HELP LINE: If something wrong is happening, report it

WHAT I’M GOING to go on about today is not a happy topic: It’s about abuse, exploitation and neglect.

If you’re just not in the mood for that right now, I completely understand, but please set this column aside somewhere that you can actually find it because while it isn’t happy, it is very important.

Still there? Thank you.

The most important things you’re going to read here today are two phone numbers. Please keep them where you can actually find them: 877-734-6277 or (TTY) 360-664-9469.

Those are the phone numbers for Adult Protective Services (APS).

It’s APS’s job to “receive and investigate allegations of abuse (physical, mental, sexual and personal exploitation), abandonment, neglect, financial exploitation and self-neglect of vulnerable adults living in their own homes and in facilities.”

The next logical question is, “Who is a ‘vulnerable adult’?”

That phrase is defined as anyone 60 or older who lacks the mental, functional or physical ability to care for themselves.

It also includes folks who have a guardian, a developmental disability, reside in a facility or receive services in their own homes (e.g., home care, home health care, hospice, etc.), including privately paid help.

I told you this wasn’t going to be a happy topic.

Does this happen a lot, in our little corner of the universe?

No, but it does happen, and most of us have heard the horror stories. And the horror stories are true.

And, as more and more of us are refusing to die on schedule and getting whatever help we might need at home (which is exactly what most of us want, if we need any help), there are more and more of us who could be “vulnerable,” and most of us know someone who could qualify.

Now, we’re not talking about someone who made some life decision that strikes us as stupid — that’s been going on as long as we’ve been on the planet (and, by the way, feel free to reflect upon some of your own decisions as I’m reflecting upon some of mine) — or who’s moving a little slower than they used to or hires someone to paint the ceiling (as opposed to doing it themselves) or who (for whatever deluded reason) doesn’t happen to agree with us about something.

We’re talking about folks whose ability to manage their own lives is honestly impaired — for whatever reason — and things are not going well.

How would you know?

Well, you might not know, but you might see things like a sudden change in normal personality or obvious neglect of hygiene, clothing, home, foot, etc., or (God help us) bruises or sudden weight loss.

Or maybe there’s suddenly a new person on the scene who seems to be running the show. Maybe the person is being kept from normal activities or social events or regular appointments (e.g., doctor appointments), or somebody else seems to be making the financial decisions or draining bank accounts.

It isn’t rocket science, and you don’t have to be a trained clinician to have a bad feeling about something; you just need to be a normal person who’s paying attention.

And you need to care.

You need to care enough to call one of those numbers that I gave you above.

You don’t have to be “right” and you don’t have to be able to “prove” anything; you just have to be reporting in “good faith,” and you’re automatically immune from liability.

They’ll ask you for your name and contact information, which will be kept confidential.

They’ll ask you for the same information for the person you’re concerned about and anyone you think might be causing harm. Just give them what you have (or suspect), then tell them what you know or saw or suspect or heard or whatever. And let them do their job.

If you think someone is being harmed right now, call the police. And worry about APS later.

APS will attempt to make an unannounced visit to see what’s going on, and believe me they’ll call the cops in a heartbeat if they think that’s necessary.

I thought I was going to be able to cover this unhappy topic in one column, but I was wrong, so we’ll pick it up next week.

For now, please do me a favor: Keep those phone numbers I gave you in a place where you can actually find them, and consider the difference between being a nosey busybody and being our brothers’ “keeper.”

Most of us know the difference most of the time. And if you’re wrong?

You don’t have to be right. You just need to care.

________

Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information &Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing harvemb@dshs.wa.gov.

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