Coordinated Community Response: Protecting Adults at Risk during a Pandemic

by Door County Circuit Court Commissioner Jennifer Moeller, Register in Probate

Wisconsin law defines an adult at risk as any adult who has a physical or mental condition that impairs the individual’s ability to care for her or his needs; and who has experienced, is experiencing or is at risk of experiencing abuse, neglect, self-neglect or financial exploitation. These can occur in the home, community, a facility or any other setting. A friend, family member or caregiver may be involved in the alleged misconduct. 

If you suspect any wrongdoing of this kind, call the Door County Department of Health and Human Services at 920.746.7155, #2; or dial 911 after hours. Every Wisconsin county has adults-at-risk helplines that can be searched at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services ( To report abuse taking place outside of Wisconsin, contact the National Adult Protective Services Association ( 

Maintaining contact with adults at risk helps to prevent and end abuse or neglect. Guardians, family members, social workers, attorneys and medical professionals are all struggling to maintain connections with people in hospital, nursing-home and other residential group settings. Access is often restricted to protect these individuals from the highly contagious virus in our midst, so how are their needs being met and monitored? 

National legal, court and guardianship associations suggest the following:

Use remote-access technology such as telephone calls, texts, emails and video chats. All of these can be done with a smartphone. Many residential group homes are cooperative about these options, which can be run from most phones and tablets. The apps are on most phones and tablets or can be downloaded for free. A video chat could also enable the caller to see the person’s surroundings. 

• Visit from a distance by meeting outside a window, door or other reasonable barrier, which can be arranged at many facilities. With the warmer weather, visits in a yard or on a deck or porch can provide a physical presence that provides comfort and reassurance. 

• Talk to staff members and review records. Within confidentiality limits, talk to staff members and anyone else with access to the person. Attend care-planning meetings by telephone or videoconferencing.  

The rights of adults at risk should always be a top priority, but exercising certain rights may be more difficult with COVID-19 restrictions. Residential facilities are observing myriad rules and regulations, so communication, patience and kindness all around will help to see us through these challenging times.  

To learn more about this topic, read the FAQs for Guardians–Pandemic Resources at

This article is brought to you in part by the Door County Coordinated Community Response (CCR) to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Teams and the Door County Elder and Adult-at-Risk Interdisciplinary Team.