According to Dennis Broussard, director of Lafayette region Elderly Protective Services (EPS), this should be the primary question people ask themselves when they make a report or visit his offices.
Elderly Protective Services was created by the Louisiana legislature in 2008 as part of the Governor’s Office on Elderly Affairs. It has just been moved to the Office of Aging and Adult Services under the Department of Health and Hospitals. Its purpose is to investigate reports of abuse, advocate for a possible solution and work with law enforcement, medical personnel and various agencies to find a solution.
Broussard is clear that the purpose of his agency is to determine what is in the best interest of the client, the elderly person. What they are actually doing is advocating for the elderly as opposed to protecting, and the term “protective services” often causes confusion.
So what exactly is EPS? It is a social agency that investigates reports of neglect, abuse or exploitation and advocates for the elder person. There are seven offices in the state. The Lafayette regional office based in New Iberia covers 10 parishes, including Acadia, Assumption, Evangeline, Iberia, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, Terrebonne and Vermilion.
This is Broussard’s second career, and he is passionate about it. He previously spent 30 years teaching in St. Martin Parish.
“It is an awesome job, but not easy,” He said.
Broussard said his agency is often misunderstood by the public. Family and friends of elderly people feel helpless and sometimes look to EPS as the police or to force the elderly into nursing homes or to do things they are unwilling to do, such as take medications.
He explained that the job of the EPS is to investigate reports of abuse and neglect and to advocate for the elderly. At this point, each case is different, but they try and find a way for the elderly person to live independently at home. They also determine the capacity of the person to live alone.
Sometimes it’s a question of putting them in touch with other agencies, such as the Council on Aging, to deliver meals if they are homebound or to give directions to where they could go have a meal.
Broussard gave one example of an elderly man who was found in a house with 50 or more cats, which continued to reproduce unchecked. He wouldn’t allow them out of the house and would throw the used cat litter in the front yard.
Animal control services came and took the cats, while a few of the cats were neutered and spayed and returned to their owner. Broussard said the person was disappointed about losing most of the cats, but understood and was able to stay in his home.
In another case, an elderly man living alone was a hoarder. When EPS arrived, there were paper plates and everything the man had accumulated over his lifetime stacked from floor to ceiling, leaving only a trail to get to his kitchen and bed. They explained to him that it was a danger to himself to live that way, including a fire hazard, and that unless he could clean it up, they might have to take other measures. He got some friends and cleaned it out in three truck loads. He thanked the EPS worker and explained that it was a habit he had that he had a hard time breaking. He remained in his house.
Broussard added that more than 50 percent of the situations are resolved. The majority of those not resolved are cases of self-neglect like not taking their medication or not bathing..
Other than Broussard, there are three caseworkers and one intake worker who cover the 10 parishes. There were 500 cases from the 2011-12 fiscal year, but the total is now at 700. He said of those 700, most are abuse cases. Abuse escalates during times of economic stress, hurricanes and such.
He explained that caring for the elderly can be a very demanding job. Caregivers and elderly can get isolated and confused, and that is when abuse and neglect can also happen. EPS is there to give a hand to the elderly person and determine what is in their best interest. The elderly often refuse to make a complaint against children or grandchildren.
When a report leads to an investigation, an assessment is made of the person’s functional capabilities, support services received and needed, nutritional risks and environmental risks. The elderly person is interviewed alone or with a law enforcement officer. The alleged perpetrator, if any, is interviewed alone or with law enforcement. Law enforcement is brought in if criminal activity is suspected.
The EPS sometimes refers cases to other agencies that offer needed services.
Under certain circumstances, they can explore legal intervention, restraining orders, psychological evaluations. Under Louisiana law, a person who is competent has the right to participate in all decisions regarding their welfare and to choose the least restrictive alternative that meets their needs. They have the right to withdraw from or refuse services in self-neglect cases, and they have the right to confidentiality.
The Lafayette regional office was initially based in St. Martinville and grew out of the work of Audrey Thibodeaux, former director of the EPS, and others who were instrumental in establishing the first SALT (Seniors and Law Enforcement Together) committee in Louisiana. In 1988, representatives from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) came together to find a way to protect elders from crime. The Triad movement came out of that meeting, and the first agreement was signed in that same year in St. Martin Parish. Both programs were run out of the Sheriff’s Office. Both programs have been disbanded.
The EPS is now run out of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office.
For more information on the EPS or to make a report, visit their web site at goea.louisiana.gov or contact the New Iberia office at (337) 365-9855 or toll free at (800) 866-5044. To make a report on the state-wide level, call (800) 259-4990 toll free in state or (22) 342-9722 if out of the state.