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Los Angeles Nursing Home Abuse Law Blog

Elder care and abuse concerns in California

There are several aspects of elder care that can be of concern to a loved one who may not live in close proximity to an aging family member. It is important to understand the types of elder abuse and related signs in order to monitor more closely for problems. It is also helpful to understand issues such as self-neglect, signs that more dedicated care for a loved one may be necessary.

Elder abuse can include both domestic and institutional situations. Domestic examples include mistreatment at the hands of someone with whom the victim has a particular relationship. Institutional elder abuse is that which occurs in a residential care location such as a nursing home or assisted living facility. Abuse may take a physical or emotional form, and sexual abuse is also possible. Exploitation involves depriving an elderly individual of funds, property, or other assets. Neglect and abandonment can also occur, leaving an already vulnerable individual without proper care and protection. Signs to monitor include physical issues such as bruises, abrasions, or broken bones. Emotional changes such as withdrawal from activities or depression may also be indicators of abuse. Noting significant changes in financial information may signal abuse as well.

Two California nursing homes accused of elder abuse

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California has filed a lawsuit against two for-profit nursing homes located in Watsonville. The complaint, which was filed under the False Claims Act, lists 16 citations made by the California Department of Public Health for poor care and overmedication. The investigation into the defendants was conducted by the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Human Services and the U.S. Attorney's Office. The complaint says that Watsonville Nursing Center and Watsonville Post-Acute Center have committed fraud and elder abuse.

The Arba Group, the company that manages the defendant nursing homes, says that the allegations being made are baseless. Officials say that the defendant nursing homes had been submitting claims for reimbursement for services provided to Medicare and Medicaid recipients, despite the fact that the services in question were inadequate or worthless. The Arba Group says that it had voluntarily attempted to demonstrate to the government that the claims that they had filed made were legitimate, but it says that the government refused to receive this evidence.

Elder financial abuse may be on the rise

California is only one of two states in the country that has a law requiring people to report instances of financial elder abuse, with Florida being the other state. Some people say that the financial abuse of senior citizens is the fastest growing type of crime in this country, with many instances of abuse being committed by the victim's family members themselves. A study by the Journal of General Internal Medicine revealed that adult children of seniors comprised 60 percent of the perpetrators of financial abuse in adult protective services cases.

The most likely victims of elder abuse are women between the ages of 80 and 89. However, as medical science has progressed, more men are living longer and thus are more likely to become the victims of financial abuse as well. The targets may be seniors who are trying to live alone and maintain their independence, or they may be seniors who are dependent on caregivers. Seniors who are afraid of being left alone may sometimes neglect to report cases of financial abuse even when they realize what is happening.

California legislation aimed at assisted-living facilities

California is revising its laws that oversee the care of residents in nursing homes and living-assisted facilities. Those changes could make it easier for a family to decide on placing an elderly loved one in a care facility. Bills moving through the state legislature would increase regulation and step up the frequency of inspections.

One bill already signed into law requires assisted-living homes to carry liability insurance. Other bills would require administrators or their representatives to be on site at all times, increase the number of training hours required for site operators and significantly increase penalties for violations. A resident's bill of rights would also be created, and non-compliant homes would be barred from accepting new residents.

California nursing home cases closed prematurely

An audit by Los Angeles County officials has identified problems in the handling of some nursing home complaints. Cases involving issues such as safety and neglect from as far back as 2012 were selected as part of a sample for review, and officials indicate that in some instances, cases were not fully investigated before being closed. Issues involved in these cases included failure to mitigate injury risk with appropriate preventive measures, failure to follow doctors' orders, and failure to check on possible reactions to medication.

Officials responsible for these investigations point out that funding is insufficient for the staffing and effort needed to oversee more than 2,500 facilities. However, the evaluation of these issues was prompted by reports of premature case closure without completion of investigations. Additional claims alleged that supervisors have downgraded inspectors' reports. Advocates for reform in the nursing home industry indicate that the danger is that nursing homes may not experience consequences for abusive or neglectful actions that are unfortunately far too prevalent in California and around the country.

