Missouri AG makes changes after finding most elder abuse hotline calls went unanswered

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s attorney general is answering the call to help senior citizens after a troubling report about the state’s elder abuse hotline.

The study found, in the first part of this year, only 39% of elder abuse hotline calls were being answered. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt issued a series of recommendations to fix the hotline.

Ida Strickland is 75. She considers Kansas City’s Don Bosco Center a second home, where everyone feels like family.

“They take care of you. They call you if you haven’t been here in a while,” said Strickland.

The senior center makes it a mission to provide for the needs of seniors like Ida.

“We have a watchful eye,” said Anne Miller, Don Bosco Senior Center director.

While Don Bosco Center staff believe seniors are safe in their facility, they know sometimes things at home are very different.

“Sometimes people themselves don’t reach out when they’re in trouble or in need but there’s some telltale signs we can look for,” Miller said.

Staff can then call concerns into Missouri’s elder abuse hotline. Physical abuse cases are rare, but they often flag emotional, and financial exploitation.

“We look to that hotline, the elder abuse hotline, to be responsive,” Miller said.

While the Don Bosco Center said it’s had positive experiences with the service, the attorney general’s report finds the state’s hotline has been less responsive than it should be.

In 2018, only about half of hotline calls were answered. In the first quarter of 2019, only 39% of callers got through.

“Look, if somebody’s calling to report abuse, that’s a very serious matter and for people to be either dropped off a call, or have to wait too long, it’s a serious issue,” Schmitt said.

The AG said Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services, which manages the hotline, needs to streamline and modernize its technology.

“Making sure if a call is coming in related to abuse, that call is prioritized, it’s logged and we’re doing something about it,” Schmitt said.

The first step is a new website, so elder abuse concerns can be reported online. The Attorney General is working with DHS in hopes his other recommendations are adopted, too.

Don Bosco Center is glad to see improvements come to a hotline that’s a critical resource in keeping seniors safe.

“I think we all need to be more aware of our older generation. They deserve our attention. They deserve our respect,” Miller said.

Since some of the first changes have been made to the state hotline, it’s already improved to 77% of calls getting answered in November.

Locally, there are also growing efforts to tackle elder abuse through a working committee, which is helping build strong partnerships with law enforcement, adult protective services, and mental health.

If you are concerned a senior citizen is being abused, you can call the state’s hotline at (800) 392-0210 or using the new online reporting tool. If the situation is an emergency, call 911.

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