Case managers at the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging arranged for the 78-year-old disabled man to get help bathing, dressing and taking his medication, but for some reason, he wasn’t receiving consistent services.
Worried that the agency was going to put his grandfather in a nursing home, the grandson moved him to an extended-stay motel and then an unfurnished apartment.
“We found him sitting in the middle of an empty room with no food, no bed, no extra clothes, no supervision, no nothing,” said Barb Barrett, a Franklin County adult protective-services caseworker. The elderly man, a former pastor with a gift for telling stories, has a host of health issues, including severe arthritis, diabetes and untreated mental illness. He uses a wheelchair to get around and needs assistance with most of his daily-living activities.
In the old days, the two senior-serving groups might have continued with their separate investigations, and maybe shared a little information. But for almost two years, most Ohio counties have referred their most perplexing cases of suspected elder abuse, neglect or exploitation, such as this one, to interdisciplinary teams, called I-Teams for short.
To increase and improve adult protective services, the state started requiring counties in September 2015 to create I-Teams with representatives from such fields as fire and EMS, law enforcement, the legal community and social services. The teams meet regularly, often monthly, to discuss difficult cases. To deal with confidentiality concerns, clients’ names are never used.
The teams are aimed at identifying service gaps and communication breakdowns, said Kelly Patton, a lawyer and former probate-court magistrate who serves as chairwoman of Franklin County’s I-Team. The teams also give members an opportunity to learn about resources and services in the community.
Essentially, the teams benefit from the backgrounds and training of everyone who weighs in on the cases, she said.
More than 80 of Ohio’s 88 counties have established I-Teams, said Angela Terez, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. State officials are working with the remaining few to get their teams going.
“Counties have embraced this charge,” Terez said. “Most tell us they’re hopeful the teams will improve local prevention efforts.”
Elder abuse is a serious and growing problem, especially as the senior population explodes in number and public resources shrink, experts say.
Approximately 1 in 10 Americans 60 or older has experienced some form of abuse, neglect or exploitation, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse. And those figures are probably low; one study estimates that only 1 in 14 cases is even reported to authorities.
In Ohio, 16,579 reports of abuse, neglect or exploitation were filed in the state’s fiscal year that ended June 30. That’s a nearly 11 percent increase from six years ago.
The Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging created Franklin County’s team in 2011, well before the state mandate, said Diana Kubovcik, the agency’s client-services director who helped with its creation.
“These cases aren’t getting any easier, and the teams have really helped us be more creative and efficient,” Kubovcik said.
Lindsay Drerup, the social-work supervisor for the Franklin County Guardianship Service Board, said networking in the I-Team has been invaluable. She said she now has contacts at other agencies who can help her with other cases.
Created two years ago to fix a glaring problem in the county’s guardianship system, the board assigns social workers instead of lawyers to serve as guardians for some of the county’s most-vulnerable residents. The board’s six caseworkers are helping more than 180 people who have been declared incompetent.
“The biggest challenge is recruiting more professionals to help us with the cases,” said Andrea See, clinical manager of the Senior Options program at the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging.
The group, for example, would love to get more involvement from the county coroner and prosecutor’s offices as well as probate court and local banks, See said. It also would like to get more case referrals from the community.
The I-Teams help change people’s lives for the better, said Sally Smith, a supervisor with Franklin County’s adult protective services, which is part of the Office on Aging.
In the case of the 78-year-old man, adult protective services was able to get him into a nursing home, but not without the grandson trying to sneak him off the property.
The agency later obtained a restraining order against the grandson, but not before he threatened to blow up its building. He was arrested and ordered to stay away from his grandfather.
Through it all, the elderly man’s condition deteriorated, and he was found to be incompetent. In early July, a probate judge ruled that the man needed a guardian, and the Guardianship Service Board has been appointed to help oversee his care.
It’s not the first time a guardian has been appointed for him. He had one in another county for three years after concerns were raised that another daughter was exploiting him financially.
“He’s safe, doing well and has found new purpose trying to help other residents,” Smith said.
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‘I-Teams’ unite agencies to take on toughest cases of elder abuse