Saturday, August 26, 2023

VSO DETECTIVES CHARGE N.Y. MAN WHO TRIED TO DEFRAUD DELAND VICTIM IN ‘GRANDPARENTS SCAM’

 


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VSO DETECTIVES CHARGE N.Y. MAN WHO TRIED TO DEFRAUD DELAND VICTIM IN ‘GRANDPARENTS SCAM’

Man seeks justice for elderly mother in alleged abuse scam, pursues legal action

A man is seeking justice for his 87-year old mother from Grimsby, who he says was a victim of an elder abuse scam. He now hopes to get help from the premier’s office and the attorney general. 

CHCH News interviewed Commercial Pilot Mike Bremner Thursday afternoon after a private, in-person hearing in St. Catharines. 

Bremner says his attempt at a private prosecution to lay criminal charges of fraud were struck down by the Crown attorney. 

Bremner is the flight lead of the Elder Abuse Air Force, a group within the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly in Toronto. He says his mother, Virginia Bremner suffers from dementia and claims a family member, who was a lawyer, used power of attorney to take $500,000. 

CHCH News obtained a 2020 email exchange Between Bremner and Niagara police — and the assigned detective said, in part, she was prepared to “lay criminal charges” against the person in question and “I will be speaking with our Crown attorney.” 

Although, Bremner says a civil suit has been settled, in the end, criminal charges were not laid, which brought him to the St. Catharines courthouse Thursday, seeking another chance to prosecute. 

Bremner says through his advocacy group, he’s had three other people come to him, alleging that they’ve been a victim of fraud by the same person. 

CHCH News reached out to Niagara police for comment regarding the investigation three years ago and have not heard back yet.

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Man seeks justice for elderly mother in alleged abuse scam, pursues legal action

She was supposed to be caring for a dying woman. Police say she was stealing from her instead.

by Aaron S√°nchez-Guerra 


A woman is accused of defrauding and stealing thousands of dollars and more from a dying elderly woman in her care, Durham authorities said Thursday.

Betsy Lauren Robertson, a 35-year-old health aide from Burlington, was charged with eight counts of obtaining property by false pretense, exploitation of a disabled or elderly person and identity theft after the elderly woman’s family discovered items were missing from a home.

The family of Karen Rogers learned about the missing items, including jewelry and checks from her bank account, after Rogers died in May, according to the Durham County Sheriff’s Office.

Thousands of dollars were missing from Rogers’ checking account during the time she was under the Robertson’s care.

Missing checks also led them to discover that money was missing from Rogers’ account.

Sheriff’s Office investigators found that Robertson allegedly used Rogers’ financial information to access her bank account and make several transactions.

Investigators said Robertson applied for multiple credit accounts using the dead woman’s information.

Robertson was also recently charged by Durham police with felony larceny from a healthcare client, authorities said.

Robertson posted a $5,000 bond.

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She was supposed to be caring for a dying woman. Police say she was stealing from her instead.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Massachusetts AG Announces Creation of New Elder Justice Unit, Appoints Experienced Health Care Prosecutor As Head

[co-author: Stephanie Kozol]*

Massachusetts Attorney General (AG) Andrea Joy Campbell announced the creation of a new Elder Justice Unit, which will use existing resources to protect and promote the safety and well-being of elders through enforcement actions, legislative advocacy, and community engagement and education.

“By creating this Unit, we are prioritizing the rights of elderly residents to live with dignity – free from abuse, neglect, and exploitation,” Campbell said in the statement announcing the move. “My office will continue to serve as a dedicated resource for older adults, address their most-pressing needs and advocate for and implement solutions.”

Heading the unit will be Assistant AG Mary Freeley, who has served as deputy chief of the Massachusetts AG’s Health Care and Fair Competition Bureau since 2015. In this role, she has helped oversee the office’s Antitrust, False Claims, Health Care, Medicaid Fraud, and Non-Profit/Charities Divisions, and assisted in some of its most high-profile matters.

According to Campbell’s statement, the Elder Justice Unit will work with her office’s Criminal, Public Protection and Advocacy, and Health Care and Fair Competition bureaus to:

  • Convene internal and external elder justice groups to listen to priorities and ongoing issues;
  • Prosecute the abuse and exploitation of vulnerable older adults, including in the areas of long-term care, financial exploitation, and scams;
  • Work with the AG’s Community Engagement Division to conduct intentional outreach to elders; and
  • Advocate for state and national policy that aligns with, and advances, the work of the Elder Justice Unit.

Why It Matters

The work of the Massachusetts AG’s Elder Justice Unit could have considerable overlap with investigative and enforcement initiatives by the office’s Consumer Protection and Medicaid Fraud Divisions. Campbell’s creation of the unit demonstrates that her administration, which commenced in January 2023, intends to focus resources on the protection of vulnerable elderly consumers.

*Senior Government Relations Manager

Source:
Massachusetts AG Announces Creation of New Elder Justice Unit, Appoints Experienced Health Care Prosecutor As Head

Charges dismissed against sisters accused of stealing from disabled father

Prosecutors cited not enough evidence to proceed in both cases.

by Tommy Wiita


Two sisters who were accused of stealing money from their disabled Minnesota father had each of their cases dropped.

Prosecutors cited not enough evidence when dropping the charges against 70-year-old Koreen Harstad, of Weimar, Texas, and Kaia Jeanne Bergeson, 63, of Montevideo, Minnesota. They were initially charged with one count each of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult after they were accused of stealing $35,000 from their 96-year-old father.

The sisters' children received a combined $235,000 from their grandfather as a "gift," the complaint said.

The cases were dismissed on Aug. 15, according to court documents.

"Based on information provided by [the defendants], the State believes that the case must be dismissed in the interests of justice," Goodhue County Assistant Attorney David Grove wrote in each filing.

Bring Me The News reached out to the Goodhue County Attorney's Office for comment on Thursday.

Full Article & Source:
Charges dismissed against sisters accused of stealing from disabled father

Nurse accused of stealing from elderly patient at Jackson South, using debit card for fraudulent transactions

By Kathleen Ditton, Marisela Burgos


SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE, FLA. (WSVN) - Police arrested a nurse accused of stealing from an elderly patient under his care at Jackson South Medical Center.

