Saturday, March 28, 2015

Miami Will Finally Try to Fix Its Crooked Guardianship Programs

Last spring, New Times published the results of a five-month investigation into Miami-Dade's guardianship system — the program set up by the courts to protect the assets of vulnerable people. Except in South Florida, it had become a politically-connected, un-regulated cesspool of abuse.

One year later, as Tallahassee works to overhaul the guardianship system statewide, Miami-Dade's courts are finally taking small steps toward reform. But the most obvious change — a dedicated county watchdog to sniff out corruption — is still nowhere to be found.

For decades, Miami's judges have been given essentially free reign to appoint anyone they chose to be a guardian — a position of tremendous power over a vulnerable resident, with wide leeway to control their assets, bank accounts and medical care. New Times investigation found that power was regularly abused, including:
• There were regular failures to file basic information. Guardians were often years late in filing financial forms, and until this month, Miami-Dade lacked any electronic system to track the programs.
• Guardians have given thousands in donations to the election campaigns of the same judges who appoint them to cases and award them their fees.
This week, Miami's probate courts instituted a new system to at least start addressing that final point. Now, professional guardians must register and cases are assigned on a rotating basis from that pool .

That move comes as multiple bills are working their way through Tallahassee, including efforts to make it more difficult to declare someone incapacitated and to limit how much guardians can be paid for their work.

But there's still one easy fix in Dade that hasn't been funded: A dedicated watchdog. Despite the fact that Miami, as of last spring, had 7,000 guardianship cases — the most in the state — there was no independent oversight of those cases. Palm Beach started a similar program in 2011, and has uncovered more than $3 million in abuse since then; Broward, too, has uncovered millions in guardianship abuse since starting its watchdog program.

Legislators last year gave county clerks new power to investigate abuses, but didn't fund that push; as a result, counties like Dade initiated almost zero new audits.

There's little doubt that Dade's most vulnerable residents are still at risk from unscrupulous guardians; this week's changes will help, but when will a transparent watchdog program come to Miami?

Full Article & Source:
Miami Will Finally Try to Fix Its Crooked Guardianship Programs

Owner of Belleville nursing home where resident was found dead operates 10 facilities with one-star rating

The owner of a Belleville nursing home, where an 85-year-old woman was found dead strapped to a wheelchair at the bottom of a flight of stairs, owns 12 other nursing homes in Illinois — 10, like Midwest, have a one-star rating.

Steve Blisko, who is the principal investor in Senior Healthcare Management in Skokie, near Chicago, operates Midwest Rehabilitation Respiratory, 727 N. 17th St., where Juanita Simmons died on March 12.

Besides Midwest Rehabilitation, formerly the Calvin Johnson Nursing Home, Blisko operates Marion Rehab and Nursing; Herrin Rehab and Nursing; Intergrity Healthcare of Smithton; Ridgway Rehab and Nursing; Chester Rehab and Nursing; Carbondale Rehab and Nursing Center I and II; Integrity of Wood River, and Columbia Nursing and Rehab, all of which have received the lowest rating by Medicare, which is operated by the federal government.

Other nursing homes operated by Senior Healthcare are Anna Rehab and Nursing, which has a four-star rating; Cobden Rehab and Nursing, four stars, and Alton Rehab and Nursing, two stars.

Blisko, 34, of Chicago, could not be reached for comment. Calls placed to his corporate office were not returned.

Nursing home ratings can be found at

In addition, Midwest and Alton Rehab have been named in five wrongful death suits in three years, according to court records in St. Clair and Madison counties.

“Nursing home ownership is a big business. That’s why they buy them,” said Jan Sherrer, a Kentucky-based advocate who writes a blog called “Senior Living Watch” on how relatives should respond when they learn their loved ones are being abused or neglected in a nursing home.

“The biggest thing is consumers need to be screaming at the top of their lungs,” she said. “This happens because of greed.”

State inspectors need to make nursing home owners responsible, answerable and liable, Sherrer said.

The Illinois Department of Public Health licenses and inspects nursing homes. The agency has the ability to pull licenses — and does, said IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold.

Survivors of those who die or are injured in nursing homes also can file a lawsuit. But one lawyer who specializes in suing nursing homes said lawsuits, verdicts and settlements are just the “cost of doing business” for many nursing homes.

“These homes are cash cows for their owners,” said Paul Richter, a Chicago lawyer who specializes in representing clients who sue nursing homes. “They know exactly how many beds they need to fill to make a profit.”

Richter filed one of those suits against Midwest Rehabilitation last year. Richter sued on behalf of the survivors of Lesley Ann Falkenhein, who died on Sept. 17, 2012. Falkenhein, a patient at Midwest, was admitted to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville on Aug. 21, 2012, where she was found to be severely dehydrated, suffering from kidney failure, a urinary tract infection and septic. That lawsuit is pending.

Local attorney Grey Chatham filed suit on behalf of Tim Miller’s estate. According to the suit, Miller suffered from cognition issues and needed to be prompted to eat. Miller, 56, died on May 12, 2013. A doctor found Miller suffered from neglect, dehydration and malnutrition. Miller’s family reported extreme weight loss and they asked the Midwest staff whether he was eating, Chatham said.

“We have a lot of the same issues as the Juanita Simmons’ family. They were coming in and making complaints to staff and those complaints were discounted,” Chatham said. “When you drop someone off at a nursing home, you rely on a duty to care for your loved ones. That duty isn’t being met.”

In another case, the estate of Aubrey Giles sued Midwest and Blisko after Giles was found frozen to death in a creek on Jan. 16, 2012. The suit alleged Midwest staff failed to promptly notify law enforcement to find Giles after he wandered away from the nursing home.

Midwest staff also failed to notify law enforcement after finding Simmons at the bottom of the stairs last week, authorities said. Belleville police dispatchers did receive a call from the facility that morning about 6:32 a.m. on March 12, but the caller only requested an ambulance. Family members contacted a funeral home in Montgomery County who picked up the body.

The funeral home director, who was contacted by Simmons’ daughter, called the St. Clair County Coroner’s Office to ask what type of death certificate was to be issued. Coroner’s office personnel told the funeral home director they had not been notified of the death. In the case of an accidental death, the coroner’s office must sign the death certificate. Simmons’ body was then returned to St. Clair County for an autopsy.

Last week, St. Clair County Coroner Rick Stone said there was an “open and active investigation” into Simmons’ death. On Friday, Stone said he expected to wrap up the investigation by Monday.

Loretta Jean Ulmer and Ruth McCray, Simmons’ sisters, said they saw bruises, cuts, black eyes and stitches they believed were the result of physical abuse of their sister at Midwest Rehabilitation.

“All I want to do is sue and see that place shut down,” Ulmer said. She awaits the completion of the coroner’s investigation.

“I certainly hope they do something about this,” Ulmer said. “I want the investigation to give us some answers and some closure.”

