In discussing nursing home abuse or neglect, or more general abuse and neglect of elders, a sometimes overlooked form of abuse is financial exploitation.
Those close to the elderly and incapacitated, be it loved ones, friends, in-home caretakers, and staff at nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Financial exploitation can be anything. It can be the stealing of credit cards or ATM/debit cards, and it can be stealing identification and routing numbers for bank accounts or investment accounts. It can also simply be swiping cash or taking tangible items, like jewelry, out of a person’s wallet, purse or from their room. Identity theft often accompanies such financial exploitation, whereby someone uses a vulnerably elderly or disabled person’s identity to make financial transactions. In nursing homes specifically, staffers or administrators take advantage of individual patients, but also will take advantage of their position to generally defraud the facility where they work, and by association its patients as well as the government if the facility receives funding through Medicare, Medicaid or other channels.
Those committing such acts invite not just losing their jobs, but very serious criminal prosecution on the basis of multiple charges. Financial exploitation of anyone, such as theft of property or money, identity theft, it itself a crime, and in many states statutes that specifically deal with preying on the elderly or disabled will only serve to augment the charges and the possible sentence. Restitution, or paying the victim back, is only the start of the penalties, as there can be jail time as well.
Illinois Financial Exploitation
In a recent unfortunate incident of financial exploitation, the administrator of the Willow Haven Nursing Home in Tonkawa, Oklahoma, was charged by the state’s Attorney General of exploiting the nursing home’s residents where she worked. She defrauded the home’s residents by stealing from a trust fund managed by the facility for the personal use of its residents. The administrator stated her intentions to use the money from the fund to make a purchase of chairs, without prior approval by the residents or their families, to be used in the home’s common area. In a matter of days the home trust fund disappeared – a total of $1,691.69 – yet not so coincidentally no chairs appeared.
The Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Oklahoma Office of the Attorney General investigated the fraud and filed the charges. This is another example of a state getting involved not just civilly but criminally as well in rooting out such fraud. Many states have these Fraud Control Units which are active in relevant investigations – Illinois is also one of them. This is so particularly where nursing homes except federal dollars through Medicare or Medicaid. The stealing of that money is not just stealing from the home and/or its residents, but is effectively a fraudulent theft of government money, which in any context can be a serious crime both civilly and criminally. If convicted, the former nursing home administrator in this case could face up to 40 years behind bars, as well as financial fines of up to $40,000.
This case exemplifies how financial exploitation of the vulnerable is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. It is bad enough to steal or take advantage of anyone. Yet exploiting a vulnerable individual or group of individuals is abhorrent because of the fundamental unfairness. This also drives home the importance of vetting nursing homes, and of having the right attorney where it is necessary to pursue claims against a home or its staffers for their acts.
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