Welcome to the Silver Standard News
As a central element of the outreach work of the Elder Abuse Reform Now (EARN) Project, it is our goal to bring you the latest news on developments in the fight to end financial elder abuse, as well as a wide range of other information to assist senior citizens and their loved ones. From detailing the progress of legislation aimed at ending the practice of financial elder abuse in each of the 50 states to telling the stories of those who have suffered from the effects of this practice, the Silver Standard News is dedicated to making sure that no senior citizen in this country is denied the right to control the assets and property that are rightfully theirs.
To achieve this goal, we will be working on several different fronts; whether it be unraveling legal terminology for our readers or giving them a way to connect with each other, we will work to improve the lives of America's senior citizens by giving them a voice that reflects their concerns and ensures that they are part of a larger community that has their interests at heart.
We will shine a cold light into the darkness of financial elder abuse and the involuntary guardianship that is the favorite tool of the financial abuser. Scrutinize every state, every city, and every court to make sure the citizens of each state understand precisely where their state, and each legislator, stands on financial elder abuse, and how well existing laws protect their elders and punish the abusers.
We will remind every politician that senior citizens control the largest block of money and the largest block of votes. We will apply our motto, taken from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying." For we will be watching and reporting on the actions of those powerful Americans who, while enjoying the salaries and perks of office provided by the American tax payers, have failed the greatest generation and are now failing their baby boomer children.
In addition, we will give our readers. a look at the human faces behind every aspect of this struggle--not just victims but politicians, legislators, home care administrators, professional guardians, businesses. We will tell the personal stories of the people who have lost their money, homes and dignity due to unscrupulous individuals who are often allowed to act under the cloak of legality. But we will also tell the stories of those who have fought back, who have refused to take the existing state of affairs lying down, and who are winning their battles. We will tell you about those officeholders who are, and have been, their champions. Our aim is to empower our readers, to make them aware that they do not have to simply accept the way things are. Though they may be past the age of lying down on courthouse steps or participating in noisy demonstrations, we will encourage them to put their voice, their votes and their money to good use on the elder abuse front. Collectively, especially when joined by those who love them and younger people who don't want this evil to invade their "Golden Years"—they can create a mighty roar.
Though our principle focus is to inform and make elder abuse a sin of the past, we also hope we will amuse and entertain. Tell us what you want, what your concerns are, how you feel we can do a better job to make the Silver Standard News a vital source for all seniors and their adult children. We look forward to hearing from you.
Guardianship: What Elders and
Adult Children Need to Know
By Marcia Southwick
In my last article, I began talking about The National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse (NASGA) and our mission to help those elders and adults trapped in unwanted guardianships—a court-mandated restriction of rights that occurs once a person has been deemed incapacitated by a civil court.
How does guardianship happen, and what is the process? After reading hundreds and hundreds of cases, we at NASGA have seen consistencies that may help people understand how to avoid becoming trapped. Here are some key situations to watch for.
1) Family conflict over an elder’s estate or healthcare that ends up in civil Once a family battle ends up in court, the judge may very well decide that a third-party professional guardian is needed to protect a parent from their children, who will be perceived as causing the elder too much emotional distress. Families need to seek remedies other than court proceedings to repair differences. Otherwise, guardianship is a real danger. Families need to know that if third-party guardianship is established, they will lose the right to make any decisions for their parent, including financial and other intimately personal choices. Assets will be liquidated to cover the costs of court appointees and others caring for the parent.
2) A parent living alone. Solo life makes an elderly person vulnerable in more ways than one. Let’s say your parent has an accident and ends up in an emergency room. If children aren’t living nearby, or if a child has durable power of attorney and isn’t accessible, a hospital doctor, nurse, or social services employee could decide to report the situation to Adult Protective Services (APS). Believe it or not, such a report, triggered by even a relatively minor trip to the emergency room, can lead to a petition for guardianship and the removal of your parent’s
3) Guardianship companies seeking new “clients.” For-profit companies find vulnerable elders by holding seminars in the wealthiest of senior-citizen centers or clubs, professing to be guardian angels who can take care of your finances and your healthcare, coordinating everything for you. They will seek information from elders in the audience. They will want to know who is living alone without children nearby, who doesn’t have power of attorney in place, and who hasn’t created a will. If questions like these are asked, do not answer—or, better yet, say you’ve got five kids living in the area, whose occupations are a doctor, a lawyer, an FBI agent, a bodyguard, and a special-forces sniper.
These for-profit guardianship companies are trolling and obviously won’t tell you that. Think “ambulance chasers.” If you assign such a company power of attorney, it’s revocable—so it might not seem dangerous. But what’s to prevent them from having their attorney petition for guardianship over you down the line? Your power of attorney could basically translate into the company’s ownership of you and your assets. By “ownership,” I don’t mean literal ownership but a takeover of your rights in order to exercise them on your behalf—“in your best interest.”
Inevitably, your “best interest” will include a move to assisted living by force, the sale of your home (with the proceeds eventually going to the company holding guardianship), and the eviction of anyone living with you. It will include loss of access to your bank accounts, which are now in a guardian’s (or conservator’s) hands. It will entail a merciless hemorrhaging of your estate to pay everyone involved in the case. Usually, the people in this arena all work in the same court, which means that the judge knows and trusts the attorneys and everybody else who works on these cases. They’re basically a well-organized team. You could end up under the control of a total stranger who could care less about you and knows little about you. Some guardians are compassionate. Some are not.