Under Illinois law, the coroner is charged with conducting death investigations, including accidental deaths in hospitals and nursing home.

“No one wants to send a loved one to a nursing home, but sometimes it is a necessity. Hopefully, the choice will be made after careful research into the best one possible,” Stone said. “I know I certainly wouldn’t send my loved one to Midwest Rehab.”

Full Article & Source:
Owner of Belleville nursing home where resident was found dead operates 10 facilities with one-star rating

As nursing homes close, residents scramble to find alternatives

Judith Brown did not learn her nursing care facility was closing until she went to a hospital for cancer treatment.
Judith Brown did not learn her nursing care facility was closing
until she went to a hospital for cancer treatment.

Hundreds of frail nursing home residents have been forced to move as a growing number of Massachusetts facilities have been bought, sold, and closed over the past two years, state records show.

But the public has had virtually no say in the process. A Massachusetts law passed last summer was designed to provide public comment about the closing or sale of nursing homes, yet state officials have not put that into effect. Regulators say they are still working on rules to implement the law.

Since the public-input law passed, 10 nursing homes have been sold and one closed, and none received a public hearing.

The upheaval in the state’s nursing home industry, which mirrors national trends, has left families with fewer choices, and forced them to scramble to find alternative facilities.

Industry leaders say they are forced to close homes because Medicaid reimbursements from the state do not cover the true cost of care, a gap the Massachusetts Senior Care Association calculates at $34 a day, per patient. For the average nursing home, that translates into a loss of $750,000 a year, the industry group said.

Nursing homes have been closing and changing hands at a rapid rate; since January 2013, 57 have been sold, and nine have closed.

“Families would not be able to place a loved one in a facility in over one-third of the state’s cities and towns if just one facility in that city or town were to close,” said Ann Marie Antolini, a vice president at the Massachusetts Senior Care Association.

Families who dealt with recent closings do not cite reimbursements or regulations when they describe their experiences. Instead, they speak of unsettling situations and confusion.

Scott Brown, a 37-year-old from Attleboro, said his family received abrupt notice in November 2013 that his mother was losing her spot at Kindred Nursing and Rehabilitation-Goddard in Stoughton.
“It was shocking,” he said.

Brown said the family found out the facility was closing when his 66-year-old mother, Judith, was being transferred from Kindred to the hospital for cancer treatments, and Kindred officials told the family she would not be allowed to return because the facility was closing.

“She was getting wonderful care, she was comfortable with it, and it had to all change,” Brown said. Kindred was just 3 miles from the home of Brown’s father, Kenneth, so the 71-year-old could easily drive to visit his wife.

When Judith, a diabetic who was battling bone cancer, was discharged from the hospital about a week later, the family had to find another nursing home, and chose one in Canton, more than twice the distance from the elder Brown’s home.

“She had to deal with all new staff,” people who didn’t know how to take care of her as well, Brown’s son said. Judith Brown, a longtime special education teacher’s aide at Stoughton High School, died two months later, in January 2014.

Her son said he hopes the new law will provide other families an opportunity his did not receive. “The public,” he said, “should have some sort of input” in nursing home closings.

State rules require nursing homes to notify regulators at least 60 days before they intend to sell or close a facility, and to provide families at least a 45-day warning. The homes must also try to find “appropriate alternate placements” for each patient within 25 miles of the facility or the patient’s family and friends, under state rules.

Advocates say families need more time and more say in how the closing and sale of nursing homes is handled. Until now, regulators’ decisions about nursing home sales and closings have been conducted behind closed doors — unlike the review for hospitals, which are required to undergo public scrutiny, even for renovations or expansions.

State regulators have been meeting with advocates and industry leaders to hear their concerns, and plan to release proposed new rules for a public hearing process soon, said Deborah Allwes, director of the health department’s Bureau of Health Care Safety and Quality, which oversees nursing homes.

“Our number one priority is to make sure that closures happen in a systematic and safe way for families and residents,” Allwes said.

But Allwes said that when nursing homes are being sold or closed, the agency does not have the authority to require that enough facilities will exist in a region, especially areas with low-income patients. A 2011 study by Brown University researchers found that nursing homes nationwide were more likely to close in areas with higher proportions of black, Hispanic, and poor residents.

The union that represents nursing home workers, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, said those sorts of concerns should be scrutinized. The union is lobbying for creation of a special commission to study the problems and propose recommendations “to help ensure a rational and compassionate approach to the ongoing market consolidation, one that prioritizes the interests of nursing home residents, families, and caregivers,” said Veronica Turner, the union’s executive vice president.

The frenetic pace of sales and closures is expected to continue, given that about 5,000 beds are unused among the state’s roughly 420 nursing homes. At the same time, large nursing home chains are buying up smaller ones, and elders are increasingly choosing to remain in their homes.

Paul Lanzikos, a former state Elder Affairs secretary, said Massachusetts has lacked a coherent strategy for nursing homes for years.

“We have not set a vision as a Commonwealth to say how we want to create these environments. That is being left to the [industry],” said Lanzikos, who is now a member of the Public Health Council, an appointed state panel that adopts health policy. “I am not being anti-[industry]. But this process is knee-jerk.”

Full Article & Source:
As nursing homes close, residents scramble to find alternatives

Friday, March 27, 2015

Daughter pleads guilty in 100-year-old mother's abuse death

BELLEFONTAINE, Ohio — Mary Strawser has never said why she neglected her own mother for years, why she didn’t feed her or clean her or ever even get the 100-year-old woman the medical attention she so clearly needed as a slow and painful death crept closer.

But Strawser admitted today for the first time that she did, in fact, let Blanche Cowen suffer and die on a ratty old couch, emaciated, dehydrated and covered in her own filth.

Strawser, 77, pleaded guilty in Logan County Common Pleas Court to felony charges of reckless homicide and theft from an elderly person. She had originally been charged with involuntary manslaughter but Prosecutor William T. Goslee said even though she is pleading to a different charge, he will still argue that Strawser be sent to prison.

“She should not get a free pass,” Goslee said. “I’ve never seen a worse case of elder abuse and neglect. Not ever.”

Judge Mark S. O’Connor allowed Strawser to remain free on bond until she is sentenced on May 4. She faces as many as six years in prison.

Cowen had been kept for years in a dilapidated house trailer about 15 feet away from Strawser’s nearly 1,400-square-foot, well-maintained house on 20 acres in rural Rushsylvania. Authorities found her dead on the dirty couch on March 10, 2014, after Sonny Ray Scott, a mentally-disabled man Strawser had allowed to live there, called 911 to say Cowen wasn’t breathing.

The coroner said Cowen died of dehyradation, a urinary tract infection and infection from untreated bedsores the size of footballs, some so deep that her bones were exposed. But those medical explanations don’t really convey the condition that Cowen had been left in for years. Her adult diaper hadn’t even been changed in probably a year and had mostly rotted away, said Mike Brugler, a detective with the Logan County sheriff’s office.

