Saturday, August 10, 2019

She was pulled off the toilet by her hair. Often unreported, nursing home abuse on the rise.

Abuse complaints in nursing homes are rising.Pixabay | File photo
By Ted Sherman

(Editor’s note: This story has been revised to remove the current name of a nursing care facility because the incidents that were reported there occurred under a previous owner.)

The incident in a bathroom at a nursing care facility in Morris County involved a confused and disoriented nursing home resident who would not get up from the toilet.

According to a federal inspection report, the unidentified patient required “extensive assistance” in most daily activities and a nurse’s aide asked for help from another aide, who stood over the resident and immediately turned to physical force.

"The abusive CNA (certified nurse aide) began to pull the resident’s hair and pull the nipple on the resident’s breast to get the resident to stand up,” inspectors said.

No one reported what happened for five days. The aide who witnessed it had been “afraid” to step forward, investigators said.

Nursing home abuse is an often-hidden secret in many of the places that families trust to take care of their elderly. At times unnoticed by overworked and frequently overwhelmed staff who may miss or simply ignore maltreatment by others, abuse in long-term care facilities typically has few witnesses. Victims with minds clouded by dementia often are unaware of how they received bumps, bruises or even broken bones.

But a NJ Advance Media analysis of federal nursing home inspection reports filed with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services shows abuse-related citations nationwide are on the rise, jumping to 4,107 in 2018, up from 3,083 in 2016.

It is likely just the tip of the iceberg, advocates say. A report in June by the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said nursing homes fail to report nearly 1 in 5 of potential cases of abuse.

In New Jersey, there were about 30 complaints investigated by federal regulators last year involving abuse allegations, most calling out a facility’s failure to quickly notify the state Department of Health.

Yet that was only a small fraction of the 353 complaints just for physical abuse alone reported last year to the state through a hotline maintained by New Jersey’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman. Laurie F. Brewer, the state’s ombudsman, believes the actual number of incidents involving abuse and neglect in the state are “dramatically” undercounted. Some residents are reluctant to report any problems, she explained, fearing retribution.

“You are in the most vulnerable position in your life at the end of your life. People are fearful of reporting, especially people who don’t have family members,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking. The thousands of people who don’t have regular visitors or have friends who come visit them, they are the most vulnerable.”

An examination of state and federal nursing home inspection reports since 2016 turned up few cases classified by investigators as significant threats to residents.

Roosevelt Care Center at Old Bridge, for example, was cited earlier this year for failing to report incidents of altercations between residents to the N.J. Department of Health. The April report detailed a number of physical attacks by a nursing home patient who hit, kicked and scratched other residents, staff and visitors.

But there were reports of outright intimidation or deliberate mistreatment of residents by workers — as well as assaults by agitated residents — deemed to represent "immediate jeopardy” to the health or safety of those living there.

Among them included Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center — whose owners also hold an interest in the troubled Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in northern New Jersey where 11 children died in a viral outbreak last year. The Trenton nursing home, ranked at the bottom by federal regulators as “much below average” in both overall and health inspection ratings, was cited for abuse deficiencies in a 2016 report.

According to that report, a resident was forcibly held down and dragged down the hallway and away from the nurse’s station, all while the individual was yelling and thrashing on the floor. The episode was caught on surveillance video. A unit manager walked away and could be seen throwing her hands up in the air. A nurse’s aide later said she was frustrated with the resident, who she said was very difficult to care for, the report said.

And in another 2016 incident at the nursing care facility in Morris County, an unidentified nurse aide reported the abuse of a resident in the shower. According to the federal report, inspectors recounted “the resident was yelling, and the abusive CNA (certified nurse aide) began hitting the resident and grabbing the resident’s face. The CNA who was assisting the abusive CNA in the shower stated that the resident screamed because of the cold water, but that the abusive CNA slapped the resident’s face and held the resident’s mouth shut.”

An earlier version of this story gave the current name of the facility where these incidents occurred. That name has been removed because the facility was being operated under a different name by a previous owner at that time. 

Riverside Nursing officials in a statement said they responded as soon as they learned of the abuse allegations.

“When notified of this regrettable incident from three years ago, management immediately terminated all personnel involved for not following our standard of care and staff received additional training," said Daniel Engelson, the administrator of the nursing home. "This incident does not reflect the level of professionalism of our staff.”

Middlesex County, which operates Roosevelt Care Center in Old Bridge, said the nursing home was not cited because of deficiencies in intervention or quality of care, but because the incident between two residents was not reported in a timely manner.

“The quality of care and staffing at Roosevelt Care Center has been deemed above average by the state, which has issued high marks to the Old Bridge Roosevelt Care Center in this regard,” said a county official in a statement. The county has taken corrective measures following a review related to the handling of reportable incidents.


Nationwide, the inspector general’s report for the Department of Health & Human Services found that estimated one in five high-risk hospital emergency room Medicare claims for treatment in 2016 were the result of potential abuse or neglect, of beneficiaries residing in a nursing home.

Despite those injuries, many of the incidents were never reported by the nursing homes to regulators, the report revealed. And findings of substantiated abuse were often not reported to local law enforcement as well.

In a New Jersey case garnering national headlines in 2011, the family of a paralyzed, 87-year-old woman beaten by an aide at a North Bergen nursing home only learned of the incident after it was captured on a “nanny cam” they had left in her room at The Harborage Nursing Home after seeking several suspicious bruises on the woman’s body. The video images shows an aid striking Modesta Alvarado in the head two or three times, and violently removing her oxygen mask.

