A woman living in an assisted living community in Lemon Grove thought she was losing her mind. Each week, she noticed money disappearing from her room. She never noticed anyone taking her items, and people she questioned knew nothing about it. She was losing sleep, wondering if early dementia was fogging up her thoughts. “Am I imaging that I am losing things?” she thought to herself.
When she mentioned her concern to her daughter, the young woman placed a hidden camera in her mother’s room. Sure enough, the video showed the janitor walking into the room at night, opening up the safe and taking the elderly woman’s belongings.
Assistant Deputy District Attorney Paul Greenwood related that story during a meeting of the North County Estate Planning Council on February 2, 2017. The focus of the meeting was Exploitation to Abuse: Spotting and Dealing with the Dangerous Threats to Our Aging Clients. Greenwood said the Lemon Grove case, the judge was compelled to sentence the janitor to 270 days in custody when the victim testified, “I thought I had dementia, this caused not only financial harm but emotional harm as well.”
Supporting client use of cameras in the home is one way that a quality home care agency can promote client safety and security. The management staff of At Home Nursing Care is aware that about 25% of our clients or their family members install cameras in the home. Our philosophy is that it protects the client, our caregivers and the agency by showing what we did and what we didn’t do. Anything that gives our families peace of mind we applaud.
Greenwood explained that financial abuse is committed by caregivers paid and unpaid, and sadly the perpetrators are most often members of the family. “Who is doing the abuse?” he said, “The son, the grandson, the hired caregiver who got too close.”
Greenwood described elder financial abuse as any instance when someone over age 65 is deprived of their property. It’s a felony if the loss is greater than $950, anything less is a misdemeanor. But Greenwood stated that he tries to look for ways to charge a felony, even in smaller cases. He gave this example: a caregiver steals $500 by forging a client’s check – that would be a misdemeanor. However, the moment that caregiver walks into a bank to deposit the check, that caregiver has committed a 2nd degree burglary, which is a felony.
He described another case which led to changes in banking laws in 2003. In that case, a limo driver picked up a woman from the skilling nursing facility where she was living in Encinitas. The limo driver took the woman to the bank, where he asked her to liquidate an account and provide him with a $97,000 cashier’s check. The bank teller didn’t do much to investigate the transaction; instead she asked the limo driver who he was. He claimed he was the woman’s attorney and the check was payment. As suspicious as it seemed, the teller processed the transaction.
That case was one that led to changes in banking law where all bank employees, including bank tellers, are now mandated reporters. If they see something suspicious, they must report it to Adult Protective Services. Banks must provide annual training to employees on red flags, such as large transactions, charges on credit cards that don’t fit the bank client’s habits, family members or caregivers who seem to be coaching the elderly person to make banking decisions.
Home Care agencies, including their caregiving staff, also fall into the mandated reporter category. Failing to report suspected abuse or neglect is a misdemeanor. Medical providers such as doctors and nurses are also mandated reporters. They must alert APS, Adult Protective Services, if they suspect potential wrong doing.
Still, the burden of proof in a criminal case is very high. Amy Waszak, Adult Protective Services Supervisor for the County of San Diego, described a case involving an 87 year old widowed woman with memory impairment. From 2002 to 2015, the woman’s son, who was her legal power of attorney, opened unauthorized credit card accounts for his own use and transferred $193,000 of funds from his mom’s account to his own. He claimed it was to pay for medical bills, but records showed Medicare had covered 90% of those bills. On top of that, the son had borrowed $255,000 from his mother, then declared bankruptcy and wiped out that debt.
The woman’s daughter noticed the transactions, reported it to APS, and the son was removed as power of attorney. The case has been referred to the Oceanside Police Department for investigation of potential criminal charges. You can read the snap shot of the case provided to the audience here.
At Home Nursing Care, a licensed and accredited home health agency works, works diligently to hire only qualified people to care for our clients. We offer companions, personal care attendants, LVN’s and RN’s for care in the home. Our background checks include criminal history, and OIG exclusion check, a sex offender registry check and professional references. We also offer a Smart Care Card, a re-loadable debit card with limited funds and limited uses so that our client’s credit cards and checks can be removed from the home.
Our ethics require us to do everything in our power to mitigate risk, but we can’t do it alone. Paul Greenwood pointed out that it takes a group effort to provide the best care. Homecare agencies need a qualified Power of Attorney, Fiduciary, Trust Officer or other responsible person to help monitor a client’s finances and bill pay – services At Home Nursing Care is not appropriate to provide.
“Tell your clients, don’t abandon their families, stay involved,” he told the crowd. He said he made a commitment to his now 93 year old mother, who lives in England 16 years ago. “Mom, I’m going to call you each and every day,” he promised. And he did, up until the last 18 months. Now he doesn’t call, he and his mother now “Face Time” at 6:30 each morning, using the new technology to keep a mother connected to her far away son.
Written by Lauren Reynolds, Founder and Administrator of At Home Nursing Care. If you’d like more information about our quality home care services, give us a call at 760-634-8000. We help our clients live a better life at home with compassionate and trustworthy home care.