Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Reports of elder abuse and neglect are on the rise in the Historic Triangle — the “why” is unclear

The James City County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to meet this week for its regular monthly meeting. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)
The James City County Board of Supervisors. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)

The words echoed through the county board room as the chairman spoke a stream of statistics into a red-ringed microphone.

“During 2018 … 327 referrals for possible adult abuse and neglect … a 44-percent increase from 2017 … in 45 percent … adult abuse or neglect had occurred,” he read aloud.

As the chairman — Jim Icenhour of the James City County Board of Supervisors —  read on, the message became clear: Reports of adult abuse and neglect are increasing.

On May 14, the board issued a proclamation recognizing Adult Abuse Prevention Month, which is May in Virginia.

The statistics contained in the proclamation show a marked increase in referrals concerning adult abuse and neglect in James City County, but at this time, Social Services Director Rebecca Vinroot says it’s hard to tell what’s behind the uptick.

But regardless of the “why,” county social services is working to expand its reach to help tackle those rising numbers through new programs.

“I don’t think a lot of people know the need is there,” Vinroot said.

In 2018, James City County Adult Protective Services received 327 referrals for possible adult abuse and neglect. Of those, 64 percent were valid, and 45 percent of those cases found abuse or neglect had occurred.

Those 327 referrals are a significant jump from 227 in 2017 and 179 in 2016.

The highest percentage of reports stemmed from self-neglect; the second-highest was financial exploitation.

“Not a lot of people want to talk about aging or what the reality is when you do have to ask people for help,” Vinroot said.

Other localities in the Historic Triangle have also seen a jump in recent years, meaning James City County is not alone.

Williamsburg has 77 Adult Protective Services referrals in 2016, 76 in 2017 and 83 in 2018, according to state social services data. York County and Poquoson had 241 in 2016, 264 in 2017 and 292 in 2018.

Possibilities why

Vinroot said some possible explanations include an aging population locally as well as increased awareness of the need to report abuse and neglect when it happens.

“We are becoming more aware of seniors in our area that need our assistance and that could be leading to a rise in our statistics,” Vinroot wrote in an email.

Vinroot said a majority of the reports of adult abuse and neglect come from hospitals and facilities that care for seniors. Staff there are mandatory reporters under Virginia Department of Social Services regulations. Those reports are a mix of concerns at the facilities themselves, as well as reports when patients are admitted.

Other referrals come from financial institutions, home health agencies, family, friends, neighbors, community organizations, police and emergency medical staff, Vinroot said.

Vinroot also speculated the rise in referrals could stem from a community desire to get ahead of a problem and help serve elderly people before they end up in a crisis.

“There is some sense of mandatory referral when it comes to vulnerable populations,” she added.

Making it better

Vinroot said her office put in a budget request this year to add another staff member in Adult Protective Services, and while the county is “very supportive” of the department, social services couldn’t secure funding in this budget cycle, Vinroot said.

Local Adult Protective Services offices operate under policies and guidelines from the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services.

Besides trying to increase the reach of Adult Protective Services staff, social services is also working to nip tough situations in the bud — including preventing falls and 911 calls for lift assists.

The county is working to launch the CONECT program — standing for Community Outreach Network Education Care Thrive — which aims to set residents with mobility issues up for services that would better support their needs.

County first responders receive hundreds of calls every year to assist residents with mobility-related issues.

The new initiative is still in the early stages, and has not yet been officially launched to the public, but has already received numerous referrals.

“Seventy percent of those referrals — we have never worked with these people before,” Vinroot said.

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Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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