The aide, Julia Galvan, later pleaded guilty to charges of assault. According to court records, she received probation.

“Elder abuse and neglect is a serious problem, with the elderly population expected to reach approximately 84 million by 2050,” said the inspector general in its recent report, noting that a 2008 survey, 1 in 10 elderly persons reported emotional, physical, or sexual abuse or potential neglect. “However, many cases are not reported because the elderly are afraid or unable to tell protective services, police, friends, or family.”

In a separate report last week, the Government Accountability Office found that the number of abuse citations in nursing homes, while relatively rare, doubled from 2013 to 2017. Physical, mental or verbal abuse was most common, followed by sexual abuse. The perpetrators were often staff.

The GAO report, however, said there are gaps in the reporting process. While federal law requires nursing home staff to immediately report to law enforcement and the state any reasonable suspicions of a crime resulting in serious bodily injury to a resident, there is no equivalent requirement that the states make timely referrals for complaints received either directly or through surveys.


State Health Committee Chairman Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, who led a legislative hearing into the failed response of the Wanaque Center following last year’s viral outbreak, noted that abuse victims are typically unaware of their rights, don’t have the wherewithal to file a complaint, or are just afraid to say anything.

“It’s the same as domestic violence and sexual abuse. How many incidents are reported?” he asked.

The ombudsman’s office has an army of about 220 volunteers whose job it is to spend four hours a week visiting the state’s more than 360 nursing homes. They help prevent bad things from happening, said Brewer.

Incident of abuse and neglect in N.J. are “dramatically” undercounted, advocates say.Pixabay | File photo

A hotline takes in thousands of calls a year. The overwhelming number of them come not from nursing home residents, but are made by family and friends, workers and former staff members.
If the office suspects a resident has been the victim of abuse, the findings are referred to a regulatory or law enforcement entity for possible further action.

Most complaints almost always circle back to inadequate staffing, Brewer said.

“The better staffing ratios, the better the outcomes for residents. It feeds into everything else.” If not enough aides are working, the more likely that people won’t get timely changes, or (the nursing home) won’t follow the care plan. Mistakes will be made,” she said.

Abuse is not always about bad people working in nursing homes, but rather about poorly trained, under-supervised or overwhelmed people, said Stephen Crystal, a researcher and professor of health policy at Rutgers University. He, too, saw the dividing line between poor care and abuse as most likely tied-in to staffing.

“The best thing we can do to cut abuse is mandate better staffing,” he said.

At the same time, though, Crystal added that not only are those in nursing homes requiring more medical attention than in the past, but new efforts to restrict the use of anti-psychotic drugs — which are especially dangerous for elderly patients — means more nursing home residents are acting out. That, too, requires more and better-trained staff, he said.

Abuse, meanwhile, is not just about violence toward a nursing home resident, said James McCracken, president and CEO of LeadingEdge New Jersey, the statewide association of not-for-profit senior care organizations.

“It can range from neglect, which is a professional’s failure to meet standards of practice, all the way up to the physical stuff,” he pointed out.

What’s important, said McCracken, who served as the state’s Ombudsman for the Institutionalized Elderly, is those providing senior care services ensure they screen their employees, do good orientation and provide good continuing education, to make sure they are hiring care givers.

“That’s the kind of person you need to provide compassionate care,” he said.

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She was pulled off the toilet by her hair. Often unreported, nursing home abuse on the rise.

Arizona man finds out his mother’s body was sold to military for ‘blast testing’

PHOENIX – An Arizona man says a body donation center where FBI agents reported finding buckets of human organs and a Frankenstein-like body sold his mother’s body to the U.S. Army for “blast testing.”

Jim Stauffer told KNXV he contacted the Biological Resource Center after his 73-year-old mother, who had Alzheimer’s, died five years ago. He said he now feels “foolish” because he only contacted the donation facility after his mother’s neurologist couldn’t accept the body at the time.

Stauffer said he signed BRC paperwork outlining what he would and would not permit the center to do with his mother’s body, and, several days later, received a box with a majority of her ashes.

He had no idea what actually happened until he says Reuters combed through internal BRC documents obtained by authorities and found out Stauffer’s mother, Doris, was sold to the military for “blast testing.”

“She was then supposedly strapped in a chair on some sort of apparatus, and a detonation took place underneath her to basically kind of get an idea of what the human body goes through when a vehicle is hit by an IED,” Stauffer said.

Stauffer, who has joined a lawsuit against BRC and Stephen Gore, the company’s owner, said he remembers the mention of explosives on the paperwork he signed years earlier and didn’t give his consent.

“Every time there’s a memory, every time there’s a photograph you look at, there’s this ugly thing that happened just right there staring right at you,” Stauffer said.

When federal authorities raided the Arizona facility of the BRC in January 2014, they made a horrific discovery: bodies piled atop one another, buckets full of body parts and other unsettling scenes, details that came to light recently when a former FBI agent gave a statement for a lawsuit.

Thirty-five relatives of people whose bodies were supposed to be donated for science research between 2010 and 2014 have sued officials who worked at BRC in Maricopa County or its facility in Illinois.

The grim discoveries were detailed in a civil lawsuit which was first filed in 2015, has been amended several times and is headed for trial this fall in a Phoenix court. It alleges officials deceived relatives who donated the remains of their loved ones and the company conspired to traffic bodies and body parts for profit.

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Arizona man finds out his mother’s body was sold to military for ‘blast testing’

Caretaker steals more than $100,000 in jewelry from elderly couple, police say

MIAMI - A Coral Gables caretaker was arrested Tuesday after he stole more than $100,000 worth of jewelry from an 82-year-old woman's home, police said.

