Georgia leaders launch new elder abuse task force

Tuesday marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and state leaders want Georgians to know they have a resource should an adult in their life be exploited.

"Sometimes they really don't have a voice.  So that's one of the things this task force was created to do," explained Pat King, manager of the Forensic Special Initiatives Unit within the Georgia Division of Aging Services.

The Crimes Against Disabled Adults and Elderly Task Force is a joint effort between FSIU and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

"We have not only a legal obligation, but a moral and ethical obligation to make sure we're protecting the most vulnerable members of our society and that certainly includes our seniors and particularly our disabled adults," said GBI Director Vic Reynolds.

There are several different types of elder abuse including physical abuse and neglect.  

"The most frequent thing that we see is financial exploitation either by family members, by caregivers," explained King.  "Then also there's just a ton of different scams, you know, a different scam almost every month comes into play that's targeting older adults specifically."

King said financial exploitation can oftentimes lead to neglect as well when someone uses a senior citizen's money for rent, food or medical care on themselves instead.

State lawmakers have only updated Georgia law in the last decade or so to create crimes against the elderly. GBI data shows the problem has grown since then.

In 2010, law enforcement statewide arrested 223 people on 379 charges. That number rose to 673 perpetrators arrested on 1,163 charges in 2018 and 691 suspects on 938 charges in 2019.

The numbers were slightly lower in 2020 with 576 people arrested and charged with 861 counts. GBI officials believe reporting was down in 2020 because of the pandemic.

King said a huge part of the task force's mission is raising awareness among law enforcement and medical professionals to help them spot the signs of elder abuse.

"A lot of times maybe arrests aren't made or referrals are not made to Adult Protective Services or to the regulatory agencies because people really just don't know what to look for," King explained.

She said it is critical for Georgians to stay in touch with their older relatives and community members.

"If you live near them, certainly drop in and go see them," said King. "If they're in a facility, drop in unannounced on a regular — on an irregular basis if you will." 

If you believe someone you know is the victim of elder abuse, you should contact local law enforcement and reach out to:

  • Adult Protective Services, 866-552-4464
  • Healthcare Facility Regulation, 800-878-6442
  • Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, 404-656-5400

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