I’m mad as hell about the way our elderly population—our parents, relatives, our senior relatives and friends—are shoved aside, tormented, victimized and abused.  This, the so-called “mature” or “silent” generation, has lived through World War II and the Great Depression.  They consider themselves to be moral, value-driven and honest.  

Our seniors also tend to trust strangers.  They’re the easiest targets for sweepstakes scams, door-to-door flimflams, pyramid schemes and every other conceivable hoax. They’re also the most likely victims of mistreatment and brutality, often at the hands of their “loved ones.” And older Americans are less likely to complain because they’re too ashamed to admit they’ve been hustled or abused.

A so-called “victimless” crime is an activity that violates the law but doesn’t cause harm to a victim. Gambling is a good example: Although the conduct is criminal, the gambler isn’t hurt by it—except, perhaps, financially. That’s why “victimless” crimes are considered to be consensual. For some reason, our society treats offenses against seniors as if they are victimless crimes. Well, they’re not, and we’re mad as hell!

Why, you may ask, are we so angry about how our seniors are treated?  Here’s just one example:  The plight of defenseless seniors committed to nursing homes.

Nursing homes are where we send our frail, helpless elders to suffer. And die. In that order: suffer; die.  Remember the stories about how Eskimos deposited their elders on ice floes and sent them out to sea? This practice, which was uncommon, ended in 1939. American nursing homes, on the other hand, continue to enjoy a booming business:  today, there are 1.5 million Americans in these hellish places.  

If you think that a nursing home is where frail, helpless elders will enjoy “nursing” that will return them to health, or if you think that a nursing home is like “home,” well, that’s because you’ve never visited one. Consider these facts:

·        One-quarter of all deaths in this country happen in nursing homes. Between 50 and 60% of people admitted to care homes die within the first two years. At least half of Alzheimer’s residents die within the first 12 months;

·        Every year, 30% of nursing homes are cited for instances of abuse, ranging from death to malnutrition, dehydration, bedsores, falls, inadequate medical care and excessive chemical and physical restraints, to name only a few;

·        Forty-four percent of nursing home residents suffer abuse. 48%—almost half!—report that they’ve been treated or handled “roughly.” About 40% say they’ve seen other residents being abused;

·        Fewer than 20% of nursing home abuse cases are ever reported;

·        Ninety percent of U. S. nursing homes have staffing levels that are too low to provide adequate care for their residents.

Go ahead, if you dare, and commit mom and dad to a nursing home. But when you do, you know there’s a 50-50 chance they’ll be abused there and die in a couple of years or less. You’ll want to say your good-byes early and often.

Here at Great Places, we’re mad as hell about how American seniors are treated. If the outrages committed against seniors in nursing homes—the physical, sexual and emotional abuse perpetrated by on-site personnel, for example—occurred in the general population, you can imagine how the media, the politicians, and the general public would respond.

We’ll identify and expose the villains—the people, the companies, the institutions--who commit these offenses. We’ll provide the details. We’ll name the names. We’ll post the mug shots.

I’m betting that you’re mad too. We’ve dedicated ourselves to ensuring justice and fair treatment for the nearly 40 million of our elders. 

That’s it from Laurence Harmon, your Senior Watchdog.  I’m on the case.

I'm mad as hell about the way our elderly population—our parents, relatives, our senior relatives and friends—are shoved aside, tormented, victimized and abused.  I'm also mad as hell that the "legal" system is just another abuser.

Guardianships and Conservatorships.  The American legal system has established “guardianships” for the specific purpose of protecting vulnerable individuals–called “wards”–when a judge or judicial officer determines that the ward’s decision-making capability is so impaired that another person–the “guardian”—needs to be given the right to make these decisions.

A guardianship is particularly appropriate for wards who are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia, as well as advanced alcoholism and similar afflictions that render the person unable to care for his or her health and other needs.

A “conservatorship,” twin to the guardianship, is set up to conserve the ward’s assets; the conservator acts as a custodian.

The legal obligations of the guardian and conservator. As defined above, these legal vehicles seem completely sensible and necessary. After all, people who are so incapacitated that their decision-making is unreliable obviously need professional assistance; left unprotected, their health and wealth are at risk.

The reality of guardianships and conservatorships
. Unfortunately, vulnerable individuals are easy targets for the unscrupulous. Equally unfortunate is the fact that the legal system, having established these processes, frequently fails to supervise how they actually work.

Not surprisingly, when there is a lack of oversight, as Elaine Renoire, a particularly experienced observer of guardianships and conservatorships, warns in her website,
“(The system) operates to ensnare the most vulnerable people in a larger and larger trawling net, . . . a feeding trough for unethical lawyers and other ‘fiduciaries’ appointed by the courts to protect, but many of whom become nothing more than predators.”



So, what’s the bottom line? According to The Association to Stop Guardian Abuse
, “(Guardians and conservators) are given power of life and death, burying their wards in nursing homes where they are kept chemically restrained with unnecessary and dangerous drugs; family members are denied any say in their care, and sometimes (they’re) denied visitation, except under guard at their own expense!”

Is the system abusive? Is it possible that the system is as flawed as is claimed? A recent article in the “Minneapolis Star-Tribune" concludes that the process is at least as ineffective as Ms. Renoire believes, and can be negligent–and perhaps corrupt–in practice.

The front-page headline blares: “2 years and $672,808 gone,” with an accompanying picture of a now-smiling older lady. She’s identified as Peggy Greer, approaching her 86th birthday, four years after she and her family members battled the Minnesota judicial system to free her from a guardianship/conservatorship nightmare that cost two years of her life and drained her entire life savings–nearly $700,000.

