Abuse and neglect of elderly and at-risk adults is the focus of a new initiative launched by DeKalb County Wednesday. The office of District Attorney Sherry Boston will lead the group of state regulators and law enforcement agencies. AJC file photo.
Photo: David Barnes
Photo: David Barnes

DeKalb launches new group to combat elder abuse

DeKalb County launched an initiative on Wednesday to combat abuse of elderly and disabled adults.

The DeKalb At-Risk Adult (DARA) multidisciplinary team, headed by District Attorney Sherry Boston’s office, will try to improve coordination and communication among law enforcement, regulators, advocates and social service agencies to ensure allegations of harm come to light and are investigated.

“It’s critical to have this collaboration because crimes are often not reported,” Boston said. “But different agencies may see different signs or different things. So if we’re working together in a team collaboration, it allows for these referrals to come in and flow more easily.”

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The group includes several local police agencies, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Georgia Department of Human Services, the DeKalb Medical Examiner’s Office and the county solicitor, as well as the Georgia Department of Community Health, which regulates nursing homes, assisted living facilities and personal care homes. It will meet quarterly to discuss a variety of systemic problems, review cases and breakdown barriers that prevent at-risk adults from receiving services.

Similar multidisciplinary teams have been launched in roughly a half dozen judicial circuits in Georgia. The groups are receiving technical assistance from the state Division of Aging Services.

One area that will likely receive attention from the new group is the lack of reporting of potential crimes at facilities that serve seniors and at-risk adults. That was a statewide problem highlighted in the recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation of assisted living communities and personal care homes. The AJC found that state regulators and law enforcement too often fail to communicate or share information, which can lead to breakdowns in oversight. Even suspicious deaths and allegations of mistreatment in senior care facilities often go unreported to law enforcement and prosecutors. And when caregivers and other mandated reporters failed to alert police to abuse or neglect, they rarely faced consequences.

» MORE: State takes step towards transparency in senior care homes

» PREVIOUSLY: Lax oversight, low fines in senior care industry

The series highlighted several cases of neglect, including deaths, in DeKalb that never made it to Boston’s office for review. Boston said she anticipates the new group will help fix this problem.

“We certainly hope we will fill in the gaps,” Boston said. “If there’s not reporting, if there’s not conversation among agencies, we’re operating in our individual silos, which is not to the benefit of the community. It’s only when we can gather together and piece together all the information that we each have that we can be of best service.”

The group will also target unlicensed personal care homes that illegally house and traffic seniors and at-risk adults.

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