4) If you walk into an estate attorney’s office (or a doctor’s office) and see brochures advertising a for-profit guardianship company, think twice. That estate attorney or doctor probably has a relationship with the company, which is why the brochures are If you have an estate to be plundered and your attorney or doctor doesn’t seem trustworthy, walk away. One way to check out an attorney’s reputation is to see whether he/she handles guardianship cases. If he/she does, there is a potential conflict of interest, because attorneys make money off of the “protected” person’s estate. When it comes to your doctor, you might ask directly why he/she recommends the guardianship company. In order to recognize the brochures, you’ll need to research guardianship companies in your area, because often they won’t mention guardianship in the company title, or even in the text.
5) A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) regulation, effective as of February 5, 2018, gives brokers and bankers safe harbor to report exploitation and allows them to place temporary holds on disbursements from elderly clients’ accounts. If a financial institution suspects something is wrong, it now has the power to report the activity. The intention is good—the idea is that all elders’ accounts should have the name of an emergency contact whom the financial institution can call first. But what if the elder doesn’t provide this contact? Let’s say you usually spend $3,000 a month, then spend $25,000 on an item or a gift to a child. What happens then? In theory, your financial institution could call APS and freeze your account. Be sure to have an emergency contact for all of your accounts to prevent misunderstanding and to allow this regulation to help rather than harm you. Remember the law of unintended consequences? Sometimes laws and regulations have perverse unintended
When it comes to being over 65, you are now entering a different segment of society—one that is watched more closely in order to prevent abuse. You are more vulnerable than you were just a few years ago, even if you don’t feel that way. Many people don’t really understand that age 65 is the threshold beyond which you are considered a less functional person than you once were. Your children need to know this, even if you still have all of your marbles.
Your children also need to be educated as to the dangers of your being left on your own for long periods of time. Now let’s imagine you are 80 and no one is helping you. Adult protective agencies could argue something like this: If you left a child home alone, what would happen? That child would be removed from the home. The same can happen to an elder.
If you have a parent who isn’t quite able to live on his or her own, make sure you have services in place for help in the home, and take care to do background checks and ensure oversight of the situation. Adult children need to know who is caring for their over-65 parents. If possible, be sure that your parent’s caretaker is a Certified Nurse’s Assistant (CNA), a person fully trained in care.
It’s important for families to know about these issues, because they will suffer too if a guardianship is put in place over you, the elderly parent. Most families are shocked when they discover what guardianship really is. It’s a punishing loss of rights that entails loss of liberty and potential sorrow for everyone close to you. A guardian can restrict family visits, and even if the guardian doesn’t, visits most likely will be monitored, costing at least $100 per hour—coming out of your estate.
We’ll be talking more about guardianship and durable power of attorney in the months to come. In the meantime, please be sure your documents—living will, healthcare power of attorney, and financial power of attorney—are in place. Elders, talk to your children, or better yet, give them this article. Guardianship could happen to you!
By David Holmberg
After decades spent ignoring the growing problem of financial elder abuse and involuntary guardianship, federal and state law-enforcement officials are touting the results of a year-long coordinated sting against suspected perpetrators, resulting in the prosecution of 250 defendants who bilked more than 1 million American seniors out of about $500 million. With the sting, referred to as the “largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history,” officials put on notice those criminals who target seniors and their vulnerabilities.
While seniors and those advocating for senior protections welcome official efforts to prosecute criminals perpetrating offenses, years of relative inactivity from government and law enforcement means that state and federal agencies remain behind the curve in acting as advocates for the senior population as a whole. What’s more, official response to senior financial elder abuse and involuntary guardianship remain reactive in nature. In other words, the years-long state and federal disinterest in the prevention of elder fraud abuse means the problem has been allowed to fester into plague proportions.
“The Justice Department and its partners are taking unprecedented, coordinated action to protect elderly Americans from financial threats, both foreign and domestic,” said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “Today’s actions send a clear message: we will hold perpetrators of elder fraud schemes accountable wherever they are. When criminals steal the hard-earned life savings of older Americans, we will respond with all the tools at the Department’s disposal—criminal prosecutions to punish offenders, civil injunctions to shut the schemes down, and asset forfeiture to take back ill-gotten gains. Today is only the beginning. I have directed Department prosecutors to coordinate with both domestic law-enforcement partners and foreign counterparts to stop these criminals from exploiting our seniors.”
The law-enforcement coordination, according to the February 22 Department of Justice release, involved the DOJ, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Post Office, the Federal Trade Commission, and state attorneys general.
In terms of financial abuse, law-enforcement officials typically focus efforts on activities characterized as schemes and scams. The most prevalent of these include:
Each of these involves deceit and trickery geared toward stealing seniors’ money.
“Many of these cases illustrate how an elderly American can lose his or her life savings to a duplicitous relative, guardian, or stranger who gains the victim’s trust,” according to the DOJ release. “The devastating effects these cases have on victims and their families, both financially and psychologically, make prosecuting elder fraud a key Department priority.”
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt heads up the National Association of Attorneys General. Elected as president of the body in June 2017, Schmidt is using his tenure to “help all states gather expertise and build capacity to fight elder abuse, neglect and exploitation,” according to a Kansas AG release.
