June is National Elder Abuse Awareness Month: A Success Story of the Warren County Community Services’ Friendly Visitor Program
Ohio is a rapidly aging state. In fact, projections for the year 2020 suggest that in 86% of Ohio’s counties, 1 in 4 residents will be aged 60 or older. For Warren County, the senior population (ages 65+) grew by 54.4% from 2000 to 2010. As senior citizens age, loneliness is one of the major factors that contribute to a decline in physical and mental health. Being alone, without social support, can lead to depression and self-neglect among the elderly.
The HealthPath Foundation of Ohio has invested in organizations like Warren County Community Services that implement programs, such as Friendly Visitor, which provides extra care to older Ohioans to enhance their quality of life and prevent elder abuse. According to the Ohio Family Violence Prevention Project (OFVPP), more than 105,000 seniors are abused or neglected each year although many cases go unreported. Programs like Warren County’s help to assist in early identification of potential problems and act as a referral for help.
The Warren County Friendly Visitor Program began in 2007 after a coalition of professionals interested in helping older adults age safely decided that they needed extra help to provide their clients with the best support and service. The group’s answer was to solicit individuals equipped to handle a variety of situations and to act as an extra set of eyes and ears, as well as to be a senior’s friend.
Warren County’s Friendly Visitor program is comprised of 22 volunteers who go through a significant selection and training process in order to be prepared to help clients. Through training, they learn about the aging process, the emotional and social changes seniors go through, HIPPA and other regulations, how to identify elder abuse, and home safety, among other topics.Volunteers visit client homes a minimum of once a month and just talk with the seniors. They do not help them clean their homes, deliver them food, or fix items – they sit and have a conversation with them.
“We once had a client who said that their volunteer was the only person to truly look them in the eye and have a conversation with them,” said Karen Hill, aging services director, Warren County Community Services. “It’s a simple act – just to visit with someone. But our volunteers who visit them at least once a month mean the world to them and it’s the highlight of their day.”
To help care managers, volunteers provide a report after each visit. Volunteers have been confronted with many situations that would not have been taken care of if it wasn’t for the trust clients had in them or their frequent visits to their homes. For example, one volunteer was visiting a client and found that she hadn’t been visited by any home care professionals in three days; the instance was reported and she was immediately provided help. Another client trusted her volunteer enough to confide in that the family and neighbors who were supposed to be taking care of her instead were taking advantage of her. She was scared to call the authorities because she was afraid she would be taken out of her home and lose her independence. However, she felt safe to tell her volunteer, and the problem was resolved.
To learn more about the program and other services that the Warren County Community Services offers, visit www.wccsi.org.