3 Low-Cost Ways to Do Outreach and Education on Elder Abuse

By Keith Morris, President, Elder Law of Michigan, and Director, Center for Elder Rights Advocacy

Image representing mind as an open drawer. Many of our senior legal hotline programs are starting new model approaches grants, all of them with some focus on addressing the problem of elder abuse.  I thought it would be a good time to share some tips I have picked up over the years regarding doing low-cost or free outreach and education. (Let me say that I started this post with 7 low-cost ways, but had to cut it back so that the article wouldn’t be so long.  I’ll share the others with you in an upcoming post.)

If you have any questions, would like some feedback on a program that you are working on, or have suggestions that you would like to share with others, please contact me at kmorris@ceraresource.org.

1) Use your existing correspondence efficiently. 

If you are already sending a closing letter, a satisfaction survey, or other information after you talk with your client on the phone, you should consider adding information about the problem of elder abuse.  It could be a paragraph in your closing letter, a flyer that lists some of the facts about the problem, or an insert that tells the story of how your program helped a client who was a victim of elder abuse.

Make sure you have a clear reason for adding this to your mailing, and make sure the reader can figure that out as well.  Do you want them to call your hotline for more information?  Do you want them to know more about their rights, etc.?  Often, narrowing the information to one specific topic makes it easier for the person to understand.  For example, focusing on a particular scam and how to identify it.

It is important to pay attention to the language that you use in materials like this.  Statements like “are you a victim of elder abuse?” may not work because often the older adult doesn’t like to see themselves as victims.  There are several approaches to take, such as focusing on the fact that many older adults are taken advantage of each year.  Another approach is, “Are you or someone you love worried about how to deal with…”

Don’t underestimate the importance of the correct graphic if are adding an insert or a flyer to your mailing.  For topics like elder abuse, it is difficult to decide on what emotion we want the reader to feel when looking at the information.  I try to stay away from very sad images and very happy images.  Perhaps you will find it easier to focus on the facts or situation and find an image to reflect that.  For example, if your information is about a phone scam, using an image of a phone with a question mark or a caution sign might be what you need.

Here are some examples of flyers and inserts that have been used.

Be sure to keep track of the number of clients that you provide this information to because you probably will want to include this activity in a grant report.  It is a good idea to come up with a calendar of topics and include something in each client correspondence. (Always make sure you know the number of pages that you can include in the envelope before the amount of postage required increases.)

Finally, if you have any questions or would like some ideas on how to use this to educate clients on relevant topics, the staff at CERA are always eager to help.

2) Educate service providers and professionals about the problem of elder abuse. 

Over the years, I have found that providing education and resources to professionals that work with the older adult population was one of the most cost effective ways to do outreach to seniors.  By doing a presentation on the problem of elder abuse or some related topic to senior housing service coordinators, law enforcement, nurses, in-home care service providers, etc., you can make an indirect connection to every person that they deal with.

Almost everyone at a presentation like this is grateful for the information you shared with them and for the resources that are available.  Each person there wants to help the older adult they are working with, and wants to have as many tools at their disposal.  Be sure to leave them with some flyers or cards that they can give to the older adult who may need your services.

Another way that you can accomplish this same goal is to write articles that can be included in the newsletter for the state chapter of the professional association.  Also, most of these professionals have continuing education requirements, so try to get a webinar approved for credit and offer it for free.

I do want to mention a few groups of professionals that we often overlook:

  • Hair Stylists.  Whether someone at the beauty shop or barber shop, these professionals are great sources of information for their clients and can provide your information to their older adult clients.
  • Postal Employees.  They often see the older adult just about every day and could share information.
  • Meter Readers, electric company or gas company.  There are several great programs throughout the country where utility companies are checking in on older adults on a regular basis.

3) Use your Clients 

Almost every hotline that keeps track of how a client found out about their services finds that a family member or friend told the client about the hotline.  It is this unofficial endorsement of our services that gives the older adult the courage to call about a problem that they are having.  So why don’t we make it easier for people to be our ambassadors and tell others about the great work that we do?

Over the years, I have tried a variety of approaches for this.  One of the ways to do this is to insert some pre-print business cards in the envelope with the client letter.  The cards simply have the hotline logo, the phone number to call, and the hours that the hotline is open.  In one campaign we did, at the end of the call, the attorney told the client that there would be some business cards in with the closing letter and encouraged the client to give a card to someone that they think might need our services. Another time, we encouraged the client to post our card at the grocery store or at their pharmacy.

But, one of the most effective ways that we found to do outreach about the hotline was to add something to the closing letter like this, “Even if you are unable to make a donation to support the work of the hotline, there is still something you can do.  Tell a friend or family member who may need our services about us and how they can reach us.”  Of course, that was included after we asked for a donation, but it was a way for the client to feel like they were giving something back to the program that helped them.

