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Preventing Elder Abuse

Image of a pair of broken glassesHospitals can play a key role in the prevention, identification and treatment of elder abuse. Anyone can learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of elder abuse. People who may have been victims of abuse or neglect may come to the hospital needing treatment for the injuries sustained from the suspected abuse, or for other medical care.

Patients may be unable or reluctant to speak of the abuse, which may not be obvious to the casual observer; however, hospital staff members are educated to identify possible victims of abuse and to recognize the potential for abuse by caregivers dealing with older adults.

Prevention

  • Referrals: When a nurse or physician suspects a caregiver is under a great deal of stress, a referral may be made to the social work department. The hospital social worker will meet with the caregiver to make recommendations and referrals to community agencies, such as the local Department of Aging, to reduce the stress level of the caregiver.
  • Groups and Classes: Some hospitals offer support groups or educational classes for caregivers.
  • Evaluation Clinics: When the caregiver is providing care to a person with Alzheimer's disease or other dementia, the hospital may offer evaluation clinics and other support services.
  • Prevention Strategies: These may be suggested for older persons and their families, as there is much that can be done to reduce one's risk of being abused.

Identification

Regardless of whether the patient enters the hospital on an out-patient or in-patient basis, licensed staff members like the physician, nurse, social worker and therapist are required by law to report suspected abuse to the Department of Social Services, which is responsible for Adult Protective Services (APS) investigations.

Medical Staff
The medical staff is required to monitor and respond to any changes in the patient's physical, behavioral and emotional health. After reporting suspected abuse to the Department of Social Services, the medical staff member will also make a referral to the hospital social worker.

Social Worker
The social worker will interview the patient and caregiver and coordinate a discharge plan that addresses the alleged abuse situation. This plan may include placement in another setting.

Physician
The physician will complete a physical examination and order any tests needed to properly document the suspected abuse.

Treatment
A person who has suffered suspected abuse might need medical or psychiatric care. These services are provided on an out-patient or in-patient basis, depending on the needs of the individual. The hospital may also play an important role in helping the caregiver through counseling services or referrals to appropriate community resources,

Suspected Abuse

If you suspect abuse of your loved one by a staff member or another patient in the hospital, you should immediately report the matter to the nurse or social worker. The hospital is required to investigate and refer the case to the local Department of Social Services and the police for independent investigations.

If you are concerned the staff will not handle the case appropriately, you may make an Adult Protective Services referral directly. In Baltimore County, call 410-853-3000, ext. 2. In other areas in Maryland contact the local Department of Social Services and ask for the APS unit.