In 2021, the Office of Attorney General William Tong created the Elder Justice Hotline as a go-to support to report abuse and connect with the necessary financial, criminal or social services to help with the situation. Since launching, the hotline has been used to find resources for hundreds of Connecticut seniors experiencing elder abuse.
Nationwide, an estimated 10% of adults 60 and older will experience one or more forms of elder abuse in a given year nationwide, according to the federal Department of Justice. Audrey Grove, director of CareConnect Navigator at Masonicare, explained that elder abuse is a widespread injustice that "could come in many ways" but continues to be underreported.
"They say for a child it takes a village... being older is no different except that maybe you need even more [support]," Grove said. "And to know that there is somebody they could call that knows what they're going through and can listen to them then answer their questions and make connections with state resources, federal resources, local resources or other not-for-profits."What is elder abuse?
According to the Department of Justice, elder abuse includes caregiver neglect, financial exploitation and psychological, sexual or physical abuse. Seniors may experience one or more of these abuses. They also found that the trauma related to elder issues ranges from increased chance of mortality to financial loss to disruptions in relationships.
Grove explained that the most common form, however, are frauds and scams. She explained that scammers prey on seniors because they are often isolated and looking for connections. In addition, seniors often have a different Internet safety awareness than younger generations.
For example, romance scams typically involve the scammer fostering a friendship or relationship with a senior before asking for money. These relationships usually occur over the internet and Grove said that most only realize they're being exploited after it's too late.
"These romance scams hook people in on such a personal level that by the time they figure it out, they might have already lost thousands of dollars," she said.
Another type of scam preys on fear, Grove added.
Some seniors have received phone calls from scammers claiming to be first responders who tell them that their loved one was arrested, in a severe accident or killed. The scammers then ask the senior to send money to them to cover bail, hospital bills or funeral costs, respectively. These types of scams leave behind psychological scars.
Grove said she had been chatting by the front desk when a Masonicare client rushed up looking for a ride to the bank. The senior explained that she received a call from a Tennessee police officer who had arrested her son. The "officer" then demanded $4,000 to post bail. Grove immediately recognized the demand as a scam and calmed her.
"They're preying on the fear factor. You're going for the jugular of what is going to frighten people the most and what is that? Their family," Grove said. How does the hotline work?
Although many resources and services are available to address elder abuse, Tong said many Connecticut seniors don't know who to call when they need help.
He explained that they established the Elder Justice Hotline as a "one-stop shop" for seniors looking to ask questions about resources or looking to report abuse. Tong estimated that the hotline receives 70 calls a week, most relating to issues with housing, health insurance and navigating state agencies.
For example, Tong said hotline operators could immediately connect callers with the Department of Social Services regarding issues with housing and food insecurities.
In cases of physical and sexual abuse, the operators will connect with local criminal authorities and private legal counselors.
"This hotline will help law enforcement, as well as family and friends, protect our most targeted and vulnerable population. Our older populations sometimes have difficulty and fear when they are trying to report that they are a victim. This will be a tremendous help," said James Rovella, the commissioner for the state department of emergency services and public protection, in the press release announcing the hotline.
Tong added that by connecting the caller with a staff member rather than an automated message, callers could express their concerns and confusion in a non-judgemental space. In addition, he explained that having a hotline is helpful for seniors with limited Internet access or capabilities.
He added that hotline operators will follow up on the caller to ensure that their issue is resolved.
"We provide this resource so that people aren't alone. They have someplace to turn and can get someone in the Attorney General's office to focus on their issues personally," Tong said.
The Elder Justice Hotline can be reached at 1(860) 808-5555.
Health Equity reporter Cris Villalonga-Vivoni is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Support RFA reporters at the Record-Journal through a donation at https://bit.ly/3Pdb0re. To learn more about RFA, visit www.reportforamerica.org.