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Westchester District Attorney Anthony Scarpino and Tuckahoe Police Chief John Costanzo

Dora, age 75, has reported her son’s repeated physical abuse to the police. This is the third time the District Attorney has charged him with a crime but Dora feels extremely conflicted about testifying against him. The last two charges were dropped after Dora’s son convinced her to let him move back in with her, promising things would be better. How will this time be different?

Eric, 83, never married or had children and lives alone in the beautiful family home he inherited. As he grows increasingly confused, he becomes dependent on his plumber, who has become his health care proxy and has power of attorney. His longtime bank notices suspicious activity on his account and reports its concerns to the District Attorney. How will Eric stay safe during the investigation and prosecution?

These are just two of the many potential scenarios that describe the difficult issues involved in elder abuse cases. Elder abuse is a complex and prevalent phenomenon, with one in 10 people over 60 years old experiencing some form of abuse. Elder abuse can be a crime and the needs of people who experience elder abuse are intensive and multifaceted. Perpetrators of abuse can take advantage of a victim’s physical and cognitive vulnerabilities, often causing further decline. People who experience abuse are often isolated from family, friends and social service agencies, causing critical needs of all sorts to go unmet. Most elder abuse includes some form of financial exploitation, plunging many victims into economic crisis. Further complicating the abuse are the feelings of love and trust, as well as hurt and betrayal, which people who experience abuse have toward those who have harmed them. The perpetrators are often their family, caretakers or trusted friends. Fear of making a complaint, feelings of embarrassment, and fear for one’s safety are always overriding concerns in cases involving older victims.

To holistically and effectively address the needs of older victims, the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office partnered with Westchester County Department of Social Services/Adult Protective Services, Westchester County Senior Programs and Services, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Justice at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, the Pace Women’s Justice Center and the New York State Office of the Attorney General to found the Westchester County Elder Abuse Multidisciplinary Team (MDT). The Westchester County Department of Social Services provides some funding for the MDT. The team has since expanded to include Hudson Valley Legal Services, Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health and Family Services of Westchester’s Elder Abuse Prevention program.

An MDT generally consists of a group of professionals representing different agencies. These team members have different backgrounds and areas of expertise who work together to address elder abuse within the same geographic area. The team meets regularly to discuss emergent complex cases of elder abuse, gather relevant information, and then strategically craft a multi-agency action plan for each client. Since its first meeting in January 2012, the team has worked on over a 120 complex elder abuse cases.

Westchester County District Attorney Anthony A. Scarpino, Jr. stresses the value and importance of this collaborative process. “Participating in the elder abuse MDT helps our Office create stronger cases. When these passionate professionals who know the victim and the situation in different ways exchange their insights, the team gains a more thorough understanding of potential sources of evidence and investigatory avenues to pursue. The perspectives offered from the points of view of each of the MDT’s stakeholders offer invaluable insights into each case and each vulnerable senior.”

Fredric Green, Second Deputy District Attorney and Chief of the Special Prosecutions Division,
adds, “even when we cannot prosecute a case, the agencies represented at the MDT make sure that resources for older victims, related to their housing, banking, health and other daily needs are always being addressed.”

In 2018, Governor Cuomo included $8.4 million in his budget to fund MDTs in every county in New York State. “Our office is pleased to see this effective and efficient technique gain statewide traction,” says Green. “For us, it’s about justice for victims. To achieve that, we all need to work together.”

John Befus, First Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Social Services that oversees the Adult Protective staff who are key members on the MDT, praises the team’s professionalism and commitment stating, “the MDT participants are a dedicated group of professionals who come together from many different disciplines, to genuinely make a difference in the lives of abused and exploited older adults.”

For more information on the county’s MDT, or to refer a case to the team, email Malya Levin, Senior Staff Attorney at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Justice at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale and Westchester County MDT Coordinator.

The DA’s Office Elder Abuse Unit can be reached at 914-995-3000 or after hours on their Elder abuse help line at 914-995-1940
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The authors are Malya Levin, Westchester County Elder Abuse Multi-Disciplinary Team Coordinator and Senior Staff Attorney at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Justice at the Hebrew Home in Riverdale, N.Y. and Fredric I. Green, Second Deputy District Attorney and Chief of the Special Prosecutions Division at the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office.