July 23, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

Source: News Tribune July 23, 2023

Every day, 116 elder abuse reports are received in the state of Missouri.

Elder abuse, which is defined as abuse, neglect, financial exploitation or bullying of adults older than 60, is a growing problem in the Show-Me State. And one of the state’s most effective tools in stemming the abuse is facing a shaky financial future.

In fiscal year 2020, Adult Protective Services at Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services received around 29,000 reports of elder abuse from its hotline, 800-392-0210.

Two years later, the numbers were up to 30,000. By 2025, DHSS projects there will be 33,000 cases.

Around 90 percent of the reports DHSS receives are of a non-emergency nature, meaning case workers do not consider the individual in question to have a substantial probability of serious injury or death.

About half of the elder abuse reports involve self-neglect, meaning situations where people can no longer keep their homes safe as they did before due to declining abilities. For instance, it could be someone who is unable to take care of his or her personal or medical needs.

Tim Jackson, section administrator of adult protective services at DHSS, said, “In those situations, we’re basically just linking the person up with what they need or making referrals for any kinds of medical services that they may need.”

Created as a pilot program, the Direct Services Program seeks to develop partnerships between DHSS and local organizations to fill those seniors’ needs or make those referrals. DHSS pays for services or goods as a last resort for individuals, while Area Agencies on Aging coordinate service delivery.

The program, which began in July 2022, is designed to address resource and service gaps that existed in some communities.

“The Area Agencies on Aging are really the resource specialists,” Jackson said. “They know what resources are available out there.”

Aging Best is an Area Agency on Aging that covers 19 counties in Central and South-Central Missouri, including Cole County. Major services that the organization provides include meals for senior residents at its senior centers, home meal deliveries through Meals on Wheels, public classes focused on senior well being, as well as Medicaid and Medicare counseling.

Available services also include medical equipment not covered by insurance, dental services, deep cleaning, rental assistance and legal services. The program currently has a budget of around $2 million from two federal sources, according to its website.

While the program appears to have made a difference in Mid-Missouri and statewide, its financial future is uncertain.

Jackson estimates the DHSS pilot program could run out of funding after the third quarter of 2024.

“If there’s no other funding source to replace it, then we’ll basically have to shut the program down,” Jackson said.

The program provides a valuable service to a vulnerable segment of our population and is worthy of funding support from the state. We encourage the governor and the General Assembly to step into the gap to fill this need for Missouri’s elderly.

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