It’s still under the communal radar screens, but elder abuse is a growing problem in the Jewish community, according to agencies that deal with the elderly. And it’s likely to become more acute with the graying of the Jewish population.
A bill introduced in the Senate this week is intended to take elder abuse out of the closet, and Jewish social service providers couldn’t be happier.
“So much has been done on the issues of child abuse and family abuse, but there’s been very little attention paid to senior abuse,” said Ron Soloway, managing director of government and external relations for the UJA-Federation of New York. “There has been no federal funding stream to help local communities deal with the phenomenon. So we’ve very happy these lawmakers are trying to get this through Congress in a very difficult year.”
According to UJA-Federation, there are an estimated 40,000 victims of elder abuse in New York City alone. Only 2 percent of current family violence funding goes to elder abuse programs.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), authorizes up to $650 million for new programs to help victims, better training for law enforcement officials and education programs. The bill also creates special offices at the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services to deal with the issue.
Aileen Gitelson, chief operating officer of the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged in New York, said that her organization has “developed a significant number of programs to deal with elder abuse since 1995.” Such abuse can come at the hands of children and other relatives, caregivers, and hospital and nursing home personnel.
She said there are no statistics about the prevalence of elder abuse in the Jewish community, but that “it probably reflects the problem nationally. We see a significant number of Jewish families with these kinds of problems.”
The most common form of elder abuse is financial, she said, such as relatives and caregivers’ depriving the elderly of their financial resources, or outright theft. “But there is also physical and emotional abuse, and there are people who are deprived of the right kind of medical care. Medical neglect is common.”
If it passes, the new legislation will have a big impact by “shedding some light on something people are just starting to recognize as a serious problem,” Gitelson said.
James D. Besser contributed to this report.