THE INVESTIGATORS: Reports of elder abuse on the rise in Louisiana
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Elder abuse is an awful crime that continues to take hold of the capital area as more and more elderly people are coming under attack. Experts say most of those seniors are being abused by those meant to care for them.
A shocking video surfaced online back in January which appears to show Lottie Morgan brutally whipping a 93-year-old in her care in Baton Rouge. It landed her behind bars at parish prison, but she struck a deal, pleading guilty to a cruelty to the infirm charge. In return, the court dismissed the aggravated second degree battery charge. She will be formally sentenced in May.
The 9News Investigators previously reported on disgusting images which were made public in early February. They show the horrible conditions a 76-year-old woman was living in out of Plaquemine. Sheriff Brett Stassi says deputies rescued her and roughly 16 animals from the home after concerned neighbors came forward saying they had not seen her in months.
“What we saw was what we thought. Animals and feces in all the corners of the rooms. Underneath the bed was trash, litter, feces under the bed, and the sheets hadn’t been changed in weeks,” said Stassi.
Galen Marcantel, 54, was arrested for the crime. Police say he allegedly left the woman in the filth for hours at a time. They also say there was little food in the home when they found her and claim she was in bad shape.
"To see the condition she was in, it really hurt," Stassi added.
On Feb. 8, Roby Bell Jr. was locked up after being accused of beating his 74-year-old grandfather. Bell allegedly hit the man in the lip, causing several cuts that even required stitches. According to arrest records, the fight broke out after Bell was asked to turn down the television.
These recent cases illustrate just a small fraction of what experts say is a serious problem in the capital area among the most vulnerable members of the community.
Ebony Thomas-Phillips, director of elderly services for the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs, tells WAFB it’s hard to deal with.
“It’s extremely difficult,” said Phillips.
According to numbers obtained by the 9News Investigators, elder abuse is only getting worse. There are thousands of elder abuse cases reported each year in Louisiana. In 2018, 485 of those cases were considered high-priority, meaning they stemmed from physical or sexual abuse. The number of high-priority cases in 2019 jumped to 648. WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Phillips if it’s fair to say the problem is growing.
“Yes,” she answered. “Each year, we see an increase in cases reported of abuse or neglect and we are not confident in the fact that all of the cases are being reported. There are an unknown number of cases that are taking place that have not been reported.”
Phillips tells WAFB reports of elder abuse flood into their office around the clock.
"We investigate every single case that is called into our office,” she said. “There are no cases that we have received that have gone uninvestigated."
Phillips says despite the high number, they are working diligently to tackle those cases. Investigations usually take about 30 days and they try to make necessary changes within that time.
“If we can maintain the individual in their home and maybe put services in the home to assist, that is the goal,” Phillips added.
One of the toughest challenges they face is in many cases, the elderly person lives with their abuser. She says unlike the foster care system for children, there’s no set place they can hold those seniors while they work to fix whatever is broken.
“There’s a need for maybe a senior shelter, some place where we can place an individual temporarily until we can, I guess, appropriately or adequately provide what it is that they need.”
There are currently 29 investigators to handle the thousands of cases each year. Phillips says they could always use more. WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked how many investigators the office would take on in a perfect situation.
"Well, in a perfect situation we could have like 10 or 15 more,” she said. “That would be great."
While the problem continues to escalate, Phillips says there are steps folks can take to help.
"Be attentive and be very diligent about caring for your elderly family members,” she advised. “If you suspect that abuse or neglect is occurring, please call us and make a report so that we can look into it."
Experts project the state is on track to meet or exceed the number of elder abuse cases recorded in 2019. Just since January, there have already been 46 high-priority cases in 2020.
If you or someone you know suspects elder abuse, you can report it by calling 1-833-577-6532 or 225-342-0144.
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