Daylong conference, forum at UWS to focus on elder abuse

The keynote speaker for a daylong conference on elder abuse set in Superior next week said he believes the event will produce results. "This conference is very important, because every time you educate a community on this subject, it leads to act...

The keynote speaker for a daylong conference on elder abuse set in Superior next week said he believes the event will produce results.

"This conference is very important, because every time you educate a community on this subject, it leads to action," said Bob Blancato, national coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition. "When they reached out to me, I was thrilled."

Blancato, whose involvement in the issue dates back to 1981, when he was a staff member on the House Select Committee on Aging that was chaired by Rep. Claude Pepper of Florida, will give the opening address at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday in the University of Wisconsin-Superior's Swenson Hall.

It's part of the Twin Ports Elder Abuse Awareness and Prevention Conference, which will be followed by a community forum at 6 p.m. at the same location.

The conference stems from feedback after a forum last year, said Esther Gieschen at the Center for Continuing Education at UWS, and from a focus group involving law enforcement, county attorneys and health and human services personnel.


People wanted to learn more about elder abuse, so the conference was scheduled, Gieschen said. It's a particular topic of concern for the Northland, she added.

"We have kind of a perfect storm for elder abuse in that we have a disproportionate aging population," Gieschen said. "Like most rural areas, we have young people leaving and old people staying, and ... (a) real shortage coming up with home care workers and assisted living and all those types of settings."

Marit Anne Peterson, program director for the nonprofit Minnesota Elder Justice Center, will be among the conference presenters.

"I want to make people aware that this is an experience that our friends and neighbors have," Peterson said.

That includes a growing number of sophisticated scams, such as a caller claiming to be a couple's grandson in trouble or claiming to be with the IRS, Blancato said.

The magnitude of elder abuse - which can include financial exploitation as well as emotional, physical and sexual abuse - is significant, he said.

Although there are "tremendous data problems," he said, "The data that we do have suggest one in 10 people over the age of 60 are victims of elder abuse."

In the Twin Ports, that translates to more than 3,800 older adults, Gieschen said.


Among elders with cognitive impairment, one in five are abuse victims, Peterson said.

A separate national study concludes that victims of elder financial abuse lose as much as $3 billion a year, Blancato said.

But in reality it's likely worse than that, he said.

"For every case that gets reported, there could be five times as many cases that go unreported," Blancato said. "The largest number of perpetrators are family members. There's a reluctance to pursue elder abuse cases when it involves a family member."

Yet efforts to combat elder abuse are underfunded, said Blancato, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1995 to direct the White House Conference on Aging.

In 2000, he said, the Senate Special Committee on Aging discovered that "of all the money we were spending on abuse prevention, less than 2 percent was going for elder abuse, but reports were coming in saying that (elder abuse) was increasing in number and severity."

Three years later, when the Elder Justice Act was introduced, committee Chairman Sen. John Breaux, D-La., asked Blancato to form the Elder Justice Coalition. The Elder Justice Act finally passed as part of the Affordable Care Act, but has largely gone unfunded, Blancato said.

One of his purposes on Tuesday, Blancato said, will be to mobilize the audience to pressure Congress to fund elder justice.


Politicians, he said, "need to feel the buzz. If people make noise about it, it will help the cause a great deal."

A second purpose, he said, is to spur action at the local level, perhaps in the form of a collaborative effort involving health professionals, law enforcement and others.

"Elder abuse is a national problem, but the solutions are local in nature," Blancato said.

If you go

The Twin Ports Elder Abuse Awareness and Prevention Conference will take place from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday at the University of Wisconsin-Superior’s Swenson Hall.
A community forum will begin at 6 p.m.
The fee to attend the conference is $25, or $70 for professionals. Lunch is provided for those who preregister.
General admission to the community forum is free with preregistration, or $10 at the door. The professional fee is $10 with preregistration, or $20 at the door.
To register or for additional information, call (715) 394-8170 or visit .

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