Aging and Adult Services Department Director John Cottrell takes issue with a report made last week by a Contra Costa County Civil Grand Jury that claimed that, as of January, the county had stopped providing services to protect elderly residents from financial abuse.
The report stated that the county was in violation of the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protective Act, which mandates local governments to provide protection to seniors.
Cottrell said that while his department has been slashed to the bone in all of the recent rounds of budget cuts, it is still providing basic services to the elderly in the county.
"We've been hit pretty hard but we still have some pretty good workers here. We have six very good people who continue to do this," he said.
Cottrell said that does not mean they haven't had to scale back their services. Where in previous years case workers were out in the field investigating allegations of senior abuse, more and more of the investigative work is having to be done by phone.
"We're doing the best we can with what we have. We're still meeting the mandates, although the investigations aren't as thorough as they used to be," he explained.
Five years ago, the Employment and Human Services Department's annual budget was $36 million. Cottrell said that as of this week, he has been told that the budget is now $17.5 million.
"In five years we've lost 50 percent of our county money. We're in a free fall and we haven't hit bottom yet," he said.
State funding in the past few years has been cut by 10 percent, and could be further pared down.
"The scary part is they are still $8 billion out, so that means they are probably going to come after more," Cottrell said.
The department, he explained, has had to prioritize its cases in order to be certain that it addresses those incidents where there is a pressing need. Physical abuse and abandonment receive top priority, followed closely by financial abuse.
One area where Cottrell agrees with the grand jury's assessment is on the seriousness of financial abuse of the elderly. Referring to it as one of the greatest crimes of the 21st century, he said it is going to have a serious impact during the next two decades.
"In the next 20 years you're going to see the greatest transfer of wealth in this country as the elder generation will be passing their wealth down to their children. That wealth is being eroded," Cottrell stated.
In the past two years, nearly one-third of the 3,500 reported cases of elder abuse in Contra Costa County were financial in nature. And of those, Cottrell said 50-60 percent were perpetrated by family members.
Adult Protective Services has seen a serious drop in service in self-neglect, those seniors who need help or assistance but refuse to seek it out. Cottrell said in the past they have used case managers to put those individuals in contact with resources that can provide them what they need. With fewer caseworkers and staff those people will more often fall by the wayside.
Cottrell said the picture isn't entirely bleak, as he has been reaching out to community groups to help in filling in the gaps. One such group is Communities Against Senior Exploitation (CASE). The group, backed by the District Attorney's Office and several other organizations, trains individuals in the community to proactively recognize abuse.