Saturday, August 11, 2018

‘There’s a window, and once it closes, it closes forever’

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
Murray Cooper, 94, and his wife, Ila, still live in their West Roxbury home despite health issues.
“There’s a window, and once it closes, it closes forever.”

Len Fishman, director of the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Gerontology Institute, was talking about an urgent issue in a society that values “aging in place”: deciding the right time to leave your home and move into housing for seniors.

Make the move too soon, and you lose an important part of yourself. That’s one fear. But wait too long — until your physical or cognitive state has greatly deteriorated — and any place that’s not depressing won’t take you. That’s the other fear.

“It’s a real pressure point,” Fishman said.

Many older people are happier after moving to a place where life’s chores are eased, activities and social opportunities are on site, and a van goes right to the grocery store.

But with horror stories about elder abuse at facilities seared into the public’s mind, and prices that can run $10,000 a month or more, the specter of moving into an old persons’ home — even if it’s not called that — can cause stress between older parents and their adult children, between spouses when one is healthy and the other isn’t, and of course for the seniors themselves.

“What they call ‘assisted living’ is a misnomer,” said Murray Cooper, 94. He laughed joylessly. “If you need assistance, they don’t want you.”

Cooper has friends who have moved into assisted living, he said — apartments that are supposed to be nice. “But the kitchens are so dark and bare. Going into such a place would be devastating. They’re much too restrictive.”

Cooper is a World War II veteran, retired clothing designer, and, until recently, a skier. He has lymphoma, and his wife of 72 years, Ila, has memory issues. They live on the top half of a two-family in West Roxbury. There’s no elevator, but he installed handrails on the staircase.

“I’m still able to care for myself and [Ila],” he said, but “I wonder what the future holds for us when I am no longer able to help myself. Who would accept me?”

It’s sad to think older people would have to prove themselves to get into a facility or worry about a waiting list — as if they were trying to get into college — but that happens all the time, said Kate Granigan, CEO of LifeCare Advocates, a Newton-based firm that helps seniors and their families manage care.

“You can be turned down anywhere,” she said. “Independent and assisted living can turn you down. Even a skilled nursing home can turn you down. If you’re a male with MassHealth and behavioral issues, you can be told, ‘We don’t have a bed that fits your requirements.’ ”

“But it can also be ageism,” she said. “The residents will [privately] say, ‘I don’t want to see people who are frail or in wheelchairs or being fed by a caregiver.’ ”

That feeling is also expressed by those who are touring facilities, she said. “I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had a 90-year-old say, ‘I’m not going there. It’s all old people.’ ”

There are several types of housing for seniors. In an independent-living community, seniors buy or rent a unit with a full kitchen and a parking spot. The screening process varies, but in general, residents need to primarily care for themselves. These are typically private-pay communities.

The next level is assisted living, which is for people with some physical or cognitive impairment. These are also primarily private pay. Some communities allow residents to stay even if their conditions worsen significantly, another reason for apprehensive seniors to make a move before “waiting too long.”

The third level is skilled nursing, or what’s called a nursing home, which is generally covered by private pay or Medicaid (once your funds are exhausted), although some high-end nursing homes are private pay only.

For those who want all three on one campus, there are continuing-care retirement communities.

With the stakes so high — and happiness on the line at a vulnerable stage of life — tension is rampant.

Regarding housing for seniors, said Murray Cooper: “If you need assistance, they don’t want you.”

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
Regarding housing for seniors, said Murray Cooper: “If you need assistance, they don’t want you.”

Kathy Vines, a professional organizer from Melrose, regularly gets calls from her 74-year-old mother in Florida, agonizing that if her father’s numerous health conditions worsen and he needs to shift from the walker he uses now to a wheelchair, no assisted-living facility will take them. “In her mind, that is the line she’s chasing, whether it’s real or not,” Vines said. “We’re dealing with her perception of what their options are going to be.”

Whether or not the “walk-in test” is real, it causes a lot of stress.

In the South End, Anne Lower feared that her mother, 85, would have a debilitating fall in the three-week period after her parents put down a deposit for an apartment on an active floor in a retirement community and before they were slated to move in.

“They wouldn’t necessarily have rejected her,” Lower said, “but they would have put her on a more monitored floor that provided skilled nursing care similar to a hospital.”

That might have worked for her mother, she said, but it would have sent her father — 88, vibrant, and still the “mayor” of his local Y — “into deep depression.”

An entire industry has grown up around the need to help seniors negotiate their needs as they age. And with 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 each day and the elderly living longer, the geriatric-care management industry is flourishing.

In 33 years, the Aging Life Care Association (formerly the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers) has gone from 50 members to around 1,800, according to Samantha Colaianni, manager of marketing and membership for the trade association.

At prices that range from about $125 to $225 an hour in the Northeast, according to Anne Sansevero, an association board member, care managers can advocate for a longer stay on a patient’s behalf when a hospital discharge feels too soon. Because many have nursing or social work degrees, they can assess a senior’s overall health and cognitive state and evaluate home safety.

When a daughter flies in from out of town because her mom’s had her fifth ER visit, a care manager can help find rehab or home-care or housing options. “That local knowledge is important,” said Sansevero.

And when a parent in failing health doesn’t want to leave his home, and the adult children are reluctant to push, care managers can play bad cop.

“The families feel guilty, like they are trying to railroad the parent,” said Carmen Roy, founder of Elder at Home, in Pawtucket. “They don’t want to end the relationship on that note — never to be forgiven.”

But sometimes it’s not the older adult who is clinging to a lifestyle that no longer works.

In Dedham, Mitch Heller listed the activities his mother has been enjoying since she moved from NewBridge On the Charles’s assisted-living program to its long-term chronic care center — concerts, bridge, and movies among them — and said he wished he’d accepted her declining condition sooner.

“I wasn’t ready,” he said.

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‘There’s a window, and once it closes, it closes forever’

Court records: West Virginia caretaker forced large dogs to attack patient

CALHOUN COUNTY, W.Va. (WCHS/WVAH) - A caretaker in Calhoun County, West Virginia has been charged after court records claim she struck her patient with shaving cream cans and forced large dogs to attack him.

Lizzy Mae Ferrell, 36, of Grantsville is charged with abuse of neglect of incapacitated adult, according to a criminal complaint filed in Calhoun County Magistrate Court.

West Virginia State Police responded July 22 to a home in Grantsville regarding a dog bite. The patient had injuries to the legs, arms and head.

The patient, an incapacitated adult in the care of the state, told troopers Ferrell, his caretaker, struck him in the head repeatedly with several objects, including shaving cream cans and wasp spray, the complaint said. The patient also told troopers Ferrell picked up dog feces from the floor and wiped it on his face before having several large dogs attack him.

The patient said Ferrell had large dogs bite and scratch the man while he laid on the floor and begged her to stop, the complaint said.

The patient was transported to Roane County General Hospital.

Ferrell is currently being held in Central Regional Jail on a $25,000 property/surety bond.

Full Article & Source:
Court records: West Virginia caretaker forced large dogs to attack patient

Rome Woman Accused of Numerous Lies and Schemes in order to Steal Money

Theresa Lynn Duffey, 55 of Rome, was arrested this week after reports said she lied in order to avoid being arrested.

