Innovations in Maryland Creating Community Awareness

By Mario Wawrzusin, LCSW-C, ACSW, NCG

As the Administrator of Assessment of Adult Protective Services and Care Management Services for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, Aging & Disability Services, my department is a seamless, combination of Social Services, Area Agency on Aging, Behavioral Health and Public Health. We are committed to educate, investigate and eradicate elder/vulnerable adult abuse in all its forms.

Personally, I have 29+ years of experience in Adult Services at the department in both clinical/case management and managerial roles – about evenly divided. Operating out of a county spanning one million plus strong, our service area reaches individuals in metropolitan/urban, suburban and rural settings alike. We pride ourselves in being the most diverse jurisdiction in the State of Maryland, with 30 plus percent who are foreign born. 19 percent are seniors and this cohort continues to grow.

To that end, our true strength lies in a robust Elder/Vulnerable Adult Abuse Task Force (EVAATF) chaired by our State Attorney’s Office (SAO). Debbie Feinstein, with the able assistance of Bryan Roslund, and Program Manager Kelly Davis, Lead the Task Force. Police, Ombudsman, Office of the County Attorney, APS, Fire and Rescue Services, Office of Licensure (also within Health and Human Services (HHS)), comprise our task force. Also included are key partners in the community from the Sherriff’s Office, the Family Justice Center (& Foundation) and ElderSAFE- with Charles E. Smith Life Communities.

EVAATF has sponsored seven annual WEAAD events thus far, and I have been involved with all seven; four as Co-Chair or WEAAD Chair. Our goal is to educate the community, typically seniors, most often at senior centers where we have gathered upwards of 300 plus participants over the last several years. APS, SAO and our partners provide Elder and Vulnerable Adult workshops year-round with a focus of events occurring in spring leading up to WEAAD. Our group presents to faith communities, civic organizations, and we participate in segments on cable shows and radio spots. For instance, this year leaders of EVAATF are all being filmed by Montgomery Community Media for a short piece on our work. Prevention, the Red Flags of Abuse and resources (Who do you call) are all reviewed by each discipline and EVAATF partners. Additionally, we are doing a piece in Spanish as there is a large Latino community in our county.

A photo from last year’s WEAAD event at Holiday Park Senior Center

This year, the EVAATF will hold it’s seventh annual WEAAD event at the Rockville Senior Center on June 14th, where we plan to reach seniors, caregivers, and professionals with information and 40+ exhibitors regarding this year’s theme: Senior Safety in Age-Friendly Montgomery County. This will be a 3-hour event with our task force presenting, and setting up several classes on exploitation prevention; situational awareness and self-defense; hands-on computer lab time and “safe surfing”; etc. We will take advantage of advertising in local periodicals, online and through a few radio/cable/media outlets. Additionally, we hope to conduct a class or two beforehand on subjects such as Money Smart for Older Adults, in Mandarin +/or Spanish, to reach our diverse community. Lastly, we were just invited by the Montgomery County Asian American Health Initiative, teaming with the African American and Latino Health Initiatives, to conduct a pre-WEAAD 2.5-hour presentation and resource fair for leaders of these communities. This is part of the ECHO program in our county: Empowering Community Health Organizations.

We hope to make a difference by reaching our community (seniors, caregivers, professionals, and others) by continuing to provide essential information that is needed to detect some of the indicators of abuse, which the NCEA outlines so well in the Red Flags of Abuse publication. We also plan to do a bus campaign with this theme as well for the third consecutive year. Believe me, I am convinced that our record number of APS referrals tend to come over the summer starting in June by no coincidence!


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Special Thanks to Judith D. Tamkin

We are sincerely appreciative to Judith D. Tamkin for her gift to help establish the USC Center on Elder Mistreatment’s website. Her deep and personal commitment to eradicating elder abuse is helping to reshape our understanding of elder abuse and ultimately save innumerable older adults from abuse and neglect.