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Program Aims To Curtail Elderly Abuse

May 4, 2003 | Santa Cruz Sentinel Commercials raising awareness about one of the most silent forms of abuse will start airing locally this month as part of a campaign launched by the state Attorney General’s Office.

The Santa Cruz/Monterey area is one of six regions to be targeted by the three-year elder abuse campaign, established in 2000 by a bill authored by former Assemblyman Kevin Shelley, D-San Francisco.

The aim of the plan is to teach Californians how to recognize a type of abuse that is significantly underreported, said Hallye Jordan, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office.

"We estimate there are about 225,000 cases of elder and dependent adult abuse a year in the state," she said. "But we believe only one in five of those are actually reported. That’s why we want to raise awareness."

Area residents will soon see TV, radio, newspaper, billboard and bus ads highlighting the issue, Jordan said.

The bilingual campaign will include a toll-free hotline, 1-888-436-3600, so people can call to report suspected cases. The hotline will connect callers to their local adult protective services agency or long-term care ombudsman.

About 600 cases of abuse were reported to Santa Cruz County adult protective services in 2002, said Don Allegri, department director.

Neglect is the most common form of abuse the county sees, he said. Sometimes, the neglect is self-induced by elderly people too frail or unstable to help themselves, he noted.

Financial abuse has seen a steep rise locally over the past few years, he added.

Most recently, abuse in a Watsonville residential care home made headlines. Freedom Manor Administrator Cheryl Ravago allegedly swindled an elderly resident into loaning her $652,000, according to the County Counsel’s Office and state Department of Social Services, which has since moved to revoke the home’s license.

The elderly are often hesitant to report abuse, especially when it comes from a caretaker, Allegri said.

"They don’t want to get that person in trouble," he said.

Many seniors also fear placement in a nursing or residential care home, he said.

"They want to retain their independence even if it’s at the expense of living in a high-risk situation," he said.

Others are embarrassed about the abuse, Jordan said. And with many seniors living in isolated areas, there’s no one to notice it, she said.

The statewide campaign will not be the first time Santa Cruz has seen a push to raise elder abuse awareness. Bus posters advertising the county’s hotline with the slogan, "Elder abuse is getting old" and a picture of an elderly couple have been on streets the past year thanks to county Adult Protective Services, Allegri said.

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