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They Decided to Stay: Elder Abuse Shelters, Care Communities and Covid-19


By Joy Solomon, Esq., Director and Managing Attorney and Malya Levin, Esq., Senior Staff Attorney at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Justice at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale

When abuse happens in private homes throughout the country older adults may choose to stay simply because they have nowhere to go where both their medical history and their trauma history can be simultaneously and holistically addressed. Equally potent is the fear that, once they leave home, they may not be able to get back safely. 

A growing national movement seeks to address the needs of elder abuse victims by providing temporary shelter with intensive services. These shelter programs, including varied models of shelter, are part of a burgeoning community collective called the SPRiNG Alliance (Shelter Partners: Regional. National. Global.) This movement focuses on accomplishing two goals: supporting a survivor’s journey to medical, emotional, legal and financial health and securing safe and stable housing for them in the place they most want to be, which is most often the home they came from.

As an example, at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Justice at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, the multidisciplinary professional team begins strategically planning for clients to leave even before they arrive. So when two clients decided, just a few days before their long-awaited and carefully planned discharges in late March 2020, to extend their stays indefinitely, the phenomenon was unprecedented. Yet the decisions were made in the context of a far greater unprecedented phenomenon: the global Covid-19 pandemic’s battering of New York City and its particularly devastating impact on older people.

Their decision to stay, and what unfolded at the Hebrew Home as the pandemic raged, provides unique insight into the lives of elder abuse victims and the experience of a long-term care community facing a collective cultural trauma.

For the two clients scheduled to return home in late March, everything had been carefully arranged. Accomplishing this successfully requires strategically coordinated efforts by many multidisciplinary professionals on the team.  One client was returning to the beloved Manhattan community and coveted rent-controlled apartment where she had lived for decades. A legal proceeding had evicted her abuser, and home care, case management and meal services had all been arranged. Longtime community social supports had been galvanized and were ready to welcome her home. For the second client, her longtime family friend was scheduled to escort her back to her newly deep cleaned apartment after her abuser’s arrest. New, full-time homecare would be there to greet her.

As the discharge date approached, however, the pandemic’s impact on the city escalated rapidly. The Manhattan-bound client was informed her case management services would need to be conducted remotely. Many of her beloved local haunts had closed indefinitely. Friends she was excited to visit were afraid to go out. For the second client, her family friend had become ill with symptoms that were becoming alarmingly familiar nationwide. He was unable to come get her. Furthermore, even had he been healthy, a new mandate required all long-term care communities to close their doors to visitors. Faced with the kinds of difficult decisions many trauma survivors know too well, both clients, who had been counting the days until their return home, chose to remain at the Weinberg Center until the pandemic subsided. In other words, indefinitely.

Nearly four months later, with New York in the midst of a successful reopening, both clients are healthy and looking forward to planning for a return home later this summer.* In their extended time at the Weinberg Center, they experienced a long-term care community where professionals and residents faced the uncontrollable dangers of illness and loneliness, together. The clients received:

  • Uninterrupted medical care in an environment managed by professionals well-versed in infection control,
  • Trauma-informed in-person counseling and support from social workers on the Weinberg Center team,
  • Regular therapeutic activities and programs on their individual neighborhoods, to minimize exposure, and
  • Coordination of end-of-life wishes, with the Weinberg Center and Hebrew Home teams working together to ensure these wishes were well-documented and advocated, should the need for them arise.

All of these services required a team of dedicated professionals, essential workers who compromised personal safety to support a community of residents facing an unseen danger to which they were uniquely vulnerable. Within this larger community, elder abuse survivors represent a unique population with potentially more intensive needs. At the Weinberg Center, those survivors were supported in examining those needs and making choices based on them. This in itself is a step on the road to justice. And in a climate where long-term care communities have often been viewed as epicenters of illness, these survivors viewed them as havens.

The Weinberg Center is dedicated to providing safe shelter for older adults and to champion justice through training, education and outreach with a trauma-informed lens. We encourage you to contact us if you have any emerging models and best practices to share Joy.Solomon@hebrewhome.org.

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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.