The photographs of her condition were so graphic that prosecutors say they will show them to O’Connor in his private chambers rather than in open court before Strawser is sentenced. And moreover, Goslee said, an autopsy showed that internally, Cowen otherwise would have been in remarkable health for a women her age and friends who had spoken to her on the phone over time said she never lost her faculties. Which all means she suffered a great deal as her body slowly decayed and wasted away, Goslee said.

Assistant Prosecutor Sarah Warren said that as Strawser was living on her mother’s monthly $650 Social Security check for the last few years — shopping, eating out and even going to the doctor herself — Cowen hadn’t seen a doctor since she broke her foot in 2008. Relatives were kept away after that, and it appears the last time Cowen was moved from the couch was a year before her death in May 2013, when Strawser and Scott dragged a kiddie pool into the living room and “bathed” her and took her to a gathering for her 100th birthday..

Strawser had allowed Scott to stay with her mother rent-free in exchange for helping with her care. But he was barely able to care for himself. He was in poor health and had a low-functioning IQ. He had faced the same charges as Strawser for Cowen’s death, but he died of a heart attack in December in the same run-down trailer where Cowen died. He was 66.

Today, as Warren read through the graphic nature of Cowen’s condition, Strawser just shook her head no. In answer to the judge’s questions, Strawser said she’d only completed the 10th grade in school and had once worked at a factory in Kenton. Otherwise, she said nothing on her own behalf. Her attorney, William F. Kluge, said he expects to present her side of the story at sentencing.

Warren said Scott’s death complicated matters and played a role in allowing Strawser to plead to a lower-degree felony charge. Her age, and the question of whether she would even get more prison time with the original charge, also factored in.

But Warren agrees with Goslee that prison is appropriate. She said Strawser’s neglect of her mother appeared not only to be motivated by money but also by hatred.

“Distant relatives have said that Mary Strawser was just not a nice person,” Warren said. “They say she had always treated her mother badly.”

Goslee said he hopes the case sends a message to others: “If you assume the duty of care of an elderly person ... and if you fail, if you neglect their needs, you can and will be criminally charged.”

Full Article & Source:
Daughter pleads guilty in 100-year-old mother's abuse death

Judicial discipline commission admonishes lawyer, former candidate Jeannette Robertson

Jeannette Robertson
JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - The Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission has admonished Jonesboro attorney Jeannette Robertson for her actions during the 2014 election.

The commission issued the Letter of Admonishment on Friday during its meeting in Little Rock.

According to the letter, Robertson misrepresented her role as a magistrate in the 2012 and 2014 elections. The commission claimed her campaign advertisements depicted her as a judge when she was not.

In 2012 Robertson was a candidate for District 1, Position 2 of the Arkansas Court of Appeals.
On May 11, 2012, David Stewart, executive director of the commission, alleged Robertson titled herself as a judge in campaign advertisements, according to a news release from the commission.

Robertson's campaign advertisements included statements such as “District Court Judge-Small Claims/Civil-7 Years” and “Special District Court Judge-Criminal Court-as needed-7 Years,” the release stated.

At that time Robertson was neither a duly elected nor appointed judge, the commission stated.

Instead, Robertson had been appointed to serve as a small claims magistrate in her district in 2008.
The commission did not deem her conduct at that time to be “intentional.”

In a letter to Robertson the investigation panel informed Robertson to cease using the word “judge” in her campaign materials. Violation, the panel stated, would be considered “a willful violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.”

The panel further informed Robertson that any future similar campaign conduct “would be considered misleading and could be subject to formal discipline for willful misconduct.”

According to the commission, Robertson agreed to halt usage of the word “judge” in campaign materials.

Two years later, while running for District 2, Circuit Judge, Division 10, the panel said Robertson authorized at least 2 television campaign advertisements publicizing herself wearing a judge's robe and sitting behind a bench, discussing her “judicial experience.”

Robertson also presented herself as having “8 years judicial experience” in 2 website advertisements, the commission stated in its release.

When notified of the complaints, Robertson removed the ads.

The commission found her actions violated Canons 1.1, 1.2 and 4.1 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

According to the release, “Robertson has been open and candid with her communication regarding her reasons for this action. She has been cooperative and honest with the Commission in compliance with Canon 2, Rule 2.16.”

Region 8 News reached out to Robertson for comment. We have yet to hear back from her.  To read the letter of admonishment, click here.

Full Article & Source:
Judicial discipline commission admonishes lawyer, former candidate Jeannette Robertson

Class action lawsuit filed against Sacramento-based management of Eskaton Village Grass Valley

Homeowners at a luxury 130-unit Nevada County senior living community have filed a class action lawsuit against the Sacramento-based corporate owners of the complex and four of its top managers, alleging financial irregularities and elder abuse.

The suit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, names Eskaton Village Grass Valley, Eskaton Properties Inc., Eskaton Village Grass Valley Homeowners Association, Eskaton CEO Todd Murch, Chief Operating Officer Betsy Donovan, Operations Director Mark Cullen and former COO Trevor Hammond as defendants in the case. 

Lead plaintiffs are Eskaton homeowners Ronald Coley and Karen Lorini, filing on behalf of themselves and the other 130-plus homeowners, alleging nine complaints of breach of fiduciary duties, financial elder abuse, unfair business practices and negligence. 

“I can’t comment on the particulars, since we are in open litigation,” Murch said on Monday. “The homeowners association will be vigorously defending its side, so that means they disagree with whatever’s being alleged.” 

Part of the complaint alleges that the Eskaton Homeowners Association, rather than being an organization representing homeowners’ interests, is actually controlled by management. 

In addition to some Eskaton homeowners, the board of Eskaton Village Grass Valley Homeowners Association also includes corporate representatives such as Cullen, who served on the board between 2003 through 2012, and Hammond, a board member from 2003 through the middle of 2011. 

“Plaintiffs are informed and believe, and thereon allege, that Eskaton has disregarded the separate corporate existence of EVGV (Eskaton Village Grass Valley), EPI (Eskaton Properties Inc.) and the HOA,” the complaint says. “Among other things, Eskaton has treated HOA property as its own.” 

Both Coley and Lorini declined comment on the case, which is scheduled for a public case management conference on May 21, according to Sacramento County Superior Court public records. The hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. in Department 35 of the Gordon D. Schaber Courthouse. 

The 95-page complaint was first filed Nov. 19, 2014, but an amended first complaint was filed on Jan. 5 by the plaintiffs’ co-counsels, Sacramento-based attorneys David Diepenbrock and Michael Vinding. 

Diepenbrock on Monday declined all comment on the case. Neither Vinding nor defendants’ attorney Rod Baydaline of Sacramento could be reached for comment. Donovan also could not be reached for comment. 

The homeowners’ class action lawsuit is separate from a successful union organizing effort last June. In a landmark election, employees of Eskaton Village Grass Valley became one of the first groups of senior living workers to vote in favor of joining a section of the local Service Employees International Union. 

