Professionals who often serve vulnerable adults were given advice to help those being abused or taken advantage of, during a Community Response Network luncheon held Jan. 24 in Sechelt.
The luncheon, titled Financial Abuse: B.C.’s legislative response and implications for financial institutions, drew representatives from the Sunshine Coast Credit Union, H&R Block, Sunshine Coast RCMP and the Sunshine Coast Food Bank, as well as social workers, mental health and addictions workers and members of the Community Response Network.
All could relate to the case study presented by Alison Leaney, provincial coordinator for Vulnerable Adults Community Response, and Kathleen Cunningham, manager of legal and legislative projects with the Public Guardian and Trustee of B.C.
In the case study presented, Mary’s husband Alan died a year ago. She had three adult children and one, named George, arranged to have a joint account with his mother to help her pay bills from time to time.
George then moved into Mary’s home and started drinking heavily.
Mary started losing weight and seemed to stop taking care of herself. She confided in a friend that George was taking small amounts of money from her purse and threatening her verbally and physically.
Soon after that Mary signed a paper giving George power of attorney. The following day, he had Mary’s retirement savings fund deposited into their joint account.
Two days later Mary was admitted to hospital, saying she fell. She was confused and had bruising. She was malnourished and diagnosed with delirium.
Once the delirium cleared, Mary was found to have moderate cognitive dysfunction. A social worker got involved and found that George recently gained power of attorney. Mary also confided in the social worker about the problems living with her son.
There were serious concerns about Mary’s ability to problem-solve once discharged from the hospital.
The situation that started with financial flags had escalated quickly. “The reality is that if there is financial abuse, there is likely something else going on,” Cunningham said.
The sequence of events was familiar to professionals at the luncheon who wondered when and how they should get involved to save someone like Mary from being taken advantage of.
Leaney said the golden rule is that adults who have the ability to make their own decisions, whether good or bad, must be allowed to do so. The health authority, the RCMP and the Public Guardian Trustee won’t get involved until there is suspicion of a cognitive dysfunction.
However, if the adult is being physically harmed, or threatened with physical harm, the RCMP will respond.
A decision tree was given to all in attendance that explained who to call and when.
If there is suspicion a crime has taken place, there is a threat to a senior’s physical safety or the adult is showing a lack of well being, the police can be called.
If there is concern an adult is being abused or neglected, or is self-neglecting, a person can contact Vancouver Coastal Health or Community Living B.C.
If there is an indication an adult is not capable of managing their financial and legal affairs and there is imminent risk to their assets, the Public Guardian and Trustee of B.C. should be alerted.
The three agencies involved in protecting vulnerable adults can talk with each other and work together to solve any issues raised by a professional or member of the public.
“I think it’s important that the public guardian and Vancouver Coastal Health and the police work together because this is typical of any police investigation where it starts with little information and it’s so dynamic,” said Sgt. Mike McCarthy.
For more information, see www.seniors.gc.ca and click on Elder Abuse Awareness.