STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
MARBLE FALLS — Sgt. Vaughn Hamilton wasted no time doing a welfare check on a shut-in, who had lost the ability to speak because of health reasons.
The individual wasn’t quite as mobile and was dividing daily Meals on Wheels lunches into three meals. And because of the limited mobility, the resident simply couldn’t take proper care of himself.
The sergeant, who serves as the Marble Falls Area EMS field training officer, realized the person had to have someone available to help on a daily basis. So Hamilton found a place for him at one of the nursing homes. That resident is now thriving and even uses an electronic tablet to communicate with others.
“I don’t think someone can make up a story worse than the realities I’ve seen,” Hamilton said. “We contact somebody with the resources. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
That’s all part of being a good neighbor to the elderly and recognizing signs of neglect, abuse, and poor living conditions.
May is Elder Abuse Prevention Month in Texas. While abuse is the attention-grabber, state officials noted most of the common situations encountered by the Department of Family and Protective Services is self-neglect. Oftentimes, those individuals are ill or depressed and stop taking care of themselves or find they can no longer care for themselves without help.
State law requires people who suspect adult abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation to report it to the Texas Abuse Hotline at txabusehotline.org or (800) 252-5400.
Bessie Jackson, a senior adviser for the AARP, noted senior citizens are a proud group and don’t want to ask for help.
“There are a lot of seniors at home, and we don’t check on our neighbors,” she said. “It used to be everybody knew everybody on the street. Am I my neighbor’s keeper? Yes.”
She noted she has an elderly aunt who fell and slept on the floor for 12 hours before someone helped her. Jackson even receives calls from others to do welfare checks on elderly residents.
“You have to have someone bite the bullet, you need to get it done,” she said. “There’s no way out.”
Hamilton said the organization has encountered a couple of residents who suffered from neglect in the last year.
“They were found to be in a very bad way,” he said. “We run interference to get them into better living conditions.”
Part of his duties include doing welfare checks and follow-ups with families who recently called 9-1-1. He also goes to homes of residents who neighbors believe need to be checked on. Hamilton said people can simply use their common sense to decide if they should call the state agency.
“You find an elderly person living in conditions you wouldn’t want to live in because they are dirty,” he said. “Maybe they’re not very mobile, and you think this person shouldn’t be alone. You think in your head, ‘How does this person live alone at home?’”
Hamilton said he’s no expert on the subject, which is why he encourages people to call Adult Protective Services.
“They can see to it that person is connected to the appropriate services,” he said. “I think a lot of people are afraid to get involved or think, ‘I’m no expert.’”
But he hopes that doesn’t stop someone from reaching out, even if they call Marble Falls Area EMS at (830) 693-1777. Hamilton doesn’t mind going to check on someone in the department’s coverage area.
He drives over in uniform and visits with the elderly resident. As he visits with that person, he thinks of his own parents and treats them with dignity and respect.
“It becomes very personal,” he said. “It’s not just a stranger; it’s a real human being. It’s how I want my parents treated, and it brings them to the same level as my family.
“A person doesn’t have to get personally involved,” he added. “They can feel good about it. They know somebody will do something about it. It’s such an important part.”