Reports said that Duffey gave false statements to police about concealing a person’s location who was reported missing.

She also is accused of taking $42 from 3 juveniles under false pretenses.

In addition, Duffey is accused of exploiting an elderly man when she portrayed herself as a “care taker” in order to obtain finances though false pretenses.  She also has been allegedly keeping the 79 year-old victim away from his home, depriving him of essential medical services.

Duffey is charged with exploitation of the elderly, theft by deception, and false statements and writings.

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Rome Woman Accused of Numerous Lies and Schemes in order to Steal Money

Friday, August 10, 2018

More complaints filed, more problems discovered at Independence nursing home

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- Major penalties are now being slapped on an Independence nursing home and rehab facility.

FOX4 first told you about concerns at Redwood of Independence back in May. Since then, more patients and families have been filing complaints, and investigators have found even more problems.

“This place -- it`s harming people. It is, it’s harming people,” former Redwood patient Tony Lee said.

Lee said he's just now able to talk openly about his time as a patient at Redwood of Independence.

“When I got out of this place, I was in a dark place because I said to myself, ‘Why me? Why did you treat me like this? Why did you do this? I’ve done nothing to you. I was there to get well,’” Lee said.

He had total knee replacement surgery in December. He went to Redwood for his post-surgical rehabilitation and said almost right away, there were problems.

“I was scared to death. I didn’t know what was going on,” Lee said.

His doctors gave Redwood instructions for his care, including pain medications and being put on what's called a CPM machine, which helps restore range of motion. Lee said nurses at Redwood didn't even know how to work the device.

“They left me in it for 7-8 hours, and I was supposed to be on it for two hours at a time,” Lee said.

Redwood of Independence

After a few hours, he started screaming in pain -- but no one came to help.

“And my neighbor across the hall is the one who got up and went and got help because of the emergency button wasn’t working,” Lee said.

Once he finally got back to his bed, he was also having stomach pains.

“I hadn`t been to the bathroom in six days. They brought me a bedpan because I told them if I have got to go to the bathroom, you don’t check on me, bring me a bedpan. And they brought me a copper or metal bed pan at 7 or 8 o`clock that night and put me on it,” Lee said.

He fell asleep, and the bedpan was still there the next morning. No one came to check on him until it was almost lunch time.

“Torture because they had to rip this bedpan off of me. My whole right buttocks was bloody red. It was just, and again, I`ve got the pictures showing not just a little mark. But the whole buttocks was ripped,” Lee said.

He demanded a visit from management and threatened to call police.

“It took them 36 hours afterward for somebody to come and address that my butt was ripped open. From that point I called my surgeon to let them know I was being mistreated. They did the necessary paperwork to get me out of there,” he said.

Lee thought he'd get transferred to another rehab center. But instead, he ended up in an ambulance, headed back to the hospital.

“I had to have an emergency blood transfusion because my hemoglobin was so low it was crazy. The nurses were surprised I could hold my head up,” Lee said.

And the damage didn't stop there. He found out the improper use of the CPM machine also damaged his new knee joint. He had to have the surgery re-done.

“It`s been hell,” Lee said.

Lee only learned about FOX4’s last report on Redwood after contacting federal, state and local investigators.

FOX4 has now learned Redwood of Independence just had its annual license renewal inspections -- and the findings are deeply disturbing.

One patient's catheter botched so badly they had to go to the hospital with "possible sepsis."

Tony Lee

Multiple patients reported having medications delivered late or not at all. Two patients even missed critical doses of insulin, causing their blood sugar levels to go through the roof.

Federal inspectors noted Redwood "failed to ensure" these errors wouldn't happen. But the only penalty was an "in-service" class to reinforce the importance of on-time medicine delivery.

The inspections also show many patients sat in the dining hall, waiting to be fed for hours. Other patients didn't get a shower for two weeks when bathing is required a minimum of twice weekly.

But possibly most disturbing: A certified medication tech at Redwood was busted stealing dozens of pain pills and patches. That med tech even admitted to one patient she had a "history of cocaine abuse."

Patients told investigators they suspected that tech wasn't giving them the right medicines. One of them started spitting pills out and tucking them in a drawer.

Federal inspectors found that patient's medicine cup, labeled "bad drugs, meth copies." The pills in the cup weren't the prescription pain medications the patient was supposed to take. They were vitamins.

That medication tech was even hospitalized after coming to work impaired and later fired. A police report was taken, but no charges were filed. According to police, the victim of the theft, the facility itself, declined to cooperate and wouldn’t provide witness testimony.

The medication theft went on for weeks undetected, all while patients were put at risk.

“I’m saying to myself, ‘How can this continue? How can this be going on when the state and the feds know what this place is doing?’” Lee said.

The repeated patterns of mistakes and lack of basic patient care have been deemed so troublesome now the federal government is now taking action.

This summer, Redwood of Independence was notified it was "not in compliance." And as a result, it will no longer get reimbursed by Medicare and Medicaid for any new patients entering the facility.

It's a harsh penalty. But to Lee, it's not enough. He thinks Redwood should be shut down.

“It’s got to stop. Somebody has to stop these people. There are people being hurt physically and mentally,” he said.

Lee worried for the patients still at Redwood, many who suffer from severe conditions and can't speak for themselves to get help. He hopes the facility will take its penalty as a wake-up call to do the right thing moving forward.

“We have to treat people the right way. It`s not about a dollar sign. It`s about people being sent here for care: mentally and physically. And let`s take care of these people,” Lee said.

Sadly, Lee died recently. His family still wanted FOX4 to share his story, so others know what he endured and in hopes that Redwood will work hard to improve patient care.

FOX4 went to Redwood and demanded to speak with its director, looking for answers. The director declined to answer any of our questions and insisted their public relations representative contact FOX4.

Prior to our visit, we made multiple attempts to contact their spokesperson. To date, that individual has still not returned our calls or made an effort to reach FOX4 following our visit to Redwood.

Redwood of Independence has until November to make major improvements or it'll face additional penalties.

States and the federal government post quality ratings and inspection reports on nursing homes online. Find federal reports here; Missouri reports here; and Kansas reports here.

Experts recommend you review those ratings before choosing a facility for yourself or a loved one and to visit centers in person if possible.

Full Article & Source:
More complaints filed, more problems discovered at Independence nursing home

Minnesota's backlog of elder-abuse complaints has been cleared

ST. PAUL—Minnesota no longer has a backlog of elder-abuse allegations that need to be investigated.

The Minnesota Department of Health announced Wednesday that state officials have finished investigating 826 cases of abuse of seniors and vulnerable adults. Investigators substantiated allegations in 30 percent of those cases.

The investigations were part of a backlog of 2,231 reports of abuse and neglect the state faced in January.

What remains unclear is the final outcome of the cases where investigators found merit in the allegations. A Department of Health spokesman said it takes time for cases to be resolved because they are often referred to other agencies, such as the state Board of Nursing.

Jan Malcolm, who was appointed to lead the Department of Health in the midst of the backlog, said teamwork between her agency's Office of Health Facility Complaints and the state Department of Human Services improved the state's response to complaints.

The state receives about 400 complaints each week and has received 12,849 since the beginning of 2018.

