Los Angeles County bracing for a senior tsunami

Report says region not ready to deal with boom in aging population

By Kyle Kim

7/04/09

With Los Angeles County facing a “senior tsunami” in the decades ahead, county officials are not adequately prepared to deal with the explosion in demand for senior services and a growing rate of physical and financial crimes against the elderly, the civil grand jury warns in a new report.

As baby boomers age, the county’s senior population is expected to double from 1.6 million today to 3 million by 2030, placing increasing pressure on the nearly 100 programs in 24 county departments that provide services to seniors and adults with disabilities, according to county data.

This pending `senior tsunami’ will dramatically impact the need for senior services for elders,” grand jurors wrote. “This civil Grand Jury investigation shows the county is not adequately prepared as the population ages for the significant increase in demand for elder abuse prevention programs and services.”

Also with the rise in the senior population has come a big jump in crimes targeting the elderly.

Michael Gargiulo, deputy-in-charge of the Elder Abuse Section in the District Attorney’s Office, said the number of elder abuse cases his office is prosecuting has nearly doubled from about 40 per month in 2005 to 90 now.

The cases run the gamut from distraction burglaries and Lotto scams to murder and physical abuse of seniors.

In one recent case that prosecutors said was particularly disturbing, a 21-year-old former employee of an upscale Calabasas assisted-living center is scheduled for trial in August, accused of torturing and physically abusing an elderly patient prior to his death.

Prosecutors say Cesar Ulloa, who had worked at Silverado Senior Living, allegedly punched Elmore Kittower, 80, and attacked him numerous times, resulting in numerous rib fractures and other injuries.

An autopsy revealed the retired engineer died of a blood clot in his lung, but the investigation revealed he had been abused for months prior to his death, prosecutors allege.

“It’s a very serious matter,” said Deputy District Attorney Robin Allen. “It’s obviously disturbing to see a senior being abused in any context, especially in a facility where they are responsible for his care and well-being.”

Ulloa’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

Loren Shook, president and chief executive officer of Silverado Senior Living, a San Juan Capistrano-based company that operates 19 senior living communities for Alzheimer’s patients nationwide, said he’s taken this “very unfortunate incident” seriously.<

He said the company is working with university researchers on how to distinguish between normal bruising patterns among people with Alzheimer’s and bruising resulting from abuse. The company is also raising awareness about senior abuse by speaking out at state and national conferences.

“We have over 12,000 residents that we serve and this is the first abuse situation we’ve had,” Shook said. “We have a terrific licensing record. So this is a situation that we are just very upset about having ever happened, but we are working very hard to step forward and create a system that goes way beyond what we had before.”

Grand jurors wrote the county does not have a strategic plan to guide elder abuse prevention services and programs, its outreach efforts are “more reactive than proactive” and current management practices don’t ensure Adult Protective Services workers are receiving adequate training.

County reviews case

Eagle Rock resident Irma Garcia said she is concerned the county doesn’t treat elder abuse cases seriously, a conclusion she reached after being unable to help a neighbor that she suspects is being subject to financial abuse.

It started one quiet weekend when she heard screaming. Stepping out of her home to see what the ruckus was all about, Garcia saw an elderly neighbor yelling, “Get out of my house!”

Today, Garcia said the family member the elderly woman was yelling at is still living at the house. Garcia has contacted county Adult Protective Services, the Los Angeles Police Department, county officials, a lawyer and other organizations to have the person evicted.

“Every time I talk to (APS), it’s like running into a wall,” Garcia said. “There’s no way out. One agency would tell me to call another agency, and that agency another.

Patricia Senette-Holt, spokeswoman for the Department of Community and Senior Services, said APS is very responsive to reports of financial or physical abuse.

“I don’t know what her situation is, but we definitely respond to all alleged instances of abuse to confirm that in fact the person is being abused,” Senette-Holt said.

Helen Berberian, the social services deputy to Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, said she plans to look into the case. In the meantime, she is preparing a motion for the Board of Supervisors to vote on regarding recommendations in the grand jury and CEO reports.

“The CEO talks about low-hanging fruit and things that can be implemented without additional resources,” Berberian said. “We are in the process of reviewing it because resources are such an issue now.”

Task force to help

Senette-Holt pointed out the grand jury found services for seniors are underfunded. Last year, the county spent $2.9 billion on services for seniors, not including state and federal funds for in-home care worker wages and Medi-Cal payments.

“We are pleased they have identified there is a lack of funding for elder abuse programs, realizing with the budget cuts and economic downturn, that there is currently insufficient money to meet the growing need,” Senette-Holt said.

The grand jury report follows a 2004 audit of the Department of Community and Senior Services, finding a “long-term lack of leadership, accountability, poor program management, and problems with program monitoring and funding.”

But the grand jurors wrote the department is addressing these issues and the “structure and culture of CSS is also changing.”

In the report, grand jurors noted the APS caseload is expected to increase nearly 10 percent from 25,518 clients in 2005-06 to 28,000 clients in 2008-09. In the same period, the average number of monthly reports of senior abuse and neglect are expected to rise 14 percent from 2,038 to 2,370.

Grand jurors also expressed concerns about weak oversight of the county agencies that work with seniors and adults with disabilities.

Los Angeles County Deputy Chief Executive Officer Miguel Santana said his office directed Department of Community and Senior Services Director Cynthia D. Banks last year to lead an inter-departmental task force to develop a series of recommendations to better prepare the county for the doubling in the senior population.

Last week, Santana’s office released the “Seamless Senior Services Initiative” report outlining nearly 60 recommendations to increase cooperation among departments and enhance services for seniors and adults with disabilities. Among them are listing all senior programs on one Web site and establishing a new department branch for seniors to help them and their family members find county services.

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13 08 2009
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