Reports of elder abuse are on the rise in King County, and they're not expected to go down anytime soon as more residents age into their golden years. The county aims to relaunch a program some geriatric experts see as a valuable tool in the fight against elder abuse.
That program, known as the Geriatric Regional Assessment Team, offered free in-home mental assessments tests to anyone 60 or older suspected of being a victim of abuse.
If a cognitive ailment was found, like dementia, clinicians with the team had the power to ask Adult Protective Services to open an investigation and possibly rescue the vulnerable person from their situation.
But the hospital overseeing the program, EvergreenHealth Medical Center, decided not to renew its contract with the county last July, creating a hole in the county's ability to combat elder abuse in the view of some mental health professionals.
"The older adult population is growing rapidly and to not be prepared with specialists in that area is unbelievable," Karen Kent, a former GRAT supervisor, said.
The geriatric specialist program is now on track for a 2019 reboot. The timing couldn't be better as residents 60 and older are projected to make up almost a quarter of King County's population in the coming decades, according to a report from the county's Aging and Disability Services.
Jim Vollendroff, the director of the county's Behavioral Health and Recovery Division, said the region's aging demographic highlights the need for geriatric services like GRAT. He said the program will be restored to its former state with $500,000 from the Veterans, Seniors and Human Services levy passed by voters last year. Changes could also be made to better reflect mental health needs in the county.
Vollendroff also challenged the idea that the county lacks the expertise to handle cases of elder abuse without its geriatric specialist team, an assertion made by former GRAT clinicians.
Those clinicians say victims suffering from early dementia — a hard-to-identify condition that calls for an exhaustive diagnosis — might have lingered in abusive situations without GRAT's intervention.
Reports of abuses resurfacing in the last year after a victim was initially considered competent, but was later found to be suffering from acute dementia, seem to support their claims. Those reports come from a county prosecutor who handles cases of financial exploitation, a common type of elder abuse.