Elder abuse is a growing problem in the United States and is projected to swell with the rapidly growing aging population. In Marin County, 29% percent - or nearly one out of every three people - is an “Older Adult” defined as aged 60 years and over, and by 2030, 38% of Marin residents will be considered an older adult. The biggest increase will be among those over 85. According to the National Council on Aging, one in ten Americans over the age of 60 has experienced some form of elder abuse. This can take many forms, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, self-neglect, and financial exploitation.

Marin County Health and Human Services, Aging and Adult Services is committed to preventing the abuse of older and dependent adults, and has several programs in place to address this increasingly common issue. Each of these programs takes on a different aspect of, or approach to, addressing elder abuse.

Adult Protective Services

One of Marin County’s primary programs targeting elder abuse is Adult Protective Services (APS). Run by the Department of Health and Human Services, APS investigates reports of abuse or neglect of older and dependent adults. APS works closely with law enforcement, medical professionals, and other community partners to respond to elder abuse reports. APS addresses many types of abuse, from the more frequently talked about financial and physical abuse, to lesser-known abuses like isolation, and self-neglect.

If you suspect that someone you know is being abused or neglected, please contact APS. Anyone can report abuse by calling the intake line: 415-473-2774. APS will investigate and take action to protect the victim. This may include providing emergency shelter or medical care, arranging for legal assistance, or working with law enforcement to bring criminal charges against the abuser. There are, however, limitations to what APS can do because it is not a law enforcement agency. APS does not do criminal investigations or make arrests; and they cannot remove people from their homes. It is important to note that use of APS’ services is voluntary, and clients do not have to accept services even when abuse is confirmed.

Reporting elder abuse is not only the right thing to do - it is also required by law. California law requires certain professionals, including physicians, nurses, social workers, and law enforcement officers, to report suspected cases of elder abuse. Additionally, APS records are confidential social service records under the law, and can only be released to specific individuals working on elder abuse cases. Records are not generally disclosed to the person who reported the abuse or to the victim. APS will connect victims and their families with other local agencies and resources including the Public Guardian’s Office, Long-Term Care Ombudsman, Financial Abuse Specialists Team, and In-Home Supportive Services.
Public Guardian

Adult Protective Services also steps in when they find older adults, often with cognitive issues, who cannot manage for themselves and have no family or friends to help them. APS alerts the County Public Guardian – who will investigate and can petition the court to be appointed to act on the behalf of an adult who can no longer manage their own personal or financial affairs due to cognitive or health issues. In these cases, a Probate Court judge appoints the Public Guardian as the responsible person to care for the impaired older adult who cannot care for themselves or their finances. The Superior Court provides oversight on all cases.

Marin Financial Abuse Specialist Team

Financial abuse is one of the most common types of elder abuse, and it can have devastating consequences for victims, including the loss of their life savings and the ability to support themselves. Within Aging and Adult Services, the Financial Abuse Specialist Team (FAST) is dedicated to protecting Marin’s older adult community from financial abuse. The team also addresses past cases of abuse by helping law enforcement investigate financial abuse and prosecute perpetrators. FAST performs detailed forensic accountings which can be used in the prosecution of these crimes.

The team includes both volunteers from the community and public sector employees who provide training the community on recognizing, investigating, and preventing elder abuse. The FAST team also prevents financial abuse by staying informed about the latest scams and educating older adults and their families about common scams and frauds. FAST partners include Adult Protective Services, The District Attorney, the Public Guardian, and the Ombudsman's offices.

Long-Term Care Ombudsman

The Marin County Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is an advocacy program designed to protect the rights of people living in licensed assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. Every state in the U.S. is required to have an Ombudsman program as mandated by the Federal Older Americans Act. The Marin County Ombudsman program is part of the county’s Aging and Adult Services division, and their jurisdiction includes 47 residential care facilities for the elderly (assisted living), 11 skilled nursing facilities, and three continuing care retirement communities.

Marin’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman advocates for residents living in long-term care facilities to ensure their dignity, quality of life, and quality of care. Ombudsman representatives provide information and assistance to residents, their families, and facility staff to help resolve problems to the satisfaction of the resident or their responsible party. The Ombudsman program also provides education and training to facility staff to help prevent elder abuse and promote the health and safety of residents.

Elder abuse is a serious problem in Marin County that only got worse during the pandemic. The increased reliance on technology combined with isolation left older adults more vulnerable than ever before. The good news is that Marin County has several programs, all working together, to help victims of elder abuse and prevent future crimes. These programs, including Adult Protective Services, the Financial Abuse Specialist Team, and the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program, provide a range of services to protect the health, safety, and well-being of older and dependent adults in our community. It is critical for Marin’s legal community to be aware of these programs and to reach out when you are concerned about elder abuse. You may be able to prevent a client, or possibly your own parent or loved one, from becoming a victim of the next high-tech grandparent scam.