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New program aims to shelter abused elders

Rhode Island's first program for elderly abuse victims was launched last week by the Saint Elizabeth Community, an elder care organization.

The program, known as the Saint Elizabeth Haven, will utilize the community's existing nursing homes and apartment complexes in East Greenwich, Providence and Bristol to house elderly individuals in need of immediate services, said Mary Rossetti, the director of community outreach for the organization.

"It's not a facility in itself, it's a program," Rossetti said.

In order to be considered for placement in the transitional, 30-day program, an individual must be over 60, a victim of abuse and willing to leave home, she said. Residents must also be referred to the haven by a partner agency, such as the Rhode Island Department of Elderly Affairs.

The referring agency remains involved throughout the victim's stay, Rossetti said. "The day they come into the safe haven, we are working to resolve the issue," whether it be physical, financial or emotional abuse, she added.

The Saint Elizabeth Haven "adds a level of credibility to the whole protective service work that we are doing on behalf of older people," said Corinne Russo, director of the Rhode Island Department of Elderly Affairs, one of the agencies collaborating with the organization.

The Saint Elizabeth Community modeled the program after the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention in Riverdale, N.Y. Saint Elizabeth Community Chief Executive Officer Stephen Horowitz went to a national conference in which he heard about the innovative center and brought the concept back to Rhode Island, Rossetti said.

Horowitz then contacted several local agencies, including the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Department of Elderly Affairs, which verified the need for greater support for the state's elderly abuse victims, Rossetti said.

"This becomes a greater need as our population grows" and the economy worsens, Russo said.

Rossetti said the Saint Elizabeth Haven fills the gap left by general safe havens that do not provide elder-specific support, such as handicap accessibility.

The program is just "one little, tiny piece of the puzzle," in ensuring safety for the elderly, Rossetti said.


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