A lawyer and advocate for the elderly makes no bones about the fact there has been an “incredible increase” in elder abuse in Canada since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Laura Tamblyn Watts, the executive director of CanAge, says those who respond to elder abuse report as much as a tenfold increase in calls since all of us were directed to physically isolate in our homes.
During a phone interview last week, she said it’s not just COVID-related frauds and scams that are “exploding.” The abuse is coming from family, friends and caregivers, and is related to neglect and lack of safety.
Marta Hajek, executive director of Elder Abuse Prevention Ontario, said their Seniors Safety line has had an “unprecedented number of callers.”
Accustomed to taking about 800 calls a month, they are reaching 800 calls in a “matter of days” during COVID, she said Friday.
She said they’ve been getting calls about powers of attorney — who has the power to speak on behalf of the residents since families can’t get into long-term care homes — and families not getting the answers they need about how their parents are doing “in the most timely way.”
“COVID is a breeding ground for all kinds of abuse to happen,” Hajek said.
Tamblyn Watts said elder abuse can be physical, emotional, psychological (putting people down or gaslighting), sexual and institutional.
During the COVID crisis, nothing shows institutional abuse more clearly, says Tamblyn Watts, than Montreal’s Residence Herron where 31 residents passed away, staff walked off the job and some of the remaining residents were found covered in their own feces.
But she said there have been instances of “profound neglect” in Ontario seniors homes as well.
“Everyone’s talking about the institutional abuses we’re seeing,” Tamblyn Watts said.
Toronto resident Meryle Kates talked to me recently about her 98-year-old dad, Murray, who’s been denied his personal caregiver in his facility Kensington Gardens since March 16 — after the facility deemed the caregiver non-essential.
She told me they still won’t let his PSW in and when she FaceTimes with him he is “sometimes unshaven and sloppy.” She’s also not sure he’s eating.
“I’m heartbroken that he has no personal care or companionship,” Kates said.
Toronto lawyer Jasmine Daya believes there’s “not enough awareness” or enough being done about these kinds of abuses.”
“The more eyes on the situation … I hope that will result in change,” said Daya, who got involved in her first claim against a long-term care provider six or seven years ago.
It’s also common in long-term care homes to drug more difficult residents with anti-psychotic medications to ensure they require less care, said Tamblyn Watts.
She also refers to financial abuse, which is fairly evenly split between family members and caregivers, and the various frauds and scams that have ramped up during COVID-19.
Tamblyn Watts says it’s a perfect storm where adult families and grandchildren — out of work and worried about whether businesses will survive — coerce their elderly parents or grandparents to sign guaranteed loans, take out mortgages on their homes or to provide other resources.
They’re also seeing an increasing amount of joint account and power of attorney (POA) abuse, she said.
“We’re also seeing the general Bank of Mom and Dad … people moving back home in a COVID-19 pressure cooker situation,” she said.
“If family members will find a way to exploit they will,” added Hajek.
Tamblyn Watts said the COVID crisis has exposed how few resources are available to seniors in an abusive situation.
“I am worried but I’m not surprised because systems for helping older people and families in congregate settings or in the community are either broken or they don’t exist,” she said.
Daya anticipates there will be a spike in claims against long-term care homes once the dust settles on the pandemic.
“We don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors … purely because it’s just that, they’re closed doors,” Daya said. “I can’t see that it would be anything positive given what we are hearing.”
For more information on elder abuse prevention, visit www.eapon.ca/.