Last year, Adult Protective Services investigated 280 reports of abuse to the disabled and elderly in Harrison County.

Of those, in-home caseworkers confirmed 59 cases of abuse, neglect and/or exploitation. To bring awareness to the issue, the Harrison County Commissioners Court passed a proclamation, on Tuesday, at the court’s regular meeting, declaring the month of May as Elder Abuse Prevention Awareness Month in Harrison County.

“It’s everybody’s responsibility,” Rodney Jones, supervisor with the local office of Adult Protective Services, said of reporting elder abuse.

He was joined by two APS investigators and a board member on Tuesday for the passing of the proclamation. The agency investigates physical, emotional, verbal and sexual abuse as well as any type of neglect, including physical.

“These cases are investigated and investigators work with local law enforcement to, in some instances, to prosecute offenders that are violating the state law when it comes to the protection of the elderly,” Harrison County Judge Hugh Taylor informed.

According to APS, the abuse of the elderly and people with disabilities in domestic and institutional settings is a prevalent problem, affecting hundreds of thousands of people across the nation. Unfortunately, elder abuse is grossly underreported because the elderly who are being abused find it very difficult to tell anyone and are usually ashamed and sometimes afraid, officials said.

“Elder abuse happens to men and women of all income levels, all cultural ethnic groups, whether they are in good health or incapacitated in some way, in poor neighborhoods and in suburbia,” the proclamation stated.

Jones noted that people should also be aware of any signs of self-neglect, as many of the cases investigated by Adult Protective Services involve a vulnerable adult that has neglected his or herself.

“If you haven’t seen your neighbor next door in a while, check on them,” he encouraged.

The proclamation issued on Tuesday stressed how important it is to prevent such abuse as these residents are a vital and integral part of society and their wisdom and experience have enriched lives.

“People who are elderly or have disabilities have contributed to the general welfare of Harrison County by helping to preserve customs, convictions and traditions of many people from diverse backgrounds,” the proclamation states.

“It is our duty as citizens to reach out to people in need,” members of the Harrison County Commissioners Court wrote in the proclamation. “We urge all citizens to work together to help reduce abuse and neglect of people who are elderly or have disabilities.”

Stacey Ford, an APS board member, shared how hard the staff works to make sure that the elderly they serve are protected.

“As a board member, that’s not a staff (member), I can say that these folks work tirelessly; and there are not a lot of accolades (given),” said Ford.

“We just try to protect the elderly — the unprotected,” added Jones.

Anyone who suspects adult abuse, neglect or financial exploitation can report it to the APS hotline at 1-800-252-5400 or online at Callers can remain anonymous.