I haven’t used this method for outreach and education for addressing the problem of elder abuse, so I can only recommend it for general outreach.  I would love to hear from others that have done something similar as a way to get the word out about the services available to combat elder abuse.

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Tales of Senior Car Buyers and the Hotline Attorneys They Call

By Ellen Cheek, Staff Attorney, Florida Senior Legal Helpline

Individual handing over car keys.Many a consumer regrets an impulsive car purchase (what was I thinking??) or comes to regret the purchase because of the less-than-supportive response of a family member (what were you thinking??)  If it appears that senior consumers in particular suffer from buyer’s remorse, it may be because there are many reasons a senior consumer is an easy target for a dealer’s high pressure sales tactics. Consider that most seniors have regular, if limited, income; that they have pride in their ability to handle their affairs; that they feel morally bound and will sacrifice to pay even an unaffordable bill; and that having made a dubious decision, their embarrassment precludes reaching out. Couple this buyer profile with the fact that in many states, a car purchase creates an immediately binding legal agreement (no 3 day right to cancel) and that the dealer can be compensated in full because of the availability of financing, and it is no mystery that many senior window-shoppers become buyers in short order.  But while some consumers succumb to an otherwise legal sales pitch, others are victimized by predatory practices which literally threaten their fragile budgets and ultimate well-being.

How can a hotline attorney distinguish between the two? Two recent cases from the Florida Senior Legal Helpline are illustrative. Both cases involved an easily confused, though arguably competent, senior of advanced age. Both involved the purchase of one vehicle which was returned for service and never returned; both seniors ended up with different, more expensive vehicles (in one case, with two others) and with opaque refinanced transactions (the 87 year old consumer’s ultimate loan was for 20 (!) years.)  In both cases, the seniors were in the presence of the sales person for hours and executed transactions which they did not understand. In both cases, the clients’ extremely limited income (Social Security for one couple, Social Security and a veteran’s benefit for the other) and advanced age were almost certainly misrepresented on the financing applications.  In both cases, Clients had minimal documentation of the sales and no documentation of the financing until payment coupon books arrived.

Fortunately, both cases were resolved after a Senior Legal Helpline attorney helped draft new complaint affidavits. The new affidavits were submitted to a special unit of the DMV which investigated and ultimately “unwound” the offending transactions.  It is significant that in both cases, it was the hotline attorney who elicited the information from the clients which became the grounds for the complaint affidavits; the clients themselves described only frustrating, but legal, aspects of their cases.  For example, the 87 year old client believed that the dealer’s real offense was that the first vehicle purchased was a lemon; though undoubtedly true, it was an “As Is” purchase and client would have gotten no legal relief on that basis. Indeed, the DMV had already closed one complaint to that effect which the client had filed on his own. The case was reopened upon submission of the revised affidavit which alleged financing misrepresentations, home solicitation violations, and bait and switch. Similarly, the other client called the Helpline in the mistaken belief that there was a 3 day right to cancel law which applied to vehicle sales. His initial complaint to the DMV had also been closed without investigation; the case was reopened by the DMV when the revised complaint was submitted, and the allegations of serial bait and switch (this client had inadvertently purchased two cars) and financing misrepresentations were explored.  In other words, successful resolution happened because the hotline attorney asked questions which exposed the predatory behavior and established the likelihood of financial exploitation. Once those circumstances were known and described in the complaints and the relevant documents gathered and submitted, both seniors received legal relief without litigation. Admittedly, successful resolution of these cases was facilitated by the existence of an informal administrative complaint process designed to investigate allegations of dubious dealer practices.  However, the cases highlight the role a hotline attorney can play in helping callers identify the relevant legal issues and to effectively communicate those issues to the appropriate resources in their jurisdiction.

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$1 Million ACL Grant to Create a New National Center on Law and Elder Rights

ACL UpdatesPress release courtesy of the Administration for Community Living

ACL’s Administration on Aging announced the release of $1,050,000 to the nationally-recognized senior advocacy organization Justice in Aging to create a new National Center on Law and Elder Rights (NCLER). The NCLER will support ACL’s ongoing efforts to protect the rights, financial security, and independence of older adults.

The Center will provide tools to help law and aging professionals serve older clients and consumers effectively and serve as an easy single point of entry to a comprehensive system of legal resource support. NCLER attorneys will apply their wide range of knowledge and expertise to enhance state and local legal service delivery efforts to enable elders most in need to assert and protect their essential rights.

