People who suspect abuse, neglect or financial exploitation of the elderly and disabled can make a report to a state hotline.
The state department of health and senior services does a good job investigating those hotline calls in the county, said Franklin County Public Administrator Mary Jo Straatmann.
“They have a difficult job to do,” she said.
Straatmann’s office is appointed by the probate court to help elderly, disabled and mentally ill residents with medical and financial decisions.
“A lot of appointments have come from health and senior services investigations,” Straatmann said, adding, “I think there is enough going on that we will be getting more cases due to those investigations.”
The hotline number is 1-800-392-0210.
There were more than 400 such calls reported in Franklin County last year, according to the department of health and senior services.
‘My Job Is to Be There’
Straatmann’s clients may be young or old and could have issues such as Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder
“A lot of them can’t communicate anything about their health,” Straatmann said. “They don’t understand what’s going on, and my job is to be there.”
They may not have family to help them or the family may be unwilling or unable to do so. Generally, if someone has one mental illness they are likely to have another one as well, she said.
Straatmann noted that her office does not file or seek out cases. A judge rules that someone is incapacitated and determines who should be appointed to help with the person’s financial and medical affairs.
Neglect can occur when elderly, disabled and mentally ill people are not checked on routinely, she noted.
“They might not be getting adequate food supplies, they might not be getting medical care, they might not be taking their medication or getting them refilled,” Straatmann said.
Some older people have been neglected or unable to take care of themselves and “can be very seriously ill,” she said.
Health and Finances
Two basic roles are performed by the public administrator — guardian and conservator. The office can also be appointed to handle the estates of people who have passed away.
The guardian is involved in health care decisions while the conservator helps with financial matters, such as paying monthly bills and filing tax returns.
The theme across the state is that she and other public administrators will get more cases as the population grows older, Straatmann said.
“We’re keeping people alive longer,” she said, adding that the office is currently working about 100 cases.
As a person’s guardian, Straatmann communicates with the person’s doctors and care providers, consents to treatments and learns about surgeries and medication.
She also helps decide where a person should be placed, such as in a secured or unsecured facility. Clients can also be placed in facilities outside of the county.
It can be hard for a family to manage a mentally ill person at home when the individual will not take his or her medication, Straatmann noted.
“Missing one dose of medication can change everything,” Straatmann said. “With psychiatric medications you can’t skip a dose.”
They can become disagreeable with family members who are trying to help, Straatmann said.
“They may begin having problems functioning at home,” she said. “They may get in trouble out in the community.”
She does not want to be critical of families, saying it can be very challenging to deal with mental and physical disabilities.
Sometimes it is easier for the public administrator to step in. That way, if the person wants to be upset with someone it can be the public administrator and not the family, Straatmann said.