With the month of May recognized as "Older Americans Month," the Times spoke with the new victim advocate from the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas Inc., who took the position at the beginning of this year.
Deb Pierce, who works out of St. Petersburg and recently competed a master's degree in gerontology, has her hands full, given the troubled economy and countless scams aimed at seniors.
Here motto: "I should do for my elder clients what they would do for themselves, when they cannot."
Here are excerpts from the interview with Pierce.
What does the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas Inc. do for seniors?
The agency serves seniors as both an advocate for and coordinator of services aimed at meeting a variety of their needs. Established by federal law, we partner with service providers at the local level to assess, plan, develop and fund programs to enrich the lives of all elders residing in both the Pasco and the Pinellas communities.
In 2005, we were one of three area agencies on aging in the state to receive the designation of aging and disability resource center. As an ADRC, we are the entry point for programs supported by the Florida Department of Elder Affairs in addition to providing information about resources within the Aging Services Network. All programs in the agency are designed to foster quality of life for citizens as they age and help them remain in the community.
How does the victim advocate program work to help seniors?
Aimed at helping those over the age of 60 who have been a victim of a crime, our special elder victim advocate services help area elders navigate the criminal justice system. Realizing there are times when seniors have different challenges than other age groups, we work to provide answers to their questions and help them stabilize their lives after victimization.
Examples of victim services by our advocates include crisis and supportive counseling, assistance to file complaints, courtroom orientation, transportation coordination related to the case, and assistance with completion of impact statements, restitution requests and victim compensation applications.
The area agency also has the responsibility to educate the community regarding elder abuse and to initiate programs, such as outreach and community crime forums to identify and prevent elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.
How many workers/volunteers work in the victim advocate program?
The elder advocate program has been in operation for the last 14 years. At the present time, there is an elder victim advocate in each county, Pasco and Pinellas. Our volunteer staff includes both university interns and retirees. This fluctuates based on their availability, averaging four each month. The safety cell phone program that refurbishes and distributes phones to elders for use as 911 safety phones depends on the support of these volunteers and donations of cell phones from the community. Volunteers are always welcome and always needed in our elder victim advocate program, as well as, other programs within the agency.
How many seniors does the victim advocate program serve on an annual basis?
Our last contract year ended on Sept. 31. In this time period we served 154 formal victims of crimes in both Pasco and Pinellas combined. Midway through this current contract year, we have impacted the lives of 84 elders. We are on target to exceed last year's service numbers. These numbers do not include the many phone calls we field for information and referral service.
What kind of issues lately has the victim advocate program faced?
Our current demographics reveal that out of the 16 different classifications of crime we track, exactly one-half of them fall in the single category of financial exploitation. It is this white-collar type of crime, often perpetrated by someone known and trusted, that can be the most difficult to face. It is very challenging for both the criminal and the civil systems of justice to process financial exploitation and seek restitution. Too often, the money is gone by the time the elder realizes they are a victim.
How can seniors reach the victim advocate program when they need assistance?
If you believe we can help an elder with their situation, please contact us with any need, big or small. The best number for anyone in our community with a question, concern or need regarding a person over the age of 60 to call is the toll-free Senior Helpline at 1-800-963-5337.
Ivan Penn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/consumers_edge and find Consumer's Edge on Facebook.