Elders listen to the information presented at the Taking a Stand Against Elder Abuse event on May 15.
By ROSELYNN WAHTOMY
FORT HALL – A panel discussion on elder abuse opened the Fourth Annual Taking a Stand Against Elder Abuse conference May 14 at the Nutrition Dining room.
Presenters included Warm Springs elder Wilson Wewa Jr., Fort Hall Police Department (FHPD) Officer Anthony Brunscheen, FHPD Dispatch Sergeant Jamie Rios and Susan Cronquist of Southeast Idaho Council of Governments Adult Protection.
Event organizer, Marcia Hall, explained these individuals are often the ones she approaches to coordinate services with.
Wewa gave his perspective on the definition of elder abuse and his experience of working with elders since 1980.
Wewa shared it was always an honor for him to visit Fort Hall and he’s been coming since he was 17 years old. He recalls the old style way elders would dress and spoke in their language and remembers the people enjoyed conversing with his grandma, who spoke Paiute.
Someone in the crowd yelled the need for a nursing home on the reservation.
He talked about how in the 1970s the elders on the Warm Springs reservation pushed to get a nursing home, not wanting to get too far from their families. In the early 1980s the Colville tribe got a convalescent center, the first Native American nursing home on a reservation.
Warm Springs eventually got an assisted living facility, however, after 20 years all those who pushed for one don’t want to go there because of the price and it possibly affecting their social security.
Wewa stated assisted living facilities and nursing homes aren’t the answer because it still doesn’t stop elders from becoming depressed. While he said he didn’t want to entirely shoot the idea down he asked people to consider the facts.
In the last 20 years he’s noticed the prevalence of elder abuse in the community, with parents leaving their children with grandparents for days, sacrificing their own money to feed the kids and put them through school.
He told the grandparents they were doing a good job in being taught to never turn others away. However, he urged them to start putting their foot down, because elder abuse is not the Indian way.
Old teachings he heard growing up he was told, “Don’t be lazy. You’re going to grow up to be man, you do man things. You get a job. You make a house for yourself and when you can take care of yourself, you can find a woman to bring into your home. Then you make children.”
It was stressed to not make children and expect his parents to take care of them because they were his responsibility.
While many elders grew up with this teaching, somewhere along the way it seems to have been lost.
Elder abuse started raising its head in Indian Country once they started to get reports of elders, mostly women getting bruises on their biceps. They started to see elders with no food in their homes because they were buying food for somebody else’s home. They saw emotional abuse by always being yelled at or belittled. Sad feelings, being non-social, not having money has also led to depression.
“We have to learn as Indian people to turn that around. We have to put things back in perspective again,” he said. “Where we start taking back.”
Wewa talked about his family took care of his grandma and allowed her to enjoy her golden years, providing her with fire wood, giving her money, taking her to places she wanted to go.
“That’s the way we took care of our grandma. She never stayed home. She never got depressed, because she knew there was always somebody, her children or her grandchildren, were always going to come to take care of her.”
He always says it’s probably why she lived to be 107-years-old.
He said, young men need to be told again they need to take care of the children they make and man-up to take care of their sons and daughters. The mothers have to learn to cook so when they have kids they can feed their own children and learn to take care of them.
These are the teachings he gives his own nieces and nephews, who probably think he’s mean, because when he comes to visit they try to make things clean for him.
“That’s the way we have to go back to elders. We have to go back to being tough to our kids. We can’t let them slide because we’re not going to be here forever,” said Wewa.
He’s found one of the biggest deterrents of elder abuse is that an elder will call the police department to file a report, a prosecutor will make charges but then the elder will drop the charges because they don’t want to make trouble.
“If you don’t make trouble, they’re going to continue doing it to you,” he said. “So we need to start making trouble. That way our children are going to learn.”
Officer Brunscheen has been a part of the police department for two and a half years. Elder abuse is something he takes personally since his grandma was a victim of elder abuse.
When he gets a call complaint he goes out and does his best to investigate and find the problem. When he finds someone has taken advantage of an elder they do their best to charge them.
This year the Fort Hall Police Department has seen four cases of elder abuse already.
It’s been proven statistically in Indian country that only one out of 57 cases have actually been reported.
“So here in Fort Hall that says a lot. Last year we had eight. So this year we do have more elders who are getting more brave and taking control of their everyday, but it’s on the rise if we already got four for the year and it’s only May.”
Brunscheen said they need elders to come forward and not drop charges.
He’s been on calls where an elder is denied of someone not wanting to take them to get their prescription refilled, which is willful neglect. Stealing just a couple of dollars and asking them constantly for money. He’s witnessed seeing four or five kids in a home with grandma the only one there and in a wheelchair, meanwhile mom and dad out cruising and boozing. He’s seen too many times where they take grandma or grandpa’s truck and wreck it. Too many times have they gone to medical assist calls, once arrived they have two capable adults stating they take care of mom and dad but as soon as they get there they disappear and know nothing of their medical needs.
Brunscheen said he vowed to protect and serve the community. He encouraged elders to be brave because it helps him do his job much better.
Dispatcher Jamie Rios said they often get calls for theft and assault. When the officers respond the elders will be quiet and not want to get their family members in trouble. While they understand the circumstances she encouraged them to still report it so they can help. She mentioned they have the TIP411 to call, she suggested even if the elder knows someone not being cared for they can report it for them.
Susan Cronquist has worked with adult protection out of Pocatello for 20 years. She said despite one’s nationality there are things that affect everyone. Abuse, neglect and exploitation of elders have run rampant. It’s almost like the children expect to live off the work their elders have done. She asked how many know someone who has been abused and how did it make them feel?
“It makes you angry. It makes you feel bad. Doesn't that also make you feel that that could be me?”
The goal of adult protection, no matter where they are is to make things right. They will hold those accountable for treating elders badly. If they can't do that their main goal is to make sure they have what they need and they are cared for.
Marcia Hall explained her role as elder advocate and how she responds to a call. One thing she finds aggravating is finding out when elders have their medications stolen from kids who sell them and then can’t get them refilled. Also elders who have $20 taken from them and spent at the casino. Also elders taking care of grandchildren and adult children.
In the last year Hall has taken on 296 cases with most of them being neglect, homelessness, abuse and exploitation.
She’s seen an elder on home dialysis sitting at home while a house party goes on around them. Sometimes she gets calls from the dialysis centers to check on the patients when they don’t see them.
Hall works with many sources to get services for elders when they need help.
Hall said while her job is stressful she loves what she does. When this event came up she said it was a way to get everybody educated on elder abuse.