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Elder abuse cases on the rise

February 25, 2020 by Abigail Bostwick


The Northwoods population continues to age, but resources for elder care are inequitable, few and declining, the Vilas County Social Services Committee heard at its monthly meeting Tuesday, Feb. 18.

While many rural areas struggle to find resources such as nursing homes, adult day care, home care and assisted living as well as care for victims of elder abuse, Vilas County is on the far end of the challenged spectrum, indicated social worker Donna Rosner. 

Approximately 40% of Vilas County’s population is over the age of 60.

“Our numbers continue to grow,” Rosner said. “It’s not going to get any better, and our resources are getting worse.”

Many Vilas County clients have to be placed outside of the county for care, Rosner explained, leading to higher costs and stress for both the county and the families. 

Currently, around 36 of 48 protective placements of the elder population is placed outside of Vilas County, according to numbers compiled by the Social Services Department. Those counties are widespread and as near as Oneida and Lincoln or as far as the Milwaukee or Pierce County areas.

“We are working to create adult family homes, so clients can stay local at least,” Rosner said. “We are trying to think outside of the box … to create our own resolution. It’s not fair to families … and it’s expensive to send (clients) out.”

Adult care homes would be similar to foster homes for children, but for older adults in need of some care and assistance. It would allow the clients to stay closer to their homes and families.  

“We have no group homes or nursing homes in Vilas County,” Rosner added. “Our resources have decreased, but our demand has increased … it’s not going to get better, it’s only getting worse.” 



State allocation dollars ‘out of whack’

The state of Wisconsin recently expanded dementia care specialists for a number of counties — which would have brought several additional workers in the area to aid with older populations — but Vilas and Oneida counties were not selected. 

Many elder abuse state-based formulas for funding are based on population, not demographics, said Rosner and social services director for Vilas County, Kate Gardner. This equates to, for example, that in 2018 while neighboring Florence County had 14 cases of elder abuse and was allocated $9,900 state dollars to address those — $700 per client — Vilas County had 170 cases of elder abuse reported and $12,580 allocated at $74 per client. Oneida County had 33 reports of elder abuse and was allocated $17,100 — $518 per client, it was noted.

Further, Vilas County is the 27th lowest state aid-receiver in Wisconsin, but one of the highest counties for numbers of reports and clients of elder abuse — making it the second lowest in the state when receiving aid per case handled, Rosner said. Seventy counties were allocated more than Vilas. 

“All around our area, we aren’t getting our reimbursement,” Rosner told committee members. 

Every year, Vilas County asks for more dollars at the end of the year as the area has gone over budget, Rosner said. Usually another $1,500 to $2,500 is given, she said. 

“It doesn’t even come close to covering her time,” Gardner said. 

“Who sets this? Is it bureaucratic?” supervisor Marv Anderson asked.

Gardner relayed it is set by legislature. 

“We are in the process of putting a letter together to send to legislators,” Rosner said, stating the letter would ask representatives to consider advocating for a restructuring of the formula used to award elder at-risk monies to counties. 

“It seems to me we have to constantly remind them of the dilemma,” supervisor Erv Teichmiller observed. “The legislature could do more if it chose to, the county board could do more if it chose to. It’s got to come from some place, so it comes from general aid here.”

Teichmiller indicated the burden upon taxpayers, including the elderly in need of care, and being subject to possible abuse was a tragic situation.

“The formula is so out of whack,” he said.

In the letter, Rosner relays to legislatures, “I am not asking for more funds just consideration of the formula of how funds are allocated to counties … the Vilas County Elder at Risk caseload has been high for years and will only expand as seniors continue to see Vilas County as a retirement destination.”

A more “equitable and efficient formula” would be to award funds based on number or reports/cases rather than general population numbers, Rosen relays. 

“The statewide average of money received per report is $232. We are asking for a formula that brings all 72 counties closer to that average,” Rosen said. “Wisconsin’s Elder At-Risk population should be able to access equal direct services statewide to alleviate abuse and neglect and not be negatively affected because they live in a less populated area … Vilas County’s Elder-at-Risk population is in dire need of this formula change.” 



Other news

In other matters, the social services committee: 

• Heard the Human Service Center report from Tamara Feest, director of The Human Service Center of Forest, Oneida and Vilas counties, who reported a grant had been received that will benefit children ages birth to three years’ old and their parents. The focus will be on social and emotional development in those years, she said. 

Feest also relayed information on the center’s goals for 2020, several of which have been prioritized — including placing direct service staff in Vilas and Forest counties. Board composition also is to be addressed and committee structure protocol. 

The 2019 annual report was recently completed, and several committee members expressed interest in that report being shared with the County Board as a whole. 

• Learned Vilas County Social Services was invited to participate in, and accepted, a state child welfare time study. 

“The state is doing its own workload study,” Gardner said. “We’ve been asked to be part of the study, and we will.”

The process will take about a month’s time and require staff input. 

“Our desire is that the state will be informed on how the child welfare work is done,” Gardner said. “And ultimately how dollars are allocated … I’m excited we were asked to participate and hoping it will provide more information to the state about how much time it takes.”

Locally, some social workers have had caseloads as high as 37 each, said the director. 

“That’s incredibly high,” Gardner observed. “I don’t know how any social worker is expected to carry that work load.” 

• Heard the locations for juvenile detention centers have been narrowed from six to four — expected to be located in the counties of Dane, Brown, Milwaukee and Racine. 

Abigail Bostwick may be reached at [email protected].

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