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How to spot signs of, report elder abuse

THE BIRMINGHAM TIMES — Approximately one in 10 older people living in the United States has experienced physical, sexual, psychological or financial abuse or neglect, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse.

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By Holly Gainer

Approximately one in 10 older people living in the United States has experienced physical, sexual, psychological or financial abuse or neglect, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse.

To understand how to keep your elderly loved ones safe, whether in your care or in the care of others, Patricia Speck, DNSc, a board-certified family nurse practitioner who specializes in forensic nursing, family and sexual violence at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing, explains the different types of elder abuse and how to spot signs of and report suspected abuse.

Physical and sexual abuse

Physical abuse is defined as the intentional use of physical force that results in illness, injury, pain or functional impairment.

“Unexplained bruises, cuts, burns and bedsores are signs of physical abuse,” Speck explained. “If you notice sudden changes in behavior, particularly when the suspected abuser is around, that is a sign that you should seek help for your loved one.”

Speck says health care providers should suspect abuse if they see subdural hemorrhages (or bleeding that occurs outside the brain as a result of a head injury) and eye, nose and mouth injuries.

“Nurses should particularly look for signs of intentional injuries, such as contusions of lips, cheeks, soft palate, facial fractures, missing hair, particularly in odd places and not where you would expect to see balding,” Speck said. “Bruising and skin tears in odd places, like the abdomen or under the arm or in the crotch, are also common signs.”

Another common indication of abuse is for people who spend most of their time in wheelchairs.

“If there is injury to an older person who is being restrained in a wheelchair, you would look for friction burns on the abdomen or wrists, different patterns in bruising and skin tears,” Speck said.

The majority of sexual assault cases to older adults are in the community; but many are reported from institutions, and in most cases the perpetrator is known by the victim.

Speck says signs of sexual abuse include unexplained venereal diseases, genital infections, and bleeding and tearing in the genital area. They also include bruises to the buttocks and around the inner and outer thighs.

Psychological abuse

Psychological abuse is one of the most common types of abuse. Suspected signs include unusual changes in behavior or sleep, fear or anxiety, sadness, and isolation.

“Isolation is one of the worst symptoms of psychological abuse,” Speck said. “Many older people who are being abused by a loved one don’t want to tell other people what their son or daughter is doing to them because it is their child. This leaves the victim feeling very alone and depressed.”

Speck says control is a major issue in psychological abuse.

“The abuse could come in the form of scolding, insults and degradation; but it could also be less obvious to see,” Speck said. “For example, if a loved one or caretaker keeps a walker or wheelchair just out of reach of the person so they can’t get up and around. Another example might be withholding glasses or dentures from the patient so they can’t eat or see.”

Common signs of abuse may occur when one notices that the patient is unwilling to communicate when a certain person is in the room or nearby.

“If you suspect abuse and are speaking to the patient as part of an investigation or as a friend or relative who is concerned, and you notice the older person’s behavior changes, that should be a major indicator of abuse,” Speck said. “The problem is that moving an older person from their living environment may be disorienting. It takes time to figure out what happened.”

Financial abuse

Financial abuse is defined as the illegal or impromptu use of an elder’s funds, property or assets. Examples include forging an older person’s signature, coercing an older person into signing documents, such as a contract or will, and the improper use of power of attorney.

Speck says financial abuse is common among seniors, especially those with dementia or cognitive impairment; but despite their mental state, the best thing to do is believe them when they complain of missing funds.

“When an older person complains, believe them and listen to them,” she said. “If a loved one is in an assisted-living facility and complains that things are missing, pay attention to that. It is important to do this until you have evidence to prove otherwise.”

Not listening or disregarding complaints about financial abuse will cause the victim to feel shame for not being believed and will also create fear and skepticism when it comes to reporting future instances of abuse. Providers want to create a trauma-informed safe environment.

Neglect

According to Speck, there are three types of neglect — physical, emotional and self.

“Physical neglect is defined as failing to attend to a person’s medical hygiene, nutrition and dietary needs,” she said. “It may also involve not giving them the medications they’ve been prescribed or not changing their bandages on time.”

