Older Persons Advocacy and Legal Service (OPALS) is a health justice partnership between Metro South Health and Caxton Legal Centre Inc., bringing together lawyers, social workers and other health professionals to achieve proactive early intervention for older patients who are at risk of or experiencing elder abuse.
In Australia, nearly 30% of people initially seek advice from trusted health or welfare professionals when in situations of elder abuse, putting health professionals in a unique position to identify, respond and make appropriate referrals of patients to specialist support services. Caxton Legal Centre and Metro South Health together can provide compassionate person-centred and timely information, advice about options and support to address the health, psycho-social and legal needs of older people and improve their overall wellbeing, choice and safety.
OPALS is a free service assisting people over 65+ years old or 50+ years old (for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people) who receive health care from Metro South health services.
In hospitals, concerns about elder abuse are often referred to the health social workers. This process can continue within treating teams as the social workers can refer direct to OPALS with patient consent. However, it is good to note that any staff member in Metro South Health can seek a secondary de-identified consultation with one of the OPALS team to discuss their concerns. It is as simple as making a phone call or having a conversation as first contact. Community health staff can refer direct to OPALS, of course, as there may be no social worker in the team.
OPALS will provide ongoing legal and community social work support. The team are usually based in the hospitals but during COVID, they are best contacted by phone and then they can attend in person to talk to the patient if there is consent. They visit both people in hospital and community. They can follow up for as long as the older person wants and needs elder abuse assistance.
The OPALS lawyer has focused expertise in elder law including capacity and decision-making, domestic and family violence, elder abuse legal options, advance care planning documents, personal and financial safeguarding and family agreements. Metro South now has two lawyers attached to OPALS as well as the community social worker.
OPALS conduct training sessions for Metro South Health staff on how to identify elder abuse (‘red flags’ training) and how to make appropriate referrals. Anyone can attend these sessions as elder abuse is not just identified by health professionals. Everyone can notice and respond and refer to elder abuse.
The Older Persons Advocacy and Legal Service is funded by the Commonwealth Government, Attorney-General’s Department.