Institutionalized without justification. Stripped of all rights and dignity. No, it’s not some tale out of Guantanamo. It’s happening in cities and towns all over the U.S. Many frail, impaired, or just “unwanted” older adults are shut away, separated from their life savings, forced to endure countless indignities, and in some cases, lose their right to self-determination. It’s legal, but elder advocates say it’s another form of elder abuse.
The treatment of Sarasota’s most vulnerable is the focus of a terrific series on elder guardianship from Barbara Peters Smith at the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald Tribune. Her profiles of these elders whose lives were forever changed will make you want to reach out and speak with seniors and families in your own community. Any one of these stories could be that of your grandmother or mother or brother.
Finding the impetus for this series came about quite by chance, as Smith describes in her “How I did it” piece. It involved many, many phone calls, emails and old fashioned footwork led to hard scrutiny of a system that appeared out of control. Despite many challenges, including how to verify many of the stories she heard, Smith found a pattern that was hard to ignore, and did the due diligence necessary to verify and vet the information used. A phone call, an editor who listened, and a woman desperate to leave a facility she didn’t want to be in provided the appropriate news hook.
When Smith met two women at a seminar on elder fraud, she had no idea what that conversation would lead to. By listening and by using her journalistic instincts, she uncovered a problem larger than she ever imagined. By keeping your antenna up and thinking “big picture,” you also may find a great news story hidden in a seemingly random conversation.