Fighting elder abuse with collaboration, new ‘MDT team’ meets in Wise County, VA

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WISE COUNTY, VA (WJHL)- After discovering some elder abuse cases are difficult to prosecute, a Southwest Virginia community is putting new emphasis on seeking justice for victims.

According to the National Council on Aging, 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 60 has experienced some form of elder abuse.

Thursday afternoon we were there as the MDT team met for the very first time in Wise County, Virginia.

The new MDT, which stands for multi-disciplinary team, is made up of law enforcement, prosecutors, victim advocates, social workers, and prosecutors in Wise County.

Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp said this team is the type of collaboration already used in child abuse cases.

“Well, why can’t we do that same thing for elder abuse cases, we have the same difficulties in prosecuting them, they’re under reported, they’re under prosecuted, victims have hard time testifying, ” Slemp said.

Elder Abuse cases are also ones that can often become difficult to prosecute.

As the county’s victim witness assistance program coordinator Joni Coleman showed us the growing pile of cases on her desk.

“We see a lot of credit card fraud, people opening up credit cards in the name of the person, and charging those up, so that elderly or incapacitated person will then be responsible for the financial part of that credit card. Often times its the family member or caretaker who’s doing the abuse and a lot of times they don’t want that person prosecuted,” Coleman said.

A problem Coleman said she doesn’t anticipate ending anytime soon, which is why she and others on the new MDT team say it’s crucial to continue advocating for those without a voice. 

“We’re all getting older, I don’t see the abuse of elderly people ever ending. I know we have four, coming up, big cases here in the court, and numerous others investigated by DSS and law enforcement…we’re going to discuss that today to see how many are pending and where all these cases are,” Coleman said.

Another member of this new team, Jessica Roberts, serves as the family services supervisor and also sees first hand just how many elder abuse cases there are in Wise County.

“This month alone Wise County Department of Social Services has received approximately 40 reports of adult abuse, neglect, and exploitation…I would estimate 85 to 90 percent are 60 or older,” Roberts said.

Slemp hoping this new team will continue to spur change when it comes to fighting elder abuse.

“I see this as a first step in a very large movement, we need to do more things like this. Whether we prosecute a crime or not, the thing we care most about is that we safeguard our senior citizens from those who would do them harm,” Slemp said.

He added that this new team will continue to meet monthly, collaborating and reviewing elder abuse cases.

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