Vulnerable and often ignored

In this June 4, 2019, photo, Dana Nessel, Attorney General of Michigan, listens to a question from reporters in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

TRAVERSE CITY — The elder population is one of the most vulnerable in society. Despite that, society hardly addresses their issues, said Heidi Gustine.

But a state initiative aims to correct this.

Attorney General Dana Nessel will appear in Traverse City to talk about her Elder Abuse Task Force on June 21.

The event — at the Traverse Area District Library from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. — is part of Nessel’s 12-stop listening tour to open a dialogue about elder abuse in the state. It features an informational presentation on the task force followed by an opportunity for attendees to share their stories.

“Before we moved ahead, we thought it would be a good idea to talk to as many people around the state as possible to ensure that we were hitting all the right areas of concern,” Nessel said.

The attorney general formed the Elder Abuse Task Force in March 2019 to change the way the state government prevents and handles elder abuse and neglect.

Building oversight on guardians — those legally designated to care for an elder — and the courts that approve them, in addition to mandating procedures for reporting instances of abuse and neglect in care facilities and banks are focus areas, she said.

The task force will also develop legislation to address any issues that cannot be directly fixed by the attorney general’s office, like requiring training programs for police so that officers know how to identify signs of elder abuse.

Bipartisan members include House and Senate legislators, Supreme Court justices and more than 50 advocacy organizations.

There are over 73,000 cases of elder abuse in Michigan every year, Nessel said.

“I truly believe that when we’re done with this, we’ll have made more progress in terms of protecting seniors in our state in perhaps eight or nine months than we have in the last 30 years,” she said.

Gustine, the incoming executive director of the Area Agency on Aging in Northwestern Michigan, said she supports Nessel's move and plans to attend.

“Children, older adults, and persons with disabilities are three populations that are just ripe with abuse and to bring this forward in the way the attorney general is doing is very exciting and I hope it motivates many more people to take action on this issue."

Deborah Allen, Chief Development and Community Engagement Officer at the Grand Traverse Pavilions, said she’s gotten in contact with the Attorney General’s office to offer the Pavilion’s support.

“We are certainly going to be sharing the [task force’s] initiatives with our residents and their families and we’re glad the issues are being addressed,” Allen said. “I think this is a good opportunity to pause and remember that these elders, they built our country and we owe them a great debt. We should all be concerned about their well being.”

The Pavilions is one of the largest elder care facilities in Traverse City with over 300 residents and over 400 employees. Allen noted that employees are trained to spot signs of abuse and neglect.

“We take those issues very seriously both on intake and during their stay here with us. Our role is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our residents,” she said.

According to 2010 census data, nearly 20 percent of Grand Traverse County is over the age of 65 and Gustine said that number will rise as the Baby Boomer generation ages.