"Due to hard work and an aggressive quality improvement process, we are in a much better place to serve Minnesota's elders and families," Malcolm said in a statement announcing the clearing of the backlog. She added the department continues to work to improve its response to complaints and to address the underlying factors that lead to abuse.

A call for help

Minnesota's backlog came to light in 2017 when state lawmakers learned many complaints of abuse of seniors and vulnerable adults were not being properly investigated. During the 2018 legislative session, family members gave emotional testimony of the maltreatment their loved ones faced at facilities that were supposed to be overseen by the state.

But state lawmakers were unable to agree on meaningful reforms to improve protections for seniors and vulnerable adults. Changes approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature fell victim to Gov. Mark Dayton's veto of the sprawling budget bill they were included in.

Advocates for vulnerable adults criticized the proposed changes that did make it through the House and Senate, calling them a step backward, in many cases, from current law.

What's ahead

Emily Piper, Human Services commissioner, called clearing the backlog a milestone, but added that new regulations are needed.

"Much work remains, including needed legislation that will put safeguards in place to make sure Minnesotans are treated with dignity as they grow older and can no longer care for themselves," Piper said.

The Department of Health has implemented a new electronic system for documenting complaints that should improve how quickly cases are addressed and make it easier for families to follow up on allegations. They've also updated how the Office of Health Facility of Complaints investigates allegations.

A March inquiry by the state legislative auditor, a government watchdog, found poor leadership in the Office of Health Facility Complaints exacerbated the state's inability to properly investigate past allegations of elder abuse.

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Minnesota's backlog of elder-abuse complaints has been cleared

Tax evasion charges dropped against Mariaville woman cleared of bilking uncle

ELLSWORTH, Maine – The state has dropped income-tax evasion charges filed against a Mariaville woman cleared of allegedly bilking an elderly uncle suffering from dementia out of $213,000.

The dismissal prosecutors filed Friday at Hancock County Superior Court came about a month after a criminal court jury there declared 58-year-old Lisa Harriman not guilty of theft and misuse of entrusted property.

The four counts of intentional evasion of Maine income tax, two counts of theft by deception, five counts of failure to pay income tax and a single count of failure to file a state income tax return were dismissed following the not-guilty verdict, Maine Assistant Attorney General Gregg D. Bernstein said.

“What I can say is that after a review of the case for which Ms. Harriman was found not guilty, the state has found it appropriate to dismiss the tax indictment,” Bernstein said.

The tax indictment had accused Harriman of falsely underreporting her income, which included money paid to her by her uncle, between 2011 and 2016, according to the indictment. The court paperwork does not specify exactly how much that was.

Harriman’s attorney, Mary Gray, said the dismissal is “a huge relief” to Harriman.

“This has been very stressful for her, and it’s something that she is very pleased at the outcome. We all were. It’s a huge relief for her to have it go this way,” Gray said.

Harriman was acting as an unpaid caregiver to Trenton resident and retired state worker Richard Royal, the husband of her mother’s late sister, when she was accused in 2016 of stealing $213,000 from Royal, a U.S. Navy veteran.

Prosecutors alleged Harriman convinced Royal, who was suffering from dementia, to cash a $150,000 life insurance policy, minus a $37,000 penalty, and wrote herself a $100,000 check from the victim’s bank account. Harriman’s attorney said that she got a portion of an estate worth $1.1 million as thanks and payment for slightly less than three years of work.

Before his death in July 2017, the 85-year-old Royal told state investigators that he had no memory of giving Harriman money, but that he would have if she’d asked, because he thought highly of her.

The jury deliberated for several hours before returning the not-guilty verdict.

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Tax evasion charges dropped against Mariaville woman cleared of bilking uncle

Thursday, August 9, 2018

State auditor: Texas is failing to protect its most vulnerable adults

In this file photo, a LED readout board shows the status of calls coming into the Statewide Intake Call Center in north Austin for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
The state agency charged with investigating abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation and providing services to older Texans and adults with mental, physical, or developmental disabilities, did not consistently follow its policies and procedures for in-home investigations, the Texas State Auditor reported on Wednesday.

“This increases the risk that allegations of abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation may not be adequately investigated and addressed,” according to the report.

Specialists at the Adult Protective Services division of the Department of Family and Protective Services specialists investigate reports of alleged abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation to determine whether the reported situation exists and to what extent it adversely affects the alleged victim.

The audit found that specialists and managers did not make regular contacts with clients to ensure their safety as required by its policies; follow procedures related to supervisory approval of cases; follow procedures when determining that clients were ineligible for services.

In a response to the audit, the department noted that turnover rates in the Adult Protective Services division is the highest of any division at the Department of Family and Protective Services.

“Turnover at this rate increases the likelihood that caseworkers will focus attention on immediate client safety at the time of intake rather than ongoing service and safety contacts during the life of the case,” the department wrote in its response. The response said the agency has already begun implementing a system to improve compliance with contacts.

Full Article & Source:
State auditor: Texas is failing to protect its most vulnerable adults

Uncovering Elder Financial Abuse? It’s Tricky.

Timothy Townsend offers loans for a living in north Alabama. It’s kind of like a middle ground between a payday lender and a bank. He remembers one time when a 19-year-old applied for a truck loan. The young man didn’t have any credit and had only been working a few weeks. So he got his grandfather to co-sign the loan application.

“When I talked to the older gentlemen he was like ‘Well, I guess. I really don’t want to, but they’re saying it’s the only way he can get it,’” Townsend says.

That hesitation was a red flag for Townsend, but it’s awkward because as much as he wanted to do right by the young man and his grandfather — and follow the law — he’s in business.

“In the atmosphere of Yelp and Google ratings and things of that nature, if you make a wrong judgement call, it can give your business a bad reputation,” Townsend says.

It’s a tough situation for people in financial services. But these circumstances can pull the curtain back on elder financial abuse. That’s because banks and other financial institutions can sometimes spot potential problems early.

Regions Bank trains its employees to look for signs of exploitation. Basically, they look for things out of the ordinary, says Steven Kirkpatrick, who helps oversee security for Regions. It could be a customer at a branch accompanied by an unknown person who does all the talking. Maybe someone withdraws large sums or there’s unusual spending.

“Such as the person’s in their 70s and there’s a lot of nightlife activity that you pretty well know that this elderly person lives a frugal life… that is a surefire sign that something’s wrong,” Kirkpatrick says.

Regions has an internal hotline employees can call to report suspicious activity. The company investigates and turns over credible reports to authorities, as is required by law.

There are government agencies that protect older adults from financial abuse. Take the Alabama Department of Human Resources, where Louise Julian has worked in Adult Protective Services for 30 years. She says about half the cases are straightforward. With others, it’s not always easy to know how to intervene, particularly if a victim doesn’t believe he or she has been scammed.

“For example, we had this one lady and basically what she was doing she was sending money overseas,” Julian says. “She was convinced that she was in a relationship and that this would result in marriage.”

Julian says this woman had all her faculties and that’s the key. If the victim understands decisions, even if they’re poor decisions, there’s not much the department can do.

But just because DHR can’t help, that doesn’t mean a crime hasn’t been committed. Prosecutors can still pursue criminal charges.

