We believe, whole-heartedly, that the answer is "Yes." We couldn't do our work otherwise. The question is one posed by the writers of Salon.com and The Crime Report - "Can elder abuse be stopped?" We believe it can be, but we know that it will require widespread efforts from law enforcement, medical personnel, courts, and individuals. We are proud that our Panama City elder abuse law firm is part of this effort. On the day after we celebrated our mothers, we wanted to bring you news about an effort that may prove promising as we work to reverse the rising tide of elder abuse.
Americans over age 65 represent the fastest growing demographic in the U.S., a statistic that opens The Crime Report's article on elder abuse. The threat of abuse targeting this growing senior population is wide-ranging, including physical mistreatment, financial fraud, neglect, and sexual abuse. Experts in many fields agree that too little is being done to put a stop to elder abuse, a problem that one expert called "the dirty little secret no one wants to talk about."
One of the most cited obstacles in the fights against elder abuse is the lack of coordination amongst law enforcement, social services, medical practitioners, and other groups working to address the problem. In 2003, the first of what is now a small handful of "elder abuse forensics centers" opened at University of California Irvine, with the goal of bringing together groups that have previously battled the problem separately.
Attorney Belle Chen, a prosecutor who oversees the elder abuse unit for the Los Angeles DA's office and who works with the Los Angeles County Elder Abuse Forensic Center, notes that collaboration helps the group develop strategies and a more focused approach for elder abuse cases. Currently, there are three forensics centers in California, two in New York, and one in Texas.
The collaborative approach touted by the centers appears to be working. A study published in the May 2012 edition of The Gerontologist found that the center based out of the University of Southern California helped spark an 8-fold increase in financial elder abuse prosecutions undertaken by the Los Angeles district attorney's office between April 2007 and December 2009. Dr. Diana Homeier, the USC-based center's director, calls this a natural outgrowth of the collaborative approach. She reports that, when she began her gerontology practice 13 years ago, she quickly noticed the lack of communication among the various agencies and interest groups helping the elderly.
In contrast, the collaborative forensics center model allows professionals to gain insight from other fields and allows them to work in concert on the shared goal of stopping elder abuse. Dr. Homeier notes: "The model is on the cutting edge. It's a whole new way of looking at elder abuse cases." This view is echoed by Risa Breckman, executive director for the New York City-based center, who adds that the groups can provide a more robust response to cases as experts work to examine them more thoroughly and efficiently, with each partner bringing a distinct perspective on the issues.
Our legal team, led by Attorney Wes Pittman, understands the importance of collaboration. We are working to bring an end to elder abuse through education and by serving as a law firm for Panama City elder abuse victims. Throughout all areas of our legal practice, we work with doctors, law enforcement, and subject-area experts to analyze evidence and, where attempts at pre-trial resolution proves unsuccessful, present information to juries.
In addition to providing redress for our specific client and removing him or her from an abusive situation, individual cases have a broader impact by: 1) making people take notice, including of situations where the abuse is actually the unintentional result of an overburdened family caretaker; 2) prompting changes in policy and procedure that protects others in the same nursing home or other care center as the named victim in the case, and; 3) helping encourage a related criminal prosecution that removes a wrongdoer from an authority role (or, in appropriate circumstances, from society as a whole).
If you or a loved one is the victim of elder abuse in Northwest Florida, please call our office so we can discuss the specific circumstances impacting you or your loved one and begin crafting a plan to get justice. Additionally, please visit the Florida Department of Elder Affairs for further information on reporting elder abuse in Florida.