Larry King, a campus patrol officer at Eskaton, said there have been eight contract negotiating sessions since September, when the union members delivered a proposed 49-page contract to management. He said the sessions have so far been “slow-going,” mostly confined to disputes over language. 

“We haven’t gotten to the financial terms yet,” he said. 

Sources who contacted The Union and who declined to be identified said both the class action lawsuit and the union election are indicative of a widespread pattern of dissatisfaction with management attitudes toward workers and residents in the community. 

As an example of alleged management intimidation, sources cite a Feb. 12 letter in which the Eskaton HOA’s legal committee notified homeowners about the costs of the lawsuit and warned that “special assessments levied against each member may be required to pay for this unanticipated expense this year if our insurance carrier denies coverage.” 

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Union, the legal committee states that “the purpose of this letter is to make you aware of this litigation, and to give you sufficient notice that special assessments may be required.” 

According to the complaint, Eskaton Village Grass Valley includes 287 housing units, of which 130 are individually owned condominium units sometimes referred to as “patio homes.” The patio homeowners pay a monthly “assessment” to cover various services, such as landscaping and security patrol. 

Of numerous allegations in the complaint, plaintiffs allege “breach of fiduciary duties” in regard to mandated 3 percent annual increases in the cost to homeowners for a variety of services “supposedly needed to pay for increased personnel costs,” the complaint says. 

“Plaintiffs learned for the first time in 2014, however, that EVGV employees have received no raises since 2010,” the complaint adds. “Thus, the increases were unjustified and improper for nonexistent wage increases.” 

A copy of the complaint is attached to this story at

Full Article & Source:
Class action lawsuit filed against Sacramento-based management of Eskaton Village Grass Valley

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Police officer: 'I was watching a crime'

John Connors
PORTSMOUTH – John Connors said he told two police chiefs, one deputy chief and two police commissioners that a fellow officer was making daily visits to his wealthy neighbor with dementia and that he thought "it was wrong."

Their responses, he said, ranged from a "smirk" and a warning to stay out of it, to an explanation about an "ax to grind" that police officials had at the time. One commissioner said "good for them" if the officer and his lawyer could get some of the neighbor's "ton of money," Connors said.

A 42-year member of the Portsmouth Police Department, Connors made these remarks during a Feb. 26 deposition, as part of a probate dispute contesting the $2.1 million estate of the late Geraldine Webber, who left most of her wealth to Portsmouth police Sgt. Aaron Goodwin. A judge will decide whether Webber was competent to endorse her last will and trust and whether or not Goodwin exerted undue influence over her.

Connors said during his deposition that he told one police commissioner he thought Goodwin was "ripping off" Webber. He said he talked about his suspicions daily at the police station and that he advised Webber's former lawyer, Jim Ritzo, to get a restraining order against Goodwin because "he's up to no good."

"When I made my complaints to the Police Department and the higher ups," Connors said, "nobody would listen to me."

"I didn't go public or talk to anybody for like two-and-a-half, three years, not until this past August, because I tried to get the guys at the PD to get this taken care of by themselves," Connors is quoted in a transcript of his deposition. "I didn't want this going public. I didn't want this on the PD, as bad as it was looking, because 95 percent of the guys that work there are the greatest guys in the world. You got a handful that aren't OK, and that's what this is all about."

Connors was introduced at his deposition as a Portsmouth police officer who retired in 1995 and continues to work as a sergeant in the auxiliary division.

"This is something that I've been living every day of my life for the last four-and-a-half years," said Connors, who told lawyers at the deposition that he kept detailed notes about what he saw at Webber's house next door.

He said it began in late 2010, when he was at the police station, where a couple of officers mentioned they were at Webber's house the prior night for a call about a prowler. Connors said he told the officers he was sure there was no prowler, because Webber had dementia and was seeing things that weren't there.

"Well, the next thing I know," Connors said, "police cruisers are coming down every day, more than once."

He said he saw Goodwin visit Webber, in an unmarked cruiser, daily and sometimes twice daily, for the next five or six months. About two weeks after Goodwin met Webber, Connors said, the 90-something-year-old woman was driving her Cadillac to her mailbox when she stopped to tell Connors she was in love with Goodwin, was going to marry him and that he was going to leave his wife and children to move in with her.

Webber also said "I'm going to give him everything," said Connors.

Soon after, he said, "She stopped talking to everybody."

Connors said Webber was friends with his parents before he was born and that was the connection that led to his buying the home next to hers and "why we look out for her." He said he made sure Goodwin and/or attorney Gary Holmes (who wrote Webber's disputed will to largely benefit Goodwin) knew he saw them coming and going, and "knew what they were doing was wrong."

Connors said he "wanted them to know they were being watched and they weren't getting away with it."He said he sometimes reported what he saw to Webber's then-attorney, Jim Ritzo, because Ritzo used to be there "every day and he took good care of her."

Connors said he saw Ritzo visit Webber daily for 10 years and that Ritzo "did nothing but good things for her and helped her out and she adored him."

"That changed when Aaron (Goodwin) came into the picture," he said.

Allegations surfaced at that time that Ritzo was exploiting Webber, but police never pressed any charges and the state determined the complaints were unfounded, according to public records.

After Webber endorsed her last will and trust (in May 2012), Connors said, Goodwin's visits lessened to "once a week for 10 or 15 minutes after work."

"He used to come down - I think it was Fridays because all the neighbors used to call it pay day when he showed up," Connors said. "It was a joke around the neighborhood for a while. It was sad, but it was a joke."

The veteran police officer said he began reporting his observations to police officials more than four years ago. He said that on Oct. 18, 2010, he was at a police function at the Ice House when he told then-police chief Lou Ferland about his concerns involving Goodwin and his elderly neighbor.

"(Ferland) said, 'Trust me, you don't want to get involved in this one,'" Connors said. "Those were his exact words." (Continue Reading)

Full Article & Source:
Police officer: 'I was watching a crime'

See Also:
Conflict of Interest? Explanations Needed! 

Portsmouth officer to be deposed about $2.7M inheritance

Police Commission Authorizes Probe of Shady Inheritance

Police brass caught in cop's disputed inheritance case

Philadelphia housekeeper sentenced for exploitation of a vulnerable person

A Philadelphia housekeeper is going to prison after pleading guilty to one count of exploitation of a vulnerable person.

Authorities said 39-year-old Rosemary Stribling, also known as Rosemary Carter, appeared before Judge Marcus Gordon in Neshoba County Circuit Court Monday to be sentenced.

She's accused of exploiting the elderly victim who hired her to clean her home. Stribling admitted to taking money from the victim's accounts to make purchases. The victim lost more than $2,000 because of Stribling's actions.

She was sentenced to eight years in custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, six years suspended with two years to serve. She was also ordered to pay full restitution to the victim and some fines.