David Capote appeared before Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Mindy S. Glazer on Wednesday morning. The 37-year-old is facing a number of charges.

“You got charged with grand theft, fraudulent use of credit card, three counts,” said Glazer. “Exploitation of the elderly, fraudulent use of identification.”

Capote had been working as a clinical staff nurse at Jackson South in Southwest Miami-Dade for the past year.

The patient’s daughter, Doris Cartagena, spoke with 7News on Wednesday night.

“I hope that he really thinks about what he has done and how he’s betrayed the public’s trust,” she said.

According to detectives, Capote met Cartagena’s father at the hospital back in May.

Cartagena said her father had to be admitted for at least 10 days because of blood clots in his lungs. During that time, she said, a debit card, a watch and cash went missing.

“I think it’s despicable that he would take advantage of an elderly person and the family, when we as human beings count on them to keep our loved ones safe,” she said.

According to the arrest form, the investigation began when the victim reported several unauthorized charges on his Bank of America debit card.

Detectives reviewed surveillance footage from Walgreens, CVS and Walmart, revealing fraudulent transactions totaling $760.91 made using the victim’s debit card.

The patient’s family said they received alerts about the transactions immediately and reported it to police.

“It’s unfortunate that you can’t feel that you have to even worry about those things when you have a loved one in the hospital. You’re already going through so much,” said Cartagena.

Upon comparing the surveillance footage, investigators identified an unknown subject appearing in the videos as David Capote, a nurse who had provided care to the victim during his hospital stay. Cellphone records further indicated Capote’s presence near the locations of the fraudulent transactions on May 11.

Jackson Health System’s Public Safety Department worked with Miami-Dade Police on this case. They revealed Capote is accused not only of stealing from a patient, but an employee as well.

In a statement issued Wednesday night, a spokesperson for Jackson Health wrote, “David Capote, who has worked as a clinical staff nurse at Jackson South for a year, is now under administrative leave pending termination. Jackson does not condone any type of criminal acts against anyone in our facilities. The safety of our patients, families and employees is our top priority.”

“There were a lot of good nurses that really took care of him, that showed him love and compassion, so we can’t generalize because of one bad apple,” said Cartagena.

Capote was arrested on Tuesday after law enforcement officers attempted to meet with him at his residence. Upon approach, Capote attempted to flee but was apprehended during a traffic stop.

As for Cartagena, she wants to warn others about what can happen anywhere.

“I want to bring awareness to the families that – sometimes we’re so worried about the health issues, but we also need to be aware that they can also fall prey to financial situations,” she said.

Full Article & Source:
Nurse accused of stealing from elderly patient at Jackson South, using debit card for fraudulent transactions

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Change proposed to civil rule dealing with incapacity of judge

by Kris Olson


Members of the legal community are invited to offer comments by Oct. 6 on a proposed amendment to Rule 63 of the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure dealing with the incapacity of a judge in a civil action.

The chief justice of the Superior Court had requested that Rule 63 be amended to make civil practice consistent with criminal practice, the draft reporter’s notes explain.

Rule 38 of the Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure allows replacement of a judge during a jury trial where the judge is unable to proceed “by reason of death, sickness, or other disability.”

The Supreme Judicial Court’s Standing Advisory Committee on the Rules of Civil Procedure agreed that Rule 63 should be broadened to deal with incapacity of a judge at any time in the litigation process.

The amendments would allow the chief justice of the court to assign another judge to complete a trial where the trial judge has become “unavailable” after a trial has begun. They also make clear that any judge of the court may receive a jury verdict, even absent incapacity or disability.

Comments should be directed to Christine Burak, Supreme Judicial Court, John Adams Courthouse, One Pemberton Square, Boston, MA, 02108, on or before Oct. 6.

Comments can also be emailed to christine.burak@jud.state.ma.us. Comments received will be made available to the public.

Full Article & Source:
Change proposed to civil rule dealing with incapacity of judge

Sen. Braun says the retired should be be able to stay retired

(FROM NETWORK INDIANA)

Sen. Mike Braun was in Indianapolis on Tuesday to hold a remote hearing of the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging.

The committee tackles issues as they relate to older Americans. Braun used the time to address several topics that he feels are directly impacting Americans who are of retirement age and they mainly had to do with the economy.

“Older Americans play such a critical role throughout the economy,” he said. “Even now some are considering coming out of retirement. A recent report showed that 43-percent of Americans are considering coming out of retirement. That’s probably not the plan that everybody was looking to happen.”

He said things like rising interest rates and the rising national debt are directly impacting retirement accounts and social security which help sustain older Americans in retirement.

Though Braun said that having older Americans in the workforce is crucial to the economy, they should not be having to come completely out of retirement in order to be financially solvent.

“For employers facing labor shortages, older workers can still fill those gaps,” Braun said. “A recent report showed that older workers will make up a quarter of the workforce by 2031.”

Braun said that number needs to come down. He said solutions to “reinvigorate the economy” need to be found so that workers can set more aside while they are working in order to avoid having to come out of retirement later on.

For starters, Braun suggests that the country quit borrowing so much money and driving the U.S. further into debt.

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Sen. Braun says the retired should be be able to stay retired

Florida Deputy Rescues Missing Elderly Man from Pond

Orange County Deputy Steven Jones rescued a missing 81-year-old man from a pond in Florida recently. The elderly man is recovering and expected to be okay.

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Florida Deputy Rescues Missing Elderly Man from Pond

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Attorney general's office adding new resources to protect seniors from scams

by Imani Fleming

New Hampshire's Attorney General's Office is adding new resources to help protect seniors from abuse, neglect and scams.

The Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation Unit is adding three new positions to its team to not only help older adults who have been victimized by financial advisers or caregivers but also to help educate them on what that abuse can look like. 

Assistant Attorney General Bryan Townsend said the most common scams against elders are financially related, including fake calls from the IRS and Social Security Administration threatening arrest or the lives of an older adult's family members.

He said the attorney general's office has a plan to increase, expand and strengthen its existing resources to hold people accountable who violate their positions of trust.

