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COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS Vulnerable Adult Protection and Maltreatment Investigation

Sep 11, 2020 08:22AM ● By Editor

By Adult and Home and Community Based Services Supervisor Martina Johnson.  From Cook County MN - September 11, 2020


Approximately 1 in 10 Americans aged 60 and older have experienced some form of elder abuse.  Some estimates range as high as 5 million elders being abused each year.[1]

Cook County Public Health and Human Services (PHHS) has a role in creating safety for vulnerable adults by connecting them with resources and supportive services. PHHS is also responsible for investigating reports of adults who have been maltreated

What is the county’s role in protecting vulnerable adults?

Under the Vulnerable Adult Act, it is the statutory responsibility of Cook County PHHS to provide adult protective services and to respond to reports of suspected maltreatment of vulnerable adults.  Adult protective services include intake, response to emergency adult protective service notifications, investigations, and safety planning to remediate and prevent maltreatment experienced by vulnerable adults.

Cook County PHHS receives reports of maltreatment of vulnerable adults from the Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center, or MAARC.  MAARC is a statewide call center with staff available to accept adult maltreatment reports 24/7, 365 days/year.  MAARC staff documents each report in a centralized database and sends reports to the appropriate lead investigative agency.  This centralized system allows for more efficient response and data analysis and enhances the ability for reporters to remain completely anonymous when making a report, if they so choose.  

What is a vulnerable adult?

MN Statute 626.5572 defines vulnerable adults within two categories, categorical and functional.  A categorical vulnerable adult is any person 18 years of age or older who is a resident or inpatient of a facility or receives services from a provider listed within the statute, including foster care, assisted living services, and home care services. 

A functional vulnerable adult is any person 18 years of age or older who, regardless of residence or whether any type of service is received, possesses a physical or mental infirmity or other physical, mental or emotional dysfunction that impairs the individual’s ability to provide adequately for the individual’s own care without assistance, including the provision of food, shelter, clothing, health care or supervision; and, because of the individual’s dysfunction or infirmity and the need for care or services, has an impaired ability to protect his or herself from maltreatment.

What is maltreatment?

MN Statute 626.5572 defines three types of maltreatment: abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation.  

Abuse is defined as physical, sexual or emotional.

  • Physical abuse means inflicting physical pain or injury
  • Sexual abuse may include touching, fondling, or any sexual activity when the vulnerable adult is unable to understand, unwilling to consent, threatened, or physically forced
  • Emotional abuse may include verbal assaults, threats of abuse, harassment, and/or intimidation


  • Caregiver neglect is defined as the failure of a caregiver to supply a vulnerable adult with care or services, including, but not limited to, food, clothing, shelter, health care or supervision   
  • Self-neglect can occur when a vulnerable adult demonstrates an inability to adequately care for themselves in a manner that maintains their physical or mental health or safety 
  • Financial Exploitation:
  • Financial exploitation may include theft or withholding of money or property and/or use of the vulnerable adult’s money or property not for the vulnerable adult's benefit

What are some signs of adult maltreatment?


  • Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, burns
  • Refusal to seek medical help for injuries
  • Nonchalant attitude towards any of these injuries when confronted about them
  • Odd changes in behavior
  • Strained or tense relationships
  • Unresponsiveness and dislike for communicating with others

Caregiver Neglect:

  • Visible weight loss
  • Bed sores
  • Lack of supervision when medical professionals have indicated it is necessary
  • Evidence that basic hygiene needs aren’t met, i.e., vulnerable adult is not regularly bathed or dressed in clean clothing


  • Refusal to seek medical attention when needed
  • Visible weight loss
  • Lack of basic hygiene, water/food, and/or clean clothing 
  • Unsafe home setting , i.e., hoarding, rodent infestation

Financial Exploitation:

  • Unusual ATM activity
  • Large withdrawals from bank accounts
  • Signatures on checks that don’t match the signature of the vulnerable individual

What can be done to reduce adult maltreatment?

  • If you have vulnerable people in your life, have them stay nearby or close to other family members, if possible.  This allows you to offer assistance when you notice they need it, or they can easily come to you for help as well.
  • Call or visit a vulnerable loved one as often as you can, helping them to see you as a trusted confidant.
  • Make sure the vulnerable people in your life are aware of current scams or solicitations so that they are less likely to fall for them.
  • Provide a respite break for a caregiver.
  • If you are a caregiver, take immediate steps to relieve stress and burnout by practicing stress-relieving techniques such as eating healthily, getting enough rest, and requesting help when you need it.
  • Be selective with caregivers.
  • If you are responsible for the financial and/or legal affairs of a vulnerable adult, regularly monitor their accounts to make sure there are no fraudulent activities taking place.
  • Educate others about how to recognize and report adult maltreatment.

If you suspect a vulnerable adult is suffering from abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation, please call the Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center at 844-880-1574.  

Learn more about the protection of vulnerable adults and the PHHS department at the September 15th PHHS Board Meeting at 8:30 a.m. in the Cook County Commissioners Room, available through livestream on the Cook County website. Follow us on Facebook @CookCountyPHHS to learn more about resources for older adults and people with disabilities in Cook County.  

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service

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