Somerset County Area Agency on Aging explains role in wake of state report

March 5, 2019

The Somerset County Area Agency on Aging has repeatedly met state regulations and expectations over properly invoicing and responding to complaints involving older residents, according to a state report.

Earlier this year, an Office of State Inspector General report criticized how county-level agencies on aging investigate elder-abuse complaints.

The state Department on Aging, which oversees protective services for those 60 and older, began grading counties on their compliance with state regulations and laws in 2017. Since then, more than a third of the 52 county-level area agencies on aging have at one point received a substandard red or yellow rating. Somerset has always received a green rating, the highest category.

The county agency’s administrator, James T. Yoder, protective services workers Paul Danel and Chris Grenke, and Laurel Tinsmith, a contract assessor, discussed how the agency operates and deals with elder-abuse complaints during a sit-down interview last week.

“We want people to understand that we do respond when there is a need,” Grenke said. “We do make it a priority to get out and address the needs of the people in our community.”

The Older Adults Protective Services Act of 1987, amended in 1996, established a uniform statewide reporting and investigative system for suspected abuse, neglect, exploitation or abandonment of older adults. The Department of Aging monitors the county-level aging agencies tasked with investigating allegations of elder abuse.

“In Somerset County, we get between 35 and 40 calls a month; not all of those are over 60, because we take the calls for 18 to 59 years old,” Grenke said. “We don’t investigate them, but we take the report and pass it on to a health care group contracted with the state to take care of people in that age group.”

When a call comes in from an older person or someone on behalf of an older person presumed to be in need, the agency staff, specifically those involved in protective services, quickly gets involved.

“If the report seems like it is an emergency, we have to go right away,” Grenke said.

The protective services program is staffed 24 hours a day. To qualify as an emergency, the agency worker has to determine if the person is in imminent danger, he said.

“If we feel that person is going to be hurt or killed based on the situation, we need to get there,” Grenke said.

Agency workers may involve law enforcement as well depending on the situation, he said.

For example, if an older resident with physical challenges is alone because a caregiver has abandoned that person, the agency may decide to call law enforcement, Tinsmith said. The agency often learns of the situation because a neighbor, family member or adult child who lives in another state has contacted the agency. Those calls will get the protective services workers out and on that person’s doorstep immediately, according to Tinsmith.

Not all calls reach that level of urgency, but the agency staff responds to all of them.

“There is a lot of self-care (calls),” Tinsmith said. “People don’t want to say they can’t do something for themselves anymore.”

Most of the people the agency works with need physical help at their homes with meal preparation, cleaning or getting to a store. Additionally, the agency workers help with money management when requested.

The goal is to allow an individual to stay in their own home if they so choose.

“I’d like to see the triple A be a household name,” Yoder said. “One that they see as helpful and not as an adversary.”

Yoder, who was named the agency’s new administrator in July, is to undergo protective services training this March. He wants to go out on a case.

“I’m ready,” Yoder said.

All contents © copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.