Get in the VAN

Published 11:35 pm Thursday, October 13, 2011

Suzanne Beurmann, Patty Klug

Cass County Vulnerable Adult Network (VAN) consists of collaborative service-related agencies seeking to improve and protect the lives of vulnerable adults.

VAN was established to address the need to: educate the public on issues of abuse, neglect and exploitation and how to report their concerns; familiarize agency personnel on what resources and services are available through local agencies to assist the vulnerable and their caretakers; and work together on specific cases that have been reported to the agencies to establish a response.

Participating agencies include Cass County Probate and Family Court, Cass County Prosecutor’s Office, Cass County Sheriff’s Office and Animal Control, Dowagiac Department of Public Safety (Police and Fire Departments), Pokagon Band of Tribal Police, Woodlands Behavioral Healthcare Network, Cass County Council on Aging, Cass County Medical Care Facility, Cass County Veterans Affairs, Department of Human Services (Adult Protective Services) and the Minority Coalition of Cass County.

As Patty Klug, administrative assistant to DPS Director Tom Atkinson, explained to Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889, VAN members work out of their individual offices daily and collaborate immediate needs via phone, fax, e-mail and special meetings called as necessary.

VAN meets monthly at the COA in Cassopolis to confidentially discuss individual ongoing case needs, collaborate on services and resources to address those needs, plan outreach activities and establish tasks and timelines for follow-up for specific cases and issues.

VAN administrators — agency department heads — meet as necessary to insure that the safety network stays on track to meet its established goals, objectives and timelines while following the mission of improving and protecting the lives of vulnerable adults.

“Individually,” said Klug, who just returned from a homeland security conference, “our organizations are just one piece of the collective puzzle in addressing the complex needs of our vulnerable adults. VAN seeks to bring these pieces together to create a collective picture of care and service to those in our community who are at the greatest risk.

“Cass County will continue to see challenges related to limited financial resources,” she said, “particularly in the current fiscal climate. However, the community is abundantly blessed with an atmosphere of collaboration that is unique. The dedication and determination of individuals in these agencies to help those we are privileged to serve is a legacy and ongoing.”

“We often get lost in that maze of who to call,” Klug said, “if we suspect someone is a victim of abuse, neglect or exploitation or if they just need help finding services for an individual. We also need to familiarize ourselves with what other agencies do and offer and how we can work together to provide the best service possible.

“If something has been referred to my office in the Dowagiac Police Department, Suzanne (Beurmann, COA respite care director) may also be working on an issue for that same family. The sheriff’s department may have gotten a referral. Perhaps the probate court is working on a petition for guardianship. Maybe mental health has dealt with the same individual.

“When we come together once a month at the COA, we talk about the cases, who we’re dealing with and the challenges we have in providing what we feel they need to have a successful outcome. By sitting around the table and talking about that, we often find we’re dealing with a lot of the same people, and we can then mesh those services together. We’re used to dealing with each other, so we know who to call. Just dealing with an insurance claim can be overwhelming.”