The doubling down on efforts to protect against and prosecute violations of elder fraud comes at a time when the nation’s so-called “silver tsunami” continues on its hefty trajectory. In just over 100 years beginning in 1900, Americans aged 65 and older grew from a population of fewer than 5 million to more than 40 million, according to reported numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau. As a percentage of the population, the age group rose from around 3 percent to more than 12 percent in 2010. By one estimate, only one in every 14 cases of elder abuse is detected or reported. Despite that underreporting, statistically one in every 10 Americans age 65 or older who lives at home will be a victim of abuse.
And, according to a 2016 article in SocialWorkHelper, the situation will only get worse in the coming years. Expanding on the statistic that around 1 in 10 seniors falls prey to an exploitative crime, “that ratio becomes 1 in 2 concerning people with dementia.” In addition, the article points out that the 85-plus population is the fastest-growing age group in the United States.
While law-enforcement efforts put toward protecting seniors are long overdue, “the myriad of potential problems is worsened due to many inappropriate state laws,” the lack of federal regulation, and other factors, according to the above article.
So, the crisis of elder abuse—financial and otherwise—continues despite government efforts to stem the tide. Seniors who have saved all their lives to ensure a safe and comfortable retirement continue to be rendered destitute by these abusers. Loving parents and grandparents are still being ripped from their homes and imprisoned in involuntary guardianship—often state sanctioned. They are being consigned to less-than-loving facilities, kept from the company of their loved, dying alone. For too long our politicians, judges, and DAs have demonstrated a callous disinterest, and only now is public pressure driving them toward even surface action. Many states have laws that are, at best, token, or apply only to seniors deemed “vulnerable” or “dependent,” leaving their citizenry with district attorney’s offices unwilling to prosecute offenders because, as Paul Greenwood says in the documentary The Unforgivable Truth, “the burden of proving the elements of their victim being vulnerable is too high.”
Not just federal employees but savvy politicians and judges around the country must now not only follow Attorney General Sessions’ lead but pick up the pace. Make no mistake: both the public and senior advocates will be watching to ensure maximum enforcement of current laws. They will also be lobbying for the adoption of additional senior protections. America’s seniors cannot be kept waiting any longer.
Eyes Wide Open and Informed
From The Silver Standard Office Note Pad
Since 2008, the percentage of political independents—those who identify as such before their leanings to the two major parties are considered—has steadily climbed from 35 percent to the current 43 percent, exceeding 40 percent in each of the last four years. Prior to 2011, the statistical zenith in independent identification was 39 percent in 1995 and 1999.
The recent rise in independence from party affiliation has come at the expense of both parties, but it has occurred more frequently among Democrats than among Republicans. Over the last six years, Democratic identification has fallen from 36 percent—the highest in the last 25 years—to 30 percent. Meanwhile, Republican identification is down from 28 percent in 2008 to 26 percent in 2017.
This movement away from party affiliation may be unsettling, but it is also encouraging. It means that fewer and fewer Americans are blindly voting a straight party line. Instead, Americans are increasingly assessing the philosophy, on various issues, of each politician running for office. The more effort each of us puts into understanding the issues, formulating our position based on that understanding (rather than by the bonds of party loyalty), and voting accordingly, the better as citizens we will be and the healthier the country will be. The success of our system of government is determined by our insistence that those who seek leadership must persuade not expect blind loyalty, and those who grant political leadership, participate in the process not just vote.
The EARN Project has no political intentions other than to educate the public about—and thereby stop—financial elder abuse and involuntary guardianship. However, we will, from time to time, try to do some of your research for you and explain both sides of an issue that is much in dispute.
The latest results for party affiliation are based on aggregated data from 15 separate Gallup telephone polls conducted during each f the10 years listed below.
R I D
Jan. 2018 22 44 32
Jan. 2017 28 44 25
Jan. 2016 29 39 21
Jan. 2015 29 42 28
Jan. 2014 24 45 29
Jan. 2013 27 38 33
Jan. 2012 27 43 29
Jan. 2011 29 37 31
Jan. 2010 28 26 24
Jan. 2009 27 35 36
Happy, Safe Families Are Preserved by Uncomfortable Conversations
Financial Exploitation and Involuntary Guardianship are a lot more uncomfortable
By Mary West
No one enjoys contemplating later-life and end-of-life planning. For a variety of reasons, many older adults postpone making wills and other directives indefinitely. If they are in relatively good health, it just may not seem urgent to plan for a time when they will no longer be able to make sound decisions and care for themselves.
Adult children are often loathe to bring up such topics with their elderly parents. They don’t want to be perceived as being greedy, or they may simply hate to think of a time when a beloved parent will no longer be independent. Helping a senior loved one plan for the future begins with a conversation that may be difficult to broach.
Despite the unpleasant nature of this planning, it’s absolutely necessary, because it leads to greater security. Once the preparations are completed, older adults will have peace of mind, knowing that should a devastating illness strike, their care needs will be met and their wishes regarding artificial life support will be honored. Likewise, they can rest easy, knowing their estate will be distributed exactly according to their directives upon their death. Furthermore, making sure all end-of-life documents are legal and ironclad can help prevent financial elder abuse, which comes in many forms.
