Local agencies and organizations are asking for the community's help to be a voice for a group of people who are sometimes overlooked and can struggle advocating for their own needs -- senior citizens.

MANSFIELD -- Local agencies and organizations are asking for responsible adults to help be a voice for a group of people who are sometimes overlooked and can struggle advocating for their own needs -- senior citizens.

"We need the community's help to be that extra set of ears and eyes and to check in on your parents, grandparents, neighbors and friends," said Sue Warren of Catholic Charities' Adult Advocacy Services program

Catholic Charities Diocese of Toledo 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 program currently has 16 volunteers and additional help is needed, Warren indicated.

"Since this whole heroin epidemic is growing, so is the need for adult protective services," she said.

Drug users can take advantage of their obliging parents or grandparents in order to get their fix, creating burdens for the benefactors.

"We do see some really horrible situations," Warren said.

Nearly 95 percent of those receiving guardianship services are indigent, have been abused, neglected, or exploited, and over 60 percent were referred to Catholic Charities because of an emergency from community sources such as a hospital, Adult Protective Services or probate court, according to a Catholic Charities' winter newsletter.

Guardians help ensure a person's needs are met through monthly visits and being available 24/7 to respond to inquiries when needed from nursing home or medical staff.

"Our role is to be a voice for that individual," Warren said.

Not only that, but they're able to make a difference by being a friend to the lonely.

"Loneliness is a tremendous problem with the individuals we work with," Warren said. "They sit there with no one to talk to, which increases their depression and the need for medication."

If interested in becoming a volunteer guardian, call 419-524-0733.

Guardians must attend a six-hour training course and a three-hour continuing education every year thereafter.

A six-hour fundamentals class will be held July 13 from 8:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Longview Center in Mansfield. Contact the probate division of the Richland County Common Pleas Court at 419-774-5583 to register. The session is free of charge.

Additional volunteer opportunities exist through the Area Agency on Aging's long-term care ombudsman program. A long-term care ombudsman is a specially trained advocate who seeks to resolve complaints on behalf of residents in long-term care facilities, including assisted living, adult foster care and skilled nursing facilities.

Again, the idea here is to be that "voice," said Teresa Cook, chief of marketing and development for the Ohio District 5 Area Agency on Aging.

"Every life has value," she said. "I think this group kind of gets pushed off; they feel like no one cares or no one's listening."

Ombudsmen make routine visits to facilities to talk with residents about their rights and concerns, monitor the conditions in facilities and identify problem areas and advocate for change.

If interested in becoming an ombudsman, call 1-800-860-5799.

Elder Abuse

Regardless of socioeconomic status, race or gender, elder abuse can affect anyone. Elder abuse refers to intentional or negligent acts by a caregiver or trusted individual that causes harm to a vulnerable elder.

The most common types of elder abuse reported in Ohio are neglect, self-neglect, exploitation, and emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

Many victims are reluctant to report abuse because they may feel ashamed or guilty, especially if a family member if the abuser. Or they may fear that if they report it the abuse will get worse. 

Some may be unable to speak out because of dementia or other impairments. 

According to a proclamation signed by Gov. John Kasich, more than 43 reports of elder abuse are received in Ohio each day.

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Richland County Adult Protective Services, which investigates abuse, neglect and exploitation of people 60 and over, made 245 referrals between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016.

APS works closely with local entities, including the Area Agency on Aging, to see that people are connected to services best suited to their needs. This could entail helping an individual enroll in Ohio's PASSPORT Medicaid waiver program, which helps Medicaid-eligible older Ohioans get the long-term services and supports they need to stay in their homes.

"We call (PASSPORT) that hug that we put around somebody because it can bring in all these services -- it can bring in someone to help with the cleaning, someone to help them with a bath, we can get meals set up..." Cook said.

"The goal is to keep them at home; we want people to still be able to make those choices and to live at home."

If a nursing home or assisted living seems appropriate for the individual, a doctor evaluation must be completed first.

"We want to go the least restrictive route as far as far as what the client wants," said Karen Kepple of Adult Protective Services. "We make sure they're a part of the decision-making process on what they want and where they want to be."

Sometimes an individual may refuse assistance.

"If they're completely competent and not wanting any assistance, there's not a whole lot we can do," said Joy Bulakovski of APS.

But it doesn't hurt to call if you notice a person could be a victim of elder abuse.

To report elder abuse in Richland County, call the APS hotline at 419-774-5473. If after hours, call First Call 211 at 419-522-4636.

And don't forget to wear purple on June 15, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. 

Note: This article has been updated to reflect that the June 15 event at the Central Park Gazebo has been canceled. 

This Solutions Journalism story is brought to you in part by the generous support of our Newsroom Partners: Spherion, Visiting Nurses Association, PR Machine Works, Nanogate/Jay Systems, DRM Productions, OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital, Richland Bank, Mechanics Bank, Area Agency on Aging, and many others. To learn more about Solutions Journalism at Richland Source click the "About Solutions Journalism."

Thrive Reporter

Thrive reporter. Graduate of Ontario High School and Ohio State Mansfield. Wife. Mom. Dog lover. Fitness enthusiast. Plant collector. Mac and cheese consumer.