DA forms elderly abuse office
MORGAN CITY, La. -- With an aging population and an increase in complaints of elderly abuse, there is a pressing need for protection of a vulnerable section of society, according to assistant district attorney Donnie Akers, who will be heading a new department investigating these types of complaints.
The investigation of elderly abuse and/or exploitation in a 10-parish area, including St. Mary Parish, has become the responsibility of 16th Judicial District Attorney J. Phil Haney in a unique agreement with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.
The district attorney’s office has entered a one-year contract with the state and has set up its Elderly Protective Services division. Several regions are utilized by the state to investigate allegations of elderly abuse and exploitation but this is the first and only region assigned to a district attorney’s office, according to Akers.
The Elderly Protective Services’ role will not be one of enforcement but rather will take complaints and investigate them. If investigators determine that a crime has occurred, they will turn the case over to law enforcement officials who will do a criminal investigation, Akers said.
State law provides for the protection of persons over the age of 60 who cannot physically or mentally protect themselves and who are harmed or threatened with harm, according to the news release announcing the agreement, which became effective July 1. State law also requires mandatory reporting of suspected cases of abuse or neglect by any person having reasonable cause to believe that such a case exists.
“Every adult is a mandatory reporter of elderly abuse,” Akers said. “That means if you are aware of abuse of an elderly person you are legally obligated to report it.”
Anyone having a reasonable cause to believe that anyone over the age of 60 is being abused, neglected or financially exploited should call the Elderly Protective Services Department at 337-365-9855 to make a report. All reports are confidential.
“Too often we see someone is financially exploiting a parent who silently endures the abuse because of their fear that they will be placed in a nursing home. So they endure abuse and neglect,” Akers said.
Examples of this type of exploitation would include children or caregivers who take the credit or debit cards of elderly citizens or take their checks and use them against the will or without the knowledge of the victim.
Becoming the elderly abuse investigatory agency for this region is another example of Haney thinking “outside the box” to help educate citizens on issues as well as be proactive in the community, Akers said.
“Mr. Haney has been very innovative in his approach to many issues,” Akers said. “He has learned and has been an example demonstrating that old models do not work like they used to” and looks for ways to prevent abuse and crimes. Haney tries to change behavior and do more social services, Akers said.
The district attorney’s office will provide a team of four investigators, support staff and legal support to this new division, Akers said. In addition to St. Mary, Iberia and St. Martin parishes of the 16th Judicial District, the contract also provides that these services will extend to Acadia, Assumption, Evangeline, Lafayette, St. Landry, Terrebonne and Vermillion parishes.
Investigation of abuse of citizens between 18 and 60 years of age who are developmentally disabled will continue to be done through the Department of Health and Hospitals, Akers said. Abuse of people younger than 18 is handled by child Protective Services. All these other forms of abuse are also mandatory reporting crimes that all adults have a legal obligation to report.
The highly successful “Prosecutors Early Intervention Program” begun by Haney to address the needs of at risk youth and prevent their entry into the criminal justice system has been nationally praised and recognized, according to the news release. The new Elderly Protective Services Department will enhance this approach to the ever changing landscape of today’s society and protection of its citizens.