“By supporting the dedicated professionals in the legal and aging services networks, the National Center on Law and Elder Rights helps make legal assistance available to seniors who need it,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for Aging Edwin Walker. “Helping older adults protect their rights and preserve their independence is at the core of our mission at the Administration for Community Living, and we look forward to working with Justice in Aging on this crucial initiative.”

The NCLER will provide tools and resources including a strategic combination of case consultation, legal training, and technical assistance in order to address a broad range of priority legal and systems development issues. The comprehensive resources developed by the NCLER will be made widely available to aging and disability, legal, and elder rights networks across the country, including legal assistance providers, Legal Assistance Developers, LTC Ombudsmen, Adult Protective Services, State Units on Aging, Area Agencies on Aging, and Aging and Disability Resource Centers, Senior Legal Helplines, and others involved in protecting the essential legal rights of older persons.

The new NCLER offers an improved approach to enhancing the ability of legal and aging service providers and advocates to help older persons maintain their independence, live in their homes and communities, make their own decisions, and maintain their financial security.

For more information about the NCLER, please contact Omar Valverde at 202-795-7460 or omar.valverde@aoa.hhs.gov.

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Submit Your Equal Justice Conference Proposals Today!

2017 Equal Justice Conference Logo

The 2017 Equal Justice Conference planning team invites you to submit session proposals for this year’s conference. Please refer to the proposal guidelines and complete the RFP form online. If you have questions about completing the online form or would like to know more about the RFP process, please contact the ABA at ejc@americanbar.org or visit the EJC website.

The 2017 Equal Justice Conference will be held May 4-6, 2017 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, PA.

Deadline to submit proposals to present at the Equal Justice Conference is Monday, October 3, 2016.

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2016 National Aging and Law Conference

NALC LogoJoin us at the Hilton Alexandria Old Town, Alexandria, VA on October 27-28 as industry leaders and innovators share their expertise on core substantive legal issues affecting older Americans with the greatest economic and social needs at the 2016 National Aging and Law Conference.

Explore the innovative and engaging learning education offerings and select the learning format most relevant to you based on your level of experience. Here’s what you will find:

  • 30 workshops and four plenary sessions covering the spectrum of topics including government benefits, guardianship, LGBT elders, elder financial exploitation, legal services delivery, and more;
  • Core Essentials Workshops focusing on the fundamentals of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, capacity, long-term care, and health care decision-making;
  • Ethics Workshops offering up to 3.5 CLE credits; and
  • Networking Roundtables over lunch.

Don’t miss this opportunity to engage with your peers and learn from top experts in the field of elder law.  View full conference agenda.  To register, please call 1-800-285-2221.

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Hotline Abuse Calls – Lessons Learned

By Michael Walters, Legal Hotline Managing Attorney, Pro Seniors, Inc. and CERA Project Specialist

Red corded phoneFor the past five years, Pro Seniors’ Ohio Senior Legal Hotline has received dedicated funding to help senior victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation.  Legal problems involving abuse have always been high priority cases for our in-house casework.  As such, our hotline attorneys must be able to recognize appropriate cases for in-house referral and must be able to assist or refer victims who cannot be represented in-house.  Handling thousands of these cases on the hotline over the years has taught us some important lessons.

  • Respect the client: Whether the client was involved in domestic violence, financial exploitation by a family member, or a scam, the senior has already been a victim.  The senior always feels guilty as a result of allowing himself to become a victim.  It is important during a hotline call to let the client exercise autonomy.  This means asking open ended questions, allowing the client to tell the story in his/her own way and at his/her own pace and refraining from telling the client what s/he should have done to prevent his/her victimization.  Every hotline attorney values the skills of steering the conversation and asking questions to elicit only the relevant facts, but an abuse call is not the time to exercise those skills.  Let the client talk and offer options to the client.  Do not tell the client what actions s/he must take.
  • Ask the questions the client didn’t ask: Most cases of elder abuse present on the hotline as another legal problem.  For this reason, it is important to recognize the fact patterns that are red flags to abuse (e.g., I need to change my attorney-in-fact from my son to my daughter).  Gently and respectfully probe the facts that led to the current legal problem.  But see item #1 above.  If it becomes clear the client doesn’t want to discuss an issue, respect the client’s decision not to discuss it.
  • Consider available remedies: Particularly when considering a referral to an in-house unit, it is important to consider what remedies are available.  Put yourself in the place of the staff attorney who will be assigned the case.  What would I do with this case if it were assigned to me?  If it is hard to imagine a practical strategy to help the client, a referral to Adult Protective Services may be a more appropriate outcome for the client.
  • Beware of third party reports of abuse: Complaints by family members in particular should be approached with a healthy degree of skepticism.  Calls from family members often play out family dynamics going back decades.  It is not always easy to recognize who the alleged victim is when talking to a family member about alleged misconduct of other family members.  Whenever the legal problem presented involves cross-allegations of misconduct among family, always insist on talking to the senior (alone) before deciding on the appropriate strategy.
  • Apply a healthy degree of skepticism, even when talking to the client: Sometimes the most compelling stories of abuse or neglect, even when told by an apparently well-oriented client, are clouded by the client’s mental status.  In a non-judgmental way, as the client tells the story, ask about objective evidence (such as bank records) that might support the allegations.  Beware of stories where no objective evidence exists, particularly when the explanation for why no objective evidence exists is tied to an allegation of a conspiracy.
  • Abuse cases call for brief service: A client who has been victimized may already be vulnerable due to age, infirmity or cognitive disability.  Even simple tasks may be difficult for the client.  If a call to APS is appropriate, consider offering to call APS with the client.  If documents are needed, consider offering to contact the client’s family or friends to assist them in gathering documents.
  • Know what cases not to take: A client who has had hundreds of thousands of dollars stolen is probably not an appropriate legal aid case, particularly if the perpetrator has assets that can be recovered.  Know what cases are more appropriate for the private bar or law enforcement agencies.  Always explore criminal charges first before filing for a civil recovery.
  • Make your hotline known to referral sources: Some of our most compelling cases have been referred by law enforcement agencies, APS workers, Area Agency on Aging case managers and health care providers.  Work to establish a reputation among professionals as the go-to resource for seniors who have been victimized by abuse.