Peggy Greer’s situation is fairly typical. In 2004, just after she turned 81, her life was in crisis. Her eldest son, a drug addict, was living with her.

After suffering a back injury, she also became drug-dependent. That summer, her daughter, Judith, petitioned the local probate court to appoint her and her brother as Ms. Greer’s guardians and conservators, claiming that her mother was “suffering from dementia and chemical dependency,” rendering her “unable to arrange to her medical care,” and “unable to manager her estate (and) vulnerable to financial exploitation.” The latter claim was particularly relevant, because Peggy Greer was about to inherit a substantial amount of money.


Subsequently, a local firm was appointed as the guardian, and Wells Fargo was named as conservator. Despite the fact that her condition had improved–she was considered to be neither chemically dependent nor suffering from dementia–Ms. Greer was sent to live in a nursing home, at a cost of $5,700 per month. She complained that she wanted to return to her home, but her chemically-dependent son was still living there, and the guardian refused her request to go home.


The family, realizing that at least an interim solution was required to stem the outflow of funds from the inheritance, attempted to relocate her into a less expensive assisted living facility; the guardian declined the request, arguing that “It would cost a lot to get her discharged from one nursing home and admitted to a new one when we all anticipated she would be returned to her home pretty quickly.”


Perhaps not surprisingly, that didn’t happen. The family filed a petition to replace the guardian. Legal expenses consequently skyrocketed. After a year of the conservatorship, these fees totaled at least $45,000; adding in the other costs, including the nursing home rent, the $226,800 inheritance—which was one of the justifications for the conservatorship itself—was exhausted. Additional funds would be necessary.


The conservator, Wells Fargo, petitioned the court to sell Peggy Greer’s home, despite the fact that the guardian was trying to move her back into it. Nonetheless, Wells Fargo pursued the sale, claiming that “The protected person is not able to return to independent living.”

The probate judge finally agreed to a “reverse” mortgage, whereby a bank captures the equity in a home in exchange for making periodic payments that allow the homeowner to remain in the home. In the case of Ms. Greer—again, not particularly surprisingly—the bank that received the reverse mortgage was Wells Fargo.


At this point, Charles Heintz, the chemically-addicted son, died, which allowed Ms. Greer to return to her home.


Although she was able to take care of most of her own needs, she received constant, 24/7 care from a home health agency. The cost? $26,000 a month! Although her nursing home doctor recommended that this assistance be discontinued, the guardian refused.


Finally, in January, 2007, the guardian agreed that this care, now totaling more than $55,000, should be scaled back, a decision that neatly coincided with the liquidation of her funds. As her son described the situation, “Once the money ran out, almost to the day, suddenly the care was no longer needed.” Peggy Greer summed it up this way, “My money was all used up, was all gone, without my knowledge or OK or anything.”


The final tally, as of October, 2007, reported that the total spent on her behalf since March 2005 was $672,808. The guardian and the conservator each earned more than $11,000, with the conservator earning an additional fee from the reverse mortgage. The amount owed by Ms. Greer: $ 48,388. Total assets remaining: zero.

We at Great Places are appalled by the mistreatment of our seniors.  We won't be quiet when atrocities like the ones Peggy Greer experienced at the hands of the "legal" system occur.  




I’m mad as hell about the way our elderly population—our parents, relatives, all our senior relatives and friends—are shoved aside, tormented, victimized and abused.  Why, you may ask, are we so angry about how our seniors are treated? 

Here’s a recent example:  The State of California provides home care for its elders, yet allows convicted felons to participate in the program.  I’m serious: you can’t make this stuff up.
 

In home health care provides services that promote, maintain or restore the health of older adults in their own homes. The assistance may range from cleaning and home maintenance to personal care, including dressing, grooming, meal preparation, bathing, and the like.  In-home care enables seniors to maintain their independence, remain in their homes, receive the care they require, and avoid the trauma of nursing home living.  This sounds pretty good; but what if felons are allowed to be “caregivers?”  That’s the unfortunate situation in California.

The Los Angeles “Times” recently reported that “Scores of people convicted of crimes such as rape, elder abuse and assault with a deadly weapon are permitted to care for some of California’s most vulnerable residents as part of the government’s home health aide program,” including at least 210 of these “caregivers” who were determined to be “unsuitable” to work in the program, yet permitted to begin or continue employment. 

Imagine, if you can, the outrage of a child of an elder participating in this program, living in say, Chile or Vietnam, when she read this article.


Compounding the problem is the fact that privacy laws prevent notification of the “elderly, infirm and disabled clients” that their in-home health aides may be a dangerous felon, such as: 

 

·        A woman convicted of assault with a deadly weapon, forging drug prescriptions, and selling drugs;

·        A person convicted of welfare fraud, willfully threatening bodily harm, drug possession and two counts of burglary;

·        A man convicted of raping a three-year-old child.

 

Laura West, a Sacramento prosecutor, reports that she is prosecuting three caregivers for fraud against the system, one of whom has been convicted of armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon; another has committed identify theft; and the third is a drug dealer.  West deadpans:  “Can you do this job if you burned down someone’s house? Yes. Murdered someone? Yes. Raped a three-year-old child? Yes.”

 

While Governor Schwarzenegger and the California legislature struggle to find a solution for this problem, help is available.  Elderkind.com offers a free background check for potential in-home healthcare aides. 
The service is available online at the firm’s 
website.

We at Great Places are appalled by how our seniors are victimized--and we won't be quiet when government itself allows infirm seniors to be harmed by its own programs.  The SENIOR WATCHDOG is on the case.   



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