Emotional neglect also causes pain and distress.

“We often see emotional neglect when an older person is infantilized by their caregivers,” she said. “Abandonment is also a common problem, where someone is left at an emergency department or the hospital.”

Self-neglect is a growing concern and appears when a person chooses not to be treated by a health care provider. Signs of self-neglect include attempted suicide, withdrawal, anxiety, psychosomatic ailments such as stomachaches and headaches, and difficulty sleeping. The older person may desire to be alone, but social support is so important to the older person’s health.

What to do if you see signs of abuse

As the elderly population continues to grow, understanding the signs and symptoms of abuse is an important way to care for your loved ones. Speck says the best thing to do is to be gentle and listen.

“Older people need you to be patient with them, so be patient and listen twice as long as you speak,” she said.

When communicating with an older person whom you suspect has been abused, make sure the person knows what you are saying. If a document or something they need to read is involved, make sure the letters are large enough so they can read the print.

Also, use trauma-informed care principles of safety and transparency to communicate with them in a place where they feel comfortable, and ask them about their hearing and vision preferences.

“They may not be able to see well in a bright room, or they may be sensitive to loud speech and need you to speak in a slow, calm manner using their language,” Speck said. “Avoid medical-ese. Ask them if they have any difficulties, and offer to help them make the environment safer for them. They will be more cooperative and trust you if you show that you are putting their needs first.”

If you suspect abuse, talk with them when the two of you are alone. Offer to take that person to get help and let them know you are worried about their safety and well-being. Many communities have Coordinated Community Responses to Elder Abuse, with a variety of services for the older person. Be proactive, identify older persons at risk, and participate in the development of Coordinated Community Responses to elder maltreatment. In Alabama, Adult Protective Services supports and enables county departments to protect elderly and disabled adults from abuse, neglect and exploitation and to prevent unnecessary institutionalization.

In Alabama, to report abuse, neglect and exploitation of elders or vulnerable adults:

  • IMMEDIATE DANGER? Call 911 if that person is in immediate, life-threatening danger.
  • Call the HOTLINE at 1-800-458-7214 to report abuse, neglect and exploitation of elders or vulnerable adults when suspicious.
  • For services to support elder persons in your community, call 1-800-677-1116 TO PREVENT, the Eldercare Locator (a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging), to speak with someone who will connect you to services for older adults and their families and prevent abuse, neglect and exploitation of elders or vulnerable adults.

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times

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African American News & Issues

Jobs, Mental Health, Gun Violence: Cal Leaders Discuss Helping Black Men and Boys

Services include criminal record expungement for some marijuana-related crimes; job training and placement help; mental health treatment; addiction services; housing placement and more.

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Young Black Boy Reading a Book, Stock Photo courtesy of California Black Media

The California Assembly’s Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color held a meeting last month that brought legislators face-to-face with community organizers to discuss investing in African American and other youth of color in a “post-pandemic California.”

Introducing the various panelists, committee chair Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), who is a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, spoke about the bipartisan nature of the committee’s goals.

He said people from different backgrounds and political perspectives reach agreement when talking about the plight of youth of color because their conversations are based on hard numbers.

In California, per capita, Black men and boys are incarcerated more than any other group; are unhoused more than any other group; are affected by gun violence more than any other group; and in public schools, Black children’s standardized test scores fall only above children with disabilities.

“One of the things that brings both sides of the aisle together is data. What we would like to see is either internal audits or accountability measures to show that your numbers are not only successful but you’re keeping data over a period of time showing your success rate,” Jones-Sawyer said.

Committee vice-chair Assemblymember Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), a Republican, agreed with this assertion.

“I am looking forward to the instruction that we’re going to get today,” Lackey said. “This is a part of our population that deserves the attention and a much stronger effort than has been displayed in the past.”

The first topic discussed during this meeting was gun violence, as panelists towed the line between cracking down on gun violence and preventing the over-policing of communities of color.

