By Anna-Claire Terry Staff Reporter
The Lee County Department of Human Resources is reaching out to the citizens of Lee County.Because June was Elder Abuse Awareness month, Lee County DHR is taking the opportunity to highlight the need for guardians for adults in need of protective services, most of whom are elderly.
According to Lee County DHR Adult Protective Services supervisor, Carolyn Hunter, elderly adults are often vulnerable and subject to abuse more than people may realize.
Lisa Kelley, Program Supervisor of Adult Protective Services and Child Welfare, said 116 cases of adult abuse have been reported so far in 2015, an increase from 2014.
Director of Lee County DHR, Emily Jones, said many elderly adults who have faced abuse, neglect, or exploitation have no one to make decisions for them or to help them handle their affairs when they become unable to care for themselves. This is where DHR steps in.
When there is no family or anyone else willing to serve as a representative for an adult in need of protective services, a guardian is needed. Volunteers can serve as guardians, conservators, or even foster parents.
Hunter said it is not necessary for the volunteer to have previously known the person for which they would become a guardian or conservator, and anyone can volunteer. All volunteers must first be approved by DHR and then be court appointed before their service can begin. Jones added that it is a common misconception that the volunteer would have to live with the person in order to be their guardian or conservator.
“We know that there are people in this county who would be more than willing to help, they just don’t know that there is a need,” Jones said.
Jones, Kelley, and Hunter agreed that volunteers would likely find fulfillment in working with the elderly because they experience great fulfillment in the work that they do with adults in need.
“I really enjoy working with adults in need because it feels good when we are able to link them to the services that they need,” Hunter said.
According to Kelley, there is no better feeling than helping an adult in need access services that they are unable to access on their own.
Theresa Davis is an Adult Protective Service case worker whose job has caused her to see both difficult and rewarding things.
“It isn’t an easy job. It’s tough, but someone has to do it,” Davis said. “I think it’s extraordinary to see someone file for guardianship to get an individual the help that they need.”
The Lee County Department of Human Resources frequently partners with the Lee County Sheriff’s Department, East Alabama Mental Health, Hospice, East Alabama Medical Center, Auburn University, and the East Alabama Food Bank. Jones said that though she and other DHR employees sometimes have difficult responsibilities to fill, their jobs are made easier by these organizations and agencies, plus many more.
Those who need to report abuse or wish to volunteer as a guardian, conservator, or foster parent can reach DHR at 334-737-1100.