By adding a new prosecutor, law enforcement investigator and investigative paralegal to the team, Townsend said they will increase the number of cases they prosecute and look into each year.

Townsend addressed a community of seniors on Monday, saying it's important to report instances of abuse so victims understand the services available to them when it happens.

"The important message is that we see these cases happen all the time," Townsend said. "It's important to remember you're not alone and that this happens to people across the state. And so, it's important to get the word out. It's important to report."

The unit will be working with prosecutors from county attorney's offices on its efforts. Townsend about 37,000 adults in the Granite State are victims of neglect and abuse each year.

Full Article & Source:
Attorney general's office adding new resources to protect seniors from scams

Elder abuse and financial exploitation unit to double resources, 71% increase in cases since 2017

By JAMIE L. COSTA

The unit of investigators tasked with protecting older adults in the state will double their resources this year after seeing a 71% increase in referrals in half a decade.

Instead of relying on one prosecutor, one program specialist and one victim-witness advocate, Attorney General John A. Formella announced on Monday afternoon that the Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation Unit will be doubling with the addition of another prosecutor, a law enforcement investigator and an investigative paralegal.

“The state has made combating elder abuse a real priority over the last five to 10 years – since it’s creation, they’ve prosecuted lawyers, caregivers, financial advisors and others who have taken advantage of the elderly population,” Formella said. “New Hampshire has an aging population – when someone is a target, it’s not just about the money that you lose. It brings a lot of feelings like guilt, sadness, remorsefulness, embarrassment and can rob someone of their independence and their self confidence.”

With the new resources, the unit will increase the number of cases it investigates and prosecutes annually while also expanding its education efforts. In the last year, the unit made 35 separate presentations to groups of law enforcement and medical professionals, and at financial institutions and senior housing and long-term care facilities. They review the best practices to protect older adults from common scams, neglect and exploitation reporting requirements, services available to older adult victims, investigation techniques and relevant laws to assist financial institutions.

Since it’s creation in 2017, the unit has investigated and prosecuted thousands of reports of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation committed against New Hampshire’s adult residents aged 60 and older, said Bryan Townsend, senior assistant attorney general.

Townsend, who leads the unit, explained to residents of White Rock Senior Living in Bow how they can best protect themselves against scams by always double checking the emails or phone calls they receive when related to social security information, bank information or other personal information. In some cases they were urged not to answer their phones at all.

Last year, the unit received 1,300 referrals, a 71% increase over 2017 when the it was first established, Townsend said. Across the state, which has a population of 1.4 million residents, nearly 370,000 of them are above the age of 60. According to national data, 1 in 10 elderly people, or about 3,700, are victimized annually while only 1 in 24, or around 1,500, report the abuse and exploitation.

That leaves nearly 2,000 elderly people suffering in silence, Townsend said. By 2035, he expects the numbers of abused to increase from 3,700 to 4,700 as the population continues to age and increase.

Some examples of popular scams include the IRS ruse when someone calls to say the victim owes money, the plea from someone pretending to be a loved one in need of money, and when someone calls out of the blue asking the victim to verify their identification.

When it comes to elder abuse and neglect, signs could include marks on an individual like unexplained bruises and injuries, lack of accessibility to friends and family whether via the phone or in person or group and program absences.

If concerned about an elderly person, individuals can report suspected elder abuse, neglect or exploitation to the Department of Health and Human Services, Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services at 1-800-949-0470. For additional information or to request a presentation or educational materials, contact Christa Clapp, Elder Abuse Specialist, at christa.g.clapp@doj.nh.gov or 603-271-5009.

Full Article & Source:
Elder abuse and financial exploitation unit to double resources, 71% increase in cases since 2017

Local dog saves owner's life

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Local dog saves owner's life

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Florida nursing home must pay $2.3M over bedsore death, jury rules

by Jon Styf

Close up of elderly woman's hand holding a bed railing, representing the nursing home bedsore verdict.
(Photo Credit: 21 Phukao/Shutterstock)

Nursing home death overview: 

  • Who: Alfred Davis, the husband of former patient Claretha Davis, was awarded for negligence against his wife at Parklands, a Florida nursing home.
  • Why: Davis’ husband was awarded $2.3 million after she allegedly developed one bedsore that healed and another that lasted until her death at the facility.
  • Where: The nursing home bedsore lawsuit was filed in Gainesville, Florida district court.
  • How can I find help: If you believe your loved one was the victim of elder abuse or nursing home neglect in an assisted living facility or other institution since Jan. 1, 2020, you may qualify to join a nursing home abuse lawsuit investigation.

Alfred Davis, the husband of former patient Claretha Davis, was awarded $2.3 million for negligence related to her death at a Florida nursing home, according to Law360.

Davis died in 2021 after a bedsore caused an infection that spread into both her blood and bones, the website said. It was Davis’ second bedsore at Parklands Care Center, with the first developing in April 2020 but fully healed by Dec. 16 and another appearing before she was visited by a doctor on Dec. 30, 2020.

Davis used a special pressure-relieving mattress Davis on her doctor’s orders but it was deflated, her lawyer said in court according to Law360, which caused pressure exactly where it wasn’t supposed to be before her nursing home death.

Davis had a history of medical issues before moving into nursing home, lawyer said

A lawyer for Parklands said that Davis had everything from hypertension to Parkinson’s disease, malnutrition, anemia, diabetes, a history of falling, muscle weakness and urinary tract infections before moving into the facility, Law360 reported.

“It’s fulfilling for justice to be served, not only for this family but for Floridians in general, because there are so many tragedies that occur in nursing homes, and it gets brushed under the table so often,” Davis’ lawyer told Law360 after the nursing home bedsore verdict. “… So much improvement is needed in this industry.”

A jury in McCracken County, Ky. reached a unanimous verdict in a 2020 nursing home neglect lawsuit, awarding $5 million to the family of a former patient of Superior Care Home facility in nearby Paducah.

The plaintiff is represented by Scott Fischer of Gordon and Partners. 

The Nursing home death lawsuit is Redding v. Parklands Facility, Case No. 2022-CA-00031 in the Eighth Judicial District of Florida.