Francisco Castillo-Lumbi, 36, faces charges of grand theft and elderly exploitation.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Marlene Berg told police she had reason to believe that her husband's caretaker had stolen numerous pieces of pricey jewelry from the master bedroom of her home.

Berg's son and his fiancé told police Castillo-Lumbi was acting strangely and watching their every move, even saying he believed he was going to be blamed for the theft because he had access to the jewelry towers in the master bedroom.

Police said a hidden camera in the master bedroom showed Castillo-Lumbi searching through the jewelry and removing jewelry boxes on two different occasions while Berg, her son and his fiancé were out of town.

A prosecutor revealed in bond court Wednesday that Castillo-Lumbi "admitted to selling several pieces of jewelry," including a ring for $270 to a stranger. She said Castillo-Lumbi needed money because he's trying to arrange fake passports to bring his children to the U.S. from Nicaragua.

It was also revealed in court that Castillo-Lumbi fled to the U.S. because he faces an 80-year prison sentence in Nicaragua on terrorism charges.

"They fed this man," Michael Catalano, an attorney representing the family, told Local 10 News. "They treated him like he was a son."

Castillo-Lumbi was ordered held on a $200,000 bond. He also has a federal immigration hold.

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Caretaker steals more than $100,000 in jewelry from elderly couple, police say

New Hampshire law aims to protect vulnerable elderly

At the request of its securities regulators, New Hampshire has enacted a law that will take effect on Sept. 8, intended to protect vulnerable adults from financial exploitation.

The law will allow registered representatives and investment advisers to delay a disbursement of funds from an investment account for a limited time if they reasonably believe it could result in the financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult.

The state's Bureau of Securities Regulation said New Hampshire law defines "vulnerable" to mean that the "physical, mental, or emotional ability of a person is such that he or she cannot manage personal, home, or financial affairs in his or her best interest, or that he or she cannot act or cannot delegate responsibility to a responsible caretaker or caregiver."

Regulators said that if an investment firm or its representative delays the disbursement of client funds due to a reasonable suspicion of financial exploitation, the firm or individual must follow certain procedures. This includes notifying the Bureau, notifying affected parties (except for parties believed to have engaged in the exploitation), and reviewing the proposed disbursement.

"With New Hampshire having the second oldest average age in the country and with the increasing numbers of baby boomers approaching or in retirement, it is particularly important to protect an aging population," said Barry Glennon, the state's head securities regulator.

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New Hampshire law aims to protect vulnerable elderly

Friday, August 9, 2019

Ohio Judge Set to Rule on Forlorn Husband's Racketeering Lawsuit

OHIO - Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Civil Judge Sherrie Miday is scheduled to decide this week whether to dismiss a retired  surgeon’s complaint against a construction company, 8 lawyers, his estranged daughter and a CPA regarding the guardianization of his 85  year old wife of sixty years.

Dr.  Mehdi Saghafi, 88, filed the complaint in the Cuyahoga County Court of  Common Pleas under the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 after he was  forced to divorce Fourough Bakhtiar Saghafi by a court appointed  guardian, according to a press release.

“Given  their advanced ages and Mrs. Saghafi’s advanced, progressive dementia,  filing an action for divorce was not in the best interests of either  party, and there existed no reasonable, rationale or good faith basis  for filing the Divorce Action,”wrote Dr. Saghafi’s attorney Charles  Longo in the opening pleading.

Defendants  include the Plaintiff's guardian daughter Jaleh Saghafi Presutto,  Custom Contractor C. Francis Builders and Accountant Stephen Sartchev.

Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Spokesman Darren Toms declined to comment on the litigation.

As recently as 2013, Dr. and Mrs. Saghafi amassed marital assets in excess of $8,000,000, according to court records.

The  forlorn, aging husband and two of his adult sons are licensed medical  doctors but they were not appointed guardian of their family’s  matriarch. Instead, the court assigned guardian is Jaleh Saghafi  Presutto and court records allege the estranged daughter is “a convicted  felon having plead guilty on or about May 16, 2018 to various crimes  involving forgery and dishonesty.”

Once  appointed by a Judge, a guardian of a senior citizen, such as Fourough  Bakhtiar Saghafi, is empowered to liquidate their assets, sedate the  individual with physician-prescribed psychotropic drugs, to deny choice  of food, marital status, health insurance, medical care  and even ban  visits with friends and loved ones.

“The  Defendants had, and continue to have, the common purpose of profiting  from and receiving payments from and through the Guardianship," Mr.  Longo stated.

Defendants  claim, however, that the Plaintiff father failed to allege facts that  could support a collateral attack on prior judgments.

“Every  single alleged act of fraud, theft, conversion or other wrongful  conduct or act — including the underlying and predicate wrongful acts  required to support the conspiracy and RICO claims — requires the  judgments and orders of the Lorain County Probate Court and Cuyahoga  County Domestic Relations Court to be void,” wrote Defendant’s Attorney  Harry Cornett of the Tucker Ellis law firm in the Defendants’ Aug. 2  Motion to Dismiss. “Otherwise, the transfers of funds from Plaintiffs to  support [Fourough] Bakhtiar were legal transfers.”

The  Plaintiff's lawsuit claims spending on the part of the guardian have  been frivolous and unnecessary and that prior court judgments were  obtained without jurisdiction, having been unlawfully issued in alleged  sham proceedings.

Lorain County Probate Judge James Walther, who presided over some of the underlying proceedings, declined to comment.

