New toll-free number to report elder abuse

Interior Health is the first health authority in the province to introduce a region-wide number to report abuse.

A new toll-free number for the entire Interior Health region will make it easier to report elder abuse.

A new, confidential toll-free number is now available throughout the Interior Health (IH) region, that will allow people to quickly and easily report the mistreatment of older adults.

Anyone within the IH area who has concerns regarding elder abuse can call 1-844-870-4754, to be connected with an IH staff member who is trained to respond to such situations. As a designated agency under the Adult Guardianship Act, health authorities must investigate in person any case of suspected elder abuse reported to them.

Interior Health has always had phone numbers for the reporting of elder abuse in each community, but the toll-free number will make it easier for people reporting  abuse to connect with IH says Brett Butchart, the IH’s knowledge coordinator for vulnerable and incapable adults.

“It’s a number for all the Interior Health region,” he says. “People don’t have to find a local number; there’s one number for everything.”

He says the number is there for anyone with concerns about an elderly person being vulnerable, whether through any form of abuse, neglect or self-neglect, or health issues. It is not just for family members; someone concerned about an elderly friend or neighbour can call the number to report the situation. The names of those who call in are kept confidential.

Isobel Mackenzie, the BC Seniors Advocate, applauds the measure. “Our office has been working with health authorities about elder abuse, and making it easier to get help.” She says that Interior Health is the first health authority in the province to establish a single toll-free number to call to report elder abuse.

Elder abuse takes many forms, including physical, financial, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse, as well as neglect or self-neglect. It can affect anyone, and can occur anywhere.

“Nobody should have to suffer silently,” says IH board chair Erwin Malzer. “We all need to stand up and speak out on behalf of those who may be unable to advocate for themselves.”

While almost 16 per cent of B.C.’s population is over the age of 65, that number is higher within the IH region (22 per cent), and is climbing. With an ageing society, it is increasingly important to educate people to recognize signs of elder abuse and provide the tools to stop it.

Butchart says that calls to the toll-free number are triaged based on the urgency of the situation—“It depends a lot on what the abuse is”—but adds that all calls are investigated.

“People have a right to live in any manner they wish, but we’re there to support them in any way we can to help them live independently for as long as possible. We want to make sure we give people the help they need.”