Full Article & Source:
Florida nursing home must pay $2.3M over bedsore death, jury rules

Couple sentenced for neglect, financial exploitation of Derby woman, 84, who died

by Eduardo Castillo


A Derby couple has been sentenced in connection with the mistreatment and financial exploitation of an 84-year-old woman that later died, the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday.

The couple, 20-year-old Tiffany Williams-McCune and 23-year-old Jacoby Reeves, both of Derby, were convicted in connection with financial abuse and physical neglect of Leslie Jeffries.

Williams-McCune, who is Jeffries’ great-granddaughter, pleaded no contest to two felony counts of mistreatment of an elder person. The first count was for financial exploitation and the second for neglecting the physical needs of the victim, according to the release.

Reeves pleaded guilty to a felony charge of mistreatment of an elder person, related to neglecting the physical needs of Jeffries, and a misdemeanor charge of mistreatment, related to financial exploitation.

A joint investigation by the Derby Police Department and the Kansas Department for Children and Families found that the couple helped care for Jeffries in her home.

On Dec. 7, 2021, Derby police officers conducted a welfare check on Jeffries after other family members expressed concern. Officers found her “unresponsive and lying awkwardly on a couch in the basement of the home,” the DA’s office said. She had suffered a brain hemorrhage and later died at a hospital.

“Williams-McCune and Reeves ignored a medical emergency involving a victim and failed to get her help,” the release said.

The investigation also showed that the couple made unauthorized transactions totaling over $20,000 on Jeffries’ bank accounts while living with her.

An autopsy found that Jeffries had a variety of medical issues with a history of falling, which may have caused the brain hemorrhage that led to her death.

Reeves was sentenced to 12 months of probation last month with an underlying sentence of 12 months of jail time if he violates his probation. Williams-McCune was sentenced to 12 months months in prison in November 2022, but has since been released, DA spokesperson Dan Dillon said.

“Williams-McCune served a majority of her time after her arrest and is now free,” Dillon said.

Full Article & Source:
Couple sentenced for neglect, financial exploitation of Derby woman, 84, who died

Commentary: Why elder financial abuse goes unreported

Financial abuse often occurs over months or years. It can be a slow, steady process of siphoning off small amounts at a time through check requests, bank withdrawals, wire transfers, recurring credit card payments, etc.

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By Deb Taylor, Senior Community Services

Elder financial abuse occurs when someone illegally or improperly appropriates money or belongings from an older person for their own personal use.

While this financial exploitation takes many forms, including online scams, according to the National Adult Protective Services Association, NAPSA, the vast majority of reports involve perpetrators who are related to or in a trusting relationship with the victim.

NAPSA reports financial abuse of elders is costing older Americans and their families billions every year, though occurrences are thought to be grossly underestimated, with only 1 in 44 elder financial abuse cases even reported.

This suggests we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the actual devastation older adults and their families are experiencing the wake of abuse.

So why are the majority of cases going unreported?

1. The abuser is a trusted family member or caregiver

Even if the victim becomes aware of the abuse, choosing to pursue a case against a loved one may be an impossible and heartbreaking decision for many older adults, especially if they are dependent on the abuser in some way.

Many abusers have provided some form of assistance or caregiving to the older adult and can convincingly argue they are owed compensation, while the truth is they have abused the victim’s trust for personal financial gain, with little regard for the victim.

2. The abuse takes place little by little over time.

Financial abuse often occurs over months or years. It can be a slow, steady process of siphoning off small amounts at a time through check requests, bank withdrawals, wire transfers, recurring credit card payments, etc.

The perpetrators are methodical and measured. They don’t ask for or take amounts significant enough to trigger suspicion in financial institutions or be questioned by family members or friends of the victim.

Unfortunately, by the time the abuse is discovered, there may be little chance of reversing the financial damage.

3. Shame and fear.

As with many acts of abuse, the victim may feel a great deal of shame. If taken advantage of, older adults often worry that relatives will feel they can no longer take care of their own financial affairs.

With financial exploitation, there is often an illusion of consent on the part of the victim, but it’s propped up by manipulation, deception or blatant misinformation.

Despite this, the victim may fear they will be seen as mentally unfit for allowing themselves to be exploited and that reporting the abuse will lead to a loss of independence or autonomy.

4. They don’t know how or where to report the abuse to.

In the wake of a financial violation, finding resources can be an overwhelming task, further complicated by a lack of trust because of the abuse. But reporting financial abuse is imperative to gain knowledge of how abusers operate and to understand the full scope of the damage they cause in order to enact the measures necessary to break the cycle.

If you think you or a loved one is a victim of elder financial abuse, contact these trusted organizations to find resources and file a report:

Full Article & Source:
Commentary: Why elder financial abuse goes unreported

Monday, August 21, 2023

Citi wealth adviser accused of steering older clients into money-losing film projects

The horror film producer is accused in court docs of soliciting investments from elder clients, part of what experts say is a growing national trend of financial professionals preying on older Americans and their bank accounts.

By David Jackson

The Michigan Avenue branch of Citibank in downtown Chicago, where former wealth adviser Helen Grace Caldwell worked. Caldwell is accused in a lawsuit of persuading several older wealth-management clients to invest in her films.

This story is part of a series about elder financial exploitation in Illinois. You can read more stories in the series here.

By day, Helen Grace Caldwell was a wealth adviser and a vice president in the Michigan Avenue offices of America’s third largest bank, Citi.

Caldwell also was a movie producer, making horror films featuring vampires, knife-slashing heroes, and electroshocked psychiatric patients.

At the crossroads of those two careers, several of her elderly banking clients lost much of their life savings — and the Wall Street banking behemoth was plunged into a legal battle amid a national epidemic of elder financial exploitation.

Caldwell, 58, funded her film career in part by persuading Citi clients to invest their savings in her film ventures, an alleged fraud costing them as much as $1 million, according to a lawsuit filed against the banking giant and its former vice president by the Office of the Cook County Public Guardian, an agency created to protect the interests of people no longer capable of managing their affairs.

Caldwell, through her attorney, has denied all allegations of wrongdoing. Citi lawyers have also denied the allegations in court.

The old and frail have long been targeted by swindlers who knock on their doors with offers of a new roof or sweetheart scams or even trusted relatives and health care givers who use their access to plunder savings accounts.