Dr.  Saghafi’s complaint comes at a time that the Senate Judiciary Committee  in Washington, D.C. under the direction of Republican Senator Lindsey  Graham of South Carolina is considering a proposed law called the  Guardianship Accountability Act that would overhaul guardianship  proceedings involving the elderly and people with disabilities across  the country.

Pennsylvania  Senator Bob Casey, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Aging, and  Maine Senator Susan Collins, chairman of the Senate Committee on Aging,  introduced the bipartisan bill last year. “Without  proper oversight, unscrupulous guardians can abuse these legal  relationships and exploit the individuals they are supposed to protect,”  wrote Collins and Casey in a joint statement online. According  to the National Center for State Courts, some 1.3 million adults are  guesstimated to be under the care of a family or professional guardian  who control roughly $50 billion of their assets. 

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Ohio Judge Set to Rule on Forlorn Husband's Racketeering Lawsuit

Caretaker allegedly scams holocaust survivor out of savings

A Florida woman is accused of scamming a holocaust survivor and her husband out of more than $100,000.
Florida (WFTX) -- A Florida woman is accused of scamming a holocaust survivor and her husband out of more than $100,000.

Rella and Leonard Herman are in their 90s and live in Pine Crest.

Police say their caretaker of seven years Odalis Lopez robbed them of their savings.

Lopez is now facing felony charges.

The couple's grandson says it started when other family members noticed wild spending on the couple's credit card statements.

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Caretaker allegedly scams holocaust survivor out of savings

Euthanasia opponents label consultation on WA laws 'a sham', raise alarm over safeguards

Belinda Teh is greeted by Premier Mark McGowan and Health Minister Roger Cook outside WA Parliament House. The 27-year-old Perth woman embarked on a 4500km journey from Melbourne to Perth after watching her mother die from breast cancer in 2016.Credit:AAP Image/Richard Wainwright
Prominent opponents of euthanasia in WA have slammed the state government's consultation processes on its draft "voluntary assisted dying" laws and questioned safeguards aimed at protecting vulnerable patients.

The proposed legislation, which was available on the Department of Health's website before it was introduced into Parliament yesterday afternoon, would legalise the prescription of lethal drugs to patients suffering intolerably from an illness that – on the balance of probabilities – would kill them between six and 12 months.

Premier Mark McGowan said yesterday the draft was the "culmination of lengthy and comprehensive consultation".

Health Minister Roger Cook said public consultation undertaken by former WA Governor Malcolm McCusker was the "biggest dialogue ever undertaken with the community by WA Health".

But Upper House Liberal MP Nick Goiran labelled the government's consultation process a "sham".

"Why did the government block the opposition's amendment to the parliamentary committee's terms of reference that would have seen it examine the risks of voluntary euthanasia?" he said.

"Why did the committee not examine any of the wrongful deaths in the few jurisdictions that have gone down this path?

"Why did the government block the release of the minutes of the committee meetings?

"Why did the government refuse to allow [Mr McCusker's] expert panel to consider the views of those opposed to euthanasia?"

Mr Goiran said it was difficult to take seriously Mr Cook's assurances the legislation would be safe.

"These facts alone demonstrate this has been anything but authentic consultation," he said.

"Sham consultation would be more accurate. "Now we are seeing short-cuts in the lawmaking process." Professor Mary McComish, former dean of the University of Notre Dame's law school, said she was concerned some of the safeguards included in the bill wouldn't stack up under scrutiny. "At first sight it does look as though the concerns about safeguards have been listened to, but I have some concern about access to the whole process in regional and remote areas," she said. "The bill allows for first requests and final requests and administration requests for the [lethal] substance to be made by video conference, which would mean the patient does not even see the doctor or the doctor does not even see the patient physically for those very important parts of the process." (Click to Continue)

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Euthanasia opponents label consultation on WA laws 'a sham', raise alarm over safeguards

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Cremated remains of 9 people found at Orlando office of disgraced former guardian Rebecca Fierle

Geriatric Management, Rebecca Fierle’s business at the corner of Hillcrest Street and Altaloma Avenue just northeast of downtown Orlando. (Jeff Weiner / Orlando Sentinel)
The cremated remains of nine people were found by law enforcement officers who searched the Orlando office of disgraced former professional guardian Rebecca Fierle this week, the state’s Office of Attorney General said Wednesday.

“As this investigation continues, we will be focusing on whose cremains are in the urns, medical records that identify the cause of death, how long the cremains have been in the target’s office and much more,” Kylie Mason, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Ashley Moody, said in a statement. “As this is a very active criminal investigation, we cannot comment further at this time.”

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant Monday at 1646 Hillcrest St., a small converted house northeast of downtown Orlando that serves as an office for Fierle’s business, Geriatric Management.

FDLE launched a criminal probe into the court-appointed decision maker last month, after a state investigation found one of her incapacitated clients, 75-year-old Steven Stryker, died at a Tampa hospital in May following Fierle’s refusal to remove a “do not resuscitate” order she filed against his wishes.

FDLE spokesman Jeremy Burns confirmed the agency found cremated remains at Fierle’s office but could not provide more details and directed inquires to the attorney general’s office.

Fierle is not currently facing criminal charges. Her attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Rebecca Fierle
Rebecca Fierle
It is not uncommon for guardians to temporarily have the cremated remains of dead clients until a final resting place is found, said Gina Rossi-Scheiman, executive director of the Florida State Guardianship Association, a statewide organization of about 580 members, including guardians, attorneys and others associated with guardianship cases.

