The statistics are distressing.
Each year, an estimated one in 10 older adults experiences at least one form of abuse, according to the National Council on Aging.
More than 60% of elder care workers self-reported that they abused those in their care.
And elder abuse advocates report that abuse rates increased as much as tenfold during the pandemic, in part due to social isolation.
Sacred Spaces, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that partners with Jewish institutions nationwide to prevent and respond to sexual abuse and other abuses of power, is now developing resources to help organizations be better prepared to prevent and respond to elder abuse.
Listening sessions are being planned by Sacred Spaces this summer to collect opinions on how to improve knowledge, skills and resources to help prevent and respond to elder abuse in Jewish communities. They’re eyeing “Jewish community members aged 65 and older, rabbis, those working at Jewish social service agencies, JCCs, Jewish nursing homes staff, and those working in Jewish organizations that interact or develop programming for elders,” officials said.
“In Leviticus 19:32 we are told, ‘You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old (mipnei sevah takum, v’hadarta p’nei zaken),’” Shira Berkovits, Sacred Spaces’ president and CEO, told the Chronicle. “It is not enough to stand when an elder enters the room, or offer our seats on the bus. To live these Torah words, we must examine our communal and institutional practices, ensuring that our programs and all interactions, communicate the utmost respect for elders’ agency, self-determination, and for their opinions, wisdom, wishes and needs.”
During the coming year, thanks to support from The Sephardic Foundation on Aging, Sacred Spaces will develop resources for Jewish organizations to build their capacity to identify and respond to elder abuse. The work is being done in collaboration with Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership Against Domestic Violence, as well as ElderSAFE Center, a program of Hebrew Home of Greater Washington/Charles E. Smith Life Communities.
Initial support from The Sephardic Foundation on Aging funded Sacred Spaces’ development of three distinct COVID-19 and elder abuse prevention resources: one for community groups, one for long-term care and medical facilities, and one for family members and caretakers. More than 400 individuals and organizations accessed these resources.
There’s a long way to go, according to Sacred Spaces.
“In recent years, both child abuse and workplace harassment and discrimination have received increasing attention in the media and in institutional policies,” Berkovits said, “but we are lagging far behind in the area of elder abuse or elder justice.”
Southwestern Pennsylvania is no stranger to elder abuse.
There were 11,675 calls to Allegheny County’s Older Adult Protective Services hotline in 2020, and staff took 5,895 reports of need, county records showed. Based on those numbers, there were 3,201 investigations and 1,470 substantiated claims resulting in action plans.
“It is critical to continue and even to increase our work to protect older adults from all forms of abuse, neglect or abandonment,” said Dr. Shannah Tharp Gilliam, administrator for the Allegheny County Area Agency on Aging. “As the prevalence increases, we must also increase our vigilance. There is a great need for education, workers and volunteers. Our goal is to reach those who have not had the opportunity yet but have either a need for our services or a heart for healing and help.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.