In 2018, Wells Fargo authorized a later-life planning survey of 784 seniors aged 60 and older, along with 798 adult children aged 45 to 69. The results painted a picture of how many Americans haven’t made adequate preparations in this area. Below are highlights of what the survey found, as well as real-life cases showing the dire consequences that may ensue from neglecting to put one’s affairs in order.
According to the survey, 57 percent of seniors view talking about later-life needs as a low priority, even when they reach their eighties. Perhaps a measure of denial plays a role in this view, because the average life expectancy of people who reach 65 in the U.S. is the mid-80s. Wells Fargo said the reluctance to plan could open the door to fraud by a trusted person, who, in fact, is untrustworthy.
The survey found that one out of five older Americans is a victim of financial abuse, but only one in ten believe it could happen to them. A key problem is that older adults may misplace their trust. While many believe a stranger is the person most likely to perpetrate a financial scam, statistics show that 66 percent of such crimes are committed by a family member, friend, or trusted person. Case 1 below illustrates how putting confidence in the wrong person can have devastating results.
In Florida, a woman we’ll call Sue named her sister as the designated beneficiary of her trust. Sue’s stockbroker/friend removed the sister’s name and replaced it with her own, thus becoming the residual beneficiary of the estate. At trial, the stockbroker claimed that she had been friends with her client for 30 years, helping with her two sons and chauffeuring her when she was no longer able to drive. The broker claimed that was the reason why Sue had decided to change her beneficiary of the trust from her sister to herself.
Originally, the stockbroker was convicted of financial exploitation of the elderly. However, upon appeal, the court reversed the decision, reasoning that the state could not prove its case. So, you are left with the question—who did Sue actually intend to be the beneficiary of the trust, and, by extension, did the right person inherit?
The survey found that only 40 percent of Americans have made the four most important legal and financial documents. These include a will, an advanced-care directive, a power of attorney for healthcare, and a power of attorney for financial matters. In addition, one third of seniors haven’t spoken with family members about later-life and end-of-life plans such as the identify of beneficiaries, the location of financial and legal documents, and the choice of the designee to manage financial and healthcare matters. Case 2 is an example of how neglecting to make the needed preparations can result in an older adult’s beneficiaries being cheated out of their inheritances.
In New York City, an elderly, reclusive gentleman we’ll call John, with no apparent friends or relatives, lived in a high-rise apartment complex and was lovingly cared for by the building’s staff. Upon John’s death, a handwritten will was discovered, leaving his $4 million estate to the 15 building employees. John had never written any previous will, yet when a nephew appeared, claiming rights to his uncle’s inheritance, New York courts awarded him the $4 million.
This ruling was decided despite testimonials of the building’s employees, and acknowledgement by the nephew that the nephew had visited John only once in the 30 years he had lived there. The ruling was also notwithstanding of assertions from the building’s tenants that John would have been without proper food and care were it not for the kind interventions of the employees. The building staff are contesting the decision. Let’s hope they win.
Experts have estimated that as much as $36.5 billion are lost annually from elder financial abuse, reports Wells Fargo. In fact, financial scams targeting seniors are so rampant that they have been called the “crime of the 21st century.” In the survey, nearly all the respondents expressed awareness of the problem, but the majority, 81 percent, were confident that they wouldn’t fall victim to such scams. 16 of those 81 will end their lives as a victim. This refusal to face reality is why the business of financial exploitation grows and prospers. Conversely, the older children were more concerned, with half saying they thought someone might try to take their parents’ money.
Unfortunately, sometimes the physical and mental decline that comes with aging poses challenges for older adults when it comes to protecting themselves from financial abuse. They may be aware that they’re in danger of being defrauded and, in response, notify the authorities; but despite their best efforts, the ruthless scammers prevail. Case 3 is an illustration of such a scenario.
The documentary The Unforgivable Truth, produced by the Silver Standard, tells the story of the Kibbee Foundation. In a loving act of protection, Mrs. Kibbee had designated a sizable portion of her estate to go to feeding severely at-risk children who otherwise would frequently go to bed hungry. Tragically, upon her death, instead of the money going to its intended recipients, it was channeled into a windfall for a local YMCA, as well as estate-management revenue for the wealth-management department of a local bank.
In this case, a great deal of planning occurred prior to Mrs. Kibbee’s death, but, despite diligent effort, Mrs. Kibbee’s age and infirmity prevented her from overpowering the opposition plotting of the lawyers, the YMCA, and the bank. The perpetrators succeeded in their treachery even though she sent her notarized letters, filed them in to the local court, complaining that the bank and lawyers had created documents that were contrary to her orders and giving instructions for corrections to be made.
The good news is that financial protective measures are easy to put in place if seniors attend to them before their health deteriorates. In addition to making the aforementioned documents and preparations, Wells Fargo recommends the following:
A finding from the survey that will encourage both seniors and their adult children is that 40 percent of the older adults who had done the most later-life preparation reported being very happy. In contrast, only 22 percent of those who had done the least preparation reported feeling this way. Clearly, making the necessary plans imparts a sense of security that promotes happiness. This emotional benefit is one more reason to have those uncomfortable conversations that will lead to financial protection and readiness for the future.
Editors note. Speaking of people who think financial exploitation won’t happen to them. Most people have a very flawed concept of exactly who it is that vulnerable. It is not always the lonely financially naive widow, or the old widower hooked by a young cutie.
