News Release: Emory Healthcare

May 25,  2010

Wesley Woods Center and DeKalb County Implement Plan Protecting Abused Elderly Citizens

Officials from Wesley Woods Center of Emory University and the Office of the DeKalb County Solicitor-General today officially formed a first of its kind partnership to identify and protect elderly abused citizens within DeKalb County.

In celebration of national Elder Abuse Prevention Month, Emory and the Office of the DeKalb County Solicitor-General formally signed a memorandum of understanding to create the nation's first special protection pathway dedicated to vulnerable adults during a reception at Emory University Hospital.

DeKalb County Solicitor-General Robert James, Emory Healthcare's Thomas Price, MD, Wesley Woods Center's Chief Operating Officer Albert K. Blackwelder and the VALARI (Vulnerable Adults Living At Risk Invisibly) taskforce recently partnered to create the protection pathway initiative aimed at addressing a growing need for protective services specifically for elder and vulnerable adults in DeKalb County.

"As a geriatrician, I understand that our seniors represent a unique population as far as medical illness and complexity of treatment," says Price. "Sometimes these people find themselves in the unfortunate circumstance of requiring others to help them carry out the most basic facets of their life, such as preparing meals, doing the laundry, or even taking a bath.

"Many of them are blessed with a loving family member, or a caring friend, that help them without seeking anything but companionship in return," notes Price. "However, sometimes these vulnerable older persons can become the victims of exploitation, neglect or even physical abuse."

Price adds, "This new collaboration between Emory Healthcare and DeKalb County represents the first of its kind in the United States, a program where victims can find safe shelter from harm and receive state-of-the-art medical care for the treatment of their injuries and work towards regaining their independence with our help and the help of the VALARI team. While my team at the Wesley Woods Center works to restore the victim's mental and physical well being, our colleagues in the VALARI team will work to restore their social and financial status. In the past, these souls often had no choice but to return to the abusive environment. Now they will have a fair chance at health, happiness, and a life without fear."

The protection pathway project is a comprehensive plan developed by the VALARI taskforce to assist victims of elder and disabled adult abuse, neglect and exploitation on a 24-hr basis. In the event victims are not in need of urgent medical care, then the protection pathway provides a full forensic examination to detect abuse and neglect of the alleged victim. If abuse or neglect is suspected, then Emory officials will refer the case to state and local law enforcement for investigation.

As part of its charter, the VALARI taskforce is responsible for developing a plan in which victims of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation are assessed for medical need and, if necessary, removed to an appropriate temporary living environment. The protection pathway begins at the victim's initial residence. At that point, the alleged victim will be assessed by DeKalb police officers or detectives. If the alleged victim is determined to meet VALARI criteria, a representative of the VALARI taskforce will be notified and begin victim advocacy.

Robert James, DeKalb County Solicitor-General, says, "We believe there are hundreds, maybe thousands of cases now that are slipping through the cracks. Just because a person goes to the ER doesn't mean that the doctor can detect signs of abuse. Often when they are underweight or abused, it's not noticed. Currently, if a caregiver becomes ill or is abusive, there is no place to go. They are dropped off at Grady or DeKalb Medical. Then they are returned to the street. VALARI evaluation criteria, include, but are not limited to, age, lack of immediately available family members or friends able to take care of the alleged victim, and severity of crime. The volunteer will determine if the alleged victim is in need of urgent medical evaluation. Upon determination of appropriateness, the VALARI-assigned victim will be taken to the Emory University Hospital Emergency Department. If medical necessity dictates, the alleged victim will be admitted to an inpatient service for advanced care (medical, surgical, psychiatric). In the case where the alleged victim is cleared of evidence of acute medical, psychiatric or surgical need and not in need of hospitalization, then a temporary living environment will need to be obtained.

The VALARI volunteer will coordinate with a representative of the Wesley Woods campus to determine the most appropriate of three potential temporary housing options based upon the following criteria:

  • Level 1: Alleged victim can function independently and is not acutely ill. There is only a need of emergency housing and meals: In this case, s/he will be housed in an available efficiency apartment at Wesley Woods Towers.
  • Level 2: Alleged victim is not acutely ill and cannot live independently. If the individual meets criteria for respite care under Medicaid, s/he will be housed in an appropriate room at Budd Terrace nursing homes.
  • Level 3: Alleged victim has developed evidence of acute illness or active disease since prior assessment. The alleged victim, now patient, will be admitted for 24-hour observation to the Wesley Woods Geriatric Hospital. A Geriatric assessment is conducted by a physician within 24 hours.


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service.

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