Diane Dunning is an Alabama assistant attorney general. She says the state has passed laws recently to better combat financial exploitation. One law allows brokers to delay a payout if they suspect elder abuse.

“[If] somebody walks in and wants to withdraw $250,000 from granddad’s account and they can’t give you a valid reason why but they’ve got the power of attorney, you may not want to do that right off the bat,” says Dunning.

The law also protects financial professionals from liability if they make good faith reports of possible abuse.

Timothy Townsend, who runs the consumer financial company, isn’t sure the case with the 19-year-old applying for a truck loan with his grandfather was abuse. He denied the loan for other reasons.

But with people living longer holding, in some cases, a lifetime of savings, more tricky conversations are sure to come.

Full Article & Source:
Uncovering Elder Financial Abuse? It’s Tricky.

Woman to serve up to 3 years for stealing more than $40k from mother-in-law

MANCHESTER — An East Derry woman was sentenced Monday to serve to up to three years in state prison for stealing more than $40,000 from her elderly mother-in-law.

Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald said in a release Monday that Elizabeth Whitehead, 53, was sentenced Monday in Hillsborough Superior Court North in Manchester to one Class A felony count of theft by unauthorized taking after pleading guilty to the charge on May 15.

The court sentenced Whitehead to 1½ to 3 years at the New Hampshire state prison.

According to MacDonald, an investigation by Manchester Police revealed between April 2014 and February 2015, Whitehead forged bank withdrawal slips in order to withdraw money from her 87-year-old mother-in-law’s bank account. The investigation showed that Whitehead forged 29 withdrawal slips and withdrew $44,000 of the victim’s money.

At the sentencing hearing, Whitehead disputed the amount of money she had taken. A hearing will be scheduled in the near future to determine the total amount of restitution owed to the victim.

MacDonald said attorneys and victim/witness advocates in the Attorney General’s Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation Unit work with local law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute this type of crime.

Anyone who believes they may have been, or knows someone who may have been, the victim of elder abuse or financial exploitation is asked to contact their local police department or the Department of Health and Human Services, Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services at (800) 949-0470.

Full Article & Source:
Woman to serve up to 3 years for stealing more than $40k from mother-in-law

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Lawsuit alleges Roseville nursing home and others understaffed on purpose – to increase profits

A recently filed lawsuit alleges Roseville Point Health & Wellness Center knowingly understaffed to save money. 

This case is among 15 class action lawsuits alleging purposeful understaffing at 15 nursing homes around California filed by elder abuse law firm Garcia, Artigliere & Medby and The Arns Law Firm, which represents workers and their families.

Aside from the 98-bed Roseville facility, the 14 other facilities are mainly located in Southern California and the Bay Area.

The Roseville lawsuit, filed on behalf of petitioner Diane Bechtold, a resident at the center, alleges the understaffing is “chronic and intentional” and an “effort to pocket unearned profit.”

The lawsuits name a number of defendants, including Shlomo Rechnitz, California’s largest nursing home owner, and Rockport Administrative Services LLC, a consulting company with a number of Rechnitz’s facilities as clients.

“This violation of each resident’s rights was directed and implemented at the mandate of the managers and owners of the facilities, Rockport Administrative Services and Shlomo Rechnitz, and his multiple layers of affiliated companies,” the lawsuit claims.

According to Mark Johnson, from the firm Hooper, Lundy & Bookman PC, representing Rockport, the consulting company provides services to skilled nursing facilities “including oversight of compliance with applicable staffing requirements.”

“Importantly, none of the lawsuits allege any harm to the residents of facilities which Rockport serves,” Johnson said. “Roseville Point Healthcare and Wellness Center … is in full compliance with applicable staffing laws including the increased staffing levels required as of July 1, 2018. In fact, its compliance has been confirmed during standard annual audits conducted by the California Department of Public Health.”

The health department could not immediately provide information about compliance with staffing requirements at the center.

Documents sent by Johnson appear to show the California Department of Public Health reported the Roseville facility had zero days of non-compliance with required staffing levels in 2016. The health department could not immediately authenticate the documents.

Glaser Weil trial lawyer Jill Basinger, representing all of the defendants in the lawsuits except Rockport, claims the nursing facilities “not only maintain the state required 3.2 nursing hours per patient day, they even exceed them.”

Staffing requirements

Whereas previously, 3.2 nursing hours per patient day was the minimum numeric staffing ratio required in a skilled nursing facility under state law, as of July 1, 2018, the new minimum required ratio is 3.5

The terminology “hours per patient day” refers to the amount of direct nursing care hours needed to care for a hospital or facility’s patients.

Adequate staffing is a right ensured to patients in a skilled nursing facility under California’s Patient’s Bill of Rights.

Full Article & Source:
Lawsuit alleges Roseville nursing home and others understaffed on purpose – to increase profits

Senate Considers Alzheimer’s Bill

The U.S. Senate is considering a bill, the Building Our Largest Dementia Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s (BOLD) Act, to increase programs for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers.

At a meeting of the Senate Special Committee on Aging on June 19, lawmakers discussed the bill, introduced in November 2017 by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), with no one stating opposition to the legislation.

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. The BOLD Act is one of the first large-scale congressional initiatives to address the disease from multiple angles. According to Alzheimer’s Impact Movement, the BOLD Act would establish Alzheimer’s Centers of Excellence around the country, provide funding to state and local organizations to foster early detection, and support an increase in collection and analysis of Alzheimer’s data.

‘A Well-Meaning Attempt’

Edward Hudgins, research director at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Health Care News, says despite bipartisan support and noble intentions, the BOLD Act is not the answer for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. The FDA’s lengthy and daunting approval process for new Alzheimer’s drugs and treatment options is the main roadblock preventing patients from accessing new methods of care that show great promise in combating Alzheimer’s and dementia, Hudgins says.
Allowing patients greater access to experimental care would help spread innovative new treatments better than the proposed legislation, Hudgins says.

“The BOLD Act legislation currently before the U.S. Congress is a well-meaning attempt to provide services for Alzheimer’s sufferers and public information,” Hudgins said. “But adding another government program does not get to the root of the problem. The most promising work on Alzheimer’s is found in bio-hacking and tissue-based research such as the new stem-cell treatment offered in Japan.”

Sees Promise in Technologies

Hudgins says the key to treating Alzheimer’s and other persistent diseases is to allow people to try emerging, innovative treatment options.

“As researchers better understand the nature of the disease, they now have a technology that could allow them to engineer cells, possibly to stop or even reverse the disease or to regrow damaged brain cells,” Hudgins said. “Also promising is work on nanotech implants and brain-computer interfaces. Companies like Kernel or Elon Musk’s Neuralink seek to create implants to replace damaged parts of the brain or, through a ‘neural lace,’ connect the brain to computers to enhance cognitive abilities.

“Government should not stand in the way of such promising innovations,” Hudgins said.

Full Article & Source:
Senate Considers Alzheimer’s Bill

New charges send former PTO treasurer to prison

Jennifer Reynolds Kee
For the second time in two years, Jennifer Reynolds Kee stood before Superior Court Judge Travis Sakrison and waited to be sentenced.

Kee, 37, pleaded guilty Wednesday to felony probation violation and to new charges, including exploitation of an elderly person, four counts of transaction card fraud and theft by deception.