The reality is, studies have found that fraudsters use a variety of tactics and pitched tailored to individual victim. Surprisingly, of those studied, the individuals who have proven to be most susceptible to scams are individuals who tended to score higher on financial literacy tests. Where investment fraud is concerned, victims are more often men who are married, more educated, and have higher incomes. These men will listen to the sales pitch and rely on their world and work experience to make financial decisions. They find those who fall victim have experiences more negative life events but, oddly, have a more optimistic outlook for their future. Perhaps this is why there has been an up-growth of free- lunch seminars with enticing tiles that target that audience. They are held at nice hotels and restaurants, even retirement villages and golf clubs. Frequently, in addition to the free meal, there are door prizes—even free vacations Then they are talked into opening accounts or making purchase of financial products that are entirely unsuitable investments.
Where Did the Fire Go?
By Joan Hunt
Without knowing it, I became an activist at the age of seven. A kid in my school whose name was Junior Johnson used to sit at the end of the slide and watch the girls slide down. In those days, we all wore dresses to school, so Junior was getting an eyeful of assorted pairs of underpants. Our playground was gravel, and on my way back up the ladder I grabbed the biggest stone I could see. On my next trip down, I landed it right in the middle of his forehead. It felt great! He chased me home, where the story came out, and Junior’s career as a voyeur ended abruptly.
I never burned my bra for women’s liberation, because frankly I needed it to have any semblance of a figure, but I have always stuck up for what I believed in. In the sixties, it was de rigueur. We protested the Vietnam War, civil injustice, corrupt government, and parents. We went to bat for the underdog—and, of course, we went overboard. We demanded students’ rights—and surprisingly, we got them.
There was plenty of fodder for the fuel at my college, which still gave demerits for answering the hall telephone in your bare feet. Boys were never allowed above stairs, and we had a particularly sour dorm mother who instituted the nightly lockdown at curfew with the grimness of a prison warden. A political science professor at my school was reprimanded, and then sacked, for showing a film that the administration believed to be “anti-American.” Students were up in arms. We lost that one.
One night, I was waiting on a customer at the Greek restaurant where I worked to help pay for school. The guy had come in with a bunch of his friends, and when I asked him what he would like, his answer was nasty and degrading. His friends laughed, until I tipped a mug of beer slowly over his head and walked away. When I told the restaurant owner what had happened, he grabbed the young man by the scruff of the neck and ejected him from the premises. Had Caesar Bico not supported me, I would have found another job. But he validated my position, and I have never forgotten how it made me feel for him to do that.
I was fortunate to have great role models growing up. President John F. Kennedy encouraged people to ask not what our country could do for us, but to get out there and do our part to make it a better place. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned that we should not judge people by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. My grandmother taught me to BE the change I wanted to see in the world. And my dad said you had to live what you believed every day, whether it was popular or not.
Those were heady times. Challenging. Many people died for their courage. Most of us just became better people. And now we are grown – some might say overgrown. We are on the other side of the equation. Where once we felt overlooked because of our youth, we now are sometimes undervalued because of our age.
And maybe this time it is our own fault.
Since Baby Boomers have begun to reach retirement age, more than 40 million of us have emerged in the United States. We are the dynamic that got things done decades ago, via the sheer numbers of our voices, and we could have that same power now—but we are reluctant to use it.
So, I ask, why?
I remember how impressed I was to read about Mother Jones, the diminutive white-haired Labor organizer who fought for the mine workers and their families in the early 1900s. “I have been in jail more than once, and I expect to go again,” she said. She was in her 80s when she fought off rats with a broken beer bottle during one of her incarcerations.
I am not suggesting that we wield weapons or put ourselves in physical jeopardy. But there are still battles that need to be fought, and we are uniquely qualified to wage them. Who is unaffected by stories about our peers who are suffering from neglect and abuse in local nursing homes? Is it okay that groups and individuals prey on the savings of elderly citizens? Shouldn’t society find a way to help seniors who must choose between food and medications to stay alive? It is a shame that so many of us feel lonely and detached as elders, when we have spent so much of our lives giving to the people and causes that we love.
At different levels throughout my life, I have felt what I can only describe as unreasonable guilt. I have felt guilty being white because of slavery, being German because of the Holocaust, being economically comfortable because of the extreme ravages of poverty—and so on. And a little of that guilt is good, because we are all part of the human condition. What diminishes one of us necessarily diminishes us all. That doesn’t change just because we got older.
It may be easy to look the other way, but at the end of the day, we are still either part of the solution or part of the problem.
TRADING IN COMPASSION FOR SELF INTEREST
DOES IT REALLY MAKE US HAPPIER?
In 2013, Wells Fargo held a conference to discuss financial elder abuse. Almost every one of the 200 people attending that conference said they had a family member or friend who had been victimized. Here at The EARN Project, we know from experience that were Wells Fargo to conduct another conference on the topic today, five years later, many of the attendees would know more than one victim.
Every year, around June 15 (National Elder Abuse Awareness Day), the press and a few politicians pick up the story. Sadly, it appears that they consider addressing the abuse of America’s senior citizens something of a duty dance, because the discussion disappears as quickly as it emerges—and we won’t hear much more about it until June 15 of the next year rolls around. In addition, for some unfathomable reason, the American public seems not to care about the issue unless it is “me or my senior citizen” being abused and it will be if each of us does not stand up and insist it be stopped now.
