A time to listen

Elder Abuse Task Force Listening Tour visits Marquette

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel headlines a local stop on the Elder Abuse Listening Tour on Monday at Northern Michigan University. The tour provided a forum for interested citizens to share concerns about the social problem. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Abuse of any kind is bad, but when it happens to a vulnerable population such as the elderly, it’s particularly disturbing.

To address this problem, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel visited the Northern Center at Northern Michigan University on Monday on the final stop in the Elder Abuse Task Force Listening Tour. Joining her were Michigan Supreme Court Justice Megan Cavanagh and state Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette.

The purpose of the tour was to identify issues facing Michigan seniors to better guide the Attorney General’s Elder Abuse Task Force.

There are many seniors in this predicament. The Attorney General’s Office said at least 73,000 older adults in Michigan are victims of elder abuse from people entrusted to care for them, and abusers go to great lengths to harm seniors through abuse, neglect and exploitation.

“Concerns change from region to region,” Nessel said. “They’re not always exactly the same, and the fixes that are required are sometimes different depending on what area you live in, and so it’s not always a one-size-fits-all solution.”

What might help the problem is that the Attorney General’s Office plans to open an office at NMU, with an assistant attorney general to be hired to staff that location.

In the meantime, the listening tour was created to listen to residents’ concerns regarding elder abuse.

The Elder Abuse Task Force, she said, has developed a number of initiatives, which include:

≤ requiring professional guardians to become certified;

≤ changing the accounting form filed annually that requires the judge to attest that he or she reviewed it and find it meets the fiduciary standard;

≤ adopting the standard investigation form for vulnerable adult investigation and include training for the law enforcement community and other professionals;

≤ reviewing the process for emergency petitions for guardianship/conservatorship to require a full hearing with the ward present as well as medical testimony;

≤ developing statutory basic rights for the ward’s family;

≤ reviewing the process of guardian’s removal of the ward from the home;

≤ limiting the number of wards per guardian;

≤ mandating reporting for financial institutions on suspected fraud or exploitation; and

≤ helping to develop local-level multi-disciplinary teams.

“We wanted to have a task force that actually went about the process of providing solutions to those every problems,” Nessel said.

The initiatives will be proposed in September as soon as the Michigan Legislature reconvenes, she said.

However, the tour was called the listening tour for a reason, and a number of community residents and officials shared their concerns on Monday.

“We are making notes,” Nessel said. “We are taking into account everything that you’re saying.”

Cavanagh expressed the Michigan Supreme Court’s appreciation for the audience attending the tour stop.

“It’s important, obviously, to go around the state and to hear from people’s experiences and also their proposed solution,” Cavanagh said.

She agreed with Nessel that elder abuse involves different challenges, resources and needs depending on the various communities.

“The needs and resources available here in Marquette are not necessarily going to be the same as they are down in Detroit or Grand Rapids and vice versa,” Cavanagh said.

Adult guardianships are one of those resources.

“It’s a critical tool, and a necessary tool, to help vulnerable adults or seniors who cannot care for themselves,” Cavanagh said.

However, she stressed if that tool is not used properly, it can be devastating to the individual and family members.

The rules and laws governing guardianships must be adequate, she said, plus they must be followed; if they’re not, the proper steps must be taken.

“We really need to make sure that we’re doing it right,” Cavanagh said.

In fact, guardianships being too readily decided were a concern expressed by the community at the forum. Others included having more Michigan Department of Health and Human Services employees, better planning for advance directives, enforcement for law enforcement personnel to help officers know what to look for with elder abuse, theft, the misuse of the power of attorney, and finding health care aides.

More marketing materials such as newsletters, and education about elder abuse was another need brought up at the event.

“People like to have that information in hand,” Cambensy said.

To report abuse in a nursing home, call the Attorney General’s Health Care Fraud Division at 800-242-2873 or hcf@michigan.gov, or through an online complaint form at mi.gov/agcomplaints.

Call the MDHSS Adult Protective Services at 855-444-3911 to report abuse in a private residence, unlicensed setting, adult foster care home, a home for the aged, or a nursing home where the suspected abuser is not a facility employee or the residence is on leave from the nursing home,

People also are urged to call 211 for help.

Nessel is optimistic about the task force’s work.

“In just the first year of this initiative — this Elder Abuse Task Force — we will have accomplished more in terms of protecting seniors in this state than we have, maybe, in the last 30 or 40 years,” she said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.