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Case Study: Theft and Elder Financial Abuse in Nursing Homes

Much nursing home abuse is assumed to be physical and mental. Depriving patient residents of food, keeping them locked in their rooms, not giving proper medications (or any), as well as verbally abusing them, are among the many horrendous abuses that may occur. Additionally, there can be financial abuse in that staffers may take advantage of the patients’ failing mental state or just pure kindness, and steal their money or identity information. In addition to all of this, there is also simple basic theft. Staffers may steal a resident’s items easily because they have access to the patient’s room, and can possibly take advantage of a patient’s unawareness.

In Minnesota, a staffer at a nursing home was recently charged with theft of residents’ jewelry amounting to more than $1,000 in value. While you may presume that such theft would occur when the resident is not in their room, or perhaps while they are sleeping, this particular staffer allegedly had such gall that they removed a ring from a resident’s finger who was actually awake at the time. The formal charges against the staffer were theft and financial exploitation. Police were able to trace the thefts back to the particular staffer after residents reported missing gold jewelry, and an investigation led police through a local pawnshop and back to the nursing home employee.

Earlier this year, a nursing home administrator received a sentence of four years in prison for stealing money from residents at a Champaign, Illinois nursing home. She pled guilty to one count of felony theft (as part of the plea deal, numerous other counts were dismissed), and paid restitution of nearly $100,000 to the nursing home itself which will cover all of the money taken from the residents. The state has an agency within the Illinois State Police called the Medicaid Fraud Bureau, which investigated the case along with local police. As an administrator, the defendant had access to a resident trust fund, from which she took money to use for herself, on top of forging checks. Additionally, the administrator used her position to get control over a resident’s money without her authorization.

Preventing Elder Financial Abuse in Illinois
Under Illinois law, specifically the Nursing Home Care Act, residents of long-term care facilities are supposed to be protected against all kinds of abuse, including financial abuse and theft of property. Private nursing home facilities are required to provide adequate storage for residents’ personal property, as well as security measures to guard against theft or loss of that property. In the event of complaints, facilities must investigate. In the case of finances, a nursing home facility administrator is only allowed to have access to residents’ financials if they are authorized by a resident’s guardian to do so, and in that event must exercise proper care and not abuse that access.

The Illinois Department of Aging acts to battle against abuse of the elderly and those with disabilities, including residents of long-term care facilities. The agency administers an Adult Protective Services Program, as well as a Long Term Care Ombudsman Program. Both programs work to promote facility residents’ rights, and work to stop neglect, abuse and financial exploitation of residents. The agency does provide avenues for legal services in the event of abuse. In general, it is vital to find the right representation to seek justice and protect the rights of nursing home residents who are the subject of abuse.