David Treadwell

David Treadwell

Some things just don’t make sense. Why, for example, would someone derive satisfaction from kicking a dog or setting a cat on fire? Why would anyone ever abuse a child — any child? Or a spouse — any spouse? Or an older person? What demons drive someone to deliberately inflict pain on another living — and usually weaker — human being?

The phenomenon of elder abuse is perhaps the most unfathomable and, as a result, least discussed. “It’s a heavy topic, which is not pleasant to talk about,” notes Patricia Kimball, Executive Director of the Elder Abuse Institute of Maine.”

Kimball has worked in nonprofit organizations throughout the United States for the last 30 years. She initially worked with young people but found her passion for working with the elderly as the Resident Program Specialist for the Woonsocket Housing Authority in Rhode Island. “I enjoyed hearing the stories of the older people,” she recalls, “although many of them were filled with sadness, pain and feelings of betrayal.” That work combined with fond memories of her grandparents set Patricia on her new career course.

Kimball became active in the Elder Abuse Institute of Maine soon after moving to Maine in 1999. She served as Board member and Board Chair and contracted Grants Manager before being hired as the agency’s first Executive Director in January, 2016.

Sadly, elder abuse occurs nationwide and since Maine is the oldest state with a median age of just over 44, a disproportionate share of assaults involve senior citizens. In Maine, as elsewhere, elder abuse occurs across the socioeconomic spectrum, and the majority of cases involve family members.

“Only around one in 24 people come forward to report abuse,” says Patricia. She notes that more people don’t come forward because they’re not sure how or why the abuse happened or if they, themselves, are partly responsible. Or they don’t want to get a family member in trouble. Or they worry about the financial consequences. Or they might just be too embarrassed to talk about it.

The Elder Abuse Institute tries to determine what the person needs and then provide access to the necessary support, be it medical treatment or counseling or legal assistance.

In some cases, the person being abused needs a safe haven, a place to live while healing and planning next steps. In 2009, the Institute was awarded a grant by the U.S. Department of Justice to develop transitional housing options and supportive services for elder abuse victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.

They renovated and reconverted a government-owned property in greater Portland to serve as a comfortable living space. They called it “Martha’s Cottage,” after an early client who had suffered decades of abuse.

Martha’s Cottage can house up to three people at a time; and each person can stay up to two years. The first client came to live in the house in 2011, and 25 clients have stayed there to date. An apartment with spaces for two residents recently opened in greater Lewiston/ Auburn and plans call for an additional apartment in the southern mid-coast area.

Thanks to the vision and dedication of Patricia Kimball along with supportive medical and legal professionals, Maine has been a leader in dealing with elder abuse. Indeed, Maine is currently one of only two states in the nation to provide transitional housing options for the victims of elder abuse. Last March, Kimball was a featured speaker at the first-ever national conference on emergency and transitional housing convened by the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life. Martha’s Cottage was held up as a model program.

Kimball works in a difficult field, but she draws energy from the clients she serves. “They’re among the strongest people I’ve ever met,” she says. “They epitomize resilience.”

Patricia Kimball epitomizes what can be accomplished when a smart person with a big heart puts her passion behind a critical cause.

For further information on the Elder Abuse Institute of Maine, go to http://www.eaime.org. The organization’s first fund-raising event — “Hope is the Key” — will be held on May 9.

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary or suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns at [email protected]

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