Five Questions With: Jeanne Gattegno

As program director for Saint Elizabeth Haven for Elder Justice, Jeanne Gattegno is a leader in the Saint Elizabeth Community’s effort to protect seniors who have been subjected to abuse. Saint Elizabeth Haven provides victims of elder abuse with a temporary place to stay while a plan for moving forward is worked out between partnering agencies. The initiative collaborates with a number of agencies throughout the state, including the state’s Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Department of Elderly Services and Department of Human Affairs.

The program is part of outreach services for seniors run by the East Greenwich-based Saint Elizabeth Community, a nonprofit. Gattegno, who has been with the Haven for three and a half years, discusses a federal grant that the nonprofit received last year.

PBN: You received a $400,000 federal grant under the Enhanced Training and Services to End Abuse in Later Life program last November. How has the money been used so far?

GATTEGNO: This year’s allocation of grant funding is approximately $100,000. These funds are being spent to achieve the following specific goals.

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In year one of this three-year grant, the goals are:

  1. Recruit two teams of professionals, a judge and a prosecutor to be trained as Train the Trainers to educate law enforcement, victim-service providers, the judiciary and prosecutors;
  2. Complete an elder-abuse needs assessment and, with community partners, design a plan for outreach and an enhanced victim service.
  3. Develop a resource manual for law enforcement.
  4. Develop a Rhode Island Elder Justice Coalition made up of a diverse group of individuals.

All of these goals require the participation of individuals throughout the state, so much of the initial work is to identify key participants and seek their support and to provide Department of Justice with elder-abuse training to the trainers.

PBN: Can you share some details about the event Saint Elizabeth Community is holding on June 14?

GATTEGNO: World Elder Abuse Day was established to bring global awareness to the issue of elder abuse. Our World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Breakfast is an annual event. Saint Elizabeth Community invites our community partners to join us as we recognize their collective efforts to improve the lives of elders who are victims of abuse and to recognize individuals who represent the good work and advocacy required to keep elders safe. This year, six individuals will be recognized as Elder Justice Heroes. The 2019 Heroes are Officer Richard Parenti, Scituate Police Department.; Dina Elhelw, Scituate Senior Services; Patricia Kent, Division of Elderly Affairs; Frances Principe, Saint Elizabeth Manor; Steven LeBlanc, Saint Elizabeth Home; and Maggie Connelly, Saint Elizabeth Court.

PBN: How many people has your program served and are you expecting it to grow?

GATTEGNO: In addition to the federal grant project, the Haven operates the only shelter in the state dedicated to serving elder victims of abuse and also provides a community-based case management program for those elders who do not enter shelter but are in abusive situations.

We serve elders age 60 and older, male and female, referred by the Division of Elderly Affairs and our community partner agencies. On an annual basis the Haven provides shelter to six elders and serves another 35 elders in our community program. Statistics show that in America, only one case of elder abuse in 24 is reported. Increased reporting will result from better training of first responders and service providers and stronger outreach to the community as a whole.

PBN: What resources do you offer older people who suffer either physical abuse or neglect or financial exploitation?

GATTEGNO: Elder safety comes first. We provide a safe shelter for an elder who is abused and in need of a temporary, secure and safe place. For all of our elders, we provide safety planning and advocate for needed services and legal protections. Elder abuse is very complicated and involves personal finances, housing needs, health issues, violence, family problems, arrests and prosecutions. In some cases, prosecution of a perpetrator may take several years and we continue to provide legal advocacy throughout the process. We work with community agencies, police, prosecutors, hospitals and families to create a plan to achieve the best outcomes possible for our elders.

PBN: Have you partnered with the state in your efforts to raise awareness about elder abuse?

GATTEGNO: All of our work, whether for an individual elder or for system change, is based upon our relationships with state and community partners. In fact, we have signed agreements with the Division of Elderly Affairs, the Attorney General’s Office and a member of the judiciary stating their commitment to help train law enforcement and service providers about elder abuse and create a comprehensive outreach plan. We are part of the Attorney General’s [Elder Exploitation] Multi-Disciplinary Team … and a member of the Senate’s Task Force on Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation.

Elizabeth Graham is a PBN staff writer. She can be reached at Graham@PBN.com.