Tackling Elderly Abuse in Harris CountyApproval of a memorandum of understanding among law enforcement, health care and elder abuse investigative agencies last week means the center could soon begin seeing victims of abuse and neglect in the coming days.

“It allows us to share information. It allows us to be at the table. It really sets the standard of how we’re going to work together,” said Claudia Gonzalez, adult services administrator for Harris County Protective Services for Children and Adults.

The approval comes at a time when both financial exploitation and the senior population are on the rise — the population of adults 65 and older in Harris County is expected to grow from approximately 388,000 in 2013 to 985,000 in 2050, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Texas contained about 3.8 million people age 60 and over, roughly 15 percent of the 2010 population. The number is expected to more than triple to 12 million by 2050.

Pervasive problems

“The problems associated with elder abuse, exploitation and neglect are becoming pervasive and more serious,” said Precinct 1 Commissioner RodneyEllis, who campaigned in part on advocating for services for the senior population.

He said the center, which will be on Murworth Drive, “will provide services and assistance to combat these problems and help protect this vulnerable population, which deserves our respect and support.”

Commissioners on Tuesday approved the memorandum, which outlines the responsibilities of the multiple agencies involved in the assessment center. It includes members of Adult Protective Services, the state agency that investigates complaints of abuse, neglect or exploitation; the offices of the Harris County attorney and district attorney, which will pursue such cases in the courts; Houston police and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, which will investigate potential crimes against seniors; and public and private health care officials, who can help assess the capacity of clients to make their own decisions, as well as determine whether injuries may be the result of abuse or accident.

Anecdotal success

The initiative, county officials said, is necessary to unravel the complexity of cases that might involve family members, mental health issues, financial records and possibly even substance abuse. It’s often difficult to establish that a crime occurred if a victim gives consent against his or her best interests.

The county’s assessment center was funded for one year by an approximately $384,000 federal grant from the Victims of Crime Act. The county has applied for more funding and expects to hear back in September, Gonzalez said.

While comprehensive data is difficult to find, efforts in New York, California and other places across the country report anecdotal success, said Bonnie Brandl, director of the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life.

“The places across the country that are doing that have found that to be most effective,” she said.

Meanwhile, Brandl said, elder abuse and neglect still appear to be a low national priority. She said she and others warily eye President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers’ budget priorities, which focus more on defense spending and less on social services. She said the Victims of Crime Act funding may be on the chopping block.

“It remains to be seen how it will play out,” Brandl said. “I think there is more concern in the field that this issue is going to continue to be invisible.”