Viewpoint: Supporting justice for elders



by Philip C. Marshall

 

I am the grandson of the late Brooke Astor who was a New York City philanthropist, summer resident of Northeast Harbor for over fifty years, and victim of elder abuse and exploitation by her son, my father.

In 2006, with the help of my grandmother’s staff, caregivers, and friends, I filed a petition for guardianship, which was awarded. This allowed us get my grandmother back to her country house in New York to spend her last days as, and where, she wished. My grandmother died peacefully at home and free from fear on August 13, 2007.

I am now advocating for elder justice, informed by hard-learned lessons and in recognition of the abuse and trauma imposed on millions of elders every day—with two-thirds of abusers being family, “friends,” or caregivers.

I was compelled to work on elder justice full time after testifying before Senator Collins and other members of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging in February 2015.

I have traveled border-to-border, coast-to-coast, and have met face-to-face with elder-justice professionals who do so much for so many, sometimes with so little.

Elder abuse is the betrayal of trust. Elder justice is the restoration of trust through relationships and responsibility.

Our greatest resources and our first line of defense are the relationships in our communities, with programs and services that cultivate trust among seniors and their circles of support, including other professionals.

Should abuse occur, they demonstrate community concern and capacity, empowering individuals to come forward and act. This allows us to articulate our personal responsibility to act with our community “response ability” (ability to respond). We can act knowing our community has our back.

Our silence protects perpetrators, not their victims. Today victims of elder abuse may be strangers, tomorrow they may be our loved ones, and perhaps in the future they may be ourselves.

Seniors, and society, deserve more. Yet only one in 23 cases of abuse, and one in 44 cases of financial exploitation, are reported, according to a 2011 New York study, appropriately titled “Under the Radar.” Perpetrators know this, to their advantage.

On Aug. 29, I will join Maine elder-justice professionals for a program in Northeast Harbor, “How the Brooke Astor Story Can Help Our Communities Achieve Elder Justice.”

We will explore ways those who serve and save seniors are working together in partnership with their communities in detecting, responding to, and even preventing abuse. We will explore how Maine has taken a leadership role in protecting seniors’ net worth, self-worth, and lives—and how, “as Maine goes, so goes the nation.”

I look forward to returning to Mount Desert Island, hiking my grandmother’s favorite mountains and joining elder-justice professionals for the program.

Philip C. Marshall is the founder of “Beyond Brooke – Advancing elder justice.” He lives in South Dartmouth, Mass.