Now, growing numbers of financial professionals are preying on their older clients from behind the glass doors of banks, investment houses, and wealth-management companies.

Fraud against older Americans in investment schemes accounted for nearly a third of all $3.1 billion in elder financial exploitation nationwide last year, up from less than 10% just three years ago, according to FBI data.

Reported losses from investment scams against older Americans have increased tenfold in the past three years to nearly $1 billion in 2022.

The Public Guardian’s suit was filed on behalf of one of Caldwell’s older clients who is now living in a nursing home with dementia, but it alleges Caldwell misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars from the savings of three other clients, as well, using the money in her film ventures.

Last month, the U.S. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority permanently barred Caldwell from working in the securities industry citing her refusal to provide on-the-record testimony for its investigation into cases when she steered “several” Citi clients “to invest in her outside business activity.”

Citi executives declined to be interviewed or respond to detailed questions regarding Caldwell. In court, a Citi attorney has argued the bank should not be held liable for damages that might have been caused by its former vice president’s conduct.

“My clients don’t believe the public guardian has claims against my client,” said one Citi attorney in a recent probate court appearance in which the guardian’s suit is being litigated. The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago is also investigating the circumstances around client losses, according to interviews and documents reviewed by Injustice Watch. Federal authorities did not respond to requests for comment.

Caldwell has not been charged with crimes.

She declined to answer questions provided to her and her attorney. On her personal website, Caldwell describes herself as a financial services professional, philanthropist, and award-winning filmmaker. The website features photos of her in a Mercedes and enjoying a drink at a harbor as the sun sets.

A screenshot from Helen Grace Caldwell’s personal website, which describes her as a financial services professional, award-winning filmmaker, and philanthropist.

‘Such an injustice’

To examine Caldwell’s case, Injustice Watch reviewed the probate court file, as well as records obtained through various confidential sources, including reports from Illinois’ Department on Aging, internal Citi check registers, Caldwell’s Citi personnel file, and email correspondence, as well as production files from her film projects.

The allegations, if true, provide another example in a four-month Injustice Watch investigation into Illinois’ tattered safety net for disabled older adults who are losing their life savings at record levels even as enforcement plummets.

“If the public guardian’s court allegations are accurate, the bank is at fault here in not exercising appropriate oversight over their advisers. That is clearly wrong,” said Harvard Business School professor Rohit Deshpand√©, one of five experts on banking and business ethics interviewed.

Citi annually approved Caldwell’s outside film company business during the same years the suit alleges she was using her client’s funds, records show. Experts say if the allegations are true, the bank failed in its fiduciary responsibility to protect their customers from such conflicts.

But even more serious breakdowns center on a fractured system of government oversight that relies on banks like Citi to self-report suspicious activity to authorities, who then often do little to stop it.

Citi reported Caldwell’s activity to the state’s Department on Aging’s Adult Protective Services division, known as APS, in March 2022 — after years of complaints by the family member of one of her bank clients and four months after Caldwell left her job at Citi, according to court records.

Illinois officials declined to act on Citi’s report citing jurisdictional grounds. APS — created to investigate abuse of the older and disabled adults — refused to take action because the client “was not being exploited by a family member, roommate, or caregiver,” Citi wrote in Cook County probate court documents.

It wasn’t until six weeks later that Citi officials sent a second report to APS — this time not identifying misconduct by its own officer but alleging $7,000 in other misspending, court records show.

That’s when the case finally landed on the desk of Joyce Austin, a veteran APS investigator with the Chicago-based nonprofit Metropolitan Family Services, one of dozens of social service agencies the state hires to investigate exploitation of disabled and older adults.

Austin’s inquiries triggered the public guardian’s investigation into the case of 77-year-old Priscilla Eddings, who according to court records wrote 13 checks totaling $400,500 to Caldwell’s film ventures between 2018 and 2020.

“I will tell you this is really personal for me. As a Black woman, I saw myself,” Austin said in an interview. “It makes you a little angry, where you have to do something because it’s such an injustice.”

Austin notified Chicago police she was making an unannounced visit to the home address listed for Eddings — a three-story home near Marquette Park — telling police she would text to confirm she was OK when she left.

This protocol ensured there would be an official record of her whereabouts if things in the house turned violent, even in cases such as Eddings’ where no violence is alleged.

“Many times, walking into the homes, we’re not only dealing with the victim, but the abusers are in the environment,” said Austin’s supervisor Osvaldo Caballero. “We’re walking to an unknown. And caseworkers like Joyce are walking by themselves.”

“I pulled forward all of my experiences,” Austin told Injustice Watch. “During the investigative stage, I’m digging. I’m uncovering a box in a hole. I’m very focused on trying to help the victim. I just feel that is my place. And I put my mind in that place.”

Joyce Austin, a veteran Adult Protective Services investigator with the nonprofit Metropolitan Family Services, triggered a set of government probes into Helen Caldwell.

A long court battle

In court, Citi fought for months to prevent disclosure of its internal investigation report on Caldwell. Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert’s office wants the report to help it recover losses of Eddings and other “similarly situated victims,” court records show.

“Depositors would be astounded to learn that if a bank official steals their money, the bank is going to hire lawyers and slam the door in their face when they try to get their money back,” Golbert said in an interview. “Citi hired very expensive lawyers who fought us at every step of the way, and we are having to sue.”

Cook County Circuit Judge Jesse Outlaw has told Citi it must turn over the report and has given the bank until October to do so.

Other internal Citi records indicate Caldwell’s alleged conflicts of interest went unchecked at the bank for years, including one email chain in the public court record.

That email exchange shows in February 2018, a Citi fraud analyst asked about a $75,000 check Eddings wrote from a Citi account to one of Caldwell’s film production companies.

“The account has not had a check written on it for over two years,” the Citi analyst wrote. “The account is overdrawn, as well.”

It isn’t clear from available records what became of the bank’s internal inquiry.

By then, Caldwell allegedly held substantial control over Eddings. Caldwell was listed as the “responsible party” for her monthly bills at Brookdale Senior Living on North Lake Shore Drive. Brookdale’s internal Account History Report shows the bills were sent to Caldwell’s Citi office at 100 S. Michigan Ave.