Guardians are responsible for incapacitated people who may be homeless or indigent with no family to claim them.

“In most of these cases, the reason a professional guardian or a public guardian has been assigned is because there is nobody for the individual,” Rossi-Scheiman said. “At times, you’re the only person in somebody’s life.”

If the deceased ward left no instructions and no family member exists or is available, Florida law gives guardians legal authority over the remains.

Rossi-Scheiman said, in her experience as a guardian, she’s had to pick up a ward’s remains from a cremation company to send to a family member because no one else could do it. Guardians are tasked with making end-of-life decisions for wards, including prepaid burial plans and funeral arrangements with families, she said.

“It’s possible for you to be in possession of someone’s remains because you’re caring for that person and making sure they’re put in the proper place where somebody needs to be laid to rest, whatever those wishes are,” Rossi-Scheiman said.

Rossi-Scheiman did not want to comment on Fierle’s case, but said “everybody is concerned.”

“We’re waiting to see what happens,” she said.

Investigators with the Okaloosa County Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller found hospital staff could not perform life-saving procedures on Stryker because of the DNR. Fierle told investigators she routinely filed DNRs on the behalf of clients. Circuit Judge Janet Thorpe, in seeking Fierle’s removal from 95 Orange County cases in July, found that Fierle had “abused her authority” by doing so without permission from the court or families. Fierle has since resigned from all of her cases statewide.

Fierle told investigators she filed a DNR on Stryker because it was “an issue of quality of life rather than quantity,” wrote Andrew Thurman, an auditor and investigator for the Okaloosa Clerk. His report alleged Fierle’s decision amounted to "the removal of care necessary to maintain the ward’s physical health” and cited criminal statues.
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Cremated remains of 9 people found at Orlando office of disgraced former guardian Rebecca Fierle

Cremated remains of 9 people found in office of embattled Central Florida guardian

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The cremated remains of nine people were found in the office of an embattled professional guardian linked to the death of a 75-year-old Florida client, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said.

Moody revealed the discovery Wednesday in an interview with The News Service of Florida.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Orange County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at Rebecca Fierle's Orlando office Monday.

"Alarmingly, we found items that are cause for concern and will intensify our investigation. We found nine cremains. We are now in the process of identifying those and furthering the investigation," Moody said.

A Central Florida attorney told WESH 2 News that it’s not uncommon for wards to have the remains of the people they are caring for.

Fierle is facing a criminal investigation and the governor has ordered a complete review of the Department of Elder Affairs' Office of Public and Professional Guardians.

That followed revelations that Fierle signed 'Do Not Resuscitate,' or DNR orders, for most of her wards.

Court records reviewed by WESH 2 News show Fierle has handled more than 800 Guardian cases in nine local counties over two decades.

Fierle’s wards were individuals who are physically or mentally incapacitated and are appointed a guardian.

Fierle has resigned from all of her guardian cases in 14 counties writing, "I will not be seeking reappointment in any cases, nor will I seek future appointments as a guardian."

The controversy over Fierle’s actions began after the death of a man who hospital workers would not treat because investigators say Fierle filed a "do not resuscitate" order without consent from his family.

"Anytime you have allegations where Do Not Resuscitates, DNR's, were executed in an unlawful manner, and then you conduct a search warrant and find multiple actual urns with remains in the office, that is concerning in an investigation. So, this will only help us in the investigation. Certainly, we will continue our efforts and make sure the necessary witnesses are interviewed and develop a full case," Moody said.

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Cremated remains of 9 people found in office of embattled Central Florida guardian

Federal legislation filed to address guardianship issues as scandal embroils Florida’s troubled program

Jack Meagher says his court-appointed guardian, Rebecca Fierle, doesn't respect his wishes, and he doesn't need someone to make decisions for him.
As Florida’s guardianship program is under increased scrutiny with the revelation that a client died after his Orlando guardian filed a “do not resuscitate” order against his wishes, federal lawmakers on Wednesday filed bipartisan legislation to expand protections for incapacitated people.

The Guardianship Accountability Act would expand oversight and data collection “to hold guardians accountable” by creating a national resource center and expanding background checks and communication between local, state and federal organizations, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto’s office said in a statement.

“It is our duty in Congress to speak up and protect the most vulnerable members of our communities,” said Soto, D-Kissimmee, in a statement. “In Orlando, we saw firsthand the abuse of a former guardian which led to a preventable death. We owe it to our seniors and to those living with disabilities to provide protections from ill-intended bad actors who abuse the system designed to provide a better quality of life."

The scandal in Florida was sparked by the death of 75-year-old Steven Stryker, a ward of Orlando professional guardian Rebecca Fierle. Despite Stryker’s stated desire to live, corroborated by his daughter and a psychiatrist, Stryker died after Fierle refused to rescind a DNR order she had filed, which prevented staff at a Tampa hospital from attempting to save his life, a state investigation found.

It has since emerged that Fierle routinely filed DNRs on behalf of her wards without court approval. She resigned as a professional guardian statewide as judges across Central Florida launched removal proceedings against her after details of the Stryker case, first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, came to light. Fierle is currently under criminal investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

State agents searched the Orlando office of Fierle’s company, Geriatric Management, on Monday, finding the cremated remains of nine people, according to the state’s Office of Attorney General.

Soto was joined by fellow Florida congressmen U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, and Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor; Michigan Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell; and U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, and Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, in introducing the act.

