Non-stop calls greet opening of elder abuse shelter

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

The phone was “ringing off the hook” within hours after Metro Detroit’s first shelter for victims of elder abuse opened Monday in Oakland County.

Rochelle Upfal, CEO of Jewish Senior Life, the nonprofit that started the shelter, said the nonstop calls are evidence of the pent-up need by seniors, who often aren’t sure whether to act in an abusive situation.

“We’ve had anything from veterans, to people living with their own children, to people who want to volunteer their time or donate,” Upfal said. “There is that question of ‘here’s what’s happening to me,’ or ‘what are the resources?’

“It’s a hidden epidemic because this (problem of elder abuse) hasn’t been discussed openly.”

It’s impossible to gauge the need, experts say, because most elder abuse goes unreported. Michigan’s Adult Protective Services investigated 13,511 elder abuse complaints in 2014, but some experts estimate as many as 90,000 Michigan elders are abused annually.

Called the Center for Elder Abuse Prevention at Jewish Senior Life, the Oakland County shelter is open to senior citizens of all faiths and beliefs and may be the first of its kind in the state.

“We are not aware of any other shelters that are for elder abuse victims only,” Bob Wheaton, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said when asked how many such facilities exist in Michigan.

Senior citizens’ advocates, health care providers, Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper, West Bloomfield Police Chief Michael Patton, local officials and state lawmakers gathered at Hechtman Apartments, a retirement community in West Bloomfield, to celebrate the opening of a “shelter without walls” for seniors.

Instead of a single building, four Oakland County retirement communities run by Jewish Senior Life will open their doors to victims, who will live anonymously among other seniors — at no charge — while putting their lives back together. Those in need of skilled nursing services will be housed at Danto Family Healthcare Center.

The initiative is funded by a $25,000 state grant and Jewish Senior Life.

“What an older adult needs is not necessarily the same as a domestic violence shelter or safe house,” Upfal said. “For us, it is using our existing retirement community where they have access to safe housing and a social worker until they either can go back home or find suitable housing.”

Cooper said seniors are particularly vulnerable to abuse because they’re reluctant to step forward.

“These heinous (crimes) are from people they know, love and trust,” Cooper said.

Get help

■ If danger is immediate call 911 or local police

■ For information, or access to the elder abuse shelter, call 248-661-0123; the hotline is staffed 24-7

■ To report elder abuse in Michigan call 1-855-444-3911