According to Coweta County Assistant District Attorney Matthew Swope, Kee stole her elderly neighbor’s credit card and ran up a bill of more than $800.

In a non-negotiated plea, Sakrison sentenced Kee to 20 years to serve 8 years behind bars. He also revoked the balance of her current probation.

Swope told the judge Kee had a habit of preying on people she deemed weaker than her.

In August 2016, Kee pleaded guilty to one count of theft by taking and three counts of fourth-degree forgery for stealing more than $15,000 from the Glanton Elementary School PTO. She was treasurer of the organization at that time.

In 2016, Kee was sentenced to 10 years to serve six months in the Coweta County Jail. She had to pay a $1,000 fine and complete 1,000 hours of community service.

Swope said Kee was still on probation when she committed her latest crime.

“To take money from school children is awful. Then we later learned Ms. Kee stole $3,000 from a local church, who declined to prosecute. They only wanted her to repay the funds,” he told the court. “Eighteen months later, she goes from stealing from children to stealing from the elderly. This deception, taking advantage of an elderly neighbor, is abhorrent.”

Christopher Upshaw, Kee’s defense attorney, called her physician to the stand.

Dr. Barry Hull testified he recently diagnosed Kee with bipolar disorder and placed her on new medication. Her husband and Grantville councilman, Willie Kee, spoke on her behalf.

“I’ve experienced a wide range of emotions from depression to hope,” he told Sakrison. “I’ve seen how these crimes have impacted my neighbor, my children and my community. I’ve been crushed by my son’s nightly prayer as he begs God to ‘please make my mom better.’

“Since Jennifer has been on her new medications, I have seen a stark difference in her attitude,” Kees continued. “My children and Jennifer need one another. I need my wife. I beg the court to show mercy and allow her to continue treatment, get better and become a productive member of society and a productive mother to our children.”

Jennifer Kee was the last person to address the court.

“I know I have let down the court, the community and my family,” she said. “I am deeply sorry for the hurt that I have caused … I want the court to understand I am not a bad person and am working to take care of my issues … I say this in front of God and everyone, this will never happen again.”

Sakrison made it clear to Kee he was not happy to see her again.

“Here we are again, Ms. Kee. We’re back here again in my courtroom, and I really hate that,” he said. “Some things said here today, such as working with a counselor, were also said when I sentenced you the first time. It concerns me to think that what brings you to treatment at this point is getting caught or the fear of getting caught.”

Sakrison then handed down Kees’ sentence of 20 years to serve 8 years in prison.

He also ordered her to pay restitution to her elderly neighbor.

Kee sobbed behind the defense table before being led away by deputies with the Coweta County Sheriff’s office.

Full Article & Source:
New charges send former PTO treasurer to prison

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

A Former Veterans Affairs Employee Tried To Defraud a Disabled Vet of $680,000

A former Veterans Affairs employee has been convicted on federal fraud charges after using his position to write himself into a disabled veteran's will.

A press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of Tennessee details Kenneth Richard Devore's long list of crimes, beginning with the attempted defrauding of a disabled veteran. The veteran, identified by the government as D.N., was discharged from the military in 1986. After D.N. was officially declared incompetent, Devore, a VA field examiner, was tasked in 2013 with making sure D.N. received his VA benefits and that his assets were managed responsibly.

But that's not what Devore did. Instead, he concocted a plan that would make himself rich. Devore convinced the unsuspecting veteran that he needed a will and then helped him write the document, listing himself as the sole beneficiary of D.N.'s assets. Devore then drove D.N. to the post office to have the documents notarized. He also forged D.N.'s initials in a notice sent to Regions Bank, which the DOJ says was D.N.'s legal guardian. Devore was poised to defraud the veteran of more than $680,000.

Devore was forced to resign for misconduct in 2015 after the forged documents were uncovered. He then applied for a position with the National Background Investigations Bureau, which conducts investigations into candidates for government positions that require security clearance. (Its website promises "efficient and effective background investigations to safeguard the integrity and trustworthiness of the Federal workforce.") He failed to disclose his misconduct at his old job, and he also claimed to have attended Canterbury University, a school that was fabricated by Devore himself. Despite all this, he was hired.

But the misdeeds don't end there. While working for both the VA and the National Background Investigations Bureau, Devore was drawing a separate income from the VA after claiming in 2009 that he was 100 percent disabled, which suggests that the federal government is perhaps an even easier mark than a mentally incompetent veteran.

As Public Information Officer Sharry Dedman-Beard explained to Reason, Devore was indicted in February 2017 after the Veterans Administration Office of Inspector General began an investigation into his behavior. Dedman-Beard also confirmed that Devore was "unsuccessful in his efforts to obtain the victim's money."

On July 25, a federal jury convicted Devore of "six counts of wire fraud, one count of theft of public money over $1,000, one count of willful mail fraud, one count of conflict of interest of a federal employee, two counts of making or using a false writing and one count of making a false statement." His sentencing is scheduled for November 5.

Full Article & Source:
A Former Veterans Affairs Employee Tried To Defraud a Disabled Vet of $680,000

Buzz Aldrin lawsuit shows need to plan for aging parents

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4Utah) - 88-year-old Astronaut Buzz Aldrin is suing two of his children and a former business manager over his finances and other control over other aspects of his life. The issue is highlighting why it's important for families to plan ahead for an aging parent.

Troy Wilson is an elder attorney in Salt Lake City. He notes cases like Buzz Aldrin's can be difficult because it can be hard to determine when someone has a deteriorating mental capacity.

"One of the challenges, when you're dealing with that, is when do you cross that line?" said Wilson. "When do you get to a point where you are no longer able to take care of your financial affairs."

In Aldrin's case, he's accusing his two children of improperly using finances, credit cards, and slander for suggesting he's suffering from dementia.

His children deny the claims in the lawsuit which was filed just weeks after they partitioned for partial guardianship of their father. Wilson notes any elderly person who doesn't feel they need it should contest it.

"If someone brings a guardianship case against you, and you think you do still have capacity, and you think it's not appropriate don't be afraid to push back," said Wilson.

In Utah, any elderly person who is being partitioned for guardianship must be supplied an attorney to make sure their rights are being protected. Wilson said he's been on both sides of these cases.

Having a plan in place of who you want to be a guardian can help, but Wilson admits it's not easy.

"It's tough, get your planning, get it in place," said Wilson. "Think carefully about who you want in place to take responsibility if you can't."

Experts suggest getting a 3rd party to take guardianship if you have multiple children, and they often disagree on a parent's care.

There are services online which can help people get the documents they need to take care of guardianship and planning. An attorney can also help someone do so through an estate plan. Wilson said people should get it done before it's needed.

Full Article & Source:
Buzz Aldrin lawsuit shows need to plan for aging parents

Knox County judge Jennifer L. Springer arrested on DUI charge

MOUNT VERNON — A Knox County judge was arrested early Sunday morning on a drunk driving charge by the Ohio Highway Patrol.

Jennifer L. Springer, 44, of Mount Vernon, has been charged with first-degree misdemeanor operating a vehicle while under the influence and a minor misdemeanor stop sign violation, Mount Vernon Municipal Court records show.

Springer is judge of the Knox County Probate and Juvenile Court.