“Guardianship abuses are resulting in seniors literally being held against their will, isolated from family members and friends, their assets liquidated and drained by unscrupulous people gaming a broken system,” Crist said in a statement. “... This legislation brings federal resources to bear, providing the missing transparency needed to understand where problems exist with a better ability for stakeholders to track outcomes across disparate state court systems nationwide.”

Said Bilirakis: “It is said that the strength of a society can be judged based upon how it treats its most vulnerable populations. We’ve seen from recent examples in the news, and alarming rates of elder abuse throughout Pasco and Pinellas counties, that guardianship is an area where we can and must do better in order to ensure the protection of our seniors.”

Full Article & Source:
Federal legislation filed to address guardianship issues as scandal embroils Florida’s troubled program

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

13 Investigates uncovers pattern of abuse, neglect in group homes for the disabled

by Sandra Chapman

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Indiana's most vulnerable residents are often cared for in group homes with round the clock staff.

No one disputes it can be a tough job, but when you have an industry with high turn over rates and improperly trained workers, group homes can become places of extreme abuse.

13 Investigates' Sandra Chapman uncovered troubling issues for a provider with a network of group homes across the state and the country.

One of these group homes is in a house located on Atwood Court in Fishers. The home is operated by ResCare, one of Indiana's largest residential care providers, and is where Indiana's most vulnerable are supposed to be protected.

Records show that protection wasn't extended to Anthony Harris who lived at the ResCare group home in Fishers. Harris has cerebral palsy and is completely disabled and non-verbal.

A caregiver admitted to viciously beating Harris in 2017.

Brutal pictures show what happened to Anthony Harris

In this photo provided by the Harris family attorney, Anthony Harris recovers in the hospital after the alleged attack in 2017. (Courtesy Scott Benkie)
In this photo provided by the Harris
family attorney, Anthony Harris
recovers in the hospital after the
alleged attack in 2017.
(Courtesy Scott Benkie)
Emergency workers found Harris bloodied, beaten and, according to his attorney, tortured inside his room. He suffered all of the injuries at the hands of Michael Anderson, the man ResCare hired to care for him.

Emergency room nurses from Community Hospital were the first to alert police.

In a 911 call obtained by 13 Investigates, a nurse tells the dispatcher: "His face is all bruised up. His eye is swollen and the CAT scan, it seems like he might have been abused in the group home or somewhere. And there's another patient that came from the same group home, same situation. His face is all bruised up," she said, referring to Harris' roommate who was also attacked.

"There was blood everywhere. It had been splattered. It was a horrific scene," said Scott Benkie.

Anthony Harris' attorney said the cerebral palsy patient was tortured in his group home. (Courtesy Scott Benkie)
Anthony Harris' attorney said the cerebral palsy
patient was tortured in his group home.
(Courtesy Scott Benkie)
Benkie is the Harris family attorney and described what Harris' room looked like the morning of May 29, 2017.

The discovery still evokes disbelief for the attorney who has seen the disturbing photographs of Harris dozens of times.

"The sheer magnitude of what was done to an absolute helpless person. We found out that he had been tortured previously, his fingers had been bent back and broken," said Benkie from his Indianapolis law office.

Michael Anderson was charged and plead guilty to criminal battery in the case and sentenced to six years in prison.

13 Investigates has learned ResCare now has a confidential settlement with the Harris family.

But troubling questions remain, like how Michael Anderson was even hired by ResCare?

Caregiver Had Prior Convictions When Hired By ResCare

Michael Anderson plead guilty to attacking a cerebral palsy patient. (Hamilton County Sheriff's Department)
Michael Anderson plead guilty
to attacking a cerebral palsy patient.
(Hamilton County Sheriff's Department)
Court documents show Anderson had prior criminal convictions, including a drug offense and an animal cruelty conviction when ResCare hired him.

According to Indiana law, animal cruelty is defined as "intentionally beating a vertebrate animal."
In the animal cruelty case, Anderson plead guilty in 2012 to a criminal misdemeanor.

Then in 2014 and 2015, he was arrested on two separate drug possession charges. As part of a plea deal he admitted guilt in one case and got the other case dismissed. Even after Anderson was hired, a ResCare worker reportedly told management Anderson was smoking marijuana on the job, according to Benkie.

"Armed with that information, how could you in good conscience hire someone and have them entrusted to a person and persons who are totally helpless?" Benkie asked with dismay.

In court filings prior to the settlement of the Harris case, Benkie accused ResCare of failing to conduct a thorough background check of Anderson, including his criminal history. ResCare denied that claim.

Benkie told 13 Investigates, ResCare did a background check on Anderson and decided to hire him anyway, despite the convictions that he believes should have been red flags.

"You put him in an environment where you allow him to prey on those people. It's predatory. That's just absolutely mind boggling," Benkie said.

13 Investigates asked ResCare about it's hiring practices and how it could allow someone with prior convictions for animal cruelty, care for vulnerable residents.

ResCare did not provide a direct response to the question, but a spokesman did release a statement to 13 Investigates.

"We follow very stringent, state-regulated hiring practices and have been recognized and nationally accredited for the significant training we provide our teams," wrote Barnard Baker, a ResCare spokesman. "Unexpected and unfortunate incidents do sometimes occur when working with complex populations."

ResCare Employee Caught on Camera Beating Client Had Prior Assault Convictions

13 Investigates has learned ResCare settled another similar lawsuit filed in San Luis Obispo, California.

In that case, a 20-year-old man with severe autism was attacked. According to an article in the Santa Maria Sun, the caregiver is seen on a hidden video camera grabbing the client and violently lifting him out of a seat, before they fall behind a table out of view.

