County Lobbies for U.S. Help Against Abuse of Elderly

TIMES STAFF WRITER

County officials have begun a lobbying campaign in Washington to urge federal lawmakers to step up the fight against abuse of the elderly, which has claimed 240 victims in Ventura County during the past six months.

Supervisors Maggie Erickson Kildee and Susan K. Lacey, joined by county Chief Administrator Richard Wittenberg and Public Works Director Arthur E. Goulet, flew to Washington on Tuesday and are scheduled to return today.

In a telephone interview, Kildee said she hopes that the group's efforts will result in an increase in money to fight the problem of abuse of the elderly.

"We have three people available in the county to work in the senior care area and we may lose two because of funding," she said. "So, we are facing problems in our county."

The 240 cases of abuse of the elderly documented by the county between July and December included 21 incidents of sexual abuse, 159 cases of physical abuse, 70 cases of neglect and 14 cases of abandonment, said Nancy Steinhelper, deputy director of adult services.

The abusers in the 240 cases included 87 family members and 140 care givers, Steinhelper said. In some of the cases, the elderly were victims of more than one type of abuse, and in some cases more than one abuser was involved.

Steinhelper said the number of abuse cases in Ventura County runs about equal to those in other comparably sized counties. Last year, there were 91,614 cases of abuse of the elderly reported nationwide, she said.

Steinhelper said additional federal money could fund emergency shelters, transportation and food for abused senior citizens. She added that some states operate facilities similar to a children's foster home for the elderly who have been abused.

"What we are trying to do is encourage recognition of the problem on a national level," Kildee said.

Wittenberg said state and federal funding pays a portion of the salaries of the three county employees who investigate abuse of the elderly. Unless the state and federal share is increased, Wittenberg said all three positions may be in jeopardy.

During the annual lobbying trip to Washington, county officials also are asking federal officials to fund two flood control projects in the county and provide local officials with more road improvement funds.

Wittenberg said the lobbying trip "could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars" for the county.

This year's group was smaller than the eight-person delegation that the county sent to Washington last February. During that trip, Lacey and then-Supervisor Madge Schaefer spent almost $4,000 on airline tickets, car rental and hotels.

Goulet joined the lobbying effort to try to convince federal officials to spend about $1 million to complete studies on two flood control projects in the county, said Jerry Nowak, deputy public works director.

The proposed projects would reduce the likelihood of flooding along the Santa Paula Creek near Santa Paula and along the Calleguas Creek in the Oxnard Plain, he said.

An environmental report for the flood control project along the Santa Paula Creek would cost about $800,000, while a study on the Calleguas Creek project would cost about $220,000, Nowak said.

Wittenberg said the group is also trying to get more road improvement dollars from lawmakers who are re-evaluating the funding formula of a federal transportation act.

Because federal legislators are in the process of re-evaluating laws that provide tax dollars to address abuse of the elderly and transportation improvements, county officials are in a good position to lobby for increased funds, said Del Tomkins, one of Wittenberg's senior administrative analysts.

She said the group had scheduled five meetings to discuss the flood control projects and three meetings on abuse of the elderly, including a meeting with Sen. John Seymour (R-Calif.).

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