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Symposium attacks elder abuse worries


A retired Havre couple attending a symposium about elder abuse in Havre said they were financially exploited, and they hope the laws protecting the elderly can be strengthened.

Jack and Bea Campbell said they invested their life savings in a company that went out of business. Much of their money was misused by the owner, they said, but they recovered little of their losses because of the structure of the laws governing elder abuse. They added that they hope work on elder abuse will improve the laws, but they had thought the laws were enough before.

"This all sounds good in writing," Jack Campbell said.

The symposium is one of 17 being held in the state to collect concerns and ideas about elder abuse and how to prevent it. The symposiums are being conducted by Kerri Schneider and Erika Voss of Missoula and Nicole Sanborn of Kalispell, who are spending a year with the Western Montana Chapter of the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. The three are working for the chapter as members of Volunteers In Service To America, an AmeriCorps organization.

Schneider said professionals who are involved in elder abuse cases are invited to the symposiums, but the general public is welcome to attend. Nine people attended the Havre Symposium. They included Hill County Attorney David Rice, Mike Norbury of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, and representatives of Northern Montana Hospital, Northern Montana Health Care's long-term care unit, the Hill County Health Department and the North Central Senior Citizen's Center.

The Havre symposium was the sixth the three volunteers have held, Schneider said, and they traveled to Glasgow for another on Tuesday. Today they will hold symposiums in Glendive and Miles City. Schneider said the turnout has ranged from about six to 20 people at the symposiums.

The comments taken at the 17 symposiums will be compiled and used to create a list of the top 10 concerns about elder abuse in the state. Lists of top concerns from different regions in the state will also be created, Voss said.

Some of the concerns raised at the Havre meeting included the need to educate the elderly about the services available to them and to educate law enforcement officers and members of the judicial system about the special situations and needs in elderly abuse. Other issues were the availability of public transportation for the elderly, the need to educating people to recognize signs of elder abuse, and the possibility of the loss of in-home care.

The idea for the state tour came out of a summit sponsored by the National Center on Elder Abuse in December 2001, Schneider said. The summit sponsored a national agenda with 21 recommendations, including the state tour. The National Center on Elder Abuse is part of a group of organizations working to implement the recommended actions.

Bea Campbell said in her case the laws governing elder abuse didn't seem to be strong enough. Campbell and her husband gave money to Neil McElligot to invest in his business in Havre. McElligot used some of that money for personal expenses, she said. The Campbells only recovered about $1,500, a small portion of what they gave him, she said.

Campbell said she thinks McElligot, who now lives in Kalispell, should have been prosecuted for much more than that. She added that she thinks everyone should know that there are people out there who can and do take advantage of people because of the way the laws are written.

"I think they have to put more teeth in the law," Campbell said in an interview today.

Rice said today that there wasn't evidence to prosecute McElligot for criminal activity outside of the agreement he signed. Rice offered to defer prosecution on a charge of theft by using corporate funds to buy personal items, he said.

The state attorney general also looked at the case and agreed the other charges should not be prosecuted, Rice said. The attorney general could have overruled him and ordered that McElligot be prosecuted, Rice added.

The Campbells could pursue the case in civil court, but Bea Campbell said that with their savings gone, they can't afford to do that.

Voss said the national summit may help create better definitions of elder abuse. A bill, supported by the backers of the national agenda, that would raise national awareness and focus federal resources on elder abuse is in a committee of U.S. Senate committee, and the supporters of the agenda hope it will pass Congress in July, she said.

Other goals of the national agenda include developing a national program to educate people about elder abuse, increasing awareness about elder abuse in the criminal justice system, and establishing a research institute to improve understanding of the problem.

Sanborn said the Western Montana Chapter symposiums are on a state level, although she hopes the reports compiled from them are considered by the people working on the national agenda.

Two other chapters of the Montana Prevention of Elder Abuse organization have been formed in Great Falls and Billings, and another is being considered in eastern Montana, Schneider said.

The Great Falls and Billings chapters are helping with the symposium, although the western chapter is conducting it, she said.

On the Net:

National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse: http://www.preventelderabuse.org/

Western Montana Chapter of the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse: http://www.westernmontanachapter.org

Montana Senior and Long Term Care: http://www.dphhs.state.mt.us/sltc/


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