Monday, October 3, 2011

Elder Abuse and the Work of Marie-Therese Connolly

Marie-Therese Connolly

As she crafted her closing argument in a case against a Seattle area man who was charged with allowing his elderly mother to literally rot to death, prosecutor Page Ulrey struggled to find the right words. So she called Marie-Therese Connolly, a former Department of Justice lawyer who knew just what to say:

The role of caregiver comes with a legal and moral obligation.

And even though the son had said his 84-year-old mother, Ruby Wise, had wanted to die at home with dignity, not in a nursing home, there was nothing dignified about the way she spent her final days — emaciated at 72 pounds, covered in sores so deep that bone was visible through rotted tissue, in a bed stained with urine, feces and blood. Last year, Chris Wise was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison.

Connolly, who for years has been trying to place elder abuse in the national spotlight, will be a awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, the US$500,000, “no strings attached,” so-called “genius” grant given annually to a couple dozen artists, thinkers, social advocates and historians.

Connolly, 54, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center is the architect of the Elder Justice Act, a law passed by the US Congress last year. The $500,000 grant, which will be awarded on Tuesday, will aid her ground-breaking work.

Ms Connolly has also founded a non-profit, Long Life Justice, to fight elder abuse. Here are some facts and figures from the website:

7.6-11% of people 60+ at home are victims of elder abuse, neglect or exploitation.

47% of people with dementia at home are abused or neglected by their caregivers.

For every one case of elder abuse that comes to light, 23.5 do not.

50-90% of nursing homes are understaffed at levels that harm residents.

"Elder abuse includes abuse, neglect and financial exploitation. It occurs in homes and facilities; cuts across all demographic groups; and causes untold suffering and cost, not just for its victims, but also for those who care about and for them. Victims often live their last years--impoverished, injured, neglected and in fear--with little effective assistance, protection or attention from any system.

"Victims of elder abuse suffer more injuries and illnesses and are three times more likely to die sooner than non-victims. In addition to depleting the resources of already stressed individuals and families, elder abuse costs taxpayers billions of dollars annually in Medicare, Medicaid and other federal, state and local program expenditures.

"We are at the early stage of a hidden epidemic. As 77 million baby boomers age and caregiving shortages grow more acute, the problem will grow. Wealth and fame do not provide immunity, as the plight of Mickey Rooney and Brooke Astor show. A 2011 General Accountability Office (GAO) report documents the need for more funding and federal leadership. Yet, our response to elder abuse lags 40 years behind child abuse and 20 years behind domestic violence." ~ True Dignity Vermont, Sept 24
Related reading:  Elder Care and Abuse Prevention; UK Hospitals Criticised for Elder Neglect

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