For the last four years adult and elder abuse has been on the rise in Osage Country, and with the Osage Trust Case Settlement disbursements around the corner the numbers could increase.
Of the $380 million settlement, shareholders, also known as headright holders, will be paid out $155,136 for each share, most of which are owned by elders.
Those who work closely with cases of adult abuse, neglect, exploitation and/or fraud said they have ample concern for those elders who will be receiving large amounts of money.
Louis Gray, Interim Director of the Osage Nation Counseling Center, said it’s important for the Nation and its people to look out for the older crowd who may fall victim to such abuses.
“There are going to be people who are going to try to separate (elders) from their money,” Gray said. “It’s more just concern about tribal readiness to meet this challenge, if there’s anything we can do, I certainly want to be a part of any kind of remedy, to make sure our elders are protected.”
In the last four years claims of adult abuse, neglect, exploitation and/or fraud has gone up, according to Osage Nation Social Services Director Lee Collins.
Collins said the number of referrals of adult abuse have continued to pick up and could peak once the checks start rolling in.
“We really haven’t kept statistics that long but I can tell you that in 2008 we, this office, had received eight referrals for adult abuse or neglect. By 2010 that number had jumped up from eight per year to 47 per year and today (Sept. 16) Shawna Ware has already taken four new referrals, just today,” Collins said.
Collins and Shawna Ware, Adult Social Services Specialist for the ON Social Services department, work extensively in the Adult Protective Services program. The program investigates abuse, neglect, exploitation and/or fraud of Osage adults everywhere.
While the program isn’t solely centered on elder abuse and exploitation or fraud, Ware said the program often sees more and more referrals with concerns of possible elder abuse.
“(The) majority of ours end up involving money in some sort or another, whether it’s abuse or exploitation, it generally comes back to the money and or medical care,” she said.
Gray said once the settlement disbursements are made, anyone and everyone should look out for those Osage elders who might be more vulnerable than others.
“We don’t need the Osage Nation to do all of the work, everyone should be mindful of unusual [phone] numbers that come in…scam artists….” he said. “If they have strange [phone] numbers calling [elders] they can ask ‘can my son, nephew give you a call back and get more details?’”
When it comes to financial exploitation, using someone else’s money for ones own gain, Ware said the signs are fairly obvious.
“[It] means you’ve actually used [someone else’s] money to buy yourself something, to pay for your own utilities, etc., and neglecting to pay for the person who is actually the owner of the [money] debts and well being,” Ware said. “With your financial exploitation you’re almost always going to see a neglect in the care too, so you’re caretaker neglect and your exploitation almost always go together because they neglect them in some way or another, so that they can have the benefits from the money.”
Looking for signs
The list of possible signs of elder abuse is nearly limitless but signs of abuse and financial exploitation can be obvious.
Ware said it’s good to look for signs of isolation; a caregiver or the person themselves may be isolating themselves from people they normally are in contact with. Conflicting stories between a caregiver and an individual about an incident is also something to look out for.
More visible signs could be when the victim has a brand new and/or expensive vehicle in their driveway when they are bedfast or blind even.
Ware said important things to watch for between caregivers and the people they care for is that their needs are met. Such as having food in their refrigerator, their medical needs are being met, they have utilities, and their home is being cared for.
“But there are some people [whose] basic needs are not met and they’re giving money to other people, that is where your self neglect comes in,” Ware said. “Where the financial neglect comes in, and this is a big one that I’ve seen at the tribe, with financial neglect, your person’s bills, it’s almost always a nursing home bill, it’s not being paid, but the person responsible for paying that bill isn’t actually benefitting from the money not being paid out yet. It’s still in the account, it’s just not being paid to the nursing home for a reason, they eventually get benefit from it… that’s a neglect – they neglect to pay for their care or a debt that they owe.”
Lee said in some cases a victim may have enough money to cover their daily needs and then some, but a perpetrator is still using their funds for their own gain. When this is the case the perpetrator is still in the wrong.
“You hear of people who have ill fitting dentures, broken glasses, but yet they’re daughter might be driving a new car courtesy of this person who’s going around with a broken upper plate, or broken glasses, not getting routine medical care,” Collins said. “When you consent, you’re not able to let your own needs go to do that, you still have to meet your basic needs.”
For the last eight years Ware has trained bank staff, home health workers, BIA representatives and others to be mandated reporters.
She said just about anyone can call into Social Services or public emergency contacts to make a referral. Once a referral is made Ware conducts an investigation.
Ware personally goes to the victim’s place of residence and conducts her investigation, which isn’t as intimidating as most think it.
“Most of the time we’re not looking to press charges, we’re looking to strengthen and heal that family and work it out within the family,” Collins said. “Our approach is not punitive, there are times that the circumstances are so blatant it has to [be], and it’s a criminal offense.”
Ware said that most financial exploitation situations she investigates are minor.
“Most of them are solved by a service plan,” she said.
The service plan is provided by Social Services only if a referral has been made stating that a shareholder is not capable of handling their affairs, which may include financial trust affairs.
Typically, shareholders are automatically given IIM accounts that allow them to choose when and how their money will be disbursed. The IIM account is something Ware says can help in financial exploitation situations.
“Every bit of the headright money is funneled through the IIM trust account…it either is distributed automatically at the quarter to the person or they can choose to have it voluntarily held and have it distributed monthly which a lot of people do,” Ware said. “It will help out a great deal with anybody who has issues budgeting their money.”
But after a referral is made about someone having trouble managing their trust money Social Services conducts an investigation to determine if an individual has the ability to manage their own affairs, and the Nation provides case management for supervised IIM account holders.
Ware said as a long as a client is a Osage shareholder with a supervised IIM account in the service area, which is the state of Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Arkansas or Missouri, or Native American, the Adult Protective Services manages the trust income for the client.
After a referral and investigation has been made Ware then complies the information needed to begin a service plan for the client.
“You take their debts, all their financial obligations whether it’s the electric bill, the cable bill, loans… she [Ware] gather’s all that information, she sets up a plan, this amount gets paid monthly…she lays it all out in what she calls a distribution plan, including allowance for different things for the people for their health and well being,” Collins said.
Osage or Native Americans who don’t already have an IIM account can contact their local BIA agent for details on how to obtain one.
Elder Abuse Grant
While the tribe does have a special service in place for adults of all ages under the Adult Protective Services program, Graythought it needed something a little more specific.
The Nation’s Counseling Center recently requested funding for an Elder Abuse Grant within their budget but was denied, due to lack of funds.
Gray said the grant would have provided various services for elders all the way around, including the option to help them better manage their finances.
“We didn’t get funded for that but we felt like the need was there. Our elders deserve all the protection possible from the counseling center,” Gray said. “The grant was for elder abuse, all kinds of abuse; physical, mental, financial, to care keeper abuse. We were going to have two administrative assistants and case managers go out into the community and work with Social Services to identify people who might be at risk, giving them a ride, to advocating for them.”
Gray said the community has to come together to help look out for the elders once the Osage Trust Case settlement checks come in.
“Bad guys read the paper too…do some due diligence, we can do that for our elders,” he said. “This is more money they’ve ever had in their life, we want to make sure they don’t get scammed.”
For more information on Adult Protective Services and supervised IIM accounts contact Shawna Ware at (918) 287-5340.