After surviving the Covid 19 pandemic for over a year, life is improving for seniors this summer. Beginning with the first shutdowns in spring, 2020 and through the winter of 2021, it was a different story, with lockdowns and restrictions imposed on nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Older residents were plunged into isolation as facilities, wanting to do the right things to keep residents safe, followed the mandated Guidance of the CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid that establishes rules for facilities). Throughout northwest Ohio and the nation, advocates for elders note that the pandemic brought to light issues of care and concern that have been with us all along that must be addressed.

Families were frustrated as they peered through windows at their loved ones in these facilities, seeing them waste away, as workers were permitted to come and go, wearing PPE and submitting to screenings to which family members would be happy to comply. Personnel were frustrated and frightened as COVID raced through some of the nursing homes. One thing that became clear is the critical role played by family caregivers who helped their parents and spouses to eat, get dressed, bathe, and laugh. Sad stories were shared of isolated older people whose mental abilities slipped away and deaths that seemed to be hastened by isolation. Even agencies charged with protecting elders were barred from entry because of regulations.

Today, nursing homes and assisted living facilities are beginning to open their doors to visitors, easing the isolation. Some facilities have begun letting vaccinated residents to leave their rooms for meals and group activities; but the lessons laid bare by the pandemic speak to staffing levels, funding challenges, and the worth of frail elders.

Every year on June 15 we commemorate World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. On this day, and throughout the month, communities, seniors, caregivers, governments, organizations, and the private sector unite to prevent the mistreatment of older people, both in the community and in care facilities. The Ohio Attorney General’s Elder Abuse Commission will observe Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 28, with a webinar open to the public to promote effective collaboration in the prevention and protection of older adults from maltreatment including abuse and neglect.

The Coalition of Organizations Protecting Elders (COPE) is a community-based team of more than 70 organizations in Lucas County, committed to addressing abuse, neglect, and exploitation of elders through enhanced collaboration and coordination of community resources. Participating organizations include police and sheriff departments, the Probate Court, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Area Office on Aging, MemoryLane Care Services, elder law attorneys, home health agencies, and more.

Elder abuse takes many forms including physical, neglect, self-neglect, and financial exploitation. Abuse of elders occurs at all levels of economic status and among all racial and ethnic groups. According to the United States Department of Justice, at least one in nine Americans over age 60 has experienced some form of elder mistreatment in the past year. Most of these are outside facilities, within families and neighborhoods. For each case of elder mistreatment reported to authorities at least five more go unreported. For elders who have been mistreated, the risk of death is 300 times greater than those who have not been abused or neglected.

With increased awareness, each citizen can have an impact on protecting elders. Actions can range from helping older neighbors to care for themselves by taking garbage cans to the curb, running errands, and visiting in nursing homes, to joining with advocates and organizations to make a difference through policies and services. Anyone may report suspected cases of abuse to 24-Hour Ohio Hotline: 1-855-OHIO-APS (1-855-644-6277)