State assembly passes elder bill

California bill AB 2171, which would create a bill of rights for seniors in residential care facilities for the elderly, was passed by the state assembly and was sent to the governor for consideration. The bill, sponsored by assembly member Bob Wieckowski, a Democrat from Fremont, is partially driven by the more than 4,000 complaints against residential care facilities for the elderly that the California Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program received during 2012.

According to a report, the bill had support from a number of consumer and senior groups, including AARP, the Elder Abuse Task Force of Santa Clara County and the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. It hopes to ensure that the dignity of the state's residents is maintained as they age.

Former caregiver pleads no contest to elder abuse

On Aug. 19, a former caregiver for an elderly individual pleaded no contest to felony elderly abuse and other charges. The Salinas woman was reportedly hired to care for the victim in 2009. Throughout the years she was employed as a caregiver, emergency personnel were alerted several times in order to aid the patient. According to reports, Monterey police and firefighters eventually concluded that the elderly victim was suffering from extreme neglect.

In addition to elder abuse, the former caregiver pleaded no contest to charges of failing to file tax returns and obtaining unemployment benefits through false pretenses. The woman will reportedly receive felony probation for her charges and be ordered to pay restitution to the elderly victim. She will also have to pay restitution to the Employment Development Department, the Public Guardian's Office and the Franchise Tax Board.

Nursing homes may not be reporting abuse cases properly

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 85 percent of nursing homes in California and around the country reported at least one allegation of elderly abuse in 2012. The research indicated that 76 percent of all nursing homes had a policy when it came to reporting and documenting abuse allegations. However, the report also said that only 53 percent of all allegations are reported as required by federal law.

The statistics for the study were gathered from a sample size of 209 nursing homes. Overall, the study found that 5 million older Americans are abused each year, which represents about 10 percent of the elderly population. Of the allegations of abuse that were reported, about 24 percent were cases of resident-on-resident abuse. Employee abuse or neglect of elderly patients made up 40 percent of all such allegations.

Defining elder abuse

Families in California may benefit from learning more about how the National Center of Elder Abuse describes and outlines the issues regarding elder abuse in the United States. The agency claims the propensity of abuse has been increasing with time, but that there are signs that can help indicate if an elder is being victimized. Anyone who witnesses or learns of elder abuse is urged to contact the appropriate authorities for assistance.

The federal government began defining the term with guidelines implemented in amendments to the Older American Act during 1987. States also operate under their own laws concerning elder abuse. Domestic elder abuse occurs when the perpetrator has a personal relationship with the victim, someone like a friend, caregiver or family member. Institutional abuse occurs at nursing homes and other types of residential facilities. The perpetrators in these crimes are often employees who are contractually or legally obligated to provide an adequate degree of care and protection for the residents.

How we can help identify financial elder abuse

The issue of elder abuse is not foreign to California. While more common forms include neglect and physical abuse by unscrupulous caretakers, financial abuse is also a virulent problem affecting many senior citizens in the state. Victims often possess valuable assets in the form of home equity. Deceitful individuals aim to take advantage of them, exploiting the senior citizens for their own financial gain. The culprits of this abuse are not only professional scam artists but even the senior citizens' own family members in some troubling cases

If you suspect that a loved one might be the victim of financial abuse, there are potential warning signs to look for. You may notice an increases in bills, frequent changes to wills and ownership documents, unprecedented activity with investment accounts, missing assets and secretive loans to unfamiliar individuals. Another sign is when family members mention that they were the subject of a request to provide blank checks or personal information dealing with their bank accounts or social security number. Furthermore, in the sudden event that a senior citizen can no longer afford the necessities of daily life, such as clothes or food, it is plausible that financial abuse has taken place.

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Kevin P. Kane, Esq.

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