MANSFIELD — Every life is significant — no matter what age.
Sue Warren of Catholic Charities' Adult Advocacy Services program holds this belief dear to her heart.
Every week she meets with 19 elders who live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities to make sure their needs are tended to — whether it’s medical or social. As a staff guardian, she provides legal guardianship services for adults age 55 and older who may suffer from dementia or other illnesses that limit their decision-making capacity and have no appropriate family to make decisions for their medical care and estate.
The probate court appoints Catholic Charities’ volunteers as legal guardians to advocate for their care. The Adult Advocacy Services program currently has 12 volunteers who care for a combined total of 37 individuals.
Volunteers are asked that they meet with clients, at minimum, on a monthly basis and that they are available 24/7 to respond to inquiries when needed from nursing home or medical staff regarding the client’s care.
“If there are serious health decisions, we're there to support that decision and help them work through the process and how to make the decision,” Warren said. “We don't ask one person to carry the whole load. I don't do it myself when I have to make a decision. I use doctors, nurses, the court, the attorney staff here to help make that judgment call to make sure the right one is being made. And if there's family members, they get consulted, as well.”
Warren said she makes sure to speak with her clients’ doctors and nurses at each visit to keep up-to-date with the clients' needs.
“All the staff gets to know me,” she said.
Some of her clients can hardly communicate so she’ll just sit close by and keep them company.
“Sometimes we listen to music,” she said. “I also listen to a lot of complaints.”
“It’s very exciting to work in this program because it's one of the areas that you can really make a difference,” she said. “Even being a friendly visitor and just going to a facility and getting to know the elder and the staff there —you’re making a difference.”
In most cases, clients are impoverished and have been victims of elder abuse or financial exploitation, according to the Catholic Charities’ website.
Warren described elder abuse as one of the most “invisible crimes.” It involves physical, sexual, psychological abuse, neglect, abandonment or financial exploitation of an older person.
She said it can happen to anyone and typically involves a relationship of trust.
If a person shares he/she is a victim of elder abuse, Warren recommended to record their testimony as a form of evidence. To report abuse in Richland County, call the Richland County Adult Protective Services hotline at 419-774-5473.
“I would like elder abuse to become as commonly recognized and reported as child abuse,” Warren said. “As adults, we don't think we have the right to nose around or interrupt when we see something going on with another adult, but that's not quite so true when we’re thinking about our elderly neighbors and friends. We need to check in on them, make sure they are okay.”
Warren plans to take the month of June raising awareness of elder abuse via a purple duck campaign.
“I started to think about this months ago: what can I do to bring awareness to the neglected and abused elders in our community. And I thought, let's do something fun because this is a very serious conversation. So I thought let's just do little purple ducks.”
Throughout the month of June, Friends of Catholic Charities will be selling the purple ducks for $5 each.
“I have 400 ducks that need a home,” Warren said.
Proceeds will go to help the elderly in nursing facilities in the county with their daily living expenses and other items such as lotion, shampoo, socks, house shoes and gifts.
Those who purchase the rubber ducks will be given a card of information on elder abuse that also includes Catholic Charities’ phone number 419-524-0733, which can be called to learn more about elder abuse and how to help mitigate this issue.
This campaign coincides with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15.
“It becomes our responsibility to look after elders, and I think that's something that our nation as a whole has kind of dropped the ball on, is looking after that population of people that took care of us and now it's our turn to take care of them,” Warren said.