“How can we do this without returning to a punitive approach that grows the prisons, the jails and the criminalization of our community without achieving the public safety we so desire,” asked the Rev. Michael McBride who is known in the Bay Area as “Pastor Mike.” McBride is a social justice advocate and the national director for Urban Strategies/LIVE FREE Campaign with the Faith in Action Network.

The meeting was an opportunity for participants representing community-based organizations to share ideas with legislators with the hope of influencing their decision-making.

As of 2019, California had the seventh-lowest firearm mortality rate in the country. But with the state’s large population of almost 40 million people – the largest in the country — that still equated to 2,945 deaths that year.

“As everyone knows, there are probably too many guns in too many people’s hands who should never probably ever have guns,” Jones-Sawyer said.

Jones-Sawyer addressed the racial element of victims of gun violence in America.

“Many of those individuals were Latino and African American so it behooves us that post-pandemic, we need to figure out what we’re doing, what we need to do if we want to protect our boys and men of color,” Jones-Sawyer said.

He also offered up part of a solution.

“This year we need to infuse the California Violence Intervention and Prevention grant program (CalVIP) with a large sum. We did put in money for a large sum to fund the work that we so desperately need to get not only guns off the street but out of the hands of people who should not have them.”

The second topic on the agenda was post-pandemic mental health care.

Le Ondra Clark Harvey, chief executive officer of the California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies, spoke on the intersectional nature of mental health issues in communities of color.

“Historically, Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) communities’ mental health and substance abuse disorder services have been impacted by several factors including access to treatment, cultural beliefs and stigma,” she said.

Largely, Clark Harvey said mental health treatment for BIPOC people has not been preventative.

“When BIPOC individuals do seek help, it tends to be at a time of crisis; at an emergency room, a psychiatric hospital or due to some type of interaction with law enforcement,” Harvey said.

She also spoke about the increase in opioid use, suicide and calls to crisis hotlines for boys and men of color.

Two of the programs in California mentioned during the meeting that are making headway on mental health problems facing Black men and boys are COVID-19 Black, an organization dedicated to lessening the effects the pandemic has had on the Black community, and Strong Family Home Visiting Program, a Los Angeles County-based program that provides in-home family support services.

Wraparound service approaches to care were also discussed as a way to shift “focus away from a traditional service-driven, problem-based approach to care and instead follows a strengths-based, needs-driven approach,” according to the California Department of Social Services.

The last topic of discussion was on career pathways and building generational wealth for communities of color.

Tara Lynn Gray, director of the California Office of the Small Business Advocate, highlighted that most of the disparities in communities of color can be traced to economics.

“Some of the challenges facing boys and men of color stem from economic challenges in their communities and lack of investment for years prior to this administration,” Gray said.

“The pandemic induced economic hardships that we’ve experienced have exacerbated those issues with many businesses closing their doors and roughly 40% of Black and Latinx businesses closed,” Gray continued.

Gray claimed that it is not all doom and gloom, however, as she mentioned what the state has done to assuage these disparities.

“The good news about the challenges we have seen is that our leadership, both in the administration and in the Legislature, have created access to programs, resources and financial assistance for small businesses to help with economic recovery and make an impact on some of the challenges facing boys and men of color,” Gray said.

Gray also spoke about investing in business opportunities for the formerly incarcerated.

Through the California Reinvestment Grant Program CalCRG, for example, the state has been directly funding community-based organizations across California to expand job and re-entry programs for Black and other men of color who were impacted by the “War on Drugs.”

Services include criminal record expungement for some marijuana-related crimes; job training and placement help; mental health treatment; addiction services; housing placement and more.

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Crime

State Bill Reining in Rogue Police Officers Passes; Zero-Bail Bill Paused After Tragic Murder

Senate Bill (SB) 262, a bail reform bill that would have established $0 bail for some offenders, was stopped in its tracks following a grisly murder in Northern California but Senate Bill (SB) 2 and Assembly Bill (AB) 333 have both passed significant milestones on their paths to becoming law.

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Legislation Stock Photo Courtesy of California Black Media

Over the last two weeks, it has been a mixed bag of wins and losses for bills concerned with the rights of people interacting with the criminal justice system.

