Elders experiencing abuse in small communities are in a “pandemic” situation where they feel helpless and abandoned, said Dehcho MLA Ron Bonnetrouge on Tuesday.

Speaking in the legislative assembly, Bonnetrouge said the problem has been going on for years, with victims feeling neglected by other people, organizations and even social workers.

“I hear about neglect. When people go out of town they leave Elders at a friend’s home, and go away sometimes for several days with the Elder’s bank card. This is probably as prevalent in many small communities as it is in (Fort Providence.)

“People don’t know who to turn to for help, especially with finances.”

He then said that social services personnel in Fort Providence were approached about the problem of Elder abuse and “they refused to help in any regard because they’re dealing mostly with child and family services.”

Julie Green, minister responsible for seniors, expressed her shock at hearing about the social workers and said she would follow up on it.

Need zero tolerance for neglect

Green acknowledged that the problem of Elder abuse is a real and frightening one in the NWT.

But finding solutions entails moving away from tolerance of Elder neglect and exploitation, she said.

“We need to value our Elders and we need to walk the talk and we won’t put up with exploitation and neglect,” said Green. “Right now we’re doing a jurisdictional scan. We’re working with the NWT Seniors Society, who are the lead organization to prevent abuse of older adults. We’re working with them on regulatory or legislative change that would provide real consequences for people involved in this abuse.”

Plan underway for Fort Providence

Bonnetrouge responded that he rarely hears about the NWT Seniors Society in Fort Providence and is unsure how much involvement the organization has in small communities.

He and Green differed on the details of an Elder abuse awareness workshop held last September in Fort Providence.

Bonnetrouge said no Elders attended, “especially the ones being abused financially and mentally.” While Green said five attended.

However, the minister said the organizers concluded the event intending to develop a plan to address Elder abuse in the Dehcho community.

“It will be taken back for Elders to review to ensure it meets their needs. That’s the plan for Fort Providence,” she said.

Direct help needed

Bonnetrouge asked Green if she could establish an official staff position dedicated to helping Elders and combating abuse.

The minister didn’t directly respond to Bonnetrouge’s request, but said the GNWT provides funding to the Seniors Society to organize workshops.

She explained that health care staff are trained to recognize the signs of Elder abuse, which resembles intimate partner violence in that victims are often shamed into staying silent.  

“Seniors and Elders (can) access those same services we provide. That includes family violence shelters, court orders, emergency protection orders, restorative justice and counselling.”

The Dehcho MLA, clearly seeking a more direct approach to the problem, said he wants resources allocated so that Elders can be interviewed with a translator present, allowing them to tell their stories.

Other resources

Green outlined other services available, such as the Office of the Public Guardian that helps family members or close friends become legal guardians of people who are unable to make decisions about personal or health-care issues.

“That exists only in Yellowknife. But you can call that office and ask for help. We also have adult social workers in Yellowknife and I’ll find out about the Dehcho. Social workers provide many functions and not just for children. I’ll follow up on what other resources are available,” Green said.

The exchange on Elder abuse comes almost three weeks after Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby pressed Green about mental health supports available for seniors during the pandemic.

Nokleby also described the “stress and anxiety” that many seniors experienced while trying to book Covid-19 vaccine appointments over the phone.

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