Social worker hailed as ‘true advocate,’ honored for service

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 11, 2010

Underwood, left, with Riley and Leverington

Susan Underwood has made it her life’s work to protect and assist this county’s older population.

Tuesday, she will be honored by Gov. Bob Riley for her dedication as the Spirit of Adult Protective Services award winner for the entire state.

The date coincides with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which is set for June 15, and a subject Underwood is all too familiar with after ending a nearly 27-year career June 1 with the Covington County Department of Human Resources, where she worked the department’s adult protective services worker/supervisor.

In 2009, DHR investigated approximately 4,700 adult protective service reports, said DHR director Cathy Leverington.

“About half of these involved reports of suspected abuse or neglect of people who were at least 60 years of age,” she said. “In fact, most of them ranged from 75 to 84 years of age, and (Underwood) was there for nearly all of them.”

Underwood described her job as investigative in nature.

“Most of the time, we investigate claims of self-neglect,” she said. “We do everything we can to keep our elderly citizens independent and living at home as along as they can. This is the job where you feel like you can really make a difference.”

It’s that “compassionate and caring nature” that prompted Leverington and Underwood’s supervisor, Felicia Cope, to nominate Underwood for the honor.

“(Underwood) is a true advocate for the vulnerable adults in our community,” Leverington said. “She has shown genuine concern for those she serves and treats everyone with the dignity and respect they deserve. She has always had her clients best interests at heart and worked tireless to make sure their needs were met.”

Underwood’s achievement is two-fold, Leverington said.

“She really brings a spotlight to Covington County and to World Elder Abuse Day,” she said. “Because the elderly don’t always receive the care and attention that they need, they are primary targets for abuse, neglect and exploitations.

“Sadly, in many cases, the victim’s own children are the perpetrators, which can make investigating reports an arduous task. As difficult a task as this may be, our adult protective service workers – like Susan – are committed to helping ensure the safety and well-being of the elderly.”

Underwood will travel to Montgomery on June 14 to receive her honor. She is now in the running for the national award, which will be announced later this year.

To report suspected abuse, neglect or exploitation, call 334-427-7900 or 1-800-458-7214. All reports are confidential and can be made anonymously.