Last month, Richard Arvin Overton—at 112 years of age, America’s oldest World War II veteran—became yet another of our hero victims. As a result of predatory guardianship, so much money has been siphoned out of Mr. Overton’s bank account, over a period of just a few short months, that he can no longer afford the round-the-clock medical attention that he needs. His family has set up a GoFundMe account to help cover these very necessary expenses.
Think of how much money they could raise if each one of us who has never raised a finger to support the effort to stop elder abuse were to put a single dollar bill in Mr. Overton’s account. In my opinion, those of us who have done little or nothing to ensure his and other elders’ financial protection owe it to him.
It is no wonder that, as the General Social Survey has shown, we no longer trust one another. In 1972, 46% of us said we believed most Americans could be trusted; in 2012, that number had dropped to 32%. In a relatively recent study from the Pew Research Center, only 52% of the public said they believed they could trust most or all of their neighbors. Lack of trust leads to lack of interest—and, sadly, sinking numbers of Americans volunteering to help where help is needed. We have fewer volunteers in all fields than at any other recorded time in the history of our country.
In an excellent 2017 Wall Street Journal article by Daniel Henninger, discussing the all too frequent sexual abuse perpetrated by men in the workplace, he linked this behavior to a dangerous change in the “broader “evaporation of conscience” pointing to Rochelle Gurstein’s theory that the sacred and the shameful had gradually declined across the 20th century to a slow but steady estrangement “from any coherent moral tradition”. All of this, says Mr. Henninger, makes these male sexual abusers simply a product of their time. The same could apply to our lack of compassion for other resulting in the drop-in volunteerism and a general unwillingness to put ourselves to step up and prevent any suffering other than our own.
Finally, Mr. Henninger referenced something from a Sunday homily—the priest said that one of the purposes of confession wasn’t just to admit sin but to learn conscience and perhaps we need to ask ourselves if “the long period of freedom from organize conscience formation simply isn’t working”
Consider what our apathy has allowed to happen lately to some of our seniors:
A Physical Attack Filmed But Not Stopped
In Pittsburgh, an elderly person sitting in the booth of a diner was physically attacked. The attack was filmed on someone’s cell phone. In the video, no one moved to protect that senior citizen, and the person filming the assault certainly was not the hero of the day.
Pennsylvania has seen more than a 60% increase in reported cases of elder abuse over the past few years, and it is estimated that only one in five cases is even reported. Reporting, however, does not seem to get anyone very far; an independent study done by a Pennsylvania newspaper found that the health department referred just three of 1,800 cases of elder abuse reported to them over a seven-year period. Nate Wardle, a health department spokesman, admitted, “It has been established that Pennsylvania nursing home regulation needs to be updated…. We have been working to rewrite these regulations, but changing regulations takes time.”
How long do you think it would take them to develop appropriate regulations if Gov. Wolf found out his favorite aunt was being abused in a Pennsylvania nursing home?
A Daughter’s Theft
In Minnesota, a daughter (who is also a lawyer) abused the trust that her aged and seriously ill mother had placed in her, misappropriating and mishandling her mother’s and her aged, ill stepfather’s funds.
A Daughter-in-Law’s Forgery
In New Hampshire, a daughter-in-law forged bank withdrawal slips to the tune of $44,000 from her 87-year-old mother-in-law’s account.
An All-Too-Familiar Story
A woman wheeled an 82-year-old gentleman into an Oregon medical center. He weighed only 115 pounds, was barely conscious, and was, according to what the doctors later told the man’s son, only 24 to 48 hours from death. In addition, he had high levels of liquid morphine, as well as more than half a dozen psych medications, in his bloodstream. The woman claimed to be his daughter and was requesting that he be put in hospice care. (Note: In Oregon, the medical examiner does not investigate the deaths of patients in hospice care. A primary care physician assumes that responsibility and signs the death certificate.)
Shortly thereafter, according to police and prosecutors, another victim, demonstrating the same symptoms, showed up in the medical center with this same “daughter,” who was again asking for hospice care for the elderly patient.
About 10 years before this incident, when this relatively affluent gentleman had been divorced and determined to need a caretaker, this woman had applied for the position. His family said that her calm, religious demeanor made her appear to be the perfect choice.
Alone with him all day, every day, the “caretaker” was able slowly to take control of his life, his finances, his possessions, and even his dealings with his family. She made extravagant purchase in his name, transferred money from his accounts to hers, and caused serious riffs between the gentleman and his family. In 2015, telling him that his son had died, the woman moved him without telling his family where they were. His son says he constantly searched the Internet for hints on his whereabouts but could not find him until he showed up in the medical center. At that point, the staff liaison called the gentleman’s next of kin—the son.
The 58-year-old woman, who went by several aliases, is looking at many years in prison, having pleaded no contest to second-degree assault, first-degree criminal mistreatment, and aggravated theft. She still insists that she was only helping the seniors under her care.
Oregon was able to indict this woman under standard state criminal laws. But what if the abused senior in question had been an 80-year-old widow who, though still sharp as a tack, had been hoodwinked by this “sweet, religious, attentive, kind caretaker” and gradually been convinced that the senior’s “greedy” family just wanted to make trouble?
