Allegedly, she pried the diamond ring right off the sleeping woman’s finger. That’s what Keona Stephens, 22, of St. Petersburg, Florida, is accused of doing at the Allegro Senior Living Facility where she worked. As police in St. Petersburg investigated the theft, they learned that other residents had also been targeted by a jewelry thief while they were sleeping. The estimated total loss of jewelry was assessed at more than $21,000. Ms. Stephens confessed to the crimes and was charged with four counts of theft and one count of grand theft.
That theft is just one of the hundreds reported by nursing home residents every year. Many thefts also go unreported. The number of thefts and financial abuse incidents targeting the elderly is staggering – and unacceptable. Legally defined, the financial abuse of the elderly is the illegal or improper use of an elderly person’s money, assets, or property. Financial exploitation of the elderly can include stealing jewelry or money, cashing checks without authorization, forging signatures, or deceiving or bullying someone into signing a financial document such as a contract or a will.
If you have an elderly family member or a loved one living in a nursing home, you may be the only person who can look out for your loved one’s interests. Without the oversight of a family member or a close friend, a nursing home resident could be exploited for years. When an elderly person starts managing his or her accounts differently, making large withdrawals, or adding names to his or her accounts, these may be indications of financial abuse. Have a discussion with the person you believe is being targeted for financial abuse. Make sure you know that person’s best interests, needs, and desires for financial security.
WHERE CAN A FAMILY TURN FOR HELP?
In Southern California, if you have evidence or strongly suspect financial abuse – or any other type of elder abuse – take your concerns to an experienced Pasadena personal injury attorney. Sometimes an attorney’s letter or phone call may be all that’s needed. The threat of an injury lawsuit – or actually filing a lawsuit – may be a necessary move. After reviewing the details of the situation, your attorney will also be able to determine if the police or other authorities should become involved.
One of the difficulties that elderly nursing home residents and their families deal with today is the expectation that a nursing home will manage and protect a resident’s money, which is typically placed in a special trust fund account used for resident care, personal items, and various incidentals. In the last several years, more than 1,500 incidents in which nursing homes have been cited for mishandling residents’ trust funds have been reported, and over a hundred nursing home employees across the nation have been prosecuted in these cases.
HOW CAN YOU PROTECT A LOVED ONE FROM FINANCIAL ABUSE?
In one particularly egregious case, a now-former office manager at the Vicksburg Convalescent facility in Vicksburg, Mississippi stole more than $100,000 from 83 patients’ accounts. Lee Ray Martin specifically targeted residents without families and those who suffered from dementia. If you have a loved one in a southern California nursing home who has a nursing home trust fund, here’s what you need to do:
- Confirm all expenditures and withdrawals on trust fund statements.
- Verify quarterly statements for the right amount of interest.
- Find out if the facility has been cited for fund mismanagement in the past.
- Learn how residents’ funds are managed.
- Learn who is responsible for handling residents’ funds.
- Learn when audits are conducted and if they are available.
You should also get to know the facility’s personnel and the families of other residents. If you find any evidence of fund mismanagement, or if you think someone you love may be a target for some other kind of elder abuse, immediately contact a good personal injury attorney who will fight for your family’s rights. If an older person is receiving substandard care despite having the funds for high-quality care, financial abuse could be the reason.
Get help for financial abuse – or any other elder abuse – right away. According to the Justice Department, about five million older persons are the targets of elder abuse every year in the U.S. Elder abuse can often be difficult to confirm because the victims themselves may not understand that they are victims. Elder abuse goes beyond financial exploitation and may include emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, malnutrition or dehydration, intimidation or violence, and the failure to monitor residents or to provide needed medical care. As the average age of the U.S. population increases, elder abuse will most likely continue to rise as well. Consider these statistics:
- From 1999 through 2001, almost a third of the nursing homes in the U.S. were cited for at least one violation of federal nursing home standards.
- Nearly 10 percent of those violations posed a risk of serious injury or death or caused a serious injury or death.
- Over 40 percent of nursing home residents have reported abuse.
- More than 90 percent of nursing home residents report that they or someone else in the facility has been neglected.
- Research in 2010 indicated that as many as 50 percent of nursing home employees have admitted to abusing or neglecting residents.
WHAT ABOUT HOME HEALTHCARE AGENCIES?
Concerns about abuse in nursing home facilities are among the reasons that home healthcare agencies have expanded, but home healthcare agencies are not problem-free, either. Older persons can be at risk when home healthcare providers exploit them financially or otherwise fail to offer adequate care. Patients and their families have the right to hold home healthcare agencies accountable for the abusive actions of agency employees.
If you find any indications of neglect, abuse, or financial exploitation of an elderly loved one, or if you suspect that your loved one may be abused or exploited in a nursing home, by a home health care provider, or even by a family member, take appropriate action. In Southern California, arrange to speak with an experienced Pasadena personal injury attorney who will fight on your loved one’s behalf.
Nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of the people we love. Preserving the dignity of our older loved ones as they age is perhaps the most important thing we can offer them. Everything we have inherited and learned, we have inherited and learned from older people. They have earned the right to age with dignity and without abuse or exploitation of any kind.