Since VEPT’s inception, it has been activated more than 300 times — an average of about twice a week. Though abuse was ruled out in some of those cases, Dr. Rosen and his colleagues note that the activation numbers underscore the fact that clinicians are becoming increasingly aware of the phenomenon and are eager to tap resources to combat it. “These cases are really time-consuming and complex, and knowing that there’s a team that can provide support and assist in their management has helped boost identification, intervention, and understanding,” says social worker Alyssa Elman, who manages the VEPT program and serves as a liaison to community agencies that aid victims.
While VEPT was intended as an ED resource, it has also responded to requests from colleagues elsewhere in the hospital. And through a dedicated phone number, elders suspected to be abuse victims can be transported directly to the NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell ED for evaluation by VEPT staff. Deborah Holt-Knight, deputy commissioner of New York City’s Office of Adult Protective Services, points out that VEPT gives social workers an option of taking someone out of a dangerous situation and bringing them to an ED where people are equipped to deal with their issues. “I believe that this resource is going to save lives,” she says.
Under a three-year, $2 million grant from the New York State Office of Victims Services that Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian were awarded in summer 2019, the team will expand further, with plans to add a geriatrician and to offer VEPT’s expertise to other NewYork-Presbyterian Emergency Departments through telemedicine technology.
Dr. Rahul Sharma, emergency physician-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell and chairman of emergency medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, says VEPT addresses an important societal need. “Elder abuse is something that we probably don’t talk about enough, and it’s under-recognized. There’s no better environment than the ED to identify these patients.
“A lot of these elder abuse cases would come back numerous times, and it was very hard to put the pieces together; if you thought someone had a fall, you’d suture up the laceration and think you were done. But now, by identifying these patients, getting them on the right track, and giving them the appropriate support system, we’ve been able to reduce visits to the ED and change their living situations at discharge. We can have a tremendous impact on their lives.”
A version of this story first appeared in Weill Cornell Medicine’s newsroom.