A bill concerned with criminal justice reform is SB 2. The state Senate approved it on September 8 with a 28-9 vote.

It calls for barring police officers who have been fired for misconduct or charged with one of a set of specific crimes from being hired in another jurisdiction in California.

Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), one of the authors of SB 2, celebrated the bill’s passing on the Senate floor.

“This is a major victory for advocates of public safety,” Bradford said. “California, and the nation as a whole, have experienced tragedy after tragedy where consequences for egregious abuses of power went unpunished and cries for accountability went unanswered — eroding public trust in law enforcement.”

“This bill is the first of its kind in California and we finally join the 46 other states with processes for the decertification of bad officers,” continued Bradford.  “SB 2 establishes a fair and balanced way to hold officers who break the public trust accountable for their actions and not simply move to a new department. This could not have been achieved without the support of many legislators, community organizations, families, and entertainers who advocated non-stop for accountability in our policing system.”

Bradford went on to explain other benefits of SB 2 as he sees it.

“The bill will create a strong and effective method for California to remove bad officers in a fair and reasonable manner. Police have one of the most difficult jobs on the planet. A decertification system puts California back on track to restoring communities’ faith in men and women of uniform who do their job well,” Bradford continued.

Senate Bill (SB) 262, a bail reform bill that would have established $0 bail for some offenders, was stopped in its tracks following a grisly murder in Northern California but Senate Bill (SB) 2 and Assembly Bill (AB) 333 have both passed significant milestones on their paths to becoming law.

In Sacramento, Troy Davis, 51, a repeat offender released on zero bail, allegedly raped and murdered a woman before setting her house on fire, killing her dogs as well.

Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reiseg expressed his outrage over the murder and blasted the leniency supported in bills like SB 262 that he believes is partially to blame for crimes like that.

“This horrific crime could have been avoided. He should have never been released on zero bail. Bail reform is appropriate as long as judges always have discretion to hold violent criminals in custody. When ‘reforms’ go too far, this is the nightmare. God rest her soul.” Reiseg wrote on Facebook.

Assemblymember Jim Cooper (D-Sacramento), who is a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, also expressed his outrage.

“This is not an isolated incident,” he tweeted. “Violent felons are released daily, terrorizing our communities because of CA’s soft on crime laws. I will continue to fight this madness and all other bills that prioritize protecting criminals instead of victims.”

The zero-bail measure was implemented by California’s Judicial Council in April last year as an emergency rule, but voters overturned it as Proposition 25, a statewide ballot initiative, in last November’s general election.

SB 262 has been amended to give judges discretion based on risk assessment, similar to SB 10 in 2018, but it is still facing backlash.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), author of SB 10 and SB 262, told the Associated Press that his colleagues reached out to him to express concern after the murder in Sacramento.

Hertzberg took to Twitter to address the heinous crime.

“I’m heartbroken and angered by the heinous murder of a Sacramento woman this past weekend. The parolee who did this should have never been released back to the community,” Hertzberg tweeted.

Hertzberg went on to suggest that SB 262 might have helped avoid this crime.

“The Safe and Resilient Communities Act could have prevented this crime from happening in the first place. #SB262 requires the Judicial Council to establish statewide standards for bail amounts, meaning counties will no longer be able to operate zero bail policies,” he wrote.

Hertzberg announced that he will be postponing SB 262 and hopes it will be taken up by the state Legislature next year.

“Earlier this year, the State Supreme Court ruled that California’s cash bail system is unconstitutional. SB 262 simply provided a framework for the state to implement this ruling. Don’t get me wrong: we’re not done with bail – not even close,” he tweeted.

Another criminal justice reform bill that made headlines last week was AB 333, authored by California State Senator Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles).

AB 333 would reduce “the list of crimes that allow gang enhancements to be charged, prohibiting the use of the current charge as proof of a ‘pattern’ of criminal gang activity, and separating gang allegations from underlying charges at trial,” according to a press release from Kamlager’s office.

Gang enhancements are additional prison sentences prescribed to individuals who are alleged to be associated with a criminal street gang.

As of August 2019, about 92% of adults in California with gang enhancement charges in state prisons are either Black or Latino, according to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) data.