The man's mother filed a lawsuit that revealed the worker had previously entered pleas of no contest to two separate misdemeanor assault charges. In one of the cases, the worker grabbed a 19-year old by the throat and threatened him with a hunting knife. Both convictions resulted before he was hired by ResCare.

Jeffrey Stulberg, the attorney representing that family, confirmed to 13 Investigates the lawsuit against ResCare was also resolved through a confidential settlement.

According to ResCare's spokesman, the company is "deeply concerned any time an individual (ResCare) supports is compromised or harmed."

ResCare identifies itself as the nation's largest provider of healthcare services to people with disabilities and the largest privately-owned home care company.

Baker told 13 Investigates ResCare has been working with Indiana families for 30 years and serves more than 2,000 individuals. The company employs 2,700 workers to provide direct care service to the state's most medically complex and high-need populations.

Accountability for ResCare in Indiana

A ResCare building in Sheridan, Indiana. (WTHR Photo)
A ResCare building in Sheridan, Indiana.
(WTHR Photo)

The direct care for Hoosiers with high-need medical care is often paid for by Medicaid dollars, provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services or CMS.

While Indiana's Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA), oversees the licensing of long-term residential care facilities like ResCare, the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) is responsible for inspections and making sure the facilities are operating under state and federal guidelines. It's outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding between FSSA and ISDH.

If violations are found, the company must provide a correction plan to the state health department.

Once that plan is approved, state inspectors return to the home or facility to see if the violations have been corrected.

The process can last more than a year. If the issues have not been addressed, ISDH can report non-compliance to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That non-compliance can affect the company's Medicaid certification. But only the FSSA can impose state sanctions like fines or license revocation.

Despite Investigations, Criminal Convictions and Lawsuits ResCare Not Cited for Any Violations

According to the state health department, 23 ResCare facilities operating in Indiana have been the subject of investigations. Not all complaints were substantiated due to a lack of evidence.

But at the Fisher's home where Anthony Harris was beaten, there are no state inspection reports according to the State Department of Health.

The agency told 13 Investigates that particular ResCare property is classified as a Medicaid waiver home.

Waiver homes have three or fewer residents living there and are not licensed, regulated or surveyed by the Indiana State Department of Health like other residential group homes.

Oversight of waiver homes falls solely on FSSA's Bureau of Developmental Disability Services or BDDS.

Despite the criminal action and lawsuit, ResCare was not cited for any violation.

In fact, over the last three and a half years, ResCare has had no citations.

"Between dates January 1, 2016 and June 30, 2019, BDDS has not cited ResCare for violations occurring in supervised group living sites," said Jim Gavin, FSSA Spokesman.

While no citations may have been issued, 13 Investigates has discovered Harris isn't the only resident to suffer as a result of inadequate supervision.

Charles Shelton (L) allegedly pushed a patient down a flight of stairs. Megan Catherine Akers (R) admitted to battering a man with severe autism. (Lake County Sheriff's Department)
Charles Shelton (L) allegedly pushed a patient
down a flight of stairs. Megan Catherine Akers (R)
admitted to battering a man with severe autism.
(Lake County Sheriff's Department)

In Hobart, five ResCare employees were charged with battery and neglect of a dependent in three separate incidents at two group homes in June 2016.

According to an attorney representing an incapacitated patient, the man suffered broken ribs after Charles Shelton, the man's caregiver, pushed him down a flight of stairs. Shelton plead guilty to a single battery charge.

In the other case, 33-year-old Megan Catherine Akers admitted to battering a 27-year old-man with severe autism by striking him with a clipboard. Akers was sentenced to 18 months in a Lake County community corrections program.

A lawsuit is now pending against Akers, Shelton and ResCare for both incidents, alledging a "larger pattern of abuse stemming from the failure of ResCare to hire appropriate staff and to train (them) properly."

In Fort Wayne, a former ResCare employee is serving a four year prison sentence after pleading guilty to sexual misconduct with a minor.

Amy Walls pleaded guilty to battering and sexually molesting a child. (Montgomery County Sheriff's Department)
Charles Shelton (L) allegedly pushed a patient
down a flight of stairs. Megan Catherine Akers (R)
admitted to battering a man with severe autism.
(Lake County Sheriff's Department)
According to court records, Amy Walls battered and sexually molested a 14-year old resident under her watch.

And in Indianapolis, state health inspectors found a ResCare group home with 22 federal and state safety violations last August, some of them life and death issues. Twenty-two violations is four times over the state average of deficiencies typically found during an inspection.

13 Investigates obtained the complaint by the State Department of Health about a client who walked out of a home on Delbrook Drive undetected. He was supposed to be watched around the clock.

According to the report he "(eloped) from the group home while on one to one staff supervision, falling and sustaining a seizure on the group home's driveway without staff's knowledge."

A neighbor eventually found him, alerted the staff and called 911.

"He was banging his head on the ground," read the report.

Claudia Williamson owns a home down the street from where it all happened and was stunned to hear a resident had slipped out and hurt himself.

"I didn't even know what happened to the resident. So I'm so sorry to hear that," she told 13 Investigates.

Background Checks Don't Report All Violent Crimes

Under State law, background checks do not include misdemeanor convictions for battery, violence, or other troubling behaviors. In the cases 13 Investigates cited in Indiana and California, both workers took plea deals for misdemeanor charges.