An alternate prosecutor

Mount Vernon Municipal Court Judge John Thatcher has recused himself from the case, a representative from the city clerk of court's office confirmed Wednesday. The Supreme Court of Ohio is expected to find a replacement judge sometime this week.

Mount Vernon Law Director Rob Broeren Jr. is also stepping away from the case.

"I am asking for another prosecutor to be appointed," Broeren confirmed Wednesday.

When will Springer be in court?

Springer is scheduled to be arraigned at 9:30 a.m. Friday, court records show. A court spokesman said Wednesday the arraignment should continue as scheduled, as a new judge and prosecutor should be in place by then.

Springer has not yet retained defense counsel, court records indicate.

Full Article & Source:
Knox County judge Jennifer L. Springer arrested on DUI charge

Monday, August 6, 2018

How Do We Get Protection From the Protectors?

From the Director's Desk of The EARN Project:
Elder abuse, and involuntary guardianship, can happen to anyone irrespective of financial position. Social Security checks are a prime target of abusers, Trusts and large estates can be an irresistible temptation to some victim’s children, lawyers, bankers, financial advisors, new best friends and caregivers and, all too often, the professional guardianship institutions, the nursing homes they are “friendly” with and sometimes judges who are in on it. Greed comes in all shapes and colors - and yes, even wearing black robes.

The system is set up in a way that presents temptations so great that even some otherwise good people will do bad things.

...As in a case with which we are familiar, lawyers - representing professional guardians - and judges are friends. In this particular case, there are pictures of this, particularly of the two, over and over again, trying to dodge the photographer as they leave a local bar where they frequently lunch together. Can you guess why that lawyer has never lost a case in front of that judge?

Full Article and Source:
The Silver Standard News: How Do We Get Protection From the Protectors?

See Also:
The EARN Project (Elder Abuse Reform Now)

The Unforgivable Truth

Call Collett: DOJ called to investigate Charleston probate court over "stolen wealth"

Following a Count on 2 investigation, the National Action Network is urging the Justice Department to take a look at Charleston's probate court.

The news comes after a local family lost control of their own money for two years under a court-ordered conservatorship.  

The Bennett family shared their story with News 2's Rebecca Collett in the Fall of 2017. After a series of reports, this week the family regained control of their finances.

Elder James Johnson is the local leader of NAN. The organization held a series of marches over the last two months to support the family in recovering their "stolen wealth". Johnson announced Wednesday the organization is asking the Department of Justice to investigate the probate judge who handled the case along with everyone else involved over the last two years.

The court battle cost the Bennett family more than $45,000.

Full Article & Source:
Call Collett: DOJ called to investigate Charleston probate court over "stolen wealth"

New Law Protecting Against Senior Financial Exploitation Goes Into Effect

Financial advisers now have more power to stop scammers from targeting senior citizens. The Safe Seniors Financial Protection Act went into effect Aug. 1.

It creates a stronger partnership between those advisers and the Minnesota Commerce Department.

"Telephone and email scams are growing, every day there's more and more of them," said Mary McDougall, a wealth management adviser and senior vice president for Merrill Lynch.

McDougall sees firsthand how frequently seniors are taken advantage of by both strangers and relatives.

"My guess is one out of four of my clients has had some kind of request from their children," she said.

The requests can amount to tens of thousands of dollars.

"I may be able to say that might not be a good idea and if they insist on it then this law will allow me to help them by asking the state to investigate," said McDougall.

The new law gives broker-dealers and investment advisers the power to report to the Department of Commerce when they see someone trying to financially exploit the elderly or vulnerable adults.

They can also freeze transactions on the account for up to 15 days while investigators look into it. If they need more time, investigators can request the transaction delay continue for another 10 days.

"That’s a great backstop and I’m glad it's there," said McDougall.

She told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that one of the biggest ways seniors can protect themselves is talking to people, whether it's tax, financial or legal advisers, or getting advice from neighbors and other family members.

"Being able just to talk about it before it happens is a great thing to establish as a norm," she said. "I think would help stop a lot of things."

McDougall believes this law will help with those conversations. It allows financial professionals to loop in a third party, someone who the victim trusts, to talk it through.

She told us her firm already has in-house investigators who look into suspected abuse. If they find it happening, they already report it to the state.

Full Article & Source:
New Law Protecting Against Senior Financial Exploitation Goes Into Effect

Woman who cares for elderly finds out her mother was being financially abused

Elderly people in New York — and the state as a whole — are being taken for at least $1.5 billion each year because of financial exploitation, according to calculations from the Office of Children and Family Services.

The figure includes amounts that seniors lose from their accounts and what it costs the state to cover Medicaid expenses earlier than otherwise expected.

As a way to protect vulnerable older adults, New York is expanding a team approach to investigating claims of financial and other forms of abuse.

By the fall of 2020, every county will have access to an enhanced multidisciplinary team, made up of professionals from adult protective services, agencies that help older people, law enforcement and criminal justice, health care and financial services. Team members will coordinate investigations and come up with ways to stop or prevent elder abuse. Teams also will have a forensic accountant who can follow a money trail.

New York is calling the enhanced multidisciplinary teams initiative the first in the nation, and it is funded by $8.4 million in federal and state money. The initiative was announced last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Each county will either have a team in its jurisdiction or share one from a hub. Lifespan of Greater Rochester, the state Office for the Aging and the New York City Elder Abuse Center are collaborating on the initiative.

“It’s going to get people to hopefully call in and we’ll have more cases that are investigated, whether it goes criminal or not,” said Art Mason, director of the Upstate Elder Abuse Center at Lifespan. “More victims are going to be identified, and these cases will be more thoroughly investigated because of all the people in the room.”

Monroe County has had such a team since for the past four years. Last year, it reviewed about 20 percent of the 150 financial exploitation cases handled by Lifespan.

Sprinkling hints of abuse

But a number of seniors are reluctant to acknowledge the abuse.

“They’re embarrassed; they’re afraid,” said Debra Kostiw, president of Home Helpers of Rochester, which provides light housekeeping and other nonmedical services to seniors.

“The person that’s being abused is going to give subtle hints that there’s something going on,” she said. “It’s really important that the average person, the neighbor, the mailman, the hairdresser, the bank teller listen for these sprinkles.”

Kostiw said she didn’t find out until her mother died in March — a few days before her mother was slated to come back home to Monroe County — that the woman was allegedly being financially and physically abused by her son and daughter-in-law.

Eleanor McGarigle had gone with her son to his home in Michigan a couple of years ago. But the friends she’d made over a lifetime in Fairport kept in touch. At her funeral, several of them came up Kostiw and shared snippets of their conversations.

One recounted that McGarigle said her daughter-in-law attacked her. Did Kostiw know, the woman asked.

Another said she called only during the day, when she knew no one else was home and McGarigle was free to talk.

“ ‘What do you mean, do I know?’” Kostiw said she replied. “I was like, 'Come on, this can’t be happening.' … I own a home care business and this happened to my own mother. If I can miss it, anybody can miss it.”

McGarigle was killed when the car driven by her son crashed, said Kostiw, who is using her business to raise awareness among professionals and others in the community about signs of potential abuse.