As Citi was questioning Caldwell about that first Eddings transaction, the son of another alleged victim was coming forward with questions.

Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert is suing Citi to recover alleged losses from one of Helen Caldwell’s former clients.

“Helen was always super charming, and she figured out that my mom didn’t like to be embarrassed or make other people look bad,” said Peter Duenas-Brckovich, whose 83-year-old mother gave Caldwell $18,000 for a 16% stake in a movie company Caldwell helped finance, according to records he provided and his interview.

“Using that manipulation really bothers me. She was taking advantage of my mom’s personality,” said Duenas-Brckovich, a banking executive living overseas. “Clearly, she knew that something was off with my mom. I hated how Helen did that.”

Responding to questions via email, Caldwell’s attorney Jasmani Francis disputed Duenas-Brckovich’s account, accusing him of launching a “frivolous campaign to defame and vilify” Caldwell.

Experts: Citi had a fiduciary duty

As an investment adviser, Caldwell owed a basic fiduciary duty to Eddings: to act in good faith and show loyalty and care, said University of Virginia professor William J. Wilhelm Jr.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that Citi would view this as acceptable behavior. It does suggest to me a significant failure in their compliance system,” Wilhelm said.

That fiduciary duty is the basis of the “best interest” regulation of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and it extended to Citi, said Georgetown University associate professor James J. Angel. “This is the kind of thing that I would hope the SEC is investigating. It sounds like fraud to me.”

FINRA instructs banks to seek a trusted contact for the accounts of clients older than age 65. Yet Duenas-Brckovich claimed Citi stonewalled him as he sought answers about Caldwell’s film investments and his mother’s gyrating account balance.

“I’ve worked in finance for 30 years. If Helen did disclose her outside interest, that means she should have definitely asked Citi for permission to let my Mom do that investment in the film ‘Hunter’ — which by the way was written off to zero,” Duenas-Brckovich said.

“It’s not like Helen had a little operation on the side that was hidden. She had a visible online presence.”

Caldwell’s dual career paths

Before she came to Citi in 2012, Caldwell had a history of complaints and regulatory actions during her wealth-management career.

Soon after beginning her first job at a Chicago brokerage firm in 1991, at age 26, records show her clients “claim(ed) that their accounts were short,” according to FINRA reports. Caldwell alleged errors were made by her bosses.

In 2008, when she was a broker in a JPMorgan Chase investment division, the global banking giant settled another complaint by paying her clients more than $300,000 after they alleged she made misrepresentations and an unsuitable recommendation in a securities investment, records show.

In 2012, Citi hired Caldwell as a financial adviser for its brokerage and retail banking divisions, internal Citi documents show.

In court filings, Citi acknowledged Caldwell’s “dual-hat” role, which might help explain Citi’s alleged oversight failures. Injustice Watch found Caldwell’s clients were writing checks to her film ventures from their Citibank checking accounts, but those transactions were not listed in their Citiglobal investment portfolios. The two bank divisions were not sharing information about her film ventures, court records state.

By 2013, Caldwell was meeting with film producers and saying she could raise money to invest in films through a company she launched named Canal Productions LLC, according to records and interviews with her film partners.

Canal Productions “provided funding to way beyond the level we ever thought possible up to that point,” script writer Jason Kellerman said in an interview with an online blog. Kellerman wrote the script for the film “Hunter,” about a former martial artist who battles the undead to avenge his murdered family.

Kellerman’s film script was listed among the 50 best horror/thrillers at the South by Southwest screenplay competition.

The movie — filmed in part at Caldwell’s Humboldt Park home beginning in 2014 — was released four years later with Caldwell credited as a producer. It was selected as “Best Horror Feature” at the 2018 Manhattan Film Fest and “Best Feature” at the Freakshow Horror Film Fest.

Caldwell’s Canal Productions was incorporated in January 2014, and records show Citi supervisors annually approved this outside business affiliation. Caldwell’s credits include at least 14 projects and films, according to her online biography on IMDB.com.

Records also show Caldwell used her position at Citi to conduct film business. In one 2015 chain copied to her Citi email account, Caldwell offered to meet a School of the Art Institute of Chicago filmmaker at Citi to discuss financing his documentary.

“I am in my office this Friday on Michigan Ave next to yours. If you’d like to come by to talk briefly, I can in the morning,” she wrote in the email.

‘That was my WTF moment’

One of Caldwell’s clients was Catherine Duenas, now 83, who invested $18,000 in a film project with Caldwell, according to her son, who provided a tax form showing the investment.

Peter Duenas-Brckovich, left, with his mother, Catherine Duenas. She invested in one of Helen Caldwell’s film projects, according to a tax form he provided and his interview.

Duenas-Brckovich said he became aware of the movie investment during a meeting in summer 2017 between him, his mother, and Caldwell in her Citi offices on South Michigan Avenue. He said he had no idea at the time the film was Caldwell’s vampire film.

At the meeting, he said, Caldwell rebuffed his requests for term sheets — the standard investment report showing corporate governance and investor payout or exit strategies.

“I go, ‘A structured note? I’d like to know how it works.’ Helen is like, ‘Oh, I can’t tell you,’” Duenas-Brckovich claimed in an interview.

Duenas-Brckovich said it bothered him when Caldwell turned to his mother and allegedly said: “‘Oh, Catherine, you know about that!’ My mom is, ‘Of course, of course.’”

Duenas-Brckovich said he finally obtained a tax report showing his mother held a worthless 16% interest in a company that helped produce “Hunter.”

“That was my WTF moment,” said Duenas-Brckovich.

Amid Duenas-Brckovich’s complaints to Citi, Caldwell left the banking behemoth in November 2021 and registered as a broker with Wells Fargo Clearing Services in Chicago, FINRA reports and internal Citi records show.

She was discharged by Wells Fargo in September 2022 “following an internal review concerning the accuracy of disclosures that Caldwell made to the firm” about her outside business activities, FINRA records show.

A Wells Fargo spokesperson wouldn’t comment.

