Five million senior Americans suffer some kind of abuse from family members or caregivers each year. And that number is growing, according to Tovah Kasdin, an expert on domestic violence. “Elder abuse is a growing problem as the population ages,” she said. “But it’s a problem that does not fit so neatly into domestic abuse. That’s created a gap in services.” To fill in that gap and meet the short-term needs of seniors who are being abused, the Charles E. Smith Life Communities, which operates several senior living facilities on its Rockville campus, will open on Sept. 18 the ElderSAFE Center, a shelter with Kasdin as director.
Elder abuse can take several forms – physical, psychological and financial. ElderSAFE will not operate a freestanding shelter. Rather, it will offer temporary safe housing within the Charles E. Smith campus. The length of stay will be determined by the client’s health and situation once leaving the center. The length of stay will depend on the client’s needs. “Someone’s short-term stay could be 30 days. They could stay three months,” she said. The center will also follow clients for “the next few months” after they are discharged “to help the client return to a stable and hopefully abuse-free environment.” The center will not admit individuals calling for help. Instead, potential clients will be referred to the center by area agencies – secular, Jewish and from other faith communities.
A social worker will be hired to screen calls and do intake. In an immediate emergency, callers are advised to call Adult Protective Services or 911, Kasdin said. The center is funded by grants from Montgomery County and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, which supports a center for elder abuse prevention in Riverdale, N.Y., on which ElderSAFE is modeled. Funding also comes from the Charles E. Smith Life Communities. Services will include counseling, medical and psychological services and legal referrals.
The center has partnered with a half-dozen government and nonprofit agencies concerned with health, aging and abuse. ElderSAFE will mark its opening with a gathering of these partner agencies. “It’s not just a shelter,” Kasdin said. “It’s part of a community response.” Kasdin comes to the center with a background in domestic violence law. She is a former prosecutor with the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office handling domestic violence cases.
She is president of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence. Kasdin said that she is already getting inquiries about the services the center will offer. “My phone has been ringing off the hook.
People have been calling me, wanting to know about it.” She said she has to tell people that the center will be able to handle only a relatively small number of people who fit narrow criteria: They must be age 60 and older and be experiencing at least one type of abuse.
And while the number of abused is great, another statistic causes her to worry more: according to a report funded by the U.S. Department of Justice with support from the Department of Health and Human Services, only one in 24 cases of elder abuse is reported to the authorities.