Full Article & Source:
Philadelphia housekeeper sentenced for exploitation of a vulnerable person

5 Estate Planning Documents Every Young Professional Should Have

After graduating from college, and even law school, the thought of drafting your estate plan probably did not make the top twenty on your "to-do" list, and why should it? The only thing most young professionals have when they first start out is debt. However, after you land your first job, preparing your estate plan needs to move quickly to the top of that elusive "to do" list. It's especially important if you are starting a family. Below are five documents that should be part of your estate plan.

1. Durable Financial Power of Attorney.
2. Health Care Power of Attorney.
3. Last Will and Testament.
4. Beneficiary Designation.
5. Beneficiary Deed.

After the necessary documents are executed, be certain that one set of originals is placed in a safe or safe deposit box in your bank and let your family know that the documents are there. It is wise to re visit these documents when a major life event occurs, such as a wedding, a birth or even a death, to ensure no changes to your documents should be made. If no major life events occur, it is always a good idea to contact your estate planning attorney every five years to ensure there have been no substantive changes in the laws that may affect your documents. The above information is based on the laws of the State of Arizona.

Full Article and Source:
5 Estate Planning Documents Every Young Professional Should Have >

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Florida: ABC Action News I-Team: Patricia Johnson fights more regulation for Florida's Guardianship Program

(Note:  This video is slow loading - but it's worth the wait!)
ABC Action News is staying on top of an effort to protect our state's most vulnerable citizens. State lawmakers are working to reform Florida's Guardianship Program. The measure comes after wards and their family members have reported numerous incidents of abuse and exploitation by professional guardians in court districts throughout the Sunshine State.

One opponent of the new bill was at the center of an I-Team investigation.

In 2013, Willi Berchau told the I-Team that his court-appointed guardian, Patricia Johnson, had wrongly placed him in an Alzheimer's unit. After our stories, doctors and a judge determined Berchau was not incapacitated and freed him from guardianship.

At that time, Johnson declined to speak on camera, and has refused to make any public comments about the issue until now. “I get monitored by everybody, every day, seven days a week,” Johnson testified before the Children, Family and Seniors Subcommittee of the Florida House of Representatives.

Johnson told legislators there's no need to reform the state's guardianship system.

Full Article, Source, and Video:
I-Team: Patricia Johnson fights more regulation for Florida's Guardianship Program

Protect seniors from abuse

Senate should OK House bill to curb those who prey on elderly

A law to better protect seniors from neglect, abuse and exploitation deserves to be passed by the Ohio Senate.

Stories of senior mistreatment, as vividly reported in The Dispatch’s March 15-16 “Elder Abuse” series, are stomach-churning. People have been scammed of their life’s savings after years of living frugally. Others have been horribly neglected.

But Ohio’s current law is outdated and insufficient. House Bill 24 is a strong effort to address this growing problem.

The bill updates the state’s legal definitions of elder abuse to include financial harm, neglect and exploitation. This isn’t just a matter of compassion; scammers cost taxpayers, because elderly victims often must turn to public assistance to survive.

The bill would boost training for protective-services case workers. And it would have more people watching out for the elderly, by expanding the state’s current list of mandatory reporters. H.B. 24 would expand those required to report suspicions — such as clergy, attorneys and nursing-home employees — to include firefighters, accountants, notaries public, real-estate brokers, bank employees and pharmacists, among others.

“If it can be caught early, people can be protected from empty bank accounts,” Beth Kowalczyk, chief policy officer for the Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging, told legislators. “Bank employees and financial planners are frequently in a position to see what may be going on in an older adult’s home.”

Charlie Holderman, the retired supervisor of Adult Protective Services for Montgomery County, recalled working a case where a bank had caught a couple draining the account of a 94-year-old man whose worth totaled $5 million.

A bank had taken the initiative to alert Holderman’s agency that the husband of the couple, a prominent attorney, and his wife were writing themselves checks every day for $2,000 or more. Holderman’s agency went to court to stop the exploitation, but the man had lost $700,000.

“Although this was an extreme case,” Holderman told a House committee, “there are many instances of exploitation that are happening all over the state.”

How many is anyone’s guess. The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates that 1 in 10 elderly Americans is abused or neglected each year, often by trusted family members or caregivers.

Kathleen Quinn, executive director of the National Adult Protective Services Association, called elder abuse “rampant, largely invisible, expensive and lethal.” Immediate action is needed, she told The Dispatch.

One of H.B. 24’s key provisions would require the state to create and manage a registry to identify patterns of elder abuse.

“For the first time,” said Rep. Mike Dovilla, R-Berea, “Ohio will be able to accurately monitor and track the abuse of our senior citizens.”

Sharing this information with law enforcement would allow for the tracking of perpetrators and victims across county lines. And by getting a handle on the size of this problem, advocates for the elderly can build a better case to increase state funding.

Some Ohio counties currently are without a single full-time adult-protective-services worker.
The Senate has twice before failed to pass elder-abuse laws sent by the House. Just who is for draining granny of her life savings? Or leaving grandpa hungry?

No senior citizen should have to endure the indignity of theft and mistreatment. The Senate should pass this bill.

Full Article & Source:
Protect seniors from abuse

Elder abuse cases on rise

Lincoln County has seen several cases in past couple weeks

WALDOBORO, Maine —Elder abuse is a crime against senior citizens that is gaining the attention of law enforcement.

Click here to watch the report

Lincoln County has seen several cases in the past couple weeks.

Elder abuse is a crime that often goes unreported, but people are starting to take note and officials are taking up the cause on behalf of victims.

Financial elder abuse cases come across the desk of Detective Scott Hayden more often than he'd like.

"Unfortunately pretty frequently. I would say a couple a month, sometimes more, sometimes less," said Hayden.

But, coordination with other agencies, like Health and Human Services, are bringing the cases to light. Like the case of Debra S. Townsend-Sokoll, who was recently indicted on charges of theft, allegedly against her mother.

"This woman and her husband through their life amassed this wealth, you know, they were acquiring land and assets," Hayden said.

Court documents allege the theft is a class B felony, valued at more than $10,000.

"And in the end, someone took advantage of them and took those things they worked so hard to get," Hayden said.

The National Center on Elder Abuse found 13 percent of the mistreatment allegations investigated were for financial exploitation and it can be coupled with physical abuse.

Hayden said he's seeing it more, and people should be very careful about who they trust and check with others on important financial decisions.

"Don't be forced into signing any documents you're not comfortable with," Hayden said.

And if you spot anything unusual for you or someone you're caring for, talk with police.

"In the end, we hope the offender has to pay restitution for what they took, at minimum. And then there could also be jail sentences and fines on top of that also," Hayden said.

Waldoboro police said they've already had three cases of financial elder abuse this year, including one involving Scott Jordan, a lieutenant at the Cumberland County Jail who was recently indicted on theft charges.