Full Article & Source:
Citi wealth adviser accused of steering older clients into money-losing film projects

Conservatorship Gone Wrong: Why Does it Seem to Happen So Often and How Can I Prevent It?

Written by:  Burns & Levinson LLP

This week, we heard about yet another conservatorship that may have been improper or involved misconduct: that of Michael Oher, the former NFL player. I take no position on the truth of the matter, that is what the discovery process and trial are for, but today I wanted to write about why we seem to hear so often about conservatorships gone wrong.

There has been what feels like a lot of news in the past few years about conservatorships that have been used to allegedly exploit people and deny them money that is rightfully theirs. Remember Free Britney? Amanda Bynes? And now, Michael Oher, the subject of the movie The Blind Side, Super Bowl champion, and eight-year NFL veteran.

As is being widely reported, including by ESPN and NPR, the Tuohy family allegedly became conservators of Oher instead of adopting him. Thereafter, the Tuohy family allegedly profited significantly from Oher, including from royalties from The Blind Side. Oher was over eighteen at the time of the petition and therefore was involved in petitioning the court for the conservatorship, which he alleges the Tuohys told him was akin to being adopted. What does appear to be true is that Oher was not adopted and is indeed under a conservatorship, despite having no known intellectual disability or obstacle to managing his affairs.

The Oher case is proceeding in Tennessee but Burns and Levinson is primarily a Massachusetts firm. So, this post will address how a case like this might play out in Massachusetts: specifically, the potential grounds to avoid a conservatorship being put into place or to end a conservatorship that is no longer needed.

Generally, a conservatorship puts into place a fiduciary who can manage a protected person’s finances. A conservator can be appointed for a minor if the minor has significant financial assets in need of administration or needs protection from financial exploitation. If a conservator is appointed for a minor for no reason other than age, the conservatorship ends automatically when the minor is emancipated. See G. L. c. 190B, § 5-429(f). A conservator can also be appointed for an adult who is under a legal disability. For this type of conservatorship, the court is required to “make appropriate findings of fact” in support of the conservatorship decree. G. L. c. 190B, § 5-407.

In Massachusetts, a conservator cannot be appointed unless the court finds that “the person’s needs cannot be met by less restrictive means.” G. L. c. 190B, § 5-407(b)(8). This may be one reason the conservatorships in the news tend to have gone so wrong: the protected person is under too many restrictions.

In the case of Britney Spears, there was controversy over whether she would be allowed to make her own reproductive decisions. In Massachusetts, a conservator would not have authority over healthcare decisions: such authority belongs to the protected person, their healthcare proxy, if one has been invoked, or their guardian, if one has been appointed. However, as with a conservatorship, the presumption in Massachusetts is that a guardianship will be limited in scope. The person under guardianship should retain the ability to make as many medical decisions as are within their capabilities or even to make medical decisions in cooperation with the guardian rather than the guardian simply dictating outcomes.

Another reason that conservatorships in the news may go wrong is that the people under conservatorship do not have a disability that prevents them from managing their assets.

At least in the case of Oher, there is no evidence that he has any disability preventing him from managing his finances: had his case proceeded in Massachusetts, the court may not have appointed a conservator for him, even if he was the petitioner. An alert judge would have pointed out that there were many options to manage his money short of a conservatorship, including establishing a trust into which the royalties from the book and movie—and Oher’s NFL salary—could have been paid. Such a trust could have been set up to disburse money to Oher as needed or to pay his bills directly.

So, why do conservatorships seem to go wrong so often? I speculate that there are a few reasons that we seem to hear about the conservatorships that go off the rails: first, the conservatorships that are going right are not newsworthy. The people who genuinely need conservatorship and whose conservators are behaving as they should—the vast majority—are boring. There are likely hundreds of thousands of conservatorships that are operating as they should and offer genuine and important protections in the United States, none of which has ever been reported on in gossip magazines or national newspapers. Second, and relatedly, people may not publicize that a conservatorship exists. People under a conservatorship may feel stigmatized or may simply not want to let others know their business, and so they might choose to keep their conservatorship quiet.

Whatever the reason bad conservatorships make the news, there are steps to try to prevent a conservatorship from going bad. In Massachusetts, there are tools that the courts use to try to ensure that a conservator is performing their duties adequately. The first of these is the inventory requirement. A conservator is required to inform the court of the assets under management within ninety days of being appointed. G. L. c. 190B, § 5-417. The second of these is the annual accounting requirement. The conservator is required to file an accounting of all monies received and expended each year. G. L. c. 190B, § 5-418. Interested parties must receive notice and may object to the accounting. Lastly, some powers of a conservator require court approval to exercise. Almost all powers over real estate require court authorization before the conservator exercises those powers, including selling property, erecting new buildings, and leasing property. See G. L. c. 190B, § 5-423.

A conservator also has a fiduciary duty to the protected person to act on their behalf and in their best interests. Conservators must take seriously this fiduciary duty: any breach is grounds for removal as conservator and/or a potential lawsuit. Anyone appointed as a conservator should remember that they can no longer act as they would with their own money but must administer the protected person’s assets under a higher standard.

There are two takeaways here: first, a conservatorship is not always the answer and, second, a conservator must perform their duties adequately and according to the law. If someone you know is under a conservatorship that you have concerns about, talk to them about it and seek information. If someone is trying to put you under a conservatorship, you can fight the conservatorship if you think it unnecessary. 

Full Article & Source:
Conservatorship Gone Wrong: Why Does it Seem to Happen So Often and How Can I Prevent It?

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Golden Years, Golden Hearts: Navigating Alzheimer's with Dignity


By:
Babyboomers.com Staff  

Some of our loved ones may discover themselves on a different route, one that is illuminated by the warmth of treasured memories and golden hearts, as the sun sets on the horizon of life. Alzheimer's disease, a degenerative brain ailment, can have a negative impact on these later years, but with the correct support, planning, and attitude, enduring this difficult journey can be a chance to maintain dignity and honor the contributions of individuals we cherish.

Key Takeaways: Although Alzheimer's disease brings difficulties, people and families may preserve dignity and quality of life throughout the process with the correct strategy and support.