Would a district attorney have been willing to slog through a protracted court case, battling gerontological expert witnesses in order to prove that, even though this senior citizen demonstrated none of the physical or mental impairments of advanced age, her age and life experiences still qualified her as vulnerable—someone with “developmental disabilities” meriting legal protection from predation? We sincerely doubt it. Oregon’s seniors will find little, if any, protection from this sort of predator.
Oregon needs to replace its existing elder abuse laws stating that the victim must be “a person with developmental disabilities” with verbiage defining a victim as an "elder adult"—and the state should define “elder” with a number, preferably somewhere between 60 and 70 years of age. The sooner this change occurs, the better!
In addition to the civil penalties for abusers of senior citizens, the state of Oregon should include criminal penalties to punish abusers.
Complete Strangers Who Nearly Took an Elder’s Life
Elder abusers were randomly knocking on people’s doors in her neighborhood, trolling for victims. She was old and lonely. They became her “friends.”
Eventually, they sold her house, took her cross-country, and purchased properties on her dime. Finally, they dumped her in a deserted house in Maine.
Even though she had been reported as missing, it took the FBI four years to find her. When they did, she was alone, in 100-degree heat, living in squalor with no lights, no money, and no edible food. That she was alive was nothing short of a miracle.
The state of Maine put her in a nursing home.
And don’t forget the cautionary tale told by two The Earn Project volunteers:
Lawmakers are elected by us and paid by us. If we are not willing to take the time to keep reminding them of what we expect them to do, and insist they do it, they will use that time propping up their reelection.
Can we really continue to consider ourselves to be civilized people if we allow this sort of activity to persist? Do we want these horrors to invade the lives of our loved ones, our friends, or ourselves?
Considering a Change of Address Rather Than a Nursing Home
By Mary West
Most people are familiar with the reality that neglect and understaffing in nursing homes can result in a range of adverse health consequences to residents, such as malnutrition, dehydration and injuries. While it is known that intentional abuse also occurs, many are often unaware of its breathtaking depth and scope. Tragically, the lack of knowledge of the physical, emotional and sexual mistreatment that sometimes happens in these facilities can put a loved one in danger.
The news accounts below show the horrific indignities and cruelties the elderly and infirmed are subjected to in nursing homes. Case 2 through Case 6 are merely a few of the 65 incidents reported by ProPublica that have come to the attention of authorities since 2012. While the stories vary, the thread they have in common is a shocking lack of respect for human life. The 65 cases only represent incidents where the perpetrators got caught—it is sobering to imagine how many more abuses must go undetected.
Minnesota’s Star Tribune reports on Jean Krause, a 78 year-old resident of an assisted living facility called Heritage House who was sexually assaulted by her caregiver, 59 year-old David DeLong. On the evening of May 8, 2016, Krause was found in a fetal position in bed, unclothed below her waist. DeLong stood a few feet away, breathing heavily with his underwear and jeans at his knees. When a female staff member noticed DeLong, he began pulling up his clothes. Later, the bloodstained clothing and mattress pad of Krause was discovered in the facility’s washing machine. DNA evidence proved DeLong’s guilt. No one told the family about the sexual assault at the time.
In 2013, a nursing assistant at Newaygo Medical Care Facility in Freemont, Michigan was accused of taking an inappropriate photograph of an Alzheimer’s disease resident. This picture, which involved the resident sitting on the toilet with their private parts exposed, included a drawing of a penis having the caption “limp dick.” After the image was shared on Snapchat, the assistant was fired.
A similar incident occurred in 2014 at the Prestige Post-Acute and Rehab Center in Centralia, Washington. In this case, a nursing assistant recorded a video of a resident sitting on the toilet and shared it with another assistant working on the other side of the building. The resident’s face was visible, her pants were below her knees, and she was singing and laughing while cleaning herself. Upon learning of the abuse, the administrators notified the police and terminated the employee.
Yet more horrors were reported in the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform in 2014. A photo was taken of a resident wearing only an underwear brief being carried over the shoulder of a male nursing assistant. Other pictures featured residents inappropriately exposed and/or deceased. One of the nursing aides said that such pictures and videos were frequently sent among the nursing staff.
Another astoundingly heartless case, involved a Snapchat video from the Bentley Senior Living Center in Jefferson, Georgia, which appeared in 2018 in the Athens Banner-Herald. The video, recorded in a hospice room, showed employees smoking a vape pen and yelling curses at an elderly woman who lay dying of a stroke. It was posted online and labeled, “The End.”
In 2015, the Chicago Tribune provided an account of a recorded incident at Rosewood Care Center in St. Charles, Illinois. In it, a nursing home assistant was assistant slapping the face of a 97 year-old dementia resident with a nylon strap. The video, posted on Snapchat, showed the resident crying, “Don’t! Don’t!” as employees laughed. The two employees were fired.
The fear these stories cause us, that a loved one could suffer similar abuses, is all to understandable. The idea of a precious parent being the victim of such atrocious treatment is unbearable.
What can be done about the abuse? The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which has oversight over nursing homes, has requested state health departments ensure all facilities have policies that prohibit staff from taking demeaning pictures of residents. However, because the nature of nursing assistants’ work involves being alone with residents, enforcing such policies 100 percent of the time seems impossible. State laws, requiring Nursing Homes to report abuse vary greatly and compliance with the laws that do exist Compliance very unreliable. Fortunately, a safer housing alternative is available.
