THIS WEEK, LIKE last week, I want to begin with the most important things I’m going to say: 1-877-734-6277 or (TTY) 360-664-9469.
Those are the phone numbers we can use to report to Adult Protective Services (APS).
What would we report?
Anything we might suspect constitutes abuse (physical, mental, sexual or personal exploitation), abandonment, neglect, financial exploitation and/or self-neglect of a vulnerable adult.
Who is a vulnerable adult?
Anyone 60 or older who lacks the ability to care for themselves (for whatever reason), has a legal guardian, has a developmental disability, resides in a facility or who receives any kind of care in their homes, such as homecare, home health, hospice, etc. This includes private pay.
If you think harm is happening to someone right now, call the police right now and worry about APS later.
Yes, your confidentiality will be protected and yes, you’ll be immune from liability if you’re reporting in good faith.
You don’t have to be right and you don’t have to be able to prove anything.
You just have to care.
That gets us to today.
So, what will APS actually do?
They’ll attempt to make an unannounced visit, to try to see what’s actually going on. And they won’t hesitate to call the police if they think that’s what needs to happen.
They’ll talk with the person in question, trying to understand what’s going on.
And they’ll look, listen, smell and … they might talk with (and listen to) anyone else who seems to be on the scene, trying to figure out what’s actually going on and whether this vulnerable adult actually needs help.
So, let’s say that the person does seem to need help, but there isn’t any imminent or immediate harm or danger or any evidence of actual illegal activity, what then? (This is the hard part for many of us.)
They’ll sit down with that person and offer help, whatever that help might look like.
Most of us have heard of Child Protective Services (CPS) and some of the horror stories those folks run into (and they’re true).
We’ve heard of CPS actually removing the child from the home.
So, we hear APS and we reasonably assume the same.
But we’re wrong: The person in question has to consent to any services, before any services can happen.
Think about it: Because they haven’t forfeited their civil rights — their right to make their own decisions, whether we like them or not — just because they happen to be vulnerable.
Still having trouble with it? (I’ve been there, too.)
Imagine if it were you: Would you want somebody charging into your life and deciding where you can live, what you can do, who you can have in your life or … right.
It gets dicey.
Certainly, APS has the ability and the responsibility to file for a guardianship if the person is just clearly unable to function and there’s no other way.
Often people do consent to help and often APS will work with law enforcement to solve a problem, and sometimes just being on the scene is enough to make bad guys go away or knock it off.
But sometimes nothing happens because the person won’t allow anything to happen and they can still call their own shots.
Yes, it can be frustrating and yes, it can be heartbreaking.
But we cared enough to try.
I want to insert a word to caregivers, and we know who we are: We’re folks who are taking care of someone who needs to be taken care of whether they like it or not.
The toughest work
It is, in my opinion, the toughest work there is; especially if it’s 24/7, 365 days.
It just goes on and on. It never stops.
We can never do enough or do it well enough and often we know darned good and well that it’s not going to get any better.
And today looks just like yesterday that looks just like tomorrow and it goes on and on.
We’re human, and once in a great while, we lose it: Maybe we raise our voices or even holler, or maybe we drop a tray or slam a door, or maybe we say something we know is stupid, like, “What’s the matter with you?”
We didn’t mean to. It all just caved in on us and we lost it.
Do I think that’s OK?
No, and neither do you, but do I think it’s abuse?
No, I don’t.
Now if someone is hurting someone or depriving them of things or neglecting them I’ll be the first one to call APS, and I’ll do it so fast, it’ll be scary.
But most of the time, all you’ve done is qualify as a human being, so learn from it, think about getting some help for yourself (yes, I might be able to help) and move on.
Many of us have heard the phrase mandated reporters which means that when folks who, because of their profession or employment — that’s folks such as myself, any medical professionals, in-home care workers or anyone else who’s in the business — might become aware of or suspect abuse are required by law to report it to APS.
“But, what if I’m wrong?”
What if you are?
What happens then is nothing.
Life goes on.
Nothing happens to you or to anyone else.
You were just wrong.
It happens to all of us.
Keep those numbers
Please keep those phone numbers where you can actually find them and please care enough to use them.
Abuse, exploitation and neglect don’t lurk around every corner or behind every drawn curtain, but it does happen.
One of the reasons that it doesn’t happen more is because enough of us decided to say, “Enough.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.