Combating elder abuse subject of Thursday talk

Elder abuse is a new focus of Anderson County and the Oak Ridge Police Department.

The two agencies are preparing to implement a Senior Citizens Awareness Network program that will likely start later this year to deal with the crimes.

District Attorney General David Clark of the 7th Judicial District and his Anderson County office are leading the charge on combating elder abuse, and the office will be running the SCAN program, according to a release. ORPD will help implement the program in Oak Ridge.

Clark and Detective Wendy Zolkowski of ORPD will speak on Thursday, Jan. 16, about the SCAN program, elder abuse in Oak Ridge and the ways seniors can be protected.

Their talks will be the first in 2020 in the lecture series sponsored by Roane State Community College and the Oak Ridge Institute for Continued Learning. They will speak at 2 p.m. in the City Room (A-111) of the Coffey-McNally building on RSCC’s Oak Ridge Branch Campus, 701 Briarcliff Ave. ORPD is hosting the presentation, which will be preceded by a reception with refreshments at 1:30 p.m. in the lobby.

Zolkowski has been tasked by ORPD to investigate local elder abuse cases and report them to Adult Protective Services, a division of the Tennessee Department of Human Services. She will also investigate referrals generated by APS, which investigates reports of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation of adults unable to protect themselves because of a physical or mental limitation.

Clark and Zolkowski will speak on crimes and scams that have targeted elders – people 65 years old and older – in Oak Ridge and Anderson County, as well as in our nation.

According to the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, one in 10 elderly people are reported as victims of elder abuse, which can reduce the victim’s

lifespan. In the United States, five million elder abuse cases are reported each year. More than $36.5 billion is lost each year as a result of medical treatment costs, thefts by caregivers and family members, scams and other types of financial exploitation.

“I will also speak on how Oak Ridge Police and Anderson County are working with our community to prevent elder abuse and how we as a community can assist our most vulnerable population,” Officer Zolkowski said.

She noted in the past law enforcement agencies overlooked elder abuse, regarding it as a family issue. Recent laws give elderly persons a voice in how they should be treated. ORPD and Anderson County personnel have been trained to identify seniors at risk of being abused, to protect them and treat them as dignified persons worthy of respect.

ORPD and the Anderson County District Attorney General Office will train volunteers to check on homebound seniors and educate them on how to protect themselves from abuse and exploitation. The local agencies may also get assistance from the successful and already up-and-running Knox County SCAN program.

As the chief law enforcement officer of Anderson County, District Attorney General Clark is responsible for the prosecution of all alleged violations of state criminal laws. Under his leadership, according to its website, the office has taken on gangs, drugs, public corruption and violent crime. Since he was sworn into office in 2006, crime in Anderson County has been reduced by more than 40 percent.

Officer Zolkowski has been in law enforcement for almost 30 years, having worked for the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department for most of her career. She joined ORPD in February 2018 as a detective focusing on elder abuse cases. She has a master’s degree in public administration.