The felony crimes screened under Indiana law are:
  • A sex crime
  • Battery
  • Neglect
  • Abuse
  • Exploitation of an endangered adult or of a child
  • Failure to report: Battery, Neglect, Abuse, or Exploitation of an endangered adult or of a child
  • Theft if the person’s conviction for theft occurred less than ten (10) years before employment application h. Criminal conversion
  • Criminal deviate conduct
  • Murder
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Involuntary manslaughter
  • Offense relating to alcohol or a controlled substance

State Health Inspectors Order ResCare to Implement Procedures to Prohibit Mistreatment, Neglect and Abuse At Local Group Home

The Delbrook Drive case was substantiated as "staff neglect" by the Indiana Department of Health.

The worker who failed to keep watch was terminated. The client who walked out was moved to another residential care location while ResCare promised to provide more staff training.

State inspectors concluded ResCare "must develop and implement...procedures that prohibit mistreatment, neglect or abuse" at that group home site.

But according to FSSA, no fines were issued.

ResCare maintains in its statement to 13 Investigates, "We always take immediate action any time a concerning incident occurs outside of normal service delivery...This includes self-reporting and cooperation with the state and all relevant authorities to swiftly address any issues."
13 Investigates asked the FSSA about its accountability for ResCare.

No one would speak with 13 Investigates on camera, but Gavin told 13 Investigates, "Between dates January 1, 2016 and June 30, 2019, BDDS is unaware of any plan of correction not rectified by ResCare through ISDH nor any reports of noncompliance to CMS."

Yet attorneys across the country told 13 Investigates, there's a systemic problem that demands better hiring practices and more accountability.

FSSA's Response to 13 Investigates

Jim Gavin, FSSA spokesman, released a statement to 13 Investigates:
"No one receiving services from FSSA should experience abuse or neglect. For that reason, FSSA uses state and federal law to establish provider standards and oversight systems to monitor the delivery of services. In cases of abuse, additional collaboration with local Adult Protective Services and prosecutors routinely occurs, which is critical in ensuring perpetrators – like the one you describe – are convicted, ensuring they aren’t able to work with vulnerable populations in the future.
The employee to which you refer was terminated and charged by law enforcement. FSSA is pleased that the prosecutor pursued and obtained a felony conviction and that, in this instance, our partnership with adult protective services and the local prosecutor yielded an appropriate result.
Indiana law requires providers to conduct criminal background checks. The law lists the past felony convictions that could preclude employment. It is FSSA’s understanding that ResCare performed the required background check on this individual before hiring."

ResCare's Response to 13 Investigates

Barnard Baker from ResCare Media Relations released a statement to 13 Investigates with their response to our investigation. The complete statement is:
"ResCare Community Living is proud to serve more than 2,000 individuals throughout Indiana. Our on-the-ground team of 2,700 dedicated staff provide more than five million hours of direct care services to the state's most medically complex and high-need populations each year. While the work of these caregivers is difficult and often overlooked, they provide an essential service which helps many people live their life in preferred community settings, as opposed to institutions.
Though we deliver thousands of positive outcomes every day, we are deeply concerned any time an individual we support is compromised or harmed. ResCare strives for conscientious and compassionate care in the services provided, promoting people-first principles at all times.
We follow very stringent, state-regulated hiring practices and have been recognized and nationally accredited for the significant training we provide our teams. However, as is the case throughout the health care industry, unexpected and unfortunate incidents do sometimes occur when working with complex populations.
We always take immediate action any time a concerning incident occurs outside of normal service delivery with an individual we support. This includes self-reporting and cooperation with the state and all relevant authorities to swiftly address any issues. That was the case with each of the dated matters WTHR raised with our agency.
ResCare has served as a strong and trusted partner to the state and Indiana families for more than 30 years, and we will continue to meet the complex and unique needs of the individuals we serve for many years to come."

Full Article & Source:
13 Investigates uncovers pattern of abuse, neglect in group homes for the disabled

Crestview woman charged with escape attempt in addition to elderly exploitation

OKALOOSA COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — A Crestview woman woman already sentenced to five years in prison is now also being charged with an escape attempt.

34-year old Elizabeth Hallford was at the Okaloosa County courthouse in Crestview for sentencing Thursday on charges of elderly exploitation and possession of a controlled substance.

After her sentencing, Hallford was placed in a secure hallway adjacent to the courtroom, awaiting transportation to the county jail. Authorities say she found an unsecured door and got away. Hallford was recaptured within minutes, about two blocks away. A review is being done by the Sheriff’s office to determine why the door latch was not closed securely.

Full Article & Source:
Crestview woman charged with escape attempt in addition to elderly exploitation

Judge could consider handwriting expert for Aretha Franklin's will

FILE - In this Tuesday, May 17, 2011 file photo, Aretha Franklin performs during a star-studded double-taping of "Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular," in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) — A judge is expected to consider a request for a handwriting expert to examine wills discovered in couch cushions after Aretha Franklin's death.

A hearing is scheduled Tuesday in Oakland County Probate Court, north of Detroit.

A handwritten 2014 document shows Franklin apparently wanted her son, Kecalf Franklin, to serve as the representative of her estate, which might be worth millions.

But lawyers for Franklin's estate have said "there is no basis" to believe Kecalf Franklin has those skills.

After Franklin's death last August her heirs agreed to put the estate in the hands of Franklin's niece, Sabrina Owens, who is a university administrator. Attorneys for Theodore White II said in a court filing that White should be named co-executor, along with Owens.

White and Owens' names appeared in a 2010 handwritten will, but were crossed out in the 2014 document.

Full Article & Source:
Judge could consider handwriting expert for Aretha Franklin's will