Officials said sometimes it can be hard to tell the extent of these crimes, but it's estimated to cost U.S. victims almost $2.9 million a year.

Full Article & Source:
Elder abuse cases on rise

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Escambia Senior Out $1 Million; Bill Seeks To Stop Predatory ‘Cockroaches’

Now 93, Ernestine Franks has lived in Escambia County all of her life. She and her late husband, Charles, both worked at the Pensacola Naval Air Station — she was in cost accounting and he was a metalsmith. They saved their money and invested it wisely and put their children through the best schools to ensure they would get the best education. Ernestine and Charles’ life was devoted to their boys and always went the extra mile for them.

Ernestine Franks
Douglas said he and his two brothers agreed to a guardian for Ernestine in 2011 because they lived out of town and her health was becoming more of a concern.

But that guardianship has cost his mother $1,000 per day since June 2012.

“It is over $1 million that my mom has spent,” her son Douglas Franks said. “We’re trying to bring awareness so people know what’s going on and how this is a lucrative cottage industry.”

Franks spoke in favor of a measure Thursday in Tallahassee as a Senate panel on Thursday unanimously approved a bill aimed at protecting Florida seniors from predatory “professional guardians,” described by one lawmaker as “cockroaches.”

The bill (SB 1226), filed by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, would expand the Statewide Public Guardianship Office at the Department of Elder Affairs, with an eye to tightening oversight of people who assume control of a senior citizens’ finances.

A recent series by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune found that while Florida has an efficient system of identifying and caring for fragile elders, “tapping their assets is a growth business.” In 2003, there were 23 registered professional guardians on Florida. Today, the number has grown to more than 440.

“Those little cracks in the law are allowing cockroaches to crawl through and take advantage of people who are elderly,” Detert told the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee. “Let’s face it. The elderly are today’s invisible people, who are not given much credence when they complain.”

The bill would charge the Department of Elder Affairs with certifying, overseeing and —- if necessary — investigating and disciplining professional guardians who abuse their trust. It would also create a registry of professional guardians in each judicial circuit.

Currently, Detert said, the Department of Elder Affairs is responsible for public guardians, who are assigned to indigent seniors, but there is little to stop unscrupulous “professional guardians” from charging exorbitant rates for services they provide and running through their wards’ assets.

“When you are turning somebody’s entire life over to a guardian, they have access to every asset that you have, and your own family is blocked from participating,” Detert said.

Detert said the courts are so overwhelmed with foreclosures and other backlogged cases that they aren’t able to investigate guardianship expenditures that are unreasonably large.

Her proposal comes as several other lawmakers also are offering measures aimed at curbing abusive guardianships.

Full Article & Source:
Escambia Senior Out $1 Million; Bill Seeks To Stop Predatory ‘Cockroaches’

Schedule for The Vegas Voice Guardianship Seminars

Wednesday, MARCH 25th
2:00 pm – Sun City Anthem/Buckman’s Restaurant

Wednesday, APRIL 8TH
11:30 am - Destinations @ Alexander
2:00 pm - Destinations @ Winterhaven

Thursday, APRIL 9TH
11:30 am - Destinations @ Pebble

Tuesday, APRIL 14th
9:00am Cabana Mobile Home Community (5303 E. Twain Ave.)
11:30 am - Destinations @ Pueblo
2:00 pm - Destinations @ Valley View

Thursday, APRIL 16th
9:00am – Las Vegas Manor
11:30 am - Destinations @ Spring Valley
2:00 pm - Destinations @ Sandhill

Thursday, April 23rd
10:30 am – Doolittle Senior Center (1930 North J Street)


Monday, March 23, 2015

ABC Action News I-Team: Guardian and Attorney Bill Thousands for Years After Ward Dies

She's been dead for over two years, but her state-appointed professional guardian has been billing her for thousands the entire time.

This is just the latest in a long line of disturbing issues surrounding Florida's guardianship program.
Lynn and Alan Sayler were in Tallahassee last week, testifying  before a legislative committee calling for more reforms of the state guardianship program.
But Monday, they met with a judge, begging for Lynn's mother's guardianship case to finally be closed before more money is taken out of her estate.
“She was a tennis player. She worked out at the gym. She loved her grandkids,” said Lynn Sayler, describing her mother.
Retta Rickow died Dec. 8, 2012, just before her favorite holiday.
“Retta loved Christmas. She loved Christmas. She loved to come over and see what the kids would do,” said Rickow’s son-in-law, Alan Sayler.
But since her death, her daughter and son-in-law have been making frequent trips to court, begging a judge to close Rickow's guardianship case.
“Guardianships should be closed in 90 days or so of the ward's death,” Alan Sayler said.
“It's not about my mother. It's about money,” said Lynn Sayler.
Bills obtained by the I-Team filed after Rickow died show her guardian continued to bill thousands of dollars at a rate of $80 an hour for things like accounting, phone calls and travel.
Over the course of Rickow's guardianship, his bills total more than $50,000.
His attorney has billed nearly $144,000, with no sign of stopping.
“They're raiding the estate. My mother-in-law passed away almost two-and-a-half years ago. We just left the courthouse, where the guardian's attorney said ‘Well, we should have some more things going on,’” Alan Sayler said.
The Saylers testified before a Florida House of Representatives committee last week in support of a law that would give the state more power over guardians and the courts.
“They are trained to isolate, medicate and raid estates,” Lynn Sayler testified before the committee.
“It's a statewide problem and needs to be tightened up,” Alan Sayler also testified.
As that bill continues to travel through committees, the Saylers will likely make more trips to court.
“We want change. The judicial system is just broken,” Lynn Sayler said.
“Instead of trying to find out what's truly in the best interest of the ward, it's more what's truly in the best interest of the guardians and the guardians' attorneys and how can we bill some more,” said Alan Sayler.

Advocates seek more funds to fight elder abuse

Ramona Wilson tidied her house, parked both of her cars in her garage, shut all the doors and turned on the engines.

But before she could climb behind the wheel and asphyxiate herself, she was interrupted by a tap, tap, tap on her front door.

Two strangers stood on her porch. Wilson was angry at being interrupted and wanted to chase them away. But one of them — Dave Kessler — told her he understood the shame and embarrassment she must have felt after being conned out of $50,000 by a man she thought loved her.

He could help her, Kessler said.

At 74, Wilson had been through a lot in life, but nothing before had robbed her of her will to live.

Kessler, who worked in the Ohio attorney general’s office, asked her to make a pot of coffee and listen to what he had to say.

“She needed to hear that it wasn’t her fault,” he said.

•    •    •
Ohio officials hope to elevate elder abuse to the forefront of societal concerns through stories such as Wilson’s in much the same way that attention was called to child abuse 30 years ago and to domestic violence 10 years ago, said Cynthia Dungey, director of the state Department of Job and Family Services.

