Kadner: Three towns join to protect seniors
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org July 10, 2014 6:10PM
Calumet Township Supervisor Robert Rita | File photo
Updated: August 12, 2014 6:24AM
In an effort to improve the quality of life of senior citizens, three suburbs have formed an intergovernmental agreement with Calumet Township to form an Adult Protective Services Program.
The three suburbs, all within Calumet Township, are Blue Island, Calumet Park and Riverdale.
According to the agreement, the program is designed to established a “professional uniformed response for at-risk and high-risk senior citizens.”
“The purpose is to coordinate services between governments, who are all dealing with dwindling resources, to prevent senior abuse, neglect and provide wellness checks during inclement weather,” said Calumet Township Supervisor Robert Rita, who also is a state representative.
Rita said his concern was heightened during the past winter when heavy snows and below-zero temperatures forced many seniors to be confined to their homes.
“We often have seniors coming to our township programs who suddenly weren’t showing up, and I wanted to make sure we had a coordinated effort among the municipalities and the township to look in on these people and help them out if we could,” Rita said.
Rita said he drew inspiration for the program from the Blue Island Police Department, which has created a post of elderly abuse officer to deal with the problems of seniors.
“One of the reasons we created the program was that we have a large percentage of our population that is seniors,” Deputy Police Chief Michael Cornell said. “We wanted to intervene where there were problems before it gets to the point where it’s drastic.”
Jason Slattery, the department’s elderly services officer, attended a special training seminar hosted by the Illinois attorney general’s office on scams and other problems plaguing the elderly, Cornell said.
“The fact is that the Illinois Department of Aging and Catholic Charities do a great job of assisting senior citizens, but both of them are straining under the burden and having a difficult time providing enough resources to help everyone in need,” he said.
As part of its program, Blue Island works with Metro South Hospital to identify seniors suffering from abuse and neglect to provide them the assistance they need.
That program, Rita said, will be expanded to the police departments in Calumet Park and Riverdale.
Cornell said the Blue Island police program has generated a corps of volunteers, including elected officials, who check on elderly residents. He said police have created a database to identify seniors who may need of special assistance.
“We have a number of programs in the township to help senior citizens,” Rita said, “but I’m hoping this program will generate interest among other seniors in volunteering to look in on seniors who live alone.
“We’ve had some extreme weather conditions recently, heat last summer and cold this past winter, and my thoughts are we want to avert tragedies before they happen.”
Rita said the program will use existing government resources and cost no additional tax money.
“What we want to do,” Cornell said, “is look after the people who looked out for us. It’s that simple, really.”
Among the agencies involved will be local police and fire departments, city clerk’s offices, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office division of senior services, Cook County Health Department, Illinois Department of Mental Health, PLOWS and Catholic Charities.
On of the key areas of concern mentioned in the intergovernmental agreement is hoarding.
And that raised some concerns on my part because of the wording, which reads in part: “When there is a report of a senior citizen hoarding, the appropriate municipal department will be notified and should contact the necessary department or agencies to conduct inspections or take other appropriate action including making a determination that the residence is unfit or uninhabitable.”
I’ve written about several seniors over the years who were facing eviction because of hoarding, and it is a heartbreaking situation that, in most cases, could be avoided with early intervention.
Unfortunately, many seniors are unwilling to seek help because they are worried the government will force them out of their homes.
I mentioned my concerns about the response to hoarding to Rita and Cornell, who both emphasized that the intent is not to force seniors out of their homes but to get them help before their residence becomes uninhabitable.
“We don’t want to be forcing people out of their homes,” Cornell said. “The goal is to get them help.”
That’s where regular visits from volunteers providing other services could help, in both identifying the problem early on and simply assisting the elderly with removing items they’ve accumulated over a lifetime.
Township government in Illinois has come under attack as a waste of taxpayer money and political patronage havens. There’s a lot of truth behind those criticisms, but townships have also found a niche in providing programs for the elderly that no one else offers, including transportation, social gatherings and tax assistance.
I think it would be especially helpful if there were programs to help seniors shovel out of their driveways in the winter to prevent them from being homebound.
I know there’s a volunteer program in Oak Lawn that encourages schoolchildren to provide such assistance, and it ought to be copied elsewhere. The seniors would be grateful, and it would teach teenagers an important lesson about community service and simply being a good neighbor.
Programs providing basic lawn maintenance, gutter cleaning and painting would also be useful.
I am not talking about programs paid for by government. I’m talking about volunteer efforts organized and supported by government officials.
Such programs would create the sort of social relationships that would result in “friendships” instead of “wellness checks” and generate what people used to call community spirit.
Often, well-intentioned government programs never achieve their goals. I’m hoping this one does.