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Doormen Hold Keys to Spot, Prevent Elder Abuse

  • Faiza Elmasry

Elder abuse attorney and specialist Joy Solomon, right, speaks during a class at a condominium in New York, Jan. 7, 2014, on teaching doormen and building staff how to identify and what to do if they spot cases of elder abuse.

Elder abuse attorney and specialist Joy Solomon, right, speaks during a class at a condominium in New York, Jan. 7, 2014, on teaching doormen and building staff how to identify and what to do if they spot cases of elder abuse.

Elder abuse is a hidden crime. Seniors are vulnerable to financial and psychological manipulation as well as physical abuse and neglect, and may be so confused or fearful, they don't ask for help. That's why a New York social welfare group is training doormen about the early signs of the problem so they can detect and report it. The idea behind this approach is simple: every set of eyes counts.

As a long-time doorman at a Manhattan apartment building, Joshua Saldivias has gotten to know the residents. After taking this training, he said, he could use that familiarity to help, when needed.

“It opened us up to how frequent elderly abuse goes on. At least now I have some type of procedure to go by, if I notice something I know the next step,” he said.

“It was a good thing to do, we’re members in the community," said Dennis Brady, an executive with the management company that runs Saldivias' building and several others in the city. He said his staff could be a valuable resource for observing and detecting abuse.

“The men in the lobby, the doormen, the concierge, and even some of the personnel who work in the buildings deal and interact with tenants on a daily basis. They see them coming and going. They see them when they come to collect their mail, they announce their guests, [and] they help them with their deliveries. So our men are very familiar with our tenants,” said Brady.

According to a government study by the National Center on Elder Abuse, Bureau of Justice, nearly 6 million cases of elder abuse were reported in 2010, nearly 10 percent of the senior population. No one knows how many more cases were never reported. That made it impossible to know the extent of the problem, said Joy Solomon, Director of the Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention. In the training seminar for the doormen, she urged them to be alert for signs of psychological, physical and financial exploitation.

“If you have an older person who lived in the building for 20 years and relatively suddenly that person starts to become much more withdrawn or not really engaging with the doorman or seems upset. The older adult may appear unkempt or inappropriately dressed or malnourished or maybe there are unexplained physical injuries, maybe bruises," said Solomon.

"If someone says I can’t pay my rent anymore. A sudden loss of financial independence can also be an indicator, maybe someone coming into their life or the older adult seems kind of fearful or frightened and when the older adult is asked or questioned, the other person speaks for them. Certainly none of these are absolutes that the person in being abused or neglected or exploited, but they are red flags that there is something to be observant of,” she added.

If they see one or more of those signs, doormen are encouraged to report it to the building management. But, Solomon stressed, that didn't mean interfering with the seniors' right to live independently or engage in relationships.

“In the last training, there was a resident that was there, an older resident. The feedback from her was, ‘You know, I don’t want someone interfering into my life, but [it's good] to know that there are people around me who care for me or would support me if something happens to me.' I think she felt really good about that,” she said.

Solomon said elder abuse was not limited to the United States.

“When I travel to other places to give talks about elder abuse what I learn is that yes, abuse, neglect and exploitation is happening all over the world. What we know about elder abuse is that it’s not accepted in any culture, but different cultures’ view reporting to authority is different. In different cultures they feel like getting involved in someone’s business is inappropriate or that you can bring shame to your own family,” she said.

Staying connected to the community, she said, was key in preventing elder abuse.

“Belonging to some kind of community organization whether religious affiliation or some kind of social group or community center, that really helps community, family know you’re okay,” she said.

Solomon said doormen were not the only people who should get this training. Lawyers, social workers, therapists, physicians and law enforcement officers should also be trained so the entire community is able to recognize and act to prevent elder abuse.