Most abuse not reported

Even though the situation with Kostiw’s mother happened in Michigan, it’s likely similar scenarios are playing out in Finger Lakes counties and could be referred to the multidisciplinary teams.

According to a state-funded study published in 2011, for every reported case of abuse, 23 others were not.

“The numbers are going up,” said Jennifer Meagher, owner of Senior Life LLC, geriatric care management nurses. “Families are going to be more and more responsible. We hear an awful lot of talk about let’s let elders age in place. These are some of the situations that can happen.”

Lifespan’s Mason said the multidisciplinary team will respond to suspected abuse happening to an elder living in the community, not in a facility. The success, though, depends on someone’s willingness to call their county’s adult protective services.

Mason said that once a call is received, a case worker will start to gather information, including interviews with the person reporting, the victim if that’s possible, and financial planners or other people who are relevant to the situation. The information will be brought to the team, which will come up with a plan for investigating the allegations.

“Some people don’t want help,” Mason said. “They say, ‘I don’t care, it’s my grandson, I realize I’ll lose my house and won’t have any money, but he’s the only family I’ve got. … I don’t want your help.’ And there’s nothing we can do about it.”

To report elder abuse

Residents in Monroe, Wayne, Ontario, Livingston, Genesee, Orleans, Seneca, Cayuga and Yates counties can call Lifespan at (585) 244-8400.

Or call your county’s adult protective services, which is part of its social services department. In Monroe County, call (585) 753-6532 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, and (585) 461-5698 for after-hours emergencies.

Full Article & Source:
Woman who cares for elderly finds out her mother was being financially abused

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Florida retirees should be alert to guardianship abuse | Opinion

Victoria Pearce
Florida is a state known for being a retiree’s ultimate dream destination. The tropical weather, white sandy beaches, and no state income tax — what more could one ask for? 

On their list of necessities, most residents probably don’t have a legal guardianship at the top. But they would be wise to do so. A guardian, at the most basic level, is defined as a defender, protector or a keeper. A guardian is, in essence, someone to oversee and support another person, known as a ward, who may not be able to do so on their own. Florida monitors and oversees 30,000 to 40,000 open guardianships at any given time.

Florida’s system allows for a professional guardian to be appointed to assist in meeting “essential requirements” for physical health and safety of a ward. The responsibilities of a guardian range from monitoring the ward’s financial resources to ensuring that the ward is receiving adequate food and shelter and maintaining good personal hygiene.

A mere overview of the system’s design and purpose make the system seem beneficial to all of those involved. But that is just the tip of the guardianship iceberg. A look below the surface, however, reveals a system both flawed and potentially harmful to those it was designed to help.

Under Florida law, a guardian or an attorney who has rendered services to a ward (previously the alleged incapacitated person) is entitled to a reasonable fee for services. These “reasonable fees” are to be paid from ward’s assets. These fees range from $50 to $95 per hour for a guardian, and can be up to $500 per hour for an attorney. With numerous hands on deck, along with the passions that come with these sorts of proceedings, the costs build quickly and continue to rise.

Every day cases arise in which the ward no longer wishes to be under guardianship or in which the ward and the guardian aren’t seeing eye to eye on issues. What happens when fees begin to accumulate for the guardian and attorney in these circumstances?

Florida law allows a guardian or an attorney to receive fees from the ward’s assets even for going against the ward’s own desires (i.e., fighting against the termination of a guardianship). So long as the guardian or attorney justifies the fees as acting in the best interests of the ward, he fees can be taken from the ward’s assets.

Ultimately, the system has created a business for professional guardians and associated attorneys. Instead of protecting the interests of a ward, Florida law allows for a cash cow to exist at the expense of those truly in need.

At this point, further guidance and oversight is needed to ensure that those who find themselves in need aren’t taken advantage of and don’t fall victim to abuses of this large and ever-growing business in Florida.

Victoria Pearce is a graduate of FSU Law and current attorney with Bleakley Bavol & Denman. Reach her at  

Full Article & Source:
Florida retirees should be alert to guardianship abuse | Opinion

Longview sisters suspected of stealing more than $600,000 from their mother, charged with theft

Two Longview women are facing charges of defrauding their 88-year-old mother of over $600,000.

The charges of theft, forgery and money laundering cover a period from May through October 2017, when Patricia Matherson, 66, and Kathryn Hemenway, 70, allegedly persuaded their mother, Theresa Reed, 88, to sign over finances to them with no legal authority and acted against Reed’s interests. The two women were arrested on July 27, 2018.

Hemenway faces individual charges of first and second degree theft and four charges of money laundering. Matherson faces three counts of first-degree theft, two counts of second-degree theft, eight counts of forgery, five counts of money laundering, and a single charge of third-degree theft.

While police have identified $639,570 that the sisters stole from Reed, Cowlitz County Prosecutor Ryan Jurvakainen said he had not yet confirmed the ultimate amount the sisters are accused of stealing.

“You’re looking at a situation with a lot of documentation and transactions,” Jurvakainen said. “Any time there’s a financial fraud investigation like this, the investigations are voluminous and take a lot of time and effort on the part of law enforcement.”

The first charge of theft dates back to a $3,000 transfer from Reed’s bank account to Hemenway on May 23, 2017. Matherson’s power of attorney for her mother was removed the next day, but suspicious transfers of money and checks from Reed’s bank account continued for about a month.

The allegedly fraudulent transfers range from a $37.63 check to pay a CenturyLink bill to a $160,000 transfer to a joint account between Reed and Matherson that the sisters allegedly used to launder the ill-gotten funds.

When confronted by their mother’s court-appointed guardian in Superior Court, about $300,000 was returned to Reed’s accounts, according to arresting documents. But police and court investigations found more accounts which “were not disclosed to the courts, and it appears there was significant effort to conceal these funds in Patricia and Katheryn’s (sic) names.”

In the joint account between Matherson and Reed, nearly $640,000 was withdrawn by Matherson and shuffled between other accounts belonging to Hemenway and Matherson over a period of several months.

That money came from financial accounts and inheritance checks from relatives that were meant for Reed, according to police documents.

The replacement court-appointed guardian sought a financial (but not no-contact) restraining order for Reed against Matherson in June 2017. In May 2018, she sought a similar order against Hemenway.

“The guardian believes Patricia’s and Kathryn’s visits are, for the most part, beneficial… ,” an attorney representing the guardian wrote. “However, current circumstances require the court’s attention.”

The guardian alleged that the daughters briefly removed their mother without warning from her assisted living home, showed hostility toward staff there, and “engaged in behavior which merely increased their mother’s anxiety and agitation.”

Reed was “not cognitively able to understand” the situation, the guardian wrote. The guardian came to Longview police in April this year to report the thefts criminally.

Full Article & Source: 
Longview sisters suspected of stealing more than $600,000 from their mother, charged with theft

Pennsylvania judges eat well on taxpayer’s dime, can shield expense details from the public

When 11 Commonwealth Court judges went out to dinner in Harrisburg in March 2016, their meal included pear pizzas, two trout entrees and more than $80 worth of scallops, among other dishes.

Pennsylvania taxpayers picked up the $403 tab.

That much is known from state records.

And that’s about all that is known from state records.

