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Painful, personal and often unreported – physical abuse of older, ailing individuals is increasing, and now, so is the level of response.

The Council on Elder Abuse announced Friday the creation of the new Elder Domestic Violence Shelter Network of Erie County. Through the program, the McGuire Group and Absolut Care are providing shelter in their skilled nursing and assisted living facilities to victims of domestic or family violence whose medical conditions require professional care.

About 1,500 reports of elder abuse were made in Erie County last year. Existing shelters for abuse victims are not set up to handle people with chronic or severe medical conditions.

“The pattern before was that people would be brought to the hospital after an incidence of abuse, and they would also have medical issues,” said Karen L. Nicholson, chief executive officer of Legal Services for the Elderly, Disabled or Disadvantaged of WNY. “They couldn’t be discharged to their homes, because often the abuser is the caregiver. So they would languish in the hospital, or eventually go back home – and not get the care they need.”

With the network in place, health care providers or protection agencies can help the victims transfer to one of the McGuire or Absolut facilities, where they can receive care for up to 30 days while their elder service advocates help arrange payments and safe, permanent housing, either in the facility or elsewhere.

“This is not emergency housing,” explained Robin Wiktorski-Reynolds of Crisis Services. “Most people will be coming from a hospital or other medical facility, after they have been assigned a caseworker and have someone working with them for legal help.”

Elder abuse appears to be increasing, even though only a fraction of cases are reported. While the Department of Justice estimated that 11 percent of Americans over age 60 experience abuse in any given year, the New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study found that for every known case, 24 went unreported. Two main causes are cited: the growing number of old and infirm individuals (the older a person is, the more likely they are to be abused) and the weak economy, which puts strains on families who either can’t afford care or, in the case of caregivers, have financial problems of their own.

In almost all cases of abuse in the home, the perpetrator is a friend or family member – usually an adult child or spouse. In a smaller number of cases, the abuse has been ongoing for years, and a couple has “grown old” with it.

A tragic outcome of even modest abuse is a far higher mortality rate for the mistreated elders, whose risk of death is three times greater than those who are well cared for, studies show. Victims also are far more likely be distressed, suffer bone and joint problems, experience chronic pain and have heart problems.

That all speaks to the need for medically appropriate shelters for older abuse victims.

State Sens. Mark Grisanti and Pat Gallivan helped secure funding to set up the network.

Cases of elder abuse or suspected abuse can be reported to Erie County Protective Services for Adults, 858-6877, or Legal Services for the Elderly, Disabled, or Disadvantaged of WNY, 853-3087.

email: mmiller@buffnews.com