Friday, October 19, 2007

Confronting Elder Abuse

BRADENTON, Fla. By NATALIE NEYSA ALUND- Bradenton Herald — In April, Cassandra Hall was accused of stealing from a 76-year-old Sarasota, Fla., man whose wife hired her as a home health care aide.

That same month, Sue Ellison was sentenced to five years in prison for duping a 94-year-old Bradenton, Fla., man out of about $80,000 while she looked after him in 2005.

Last October, Christina Pace, an employee of a care and rehabilitation center, was sentenced to probation and community service after pleading no contest to a charge that she stole an 87-year-old woman's monthly income.

Of the almost 27,000 Florida cases surrounding abuse, neglect and exploitation of people older than 60 reported to the Department of Children and Families in 2004, the majority of the cases dealt with caregivers, said DCF spokeswoman Erin Geraghty.

For example, in Manatee County, Fla., 37 criminal cases involving exploitation of the elderly have been reported in the past three years.
And those are just the reported crimes.

An estimated 5 million older Americans are victims of financial exploitation each year, according to the National Center for the Prevention of Elder Abuse.

"One of the issues with elder abuse is that the numbers are really unreliable," said Kassandra Elekes, community relations manager with the Department of Elder Affairs.

Some people, Elekes said, don't alert the authorities.

"I think people hesitate to report about missing things because their elderly husband, wife, father or mother is already suffering from some medical condition and they don't want to exacerbate it by having that person go through the legal process," said JoAnn Downes, who had hired the 26-year-old Hall to take care of her husband. He suffers from dementia.
Hall was accused of stealing $446 in jewelry from the couple in April. The case is set for a plea hearing at the Manatee County Courthouse later this month.

"I'm quite a bit younger than my husband," Downes said, "and it was an ordeal for me and I thought, `How would someone in their 70s or 80s deal with all this?'"

Financial exploitation occurs when someone in a position of trust illegally uses or takes a vulnerable adult's money or property for his or her own profit or gain.

"The results can be emotionally and financially devastating to the victims," said Stacy Merritt, DEA state elder abuse prevention coordinator.
Home health-care companies are expected to have strict rules for employees, and they must run background checks before hiring someone. Even then, owners say, they are faced with potential cases of exploitation.
Hall had worked for Right At Home, a home health care company based in Sarasota. Michael Juceam, the company's owner, expressed their dismay after learning of the charges.

"We were terribly shocked ... she had demonstrated high-caliber work," Juceam said. She "was well liked by every single person whose home we sent her in to.

"When Ms. Downes notified us that something was missing, we gave her a list of all the caregivers who had worked there," Juceam said. "We . . . assisted in anything we could to help with the recovery process."
Hall, who had been with the company for about five months, passed a home health care accredited course and came with experience, Juceam said.
He fired her after the arrest.

"We take very seriously maintaining the safety of the seniors in our care working hard to prevent this from happening," Juceam said.

The business checks potential employees' criminal backgrounds and driving records, he said. They also conduct a drug screen and require references.
When seeking a caregiver, the best line of defense is hiring people through an agency, Juceam said.

"Part of what you're buying is the supervision of the screening process," he said.

If a caregiver has lived in Florida for more than three years, the background checks that his agency has performed will reflect records from law enforcement databases in all 50 states, Juceam said.

"Know if you are choosing a licensed agency, not a registry," he said. "A registry does not provide workman's comp coverage nor or they responsible for payroll taxes.

"If you use them, you then technically are responsible for the payroll tax because you are the direct employer."

While various activities can be categorized as elder financial abuse, all have the same characteristics - the improper use of an older person's assets."It is difficult to spot fraud when it is happening and important for seniors to become informed about these methods so they may protect themselves from becoming victimized," Merritt said.Reporting the crime

Elder crime is also underreported because some victims are ashamed because they know who has exploited them, said Erika Dine, an elder law attorney for Boyer and Jackson in Sarasota, Fla.

"They are embarrassed because they have let the abuser into their life and don't want to admit that they have misjudged someone," Dine said. "They fear that this misjudgment will cause others to question their decisions, and they fear this could lead to a lack of self-determination."

Sometimes, Dine said, the abuser will threaten the victim that they will go to a nursing home, or that no one else cares for them but the abuser.
"Usually the abuser is so close to the victim that they will control the victim's environment," Dine said.
The first step? Report it so you can get help, Dine said.

Once DCF receives a complaint, it has 24 hours to start an investigation, Geraghty said.

If the elders live in another state, call the protective services agency where they live, she said. In some states, toll-free hotlines are available. Many states also have online directories that list local reporting numbers.
The law on exploitation

A person convicted of exploiting an elder can face prison time.
Exploiting the elderly or disabled by taking $100,000 or more from them is a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Exploiting them out of $20,000-$100,000 is a second-degree felony that carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence. Exploiting them in an amount less than $20,000 is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Anyone who knowingly fails to report a case of known or suspected abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a vulnerable adult, or who knowingly prevents another person from doing so, commits a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail.

Ed Brodsky, an assistant state attorney in Manatee County, recommends people check in frequently on elderly family members who live alone.
"What we're seeing in those cases where they allow someone to handle their finances is there isn't a loved one or friend to oversee ... to serve as a check and balance to make sure finances are in order," Brodsky said.

"What they need is a family member or relative to come in and make sure people who have loved ones go to the house, look over their bank statements and make sure the finances are in order and that are no unusual suspicious expenses."

Staying socially active and avoiding isolation are other recommendations, Merritt said. They should also establish relationships with bankers, attorneys and financial consultants.

And the elderly can still have faith in those responsible for their care.

"A lot of patients tell us they are resistant (about) people they don't know coming into their home because they've heard stories about exploitation," said Gail Bogatitus, social service director at Heartland Health Care & Rehab - a rehabilitation and long-term care facility in Sarasota.
"In actuality, there are so many people out there trying to do them a good service."

Abridged =>

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I find it quite interesting that Michael Juceam, the owner of Right At Home, the company that sent this abusive caregiver, gives completely false information about registries.
Registries are licensed by the state, and studies show that they have lower rates of abuse, and patients using them have better outcomes, including quality of life than the type of care provided by Right At Home. The safety and tax issues he brings up are not true. Registries report the caregiver income to the IRS and the caregiver must pay their taxes. In addition, the costs of using a registry are generally 20 to 40 percent less than using agencies run by other models, such as the one Right At Home uses. So to be guilty of sending an abusive caregiver and then providing misinformation about other types of care, in my opinion, shows just how unreliable this man and his company are.