Community Legal Aid is partnering with local agencies to raise awareness of elder abuse, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic — and resources available to prevent it.
The issue was brought to the fore when a community member who had witnessed abuse of residents in her apartment building approached the clinic, says review counsel Lilian Bahgat.
“This woman ended up assisting three victims but had to navigate the process herself,” Bahgat says. “She wanted to get all the relevant organizations together to do something to protect seniors against fraud and abuse. Collectively we decided to form a referral network that could direct people experiencing or witnessing abuse to the appropriate service.”
Bahgat notes that while in private practice, she worked in the area of elder abuse — which includes physical abuse, intimidation, manipulation, and financial fraud. Her private practice experience enabled CLA to work with local agencies such as the Elder College, Life After Fifty and the Alzheimer Society of Windsor-Essex County.
“Some of these issues are criminal matters and others may involve a civil claim,” she says. “Our goal is to ensure that when a suspected case is flagged, the person reporting it will be efficiently navigated to the right contact.”
Besides Community Legal Aid, participating agencies include police services, CrimeStoppers, Elder Abuse Prevention Ontario, and the Seniors Safety Line.
“Everybody has been very willing to do this,” Bahgat says. “We’re very hopeful that this great collective effort will help to spread awareness of this issue.”
The group has produced a poster (pictured at left) listing agencies that can provide help in the case of suspected elder abuse. The City of Windsor Housing and Children’s Services office is helping distribute it through its networks; similar efforts are underway to reach county residents.
Bahgat says a goal over the longer term is to develop workshops to educate professions that interact regularly with seniors.
“The idea is to take current internal networks and integrate them into a local network that identifies and reports abuse efficiently and effectively,” she says. “Lawyers dealing with estate law, banking and finance sectors noticing unusual withdrawals, personal support workers and nursing aides — even training family members and neighbours to keep a look-out.”