By: - March 25, 2019 12:49 pm

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Attorney General Dana Nessel and two Michigan Supreme Court justices on Monday announced a new task force dedicated to investigating the abuse of seniors.

Nessel, Justices Richard Bernstein and Megan Cavanagh, a coalition of lawmakers and more than 20 different organizations are urging awareness and greater action to stop the abuse of senior citizens, an “often unrecognized and unreported social problem,” Nessel said.

Elder Abuse Task Force press conference, March 25, 2019 | Michael Gerstein

More than 73,000 Michigan adults are victims of elder abuse, according to Nessel’s office.

“When crimes against the elderly do occur it is our law enforcement across the state including our county prosecutors who step up and prosecute bad actors,” Nessel said at a press conference in the Frank J. Kelley Law Library, in the G. Mennen Williams building, where Nessel has her office.

The departments of attorneys general Mike Cox and Bill Schuette, both Republicans, also investigated elder abuse.

Nessel’s new Elder Abuse Task Force brings together the attorney general’s office, Michigan State Police, lawmakers, the Michigan Supreme Court, state agencies and many other organizations who have signed onto the new group to probe the problem.

Dana Nessel addresses MCRC on Feb. 1 | Ken Coleman

State Reps. Brian Elder (D-Bay City) and Graham Filler (R-Ovid), along with state Sens. Paul Wojno (D-Warren) and Pete Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.), are members of the task force.

Bernstein recounted the story of a trying 10 weeks in Mount Sinai Hospital in New York after a biker ran him down while out on a Central Park walk. He said he relied on nurses for everything.

“I received the finest care that a person could ever hope to receive. But when somebody becomes a ward, they no longer get to make decisions for themselves,” Bernstein said. “You rely on people for your everyday needs.

“You pray that they’re having a good day. You pray that they’re happy with you. Because ultimately you don’t want to do anything when you’re in that situation to jeopardize your care, because someone has total power over you,” he continued.

Brian Elder

Seniors are similarly at the mercy of their caretakers, Bernstein said, calling on judges to reflect more deeply on the gravity of the decision to grant legal guardianship over an elderly person.

Nessel brought in Dennis Burgio, 72, to tell the story of a longtime friend of his who “was more like the son I never had.” He eventually drained Burgio’s retirement savings.

“It was all gone,” Burgio said. “It’s a sad story, and the reason it’s so sad is the simple fact that we gave all the trust in the world.”

Burgio urged people in his situation to trust, “But you need to follow up.”

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Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.