GALLATIN—Columbia and Greene county senior citizens faced with scammers, fraud or abuse can now get free legal help starting with a phone call.
A hotline, 518 751-0207, was launched last month by Attorney Kathryn Salensky in association with a project called, George’s Justice, named for her father, George Salensky, who died in March at the age of 90.
The launch came at a Hudson Area Library event organized by Ms. Salensky to celebrate “safe seniors” on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Attendees met elder abuse experts from the New York State Attorney General’s Office; learned about scams and free legal services for seniors; met staff from the New York State Bar Community and Justice Center and found out about George’s Justice, all while being entertained by local musicians, many of them seniors.
Ms. Salensky’s father, was a research scientist, a graduate of New York Polytechnic University, Columbia University and held an honorary doctorate in organic chemistry from Lehigh University along with more than 100 patents for organizations such as NASA, Union Carbide and Warner Lambert.
He lived on a 150-acre farm that straddles the Gallatin/Taghkanic town line. The place was originally purchased in 1939 by his father, Isaac Salensky, who operated a dairy farm there, said Ms. Salensky. She’s now a third generation resident on the site she said by phone this week.
Though her father was a bright and educated man, in his later years he became the target of unscrupulous people, who trespassed on his property, stole from him, performed unauthorized work, fabricated “sob stories” to play on his compassion and then asked for money. In a case that is still pending, someone forged his name on a legal document in an effort to siphon $30,000 from his bank account.
Her father was smart and fought back, said Ms. Salensky, but not all senior citizens have access to legal services and some even live in fear of retaliation should they seek assistance.
“Phone lines are lifelines” to many elderly people who have little or no access to the internet, particularly in rural areas.
“Asking them to download a form would be like asking me to fix a carburetor,” she said.
When someone calls the hotline they will be asked to leave a message and within 48 hours will receive a call back from a volunteer (a person, not software), who will listen and evaluate what kind of help is required.
“George’s Justice has a great partner in the Attorney General’s Office, which is eager to prosecute cases involving unauthorized services,” Ms. Salensky noted.
George’s Justice volunteers provide referrals to get seniors through to the right person and stand by them until the whole process is completed.
With regard to the bigger elder abuse picture, Ms. Salensky had harsh words for adult protective services in New York State, saying the state has not revamped its laws relating to the mandatory reporting of elder abuse since 1997, leaving prosecutors without the necessary tools to respond.
According to the U.S Census Bureau, as of July 2013, 21.5% of the population in Columbia County were persons 65 years and over.
Ms. Salensky is a supervising court attorney in Bronx County Criminal Court and is also principal court attorney to both the supervising judge and deputy chief judge of Bronx Criminal Court.
Formerly an assistant district attorney with the Bronx County District Attorney Office, Ms. Salensky worked on the New York City Bar Association’s Task Force of Women in the Courts and chaired the Hurricane Sandy Relief Effort by developing partnerships with New York State Bar Association and law firms, developed a team of volunteer lawyers, coordinated training sessions for pro bono services for hurricane victims and identified pro bono opportunities.
The George’s Justice hotline may be the first of its kind in the state.
Ms. Salensky said as a “lifetime prosecutor dedicated to serving the public,” she started the privately-funded project, to create something positive from a negative in celebration of her father’s life.
“He was creative and a problem-solver. He was not a victim,” she said. His legacy will be that every elder who needs help has a voice and access to the resources they need.
Anyone interested in volunteering to answer the hotline is welcome and will receive training. For seniors, Ms. Salensky said, it’s a step towards self-empowerment. Call the hotline at 518 751-0207 to find out more.
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