A once-small group that Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo started to confront elder abuse is about to unleash an arsenal of resources to help educate Minnesotans about the problem.
With nearly $50,000 in donations, Minnesota SAFE Elders has created a tool kit that includes a video and training materials that it will provide free to interested groups; it is expected out next month. The group also developed an app for first responders to guide them through such cases and a community resource list they can immediately offer to victims.
Another piece of the initiative is a “prosecutor’s trial notebook,” a collection of abuse cases that attorneys can use as a reference when developing their own cases. A statewide help number and website also will be available.
Minnesota SAFE Elders, which grew out of the group that first met in 2011, now includes county attorneys and others from across the state. The SAFE stands for Stop Abuse and Financial Exploitation.
While the topic of crimes and neglect against seniors has been examined by various groups over the years, Palumbo is excited because this program can systemically reach a statewide audience with practical information that will increase awareness while putting more perpetrators in jail.
Palumbo compared the scenarios surrounding the growing numbers of victims to the attention that child abuse cases first received decades ago.
“Nobody really wanted to talk about it,” he said. “People would say it wasn’t their business.”
Most cases that are referred to Palumbo’s office involve financial exploitation, such as a relative receiving permission to be in charge of someone’s money and then spending it on him- or herself. In one case in Anoka County, a couple of strangers persuaded a 78-year-old man with dementia whom they met in a parking lot to buy items for them, including a Hummer vehicle.
Video to air frequently
The video will be a combination of victims’ survival stories and comments from people who work in the field, said Palumbo. It was produced by Twin Cities Public Television and will be shown on its website and channel several times a year. It will be available to any group, such as banks, social agencies, city and county officials and civic organizations.
The app will be for first responders to potential abuse situations. It explains abuse laws, describes how different bruises occur, helps personnel ask the right questions to prepare more complete reports and lists community resources.
Palumbo said he’s already seen an uptick in cases presented to his office from the county’s adult protective services, which has participated in the program’s monthly conference calls in the past two years. Only two cases were referred 10 years ago, but his office received more than 30 since the program started, Palumbo said.
He speculated on why such crimes are on the rise. The United States has the richest middle class in history because many people were born in the Depression era, saved their money and sold houses at a substantial profit. The recent bad economy, lack of jobs or a divorce have sent children or relatives living with older parents, he said. The average age of the country’s population is also increasing, he said.
There can be a fine line between exploitation or a parent just helping out with a loan. But if the loan request comes every month, then it may be criminal, said Palumbo.
“You wonder how you do this to somebody you care about,” he said. “But I’ve heard people say they deserved the money because they were taking care of the parent or the money was coming their way eventually.”