The growing number of baby boomers settling into retirement has contributed to a 30 percent increase in elder abuse reports in Contra Costa County, putting a further strain on social workers already struggling to keep up with excess case loads.
Caseworkers at Adult and Protective Services currently tackle an average of 56 cases each month — more than double the national standard of 25. Between July 2014 and July 2015, almost 4,500 cases of elder abuse were reported, a new record high for the department.
The data comes from a report presented to the Board of Supervisors earlier this week. While there, presenters from Health and Employment services discussed ongoing efforts to hire and retain employees who deal with elderly populations, a staffing shortage attributed to funding cuts that haven't been reinstated since the 2008 recession.
Almost a decade later, the number of elderly people continues to rise while the number of staffers and available resources has dwindled or remained stagnant.
“The underlying problem is the growth of the senior population,” Victoria Tolbert, director of Ageing and Adult Services, told NBC Bay Area. “When there are few or no resources to support that growth, many seniors fall into crisis.”
Despite there being more awareness for child abuse in Contra Costa County, the number of reports of elder abuse are actually far greater, Tolbert told the board. She also revealed that East County is seeing the biggest uptick and has the least amount of resources to meet the demand.
“More and more of our seniors are struggling,” Kathy Gallagher, the Director of Employment and Human Services, told the board. “Housing is not affordable. Nutrition assistance is not sufficient. Incomes do not stretch far enough.”
Elder abuse includes both physical harm and financial exploitation, which can range from forging signatures to stealing money or coercing a senior into changing his or her will. Financial abuse is more common, and family members are often the perpetrators, according to the National Institute of Justice.
The county is currently in the process of creating an Elder Abuse Forensic Center with the help of a $1.5 million grant from the state's Office of Emergency Services. There, officials will conduct forensic death reviews and audit financial records in cases where foul play is suspected.
But staffing more social workers to deal with protracted elder abuse cases continues to be a critical issue, as is raising awareness about forms of elder abuse.
“It’s important that people continue to recognize signs of elder abuse and to report these cases, not wait until a senior is in crisis,” Tolbert said.
More information on elder abuse can be found by calling (800) 510-2020.
For more on the elder abuse problem in Contra Costa County, check back on Feb. 17.