North Texas has thousands of disabled, elderly victims of neglect
Plastic lids filled with cat food are scattered throughout the Fort Worth home of 66-year-old Raymond Gotautas and his 96-year-old mother, Eugenia Strouse.
Small boxes of Imperial raisins litter a coffee table and a dining room table, and cat fur lies undisturbed in all rooms of the home.
The house smells of the three cats who have a run of the home in south Fort Worth.
This is life on a hot summer day for Gotautas, who is blind, and his mother, who uses a cane to slowly get around the house.
They’re among the sometimes forgotten and neglected residents of North Texas. And they aren’t alone as sizzling temperatures and heat advisories return to the region.
There are more than 3.3 million Texans over the age of 65, and more than 1.7 million are adults with disabilities, according to Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
In 2020, Adult Protective Services, a division of TDFPS, completed 86,614 investigations on residents over 65 in Texas, finding that 52,506 were confirmed victims of abuse, neglect or financial exploitation. Of the total investigations in the state, 16,501 were in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and 10,108 were confirmed cases of neglect or abuse.
The most common reports received by Adult Protective Services are physical neglect, which can or has led to starvation, dehydration, over- and under-medicating, unsanitary living conditions or lack of personal hygiene. Neglected adults also may not have heat, air conditioning, running water, electricity or medical care, and oftentimes it is self-neglect, according to state officials.
“People tend to think neglect only happens in poor families and poor neighborhoods,” said Delicia King, who has been an Adult Protective Services investigator for more than three years in North Texas. “Now that people are living longer, neglect does not have a prospective person or race. You can’t look at a home and determine if someone is being neglected.”
Take Gotautas and Strouse for example.
Their home sits in south Fort Worth surrounded by residences with manicured lawns. All of Strouse and Gotautas’ family live in Poland.
For years, only a few friends and an investigator with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services have kept an eye out for them.
Gotautus had been a watch maker for 35 years, but he became blind just a few years ago. His mother has had to use a cane to get around for several years.
“They’re the best,” Gotautus said, referring to TDFPS on a recent visit. “I trust them.”
In Texas, TDFPS provided services for 66,616 clients in 2020, including 12,240 in the Dallas-Fort Worth region.
“It all depends on the support system for that person and whether or not family and friends are actively involved in the person’s life,” King said. “It is also common for our clients to have moved here from another country and not have anyone here to help them as they grow older. The biggest challenge is when these clients have lost capacity and there is no one here to help them make important decisions, like possible long-term care placement and/or finances.”
The department also provides services to younger clients with disabilities.
Every day, Prince Starr, who has a disability, faces the challenge head-on. The 38-year-old Fort Worth man had to have his leg amputated from the knee down after an infection on the bottom of his foot.
In 2017, Starr and his family visited a water park at Six Flags St. Louis. Starr wore water shoes most of the day, but by that night he developed a small pain on the bottom of his foot.
The pain turned into an infection, which led to Starr having two amputations, causing him to lose his job and financial stability. Just after his amputations, Starr’s father died from cancer.
“I’ve never struggled,” said Starr, who lives in west Fort Worth. “Right now, I have an 11-year-old boy that looks at me and says, ‘That’s my dad. My dad is strong’.”
Starr said his son pushes him to be strong.
TDFPS officials stepped in to help Starr when he discovered his apartment complex had no porch lights or wheelchair ramps.
Starr said he has to leave at 4 a.m. to go to Dallas for physical rehabilitation.
“I see others living here in wheelchairs,” Starr said. “So there is a need for lights and ramps.”
As for Gotautas and his mother , TDFPS has made arrangements for their home in south Fort Worth to be cleaned out and for pests to be exterminated.
“The most important thing is to stay involved with the elderly,” King said.
King said friends, family and neighbors should make home visits, and offer to take them to lunch or a day movie.
“Some will say anything to prevent someone from knowing what they are actually going through,” the TDFPS investigator said. “They have pride and they do not want to let others know they need help. Sometimes it takes that trusted someone to step in to start the process.”