The state also plans to create a stronger statewide adult-protective-services system and wants to encourage the kind of collaboration among caseworkers, law-enforcement agencies, prosecutors and others that helped put Wilson’s life back together.

“It was like he had been sent from God,” Wilson said of Kessler. “I learned that while I couldn’t go back and change things, that didn’t mean I had to stop living.”

Wilson told Kessler how she had met Charles Sellers at church one summer afternoon in 2005. He had offered to walk her to her car after the sermon. He was 24 years younger than she was, but they exchanged phone numbers and struck up a friendship.

What she didn’t know at the time was that Sellers had recently been released from prison after serving 10 years for fatally shooting a man during a gambling argument.

Wilson enjoyed the attention that Sellers lavished on her. She had lost her third husband, James, not even a year earlier to Alzheimer’s and was lonely and still grieving. Sellers finally admitted details of his past, but he had convinced Wilson and most other members of their church that he was a reformed man, a good Christian, deserving of a second chance.

After a three-month courtship, Wilson and Sellers married. He then persuaded her to take out a $14,000 home-equity line of credit on her North Side house for home repairs and to open a dental office. A few days later, he called Wilson to say he was going to a hospital on his way home from work.

He hung up before Wilson could ask what was wrong. He never came home, and Wilson frantically called family, friends and then the police to report him missing.

Soon, Wilson saw ATM withdrawals in Dayton, near what police would tell her were known prostitution areas. Sellers ultimately ended up in Wheeling, W.Va., where, while high on cocaine and heroin, he fell out of a brothel window and was hospitalized with a broken arm, court records show.

By then, he had blown $50,000 — the money from the home-equity line and Wilson’s entire life savings.

“Can you imagine your whole life gone like that?” Wilson asked. “The worst part was I lost my respect. Even my own children were talking behind my back.”

Although Kessler said he might not be able to return her money, he promised he would try to bring her justice. He worked with Columbus police and the Franklin County prosecutor’s office to build a case against Sellers. In the meantime, Adult Protective Services in Franklin County and the Pickaway County Victims of Crime program helped Wilson seek civil remedies, including a divorce.

In 2007, Sellers was sentenced to five years in prison by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Eric Brown. He appealed and, in 2008, was given five years’ probation and ordered to pay $14,326 in restitution.

To spare others the pain she went through, Wilson, who had become pastor of her church, traveled the state with Kessler to tell her story.

“I’m not a victim anymore,” she said. “I’m an overcomer.”  (Continue Reading)

Full Article & Source:
Advocates seek more funds to fight elder abuse

Guardianship horror stories may lead to change

Dr. Sam Sugar has a pretty clear picture of how he thought life would be after he retired to Miami from Skokie, Illinois

The physician saw himself in a bathing suit, on the beach, spending time with his wife and grandchildren. He’d travel, read and have time for himself.

But after his wealthy, widowed mother-in-law became a ward of the state — her affairs controlled by a coterie of lawyers, nurses and a court-appointed guardian — Sugar channeled his anger into political activism. Now he is on the verge of a breakthrough.

With Sugar and the organization he started, Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, leading the charge, Florida lawmakers are in the process of overhauling the state’s guardianship laws. The changes are aimed at installing some checks and balances to ensure that guardians, who have considerable power once they are appointed to a case, are qualified and that their actions can be reviewed.

“We have accomplished something monumental,” said Sugar, who has testified in Tallahassee on behalf of the overhaul.

Sugar, who lives in Aventura, spent countless hours researching the laws after he and his wife engaged with her siblings in a brutal years-long squabble over the well-being of his mother-in-law, Idelle Stern, also known by her Hebrew name Rebbetzin Chaya'le Stern.

As often happens in such situations, there were fingers pointed in multiple directions. Sugar claims the guardian and lawyers, in cahoots with the courts and his wife’s siblings, siphoned millions from Stern’s accounts while keeping her isolated from him and his wife. The siblings and the guardian claimed that the Sugars moved to South Florida with designs on Stern’s money, and that they were simply protecting Stern from exploitation.

One of the few things that is not in dispute is that the guardianship process and associated litigation cost everyone a lot of money. Stern, whose late husband was a rabbi and successful investor, died in 2013, leaving an estate partially drained and a family utterly divided.

It is hardly an isolated case. In December, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune published a series of stories, The Kindness of Strangers, asserting that Florida's guardianship system ignores basic rights. The news organization documented instances where guardians removed seniors from their homes and sold off their belongings, to cover the cost of providing services.

With roughly 3.7 million Floridians over 65, guardianship is big business. Many come to Florida from elsewhere upon retirement, and they bring their savings with them. As they age, some lose the capacity to manage their affairs, falling prey to exploitation — sometimes by family members or “friends,” sometimes by strangers. The guardianship apparatus is meant to protect them. When some children live close by and others don’t, it can exacerbate problems.

Under current law, family members, nursing homes and other people and institutions can petition the court system to have someone declared incapacitated. A judge will appoint a three-member panel, consisting of medical personnel or social workers, to examine the individual and render a judgment. They might ask questions such as who is the president, to determine the person’s grasp of the world around them.

If the individual is deemed incapacitated and there is not an appropriate family member to step in, he or she can end up a ward of the court. In such instances, the ward’s financial, medical and legal decisions are made by strangers, under court supervision.

It’s a growth industry, one reason the number of professional guardians has soared from less than 10 to 465, according to the state Department of Elder Affairs. To become a guardian requires 40 hours of training and no felony conviction. Guardians, who have a legal duty to inventory their wards’ property and invest and manage the assets “as a prudent investor would,” are paid for their services at a rate approved by the court.

The Miami New Times and others have documented cases where the judges appointing guardians have received campaign contributions from those who benefit from the appointment.

Jetta Getty
Jetta Getty, the president of the Florida State Guardianship Association, said professional guardians are appointed as a last resort. In a letter to the House of Representatives, Getty said appointments come only “when dysfunction, exploitation, neglect, abuse or strife warrants.”

“Several testifying at the hearings [in Tallahassee] offered testimony from the family member perspective stating their view as victims of perceived wrongs and actions attributed to Professional Guardians,” she said in the letter. “Might I offer, if these family members were as innocent in their roles as they profess, no Professional Guardian would be considered for appointment by the Courts as the Courts under Statutes do give preference to family members serving in the role of guardian over the Professional.”

Getty said there are positive aspects of the proposed new legislation, but there are also concerns. She cited one measure that would require courts to appoint guardians on a rotating basis, taking any potential favoritism out of the process.

Elder law attorney Steve Martin from Lakeland told a Florida Senate panel that a rotation might not solve the problem in smaller counties.

“You’ll be rotating from a list of two or three people,” he said.

Added Shannon Miller, a guardian and elder care attorney from Gainesville: “It's going to really create a problem because guardians are people and wards are people, and they need to fit properly.”