Kamlager asserted that her bill is a law-and-order bill.

“At the heart of AB 333 is due process,” Kamlager said, “AB 333 just asks for the charges to be proven when they’re levied against someone. Right now, our system allows a shaved head, tattoos, or even the color of your grandma’s house as reason to be charged with a gang enhancement. That’s antithetical to how our judicial process should operate, and I am glad we are one step closer to a fix.”

AB 333 passed in the state Senate with a vote of 25-10 and on September 8 the Assembly approved it as well with a 41-30 vote.

Criminal justice reform is a complicated and nuanced undertaking that crisscrosses well established fault lines concerning public safety, criminal justice, racial equity, human dignity, and personal freedom. These bills are no exception.

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City Government

Price for DA Campaign Says Alameda County DA’s Office Emails Reveal Prosecutor Misconduct, Corruption, Campaign Violations

After a review of the 230 pages of emails, the Sutton Law Firm, election and political law specialists, confirmed that the level of criminal activity by prosecutors was serious and warranted the filing of complaints with the Attorney General and the FPPC.

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Pamela Price Speaking at a Protest for DA Misconduct; Photo courtesy of Gene Hazzard

In April, a public records request was filed with the Alameda County District Attorney’s Clerk of Records for all emails relating to “Pamela Price” from 2017-2021.

This summer, the DA’s office turned over 230 pages of emails which exposed a concerted and seemingly deliberate effort within the DA’s office to collude with police unions across California and take down Nancy O’Malley’s opponent in the 2018 election.

Numerous violations of civil, criminal and campaign finance laws were found, as well as a continuing pattern of misconduct by deputies and O’Malley’s top employees into the 2022 race.

“I was shocked,” said civil rights attorney Pamela Price, who is again running for District Attorney.

“During the 2018 campaign, we could only see the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “We knew they were colluding with the police associations, but It is shameful to see the extent of the misconduct and corruption in the DA’s office. At least one of these offenses is a felony. We all deserve better from people specifically hired to prosecute illegal activity. That is why I am running for DA. It is past time for change.”

After a review of the 230 pages of emails, the Sutton Law Firm, election and political law specialists, confirmed that the level of criminal activity by prosecutors was serious and warranted the filing of complaints with the Attorney General and the FPPC.

Some of the recurring violations constitute felonies and include:

  • Using County email accounts to solicit campaign contributions to pay for “hit pieces” against Price in violation of California Government Code Sections 82031, 8314 and 54964 and Penal Code Section 424;
  • Using County email accounts to spy and report on the Price campaign in violation of California Government Code Sections 8314 and 54964;
  • Using County email accounts to solicit volunteers to support O’Malley in violation of California Penal Code Section 424 and Government Code Sections 8314 and 54964.

“When we were approached about looking at the emails, I expected to see a couple of people breaking the rules of conduct,” said James Sutton, the principal attorney at the Sutton Law Firm. “I never thought that the misconduct would be so widespread within the office.”

The Sutton firm has delivered a letter to both O’Malley and Attorney General Rob Bonta, urging the Attorney General to investigate the use of the DA’s office for partisan campaigning and fundraising purposes. The letter further calls on Bonta to begin immediate review of how police unions are coercing influence within the DA’s office. In addition, a second complaint has been submitted to the Fair Political Practices Commission for its investigation.

“No one is above the law, especially not the District Attorney. I am running for DA to clean up this type of corruption and prosecutorial misconduct,” said Price. “It is about creating an office free of politics as usual and conflicts of personal interest. We must restore public trust and accountability to the DA’s office.”

“It is vital that taxpayer driven services are not being used to bolster and promote political campaigns, particularly using office resources, time and staff to run a campaign,” said Cathy Leonard of the Coalition for Police Accountability.

“Last year, the Minnesota State Attorney (Keith Ellison) stepped in to take on the work of reviewing George Floyd’s death. This action was the linchpin that led to true accountability.  The public had simply lost faith in their local justice system,” stated Hon. Victor Aguilar of the San Leandro City Council.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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