Protecting the Vulnerable: The Los Angeles County Elder Abuse Forensic Center

December 18, 2013

By Rose Veniegas

Imagine: Mrs. White, a 73-year-old widow with Parkinson’s, hypertension, diabetes and a history of stroke, is cared for by her son. She was admitted to the hospital after she fell down and lay on the floor for 36 hours before being brought to the emergency room by her neighbor.

Unfortunately, stories of elder abuse, both physical and financial are all too common in the city of Los Angeles where there are more than 380,000 elder individuals.

The Los Angeles County Elder Abuse Forensic Center (LACEAFC) is a multidisciplinary, multi-agency team of professionals that protects vulnerable elders and dependent adults from abuse and neglect. The team, comprised of a geriatrician, forensic neuropsychologist, Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, LAPD, LA Sheriff’s Department, GENESIS mental health services, LA County Adult Protective services, Victim-Witness Assistance Program, Bet Tzedek Legal Services and the Office of the Public Guardian, meet weekly to review 2-4 cases such as Mrs. White’s.

Through support from Archstone Foundation and Unihealth Foundation as well as from CCF, the LACEAFC has secured the services of neuropsychologist Dr. Susan Bernatz.  Her involvement in the assessment of elder abuse cases has permitted the center to successfully prosecute more than 65 cases (16 cases still pending outcomes). In cases of physical abuse, the LAEAFC has increased the likelihood of successful prosecution by 300% while increasing the rate of prosecution in financial abuse cases by 9 times.

In short, Dr. Bernatz’ evaluations have become the cornerstone to the delicate work of determining whether an elder is cognitively capable of managing the situation they are in. When abuse has been established, the group works together to determine the best solution in order to help restore dignity and a quality of life worthy of the elder.

“The Los Angeles County Elder Abuse Forensic Center has been able to have a physician or neuropsychologist evaluate seniors who have been in abuse situations. As cognitive impairment is a risk factor for elder abuse, and

Dr. Homeier listens to the roundtable discussion.

evaluation of the victim is often crucial to understand their vulnerability and needs as well as to further investigate and prosecute the case. Our forensic neuropsychologist and her team have been instrumental in detecting cognitive impairment in many of our victims as well as reviewing medical records to determine the onset and extent of the impairment. These assessments have allowed the team to protect the victim, prosecute the abuser, and preserve the home/property or obtain restitution in many cases of financial abuse,” says Dr. Diana Homeier, director of LACEAFC.

The U.S. Administration on Aging’s National Center on Elder Abuse has cited studies suggesting that only one in 14 cases is reported to the proper authorities. With the multidisciplinary approach of the LACEAFC, the hope is that more cases will be reported and prosecuted.

The Los Angeles County Elder Abuse Forensic Center team.

Rose Veniegas is the health care program officer at California Community Foundation.

For more information about LACEAFC, please click here.

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