easy way for a senior who may be being victimized to engage help.
“While we hope a senior experiencing any form of abuse, neglect, or exploitation is able to reach out directly to our police department or human resources, I expect this hotline will offer another route in, which will ultimately bring the individual into our local system where we can then provide our local support however most appropriate to help bring resolution and justice.”
Local support includes programs and resources available through The Center for Support and Wellness, at 28 Trades Lane.
McCarthy often points people toward the wellness center, she said.
“It’s important for people to know that CSW does not share their information with us,” she said. While some things must, by mandate, be reported to law enforcement, most information discussed within the walls of CSW stays confidential.
“They are mandated to report some things, as are we,” said McCarthy.
“But there are many things, like the fact you don’t like your daughter, that we don’t care about,” the officer continued. “Our concern right now is the senior person. That’s our main concern. What they share with the wellness center, that stays with them.”
CSW can provide referrals for rides to appointments, help doing taxes, fuel assistance, housing, legal aid, and much more.
“They have all this stuff available and they’re good people,” McCarthy said. “They’re responsible people, and they’re private people.”
Jackson’s office also collaborates with Newtown’s Commission on Aging, she said, to “look for large scale ways to interact and advocate with the senior population in town.”
An Important Tool
DCP Commissioner Michelle H. Seagull called the new hotline “another important tool in the toolbox for state agencies to work together to protect consumers from age-based discrimination in the workplace, scams and frauds targeting older adults, elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.”
Dr Deidre S. Gifford, Department of Social Services commissioner and acting commissioner of the Department of Public Health, said, “Unfortunately, older adults are especially vulnerable to serious maltreatment, including physical, emotional, and even sexual abuse, along with neglect and financial exploitation.
“Our protective services social workers help adults 60 and older by investigating allegations and providing or arranging for services to alleviate and prevent further maltreatment,” Gifford added. “We also provide conservator of person and estate services when vulnerable older adults have no one to care for them or their interests.”
Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner James Rovella noted, “This hotline will help law enforcement, as well as family and friends, protect our most targeted and vulnerable population. Our older populations sometimes have difficulty and fear when they are trying to report that they are a victim. This will be a tremendous help.”
The Office of the Attorney General and the Coalition for Elder Justice in Connecticut have partnered with the following state agencies and organizations to support the hotline: the Department of Banking, Department of Consumer Protection, Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, Department of Public Health, Department of Social Services/Protective Services for the Elderly, Long-Term Care Ombudsman, Police Training Academy, Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, and the State Unit on Aging/Department of Aging and Disability Services.
With the state hotline in its infancy, McCarthy is also asking people to let those at the state and/or local levels know if they have experiences with the new offering.
“We need to know if this does and doesn’t work,” she noted. “If people have problems with the hotline, or if they reach out and don’t find what they want, they’ve got to let us know.
“I see great things possible with this. I hope it’s very successful.”
Associate Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at email@example.com.