Sometimes any number over zero feels like too much. That's the feeling our Panama City elder abuse law firm had when we read a recent story on WJGH about the extent of elder abuse in our region. This is an issue that our community must talk about. We are glad to see it garnering attention in the local press, but we remain disturbed by the statistics in the article because we understand that a real victim lies behind each and every report of elder abuse in our Northern Florida communities.
On Friday June 15, a number of local agencies gathered to talk about the issue of elder abuse. The Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence helped to organize the event observing National Elder Abuse Awareness Day, held in downtown Panama City at the St. Andrews Tower retirement home. Coalition members include the Florida Department of Children and Families, Bay County Sheriff's Office, the Salvation Army, and other organizations. Approximately 30 vendors participated in the event to offer information about elderly issues and services to help seniors in our community. The event offered blood pressure testing, hearing checks, and information about vision changes in older people.
In addition to these health screenings, the event also provided an opportunity to discuss the problem of elder abuse. The day included a speech by Sheriff McKeithen about the new domestic violence unit's mission to hold perpetrators of abuse accountable while helping victims regain hope and access resources to help them build a safer home. Event organizers also educated attendees on how to recognize elder abuse, how to report suspected abuse to authorities, and how to proactively work to prevent elder abuse and neglect.
According to WJGH's report, elder abuse is often unrecognized. Estimates suggest it impacts over 10% of the elderly population nationwide. Last year alone saw more than 3,000 reports of elder abuse and exploitation in Florida's 1st and 14th Judicial Districts, representing the area from Pensacola to the Appalachian River. Breaking down the analysis by county, from most reports to fewest, reveal the following number of reports in Panhandle counties: Bay - 659; Okaloosa - 374; Jackson - 283; Walton -141; Washington - 89; Holmes - 74; Calhoun - 45; and Gulf - 38.
Too often, elder abuse goes unnoticed or unreported. Seniors may feel too embarrassed to speak up, especially when the abuse or neglect is at the hands of someone they believed they could trust. In other cases, the abuser isolates the victim from people who might notice and speak up about the situation. If you suspect an elderly or disabled member of our community is the victim of abuse, neglect, or exploitation, contact the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-962-2873. You should also contact an attorney who has experience with cases of elder abuse in Panama City and throughout the North Florida region.
C. Wes Pittman has practiced law since earning his J.D. from The University of Florida in 1976. The Pittman Firm serves injured individuals in the Panama City area and surrounding communities. Please call for a free consultation. Most injury cases are handled on a contingency basis, meaning we only get paid if we successfully help you receive compensation for your injuries.