When No Family is Available


By Pamela D. Wilson, CSA, MS, BS/BA, CG   

A meal site volunteer called to ask my assistance when she received a call from a woman who said she had no food and needed groceries.  The volunteer provided a telephone number saying that the woman was at a neighbor’s house and did not have her own telephone.

I called Mrs. Smith to ask how we might help, and to confirm she was calling from a neighbor’s home.  She promptly told me this was her telephone number, that she was at home and relayed her address. I asked if she had friends or family to help her and she replied no.  She then went on to tell me that she was very, very hungry and needed groceries.  Not knowing the real situation and having to rely on her words, I asked if I could meet with her to see what might be done.

No FamilyWhen I arrived, Mrs. Smith had visitors.  The visitors, an elderly married couple, questioned my presence and did not identify themselves.  I explained that Mrs. Smith called my company to ask about grocery shopping because she was hungry and had no groceries.

I then spoke directly to Mrs. Smith who thought I had done her grocery shopping the previous week. She said she had just eaten and didn’t have any money for groceries.  The visitors then offered to do the shopping and “winked” at me to confirm Mrs. Smith’s obvious confusion, saying that she would be just fine. Unsure of the visitor’s relationship to Mrs. Smith I asked for their name and telephone number, which they provided, and  I returned to my office.

Because of the unusual circumstances, the combination Mrs. Smith’s confusion and the unknown relationship of the visitors, I contacted Adult Protective Services to request they investigate the case. Among other things, APS works to ensure that older adults in the community are able to meet their basic daily living needs and that they live in a safe environment.

Many people do not know who to call if they see elderly neighbors, friends or acquaintances struggling or they may feel guilty bringing in an outside party to investigate the situation.  It is important to remember that putting a “band-aid” on the situation by assuming care for a neighbor or other person is just that.

What happens when the situation becomes more serious and instead of just purchasing groceries you are becoming involved in their financial and medical affairs?  Remember that you are NOT family nor are you in most cases legally appointed to assist. What happens to the individual if something happens to you and you can no longer assist?

Unknowingly and unintentionally you have made an individual, who is not a family member, dependent on care you may no longer be able to provide.  Additionally if something happens and the authorities become involved, how will you explain your involvement especially if it appears this is a case of potential fraud or abuse?

All counties in each state have an Adult Protective Services department. Calling APS or the local police department when there are risk issues is a responsibility and the kindest act one can take to ensure that a vulnerable older adult unable to take care of him or herself receives appropriate attention and oversight.  Adult protective services is often able to identify family members at a distance or support the appointment of a guardian or conservator if the individual is truly unable to make decisions in their best interest resulting in good care.

© 2012, 2013 Pamela D. Wilson All Rights Reserved

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