As funding for helping senior abuse victims becomes increasingly more important for hotlines, it is critical for hotline staff to think about how to interview, refer and assist seniors who may be victims of abuse, neglect or financial exploitation.  Compassion, respect, and good judgment are all necessary aspects of dealing with senior clients who have been victimized.

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Red Flags for Advocates – Identifying Abuse and Exploitation on a Senior Legal Hotline

by Ellen Cheek, Staff Attorney, Florida Senior Legal Helpline

Woman smiling.In many ways the job of a hotline attorney is analogous to that of a medical doctor:  A senior calls with a troubling symptom – say a Medicaid denial or an unmanageable debt – without knowing that the cause of the symptom is abuse, neglect, or exploitation. Meaningful relief depends upon the attorney’s accurate legal “diagnosis,” but culling the relevant facts from a convoluted narrative can be challenging over the telephone without the benefit of documents or body language. Though some clients know they have been scammed, others are less aware and know only that they are in distress. How can a hotline attorney increase the chances of identifying abuse or exploitation? Consider the following case examples, in which critical information relevant to the real legal issue was mentioned only in passing or in response to routine screening questions:

  1. “Guests” who overstay their welcome – Revealed in the preliminary discussion of the number of people in the client’s household and the amount of income contributed by each. In a typical case the client explains that she has opened her home or apartment to others, frequently a child or grandchild and their significant others who were down on their luck, for what was meant to be a temporary stay. During the legal interview it becomes apparent that the extended family taxes the senior’s limited budget to the breaking point.  Seniors describe isolating themselves in a bedroom for privacy or peace.  Many add that they no longer comment on the guest’s lack of a job or the need to move out for fear of triggering an angry or violent response.
  2. Inability to supply routine information regarding income and assets – Like the unwelcome guest scenario, this circumstance is usually revealed in the confirmation of income/assets at the beginning of the intake. The senior will explain that an agent with a POA or a family member/friend handles the finances; further discussion often reveals major problems, like the fact that the fiduciary has not been paying essential bills or that nest eggs have gone missing.
  3. Denial of public benefits based on inappropriate conveyance of real property or other assets – In many cases the senior can describe the symptom (the denied benefits), but is unaware of a common cause (an unauthorized transfer).
  4. Obvious coaching of the client by another, or audible contradictions of the senior’s version of events during intake – This is a frequent sign of a volatile environment and almost always requires another call to conduct a meaningful intake.
  5. References to challenges of living with a spouse or other companion suffering from dementia – Clients note they are unable to leave the dwelling to take care of routine tasks like food shopping or doctor’s appointments because a spouse cannot be left alone. Often, the story continues with the client describing increasingly erratic or even physically violent behavior by the spouse towards the client.
  6. Desire to revoke POA or to remove a name from a deed or other asset – Though a frequent request in the context of family drama, this can also indicate a senior’s desire to end an exploitative relationship.

This list is by no means exhaustive; hotline advocates will surely have identified other “red flags.” However, these illustrations are extremely common. The hotline advocate who recognizes such red flags can follow up with thoughtful questions to identify abuse, increase the victim’s awareness of the real legal problem, and help the senior seek meaningful relief.

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