The Co-housing Housing Alternative
In view of the drawbacks and dangers associated with living in nursing homes, more and more people are considering an alternative – co-housing with friends. This option is quite attractive, as it offers benefits that include improved quality of life, cost efficiency and greater safety. A co-housing community is similar to a college dorm of best friends. It’s a unique environment that consists of bedrooms and a shared space that includes a living room, library, fitness area, garden and more.
While the idea originated in Denmark in the 1960s. Though it began to be discussed in the U.S. in 1980s the idea is only just now gaining popularity. In many cases, it can prevent the need of getting a stranger as a roommate or of living among strangers in a nursing home. Although nursing personnel may visit, the seniors have control over their environment.
Living with friends prevents the social isolation so often seen in long-term care facilities. Because the arrangement involves engaging in activities together, such as cooking, watching television and gardening, the emotional and psychosocial advantages are enormous. In addition to the companionship, co-housing also provides an ever-present network for the exchang of information.
Moreover, the inherent support system increases the likelihood that seniors will stay active. Having friends with whom to take regular walks, go on outings or play scrabble helps promote engagement in life and happiness.
Financial benefits of co-housing are substantial. Nursing homes are very expensive, and even a retirement home with plenty of nice amenities may not fall within the budget of many seniors. In contrast, when friends share a home, they each contribute to the cost of rent, utilities and food, thus making it an affordable option.
One of the biggest perks of co-housing revolves around safety. If seniors became ill or suffer an injury while home alone, it might take hours or even days before a family member discovers their plight and gets help. Conversely, within the co-housing community, the members would know to check on someone who doesn’t appear for breakfast or who has a medical condition.
If healthcare is necessary, the friends in a co-housing unit can pitch in and share the cost. Some seniors may require around-the-clock nursing, whereas others may need only a short daily or weekly nursing visit. When hiring nursing personnel, the co-housing members can participate in the interview process and be in control of who is chosen to take care of them. Being their employer prevents the abuses found in long-term care facilities and gives peace of mind to seniors, as well as their families.
In summary, a comparison of spending one’s golden years in a nursing home to spending them in a co-housing unit shows a profound difference in quality of life. Instead of deteriorating physically, mentally and socially in a facility, co-housing seniors can enjoy a full life that is warm with camaraderie, rich with laughter and vibrant with shared pleasures. When the economic and safety benefits are factored in, it’s apparent that the arrangement is extraordinarily desirable for many.
Is That Really What You Voted For?
From the Editor's Desk
In most states, if a son, a daughter, or a caretaker:
that’s a crime, and the perpetrator(s) may be criminally charged, tried, and convicted of elder abuse.
that’s considered “care.”
Guardians currently have the power to isolate the very people whose lives they are supposed to be caring for and protecting. They can do this without the knowledge of the court and without having to justify their actions. In fact, isolation provides an effective and commonly used weapon to wield against any family member who complains about a guardian or the guardian’s decisions.
When a professional or private guardian abuses a person under his or her control, defining it as “protection,” that guardian is immune or quasi-immune from prosecution.
Much to their credit, every member of both the Rhode Island Senate and House of Representatives voted yea to the NASGA~Falk Coalition bill criminalizing wrongful isolation and expanding the definition of “caretaker” to include court-appointed guardians and conservators as well as attorney-in-fact. This was an absolutely huge step forward in the protection of Rhode Island’s current and future senior population, which is the 11th highest in the country at 16.8 % of their total population.
The bill then went to the desk of Governor Gina M. Raimondo, who after some tweeting in her ear by some of her favored “special interest” birdies, chose to veto the bill.
Those birdies were:
You might call them and ask why their special interests are more important than the safety of Rhode Island’s senior citizens. If they tell you the law would have discouraged people from becoming guardians, tell them that is rubbish—tough laws do not change the decision-making of honest people, they just make the bad apples go somewhere else to wreak their evil doings.
So, if you are a Rhode Islander who is unfortunate enough to find yourself in a position where one of your parents or a loved one under the control of a court-appointed guardian or attorney-in-fact is being denied the emotional support and companionship of those they love, or if it should happen to you personally, remember:
YOU ELECTED HER ----------FOR A SECOND TERM!
Letters to the Editor
As we have just begun, we have not yet received any letters. I certainly hope that you will write to us: tell us about your experience with Financial Elder Abuse or Involuntary Guardianship. We will also be looking for people to interview for our monthly video and lovely photographs for our cover.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving demonstrated how much change can be accomplished when we all speak as one and insist on change. Now, it is time for Americans to again speak as one—create a roar so loud we cannot be ignored--no longer tolerating the abuse of our senior citizens.
Join The EARN Project. The membership is free. It will provide you with notifications when your Senate or House have a Bill, concerning Financial Elder Abuse and Involuntary Guardianship, coming up. It will provide a contact to all pertinent officials, through the EARN Project for you to make sure your concerns are heard and addressed. It also gives you access to information on all the laws in your state and an emergency contact list for your state which, at this time, are open to all on our website but, will soon be for members only.
Earn has picked up the baton, won't you please join the chorus —without you there is no roar and no change.
Looking forward to seeing what you send us
Sharon de Lobo
please send your letters through the EARN Contact Form or directly to firstname.lastname@example.org