The restaurant’s location and other seemingly mundane details about the dinner were redacted on more than 1,900 pages of receipts and expense reports — hidden from public inspection as a matter of routine, the court says, for “security” reasons.

Experts say big spending on meals and luxuries isn’t the worst of it. It’s the secrecy.

The big unanswered questions, critics say: Who’s dining with the judges? Who has their ear?

“It’s our money,” said Steve Davis, the former chair of Syracuse University’s journalism department and a former newspaper editor in Pennsylvania. “It’s like you put your money in the bank and the bank says, ‘I know it’s your money, but I’ll only tell you so much.’ ”

Price versus value

Senior Judge Jim Colins, though, thinks the redactions are “essential” to a judge’s safety.

“My services are damn cheap for the taxpayer for the amount of work that I produce and the degree of responsibility,” said Colins, who charges the state $600 per month for a leased car. As for taxpayer-funded meals, Colins said: “I don’t eat at McDonald’s anymore, nor do I think I should.”

As part of an ongoing review of transparency practices among Pennsylvania appellate court judges, The Caucus reviewed more than 1,900 pages of records for expenses they incurred from December 2015 through February 2018.

The review found that Commonwealth Court judges spent more than $141,000 of taxpayer money on lodging, meals and valet parking during that time — with thousands of redactions throughout. About a dozen pages were redacted almost entirely, save for a few words.

Despite the redactions, The Caucus was able to identify the restaurant where the 11 judges and one staff member grabbed dinner in March 2016 as The Millworks, an American-style restaurant that offers a unique menu.

Still, it’s routine for court administrators to remove the names of attendees, who include staffers and others, to be redacted and concealed from the public eye.

This is standard procedure for judges, who are exempt from the state’s Right-to-Know Law. The practice allows judges to spend taxpayer funds on a $46 “Piedmontese Tenderloin,” like Judge Michael Wojcik did in May 2016, without disclosing his dining partners or location.

For the dinner, Wojcik expensed $107, including the tip.

‘Judiciary duties’

Each time judges submit expense reports, they sign off on the fact that the costs are “correct, reasonable and incurred in the performance of judiciary duties.”

The definition of “judiciary duties,” though, is broad.

Court spokeswoman Stacey Witalec said the duties “encompass any activity that is proper for a judge to perform, whether adjudicatory, administrative, educational or ceremonial in nature.”

The expenses include more than just meals. Much of the $141,000 spending total is filled with hotel stays. These trips are a key part of a Commonwealth Court judge’s role. The judges travel across the state for conferences, trainings and court sessions.

There is no cap on how much judges can spend while out to eat.

Car leases max out at $600 per month, Witalec said.

Commonwealth Court Judge Kevin Brobson spent more than $400 on valet parking and valet tips over the course of a little more than two years.

Roughly half of the more than a dozen current, retired and senior Commonwealth Court judges whose expenses this newspaper reviewed had similar valet spending habits, while the other half preferred less expensive self-parking options that typically cost $10 a night.

In addition, judges are able to lease vehicles of their choice. The leases cost the state between $250 and $600 per month.

Because of a Philadelphia leasing tax and other fees, Colins said the cost of his Chevrolet with all-wheel drive is “the best I can do.” Without these fees, he said the monthly lease rounds out to about $520 per month.

He uses this car to drive from Philadelphia, where his court is based, to court sessions across the state. He once used the car to transport legal briefs, too, but they’ve all since been digitized.

During a brief stint off the bench, Colins said, he earned more than $330,000 a year as a private attorney. He added that he “very seldom” submits itemized receipts, noting that he does not charge the state more than $35 per meal. He frequently spends more than that and pays out of pocket.

“I’m big,” he said. “I weigh 225 pounds. I’m over 6 foot. I don’t fit into compact cars, and, quite frankly, it takes a lot of food to fill me up.”

‘Taxpayers are not a doormat’

Still, scholars and activists believe judges should be conscious of how much taxpayer funds they’re spending.

“Judges have to learn how to tighten their belts and live within their means,” said Gene Stilp, a longtime Pennsylvania judicial critic. “Taxpayers are not a doormat for the judges. Judicial expenses have to be kept in line.”

Robert Strauss, a professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, said the public’s concern should be placed on how much judges are spending, not on where they’re going to eat.

“The public needs to know how much is spent and whether they’re having $20 meals or $200 meals,” Strauss said, noting he believes judges are underpaid compared with the private sector.

Taxpayer-paid perks such as leased vehicles help bridge the gap between judicial salaries and what they would make at a law firm, Strauss added.

“Listen, judges think they’re special,” Strauss said. “They probably deserve special treatment. What’s going on is they get a little bit of latitude.”

The Caucus review found judges expense even the smallest things. Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer, for example, expensed $1.06 for “lunch” in April 2017. Judge Rochelle Friedman submitted an expense request for $2 in May 2016 for two doughnuts at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Philadelphia.

On the other side of the spectrum, Senior Judge Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter enjoyed a $13 alligator appetizer at an undisclosed restaurant in Pittsburgh in mid-November 2016, records show. The Caucus determined the location to be NOLA, a Creole restaurant, because it shares the same menu items and ZIP code as the orders of the judge and her guests.

The receipt totals more than $100 and doesn’t state with whom Leadbetter was sharing her fried green tomatoes and alligator platter. It does show, though, that she split the bill and paid $47 toward it.

Safety or secrecy?

Throughout his 35-year career as a judge, Colins said he’s had his life threatened several times.

The former president judge of the Commonwealth Court said he has received many letters with overt threats to his physical safety.

“From those (expense) reports, you can find out where I’m staying or where I will probably eat if I’m in Harrisburg or Pittsburgh,” Colins said. “I don’t want anyone to be able to follow me and surprise me. ... I don’t have a security guard; I don’t travel with a security person. Judges are prime targets.”

But Davis disagrees on the need for secrecy.

Hiding any details from the public is “bulls- - -,” Davis said.

It would never be tolerated with everyday citizens, Davis said.

Using security as a reason to redact information is “so obviously baloney,” said Davis, a former USA Today World Page editor. “It hardly even needs to be argued. In Florida, damn near everything is open, and the state hasn’t fallen into the ocean. It makes no sense.”

Many states also handle their judiciary outside of its Right-to-Know Law, but Pennsylvania’s redactions for safety are “distinct” from other states, said Noel Isama, a senior policy analyst at the Sunlight Foundation.

Florida is the gold standard for open records, with almost all government documents made available to the public. Florida’s judiciary is not subject to that state’s open-records law, but it shares most of the same language, said Craig Waters, a spokesman for the state’s Supreme Court.

Waters added that Florida redacts only sensitive personal information such a judge’s Social Security number. He laughed at Pennsylvania’s redaction of restaurant names.

If a judge does not stay at a hotel routinely, then that information should be available “as reasonably as possible,” Isama said.

Many of the itemized receipts obtained by The Caucus show one-time visits to restaurants, which Isama said is concerning.

“Would the name of the hotel be redacted 10 years from now, even if that judge is retired?” he questioned. “Judges do face physical violence. ... It’s important to protect judges and their privacy in that sense. With that being said ... there should be transparency about how they spend taxpayer money.”

Full Article & Source: 
Pennsylvania judges eat well on taxpayer’s dime, can shield expense details from the public