Sugar’s story begins in 2010. He and his wife had moved to Florida. Stern, his mother-in-law, had her own apartment in Miami Beach and had round-the-clock care. The other siblings began to question whether the Sugars were exercising undue influence over Stern, whose husband died in 2004.

According to Sugar, on April 15, 2010, there was a knock on his door and he was told he had 24 hours to get to court.

He said his mother-in-law was immediately assigned a temporary guardian. He said that meant that all of her life decisions — things like the purchase of groceries, the selection of a doctor and the spending of her own money — were now out of her control. He said he later would see invoices charged to the estate that disturbed him, everything from legal fees to bills for answering emails and opening envelopes.  (Continue Reading)

Full Article & Source:
Guardianship horror stories may lead to change

Legal help exists for exploited seniors

Kudos to The Dispatch for shining a light on elder abuse and emphasizing the critical need for funding for Adult Protective Services and other organizations mentioned that combat abuse of seniors in all its ugly and unacceptable forms (“Elder Abuse” series, Dispatch, last Sunday and Monday).

Pro Seniors is another resource for Ohio seniors. Pro Seniors is a statewide nonprofit legal-aid organization that helps seniors resolve their legal problems.

Many of Pro Seniors’ vulnerable clients are facing the challenge of financial exploitation, which has been termed “the crime of the 21st century” and is escalating rapidly as the senior population increases.

If financial exploitation is not addressed, it can devastate the financial security, physical health and mental well-being of the senior victim.

Pro Seniors has recently received funding from the attorney general’s office and several private foundations to address financial exploitation.

Ohio seniors who may be victims of financial exploitation and other forms of elder abuse are encouraged to call Pro Seniors’ Legal Hotline at 800-488-6070. Our attorneys can provide legal advice and, in some cases, representation to remedy the exploitation, as well as suggestions about reaching out to other resources that can help.

Executive director
Pro Seniors

Full Article & Source:
Legal help exists for exploited seniors

Sunday, March 22, 2015

3/17/15 House Subcommittee on Children, Families & Seniors

Click to see video

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3/17/15 House Subcommittee on Children, Families & Seniors

SF 306 by Judiciary

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SF 306 by Judiciary

Elder protection bill unanimously passes Ohio House

Elmon Booth, of Middletown
HAMILTON —A bill aimed at protecting the elderly from abuse, neglect and financial exploitation is now in the hands of the Ohio Senate after unanimously passing in the House on Tuesday.

House Bill 24, otherwise known as the Ohio Elder Justice Act, is being pushed by State Rep. Wes Retherford, R-Hamilton. Retherford said seniors today need some added layers of protection, and the bill would bring about better tracking of patterns of elderly abuse, increased awareness and research of the problem and tougher penalties for those who abuse or take advantage of the elderly.

“As technology advances, so does the use of technology for evil purposes,” said Retherford, who co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Mike Dovilla, R-Berea. “Updating our elder abuse laws to meet today’s demands is just a small step we can take to ensure the protection of our growing senior population from losing their life’s savings, property and dignity.”

Crimes against the elderly are growing both nationally and in Butler County, law enforcement officials say, especially as the population of older adults increases. A Department of Justice study estimated in 2009 that about one in nine people ages 60 and older suffers abuse each year. For every one case reported to authorities, it is believed five more go unreported.

Betsy Leugers, of Darrtown, said she likes the sound of the bill, but wants to learn more about it before forming an opinion.

“What would it do to the people that scam? Is it going to cause for their prosecution? What limitations does it have on everybody?” Leugers said while quilting at Partners in Prime in Hamilton on Tuesday afternoon.

She said a law giving extra help to the elderly would be a good thing.

“There are lots of little people who are locked in their rooms, and you wouldn’t know that,” Leugers said of the fear some seniors experience.

Among other things, the bill includes:
  • The requirement of the Department of Job and Family Services to report on the creation of a registry to help identify patterns of abuse;
  • The obligation for employees in several financial fields to report suspected elder abuse to help prevent the elderly from falling victim to financial crimes; and
  • The establishment of a statewide Elder Abuse Commission, which will increase awareness and research of elder abuse, improve policy, funding and programming related to elder abuse, and improve the judicial response to elder abuse victims.
Ohio’s population of adults ages 60 or older, which stood at 2.28 million in 2010, is expected to grow significantly in coming years, according to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. The number is projected to increase 29 percent (to 2.95 million) by 2020 and nearly 50 percent (to 3.42 million) by 2040, according to the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University. Such statistics point to the potential for a significant increase in elder abuse cases in coming years.

“The more older people there are just means there are more people that are susceptible,” said Susan Costantino, club and wellness coordinator for Partners in Prime. “And people are looking to make a quick buck, and they don’t care who they hurt.”

Doris Swegert, of Fairfield, who was also at Partners in Prime on Tuesday, is well aware people will try to scam the elderly and commit crimes against them. She has not been a victim, and protects herself by not answering the phone if it’s a blocked number or one she doesn’t recognize.

“And if they don’t leave a message, I don’t talk to them half the time,” she said .

Seniors are targets, physically and financially, of strangers, friends and sometimes their own family, said Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser. After prosecuting a Trenton woman who bilked an elderly woman out of more than $200,000, Gmoser formed a task force in 2011 to offer both education to senior citizens about crimes that may target them and to assure that such cases were aggressively pursued.

Gmoser said crimes involving the elderly have risen nearly 50 percent since 2005.

“I think that knowledge is power,” the prosecutor said. “And when it comes to support people and emergency personnel, I want them to be reporting.”

Gmoser said the senior population is “an underrepresented class in our society.”

“And the reason they are being attacked is because it is one of the most unreported crimes when you have elder abuse, and they are suspect to financial crimes,” he said. “They are ashamed, and they don’t want their children to know that they did something so boneheaded.”

Gmoser said the elderly fear their children may restrict their access to bank accounts, take their vehicles away or put them in a retirement home.

“So they suck it up, they lose their money, and they don’t make a report,” he said.

Gmoser cites Barbara Howe as a classic victim of elder abuse. The 87-year-old resident of Mount Pleasant Retirement Village in Monroe was allegedly killed in 2012 by Daniel French, a former maintenance employee at the facility. French allegedly scammed his way into Howe’s cottage with the intent to rob her by telling the elderly woman her medical alert system needed repairs, police said.

Once inside her home, police and prosecutors say French slit Howe’s throat several times after using a stun gun on her and attempting to strangle her.

Then this past October there was the beating and robbery of 82-year-old Elmon Booth of Middletown. Booth was attacked in his home by three men who hit him with a brick and choked him before fleeing with his 24-inch television, $10 worth of change and his hearing aids. All three men were arrested and are expected to go trial this spring.

Costantino said if the bill becomes law, she hopes reporting systems and the added measures are well publicized.

“If this passes and it’s made known widely to anyone who works with seniors, that’s huge,” she said. “I think that extra level of protection would be great.”

Full Article & Source:
Elder protection bill unanimously passes Ohio House