MARQUETTE - As Marquette County prosecutor, Matt Weise sees all sorts of cases go through the legal system.
Including cases of elder abuse.
"I think that as with many problems in society, in our communities, we have become much more aware of elder abuse," Weise said. "We're trying to increase all our awareness, especially as the Baby Boomers generation gets older.
"It's something we take seriously and treat appropriately," he said. "It's more than physical abuse. It's issues like misappopriation of funds and embezzlement. Quite a few cases lately come to mind of money that should be for an elderly person being taken by a relative for his or her own use. Some of these cases are related to substance abuse or gambling, but some are just due to greed."
Legislation to increase protection for seniors from all sorts of abuse is pending in the Michigan Legislature, said Marquette resident Jerry Irby, the Upper Peninsula's only member on the Michigan Department of Community Health's Commission on Services to the Aging.
"If you look at the legislation, you can see quite a bit of bipartisanship," Irby said. "It shows how the legislative body understands the need for protection of seniors in our state."
The state's Office of Services to the Aging reports elder abuse is one of Michigan's fastest growing crimes, with an estimated 80,000 victims each year.
"In his State of the State address, Gov. Snyder mentioned the need (for protection), so you know the need is real," Irby said. "I think that's what is happening now, legislators on both sides are coming together because they realize this is a very important issue."
A recent OSA news release said that the 18 bills being discussed in the Michigan Legislature provide "long overdue reforms, including increased criminal penalties, provisions for videotaped testimony, required training for employees of financial institutions, improved coordination between state and local authorities, and a silver alert program."
Most of these varied pieces of legislation have been introduced in prior legislative sessions.
"We need strong legislation to protect seniors," Irby said. "There are so many terrible things people get involved with now, like drug addiction, and these people target the most vulnerable, which is our seniors.
"It has gotten much worse," Irby said. "There are cases where people break in or sneak in to seniors' houses to steal their medication or steal items from them."
Irby encouraged people to write or call their legislators in support of passage of this elder abuse legislation.
"Public comment is crucial," he said. "People need to make their voices heard. That lets politicians know people are concerned, that there are senior supporters out there."
The committee he serves on, the Commission on Services to the Aging, has scheduled a hearing for this coming October in Marquette, which will allow U.P. residents an opportunity to speak on senior issues of important to them.
This year, Irby feels more hopeful about the future of senior services in Michigan.
"We had been told budget cuts were coming in senior services, but in fact, more money has been allotted to support elder loss legislation," he said.
Weise said anyone who suspects a case of elder abuse should speak up.
"You can always contact your local law enforcement agency," he said. "And there are support groups for seniors that a concerned citizen can contact.
"They can also check in on an elderly neighbor to see how they're doing," Weise added. "It's important we look out for one another."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.