A Look Inside the Mind: Alzheimer's Disease Understanding

  • The mysterious dance of the brain: Alzheimer's disease is like a jigsaw where the parts slowly disappear. Cognitive ability, emotions, and behavioral patterns are all impacted when the brain, that marvelous command center, begins to unravel its memories and functions.
  • The Power of Resilience: Despite the difficulties caused by Alzheimer's, resilience is essential. Despite the memory loss fog, many people nevertheless retain their positive attitudes, enjoyment of music, and appreciation for life's basic joys.

Care Strategies for the Golden Years: Shining a Light

  • Beyond Words: Although Alzheimer's disease can make meaningful connections more difficult, they are nevertheless achievable. Nonverbal cues, such as a tender touch or a sincere smile, may frequently close the communication gap better than words.
  • Embracing Familiarity: Having familiar sights, sounds, and smells around us may bring back fond memories and soothe us. A baked apple pie's scent or their favorite song's music may open doors to long-forgotten eras.
  • The Magic of Creativity: Taking part in creative pursuits, such as painting, creating, or even gardening, may make you happier and give you more self-confidence. The process is more important than the final product, and it's a great way to spend time with others.

Golden Laughter: The Function of Humor in Coping

  • Finding Lightness in the Dark: Laughter can be a very effective Alzheimer's treatment. Laughter and connection may be experienced while exchanging humorous tales, watching timeless comedies, or taking part in playful activities.
  • Caregivers, who are frequently family members, require comic relief to help them deal with the obstacles they face. A necessary respite might be given by laughing together or seeking consolation in hilarious publications.

Probate: Making Future Plans

  • Facing the Legal Maze: It's important to address the legal aspects of planning as the trip progresses, particularly when it comes to decisions on property, assets, and medical care. Probate provides a structure for administering estates that guarantees desires are honored.
  • Legal Guardianship: As Alzheimer's disease worsens, sufferers may lose the ability to make their own decisions. The best interests of the individual are protected when a formal guardianship is established via Arizona probate.

Golden Legacy: Creating Heartprints

  • Sharing Life Stories: It's a great way to respect a loved one's legacy and preserve their recollections. Make a scrapbook, write down their tales, or organize a "life celebration" gathering where loved ones may share their most treasured recollections.
  • Acts of Kindness: Being nice doesn't require extravagant displays. Small deeds like volunteering or making a donation to Alzheimer's research can have a big influence on other people's lives.

Navigating Emotional Waters: The Feelings' Rollercoaster

  • Riding the Emotional Waves: Alzheimer's is an emotional rollercoaster for families and caregivers, not simply a mental difficulty. Moments of delight and connection can coexist with feelings of loss, anger, and powerlessness.
  • Honoring Your Emotions: It's important to express your emotions and allow yourself freedom to lament the changes brought on by Alzheimer's disease. Speak with friends, therapists, or support groups who can offer a sympathetic ear.
  • Celebrating successes: In the midst of the challenges, there will be successes—small accomplishments that serve as a reminder of our loved ones' and our own resilience. Honor these victories and cling to the hope they inspire.
  • Finding Balance: It's important to balance self-care with the emotional cost. Take part in enjoyable activities, whether they be a leisurely walk, reading, or practicing mindfulness. Keep in mind that your health matters as well.

Final Thoughts

It's vital to keep in mind that every step, no matter how difficult, is a tribute to the eternal power of love and connection as we make our way through the complex maze of Alzheimer's. The shadows of the golden years may be there, but they are also brightened by the warm glow of beloved memories, laughter, and unshakable support. We respect the lives of people impacted by Alzheimer's and leave a compassionate legacy that will touch the hearts of future generations by tackling the disease with dignity, imagination, and empathy. Together, let's set out on this journey with love and compassion, making each moment a brilliant example of the goodness of the human spirit.

About the Author

Sofia West, a 26-year-old life coach living abroad, holds a profound understanding of human psychology, leveraging her academic background in psychology to make a positive impact on people's lives. She's worked in Arizona probate for a long time. Her passion for assisting others extends beyond her professional pursuits, as she dedicates her spare time to crafting compelling writings that encompass lifestyle, health, and empowerment, with a particular focus on championing women's progress.

Full Article & Source:
Golden Years, Golden Hearts: Navigating Alzheimer's with Dignity

“Gravely Disabled” — How I Narrowly Escaped a Conservatorship

By Susan Stebbins Standen 

I travel up through translucent layers of reality. They lift one by one, slowly, imperceptibly, like filmy veils unwrapping a cocoon. A few faces, a garbled attempt to communicate a message from the afterlife, a sharp pain in the back of my hand and the dull ache that lingers. When I finally wake, the room is empty.

I really suck at killing myself.

My first conscious thought is followed by an awareness of my complete relaxation, body and soul. Despite the unexpected awakening, I am still cocooned. I did not know a bed could be so comfortable. It conforms to every bend of my bones, cushions every potential arch of neck or knee or back. I’m untroubled—delighted, even—by the tubes in my arms and groin. I am being fed and drained. There is no need to get up, no need to take care of myself. It is all being done for me, like a child in the womb. I cannot think of a better way to be.

“Inner Moonscape” by Susan Stebbins Standen

The curtain at the end of my bed is partially open and without moving my head I see a sign that reads “Cardiac Care Unit.” I know cardiac means the heart. Did my heart stop? It seems fine, beating slowly and reliably in my chest. I follow the beat, feeling the blood pushing through arteries out to my hands and feet. The pulse in my big toe is apparent to me. All my other toes, my fingertips, my scalp, even the tip of my nose. I have never been so conscious of my body.

This is life, I think.

The next time I wake I have a few more thoughts about life and death. Despite my very best effort to leave it, I am still in the world. I had given up, given it all up, the hopes, the dreams, the pain, and the fear.

I am empty of all that, now, I realized. Who cares if I never do anything but lie in this bed for the rest of my life? It is enough that I am breathing. That’s the important part. All the rest is small potatoes.

Why did I ever think I needed to fulfill anyone’s expectations? What is success, anyway? I need to do nothing more to be worthy of life. I have no price to pay, nothing to prove. I realize that having given up all hope of being what others wanted me to be, I am now free to live however I want.

Or so I thought.

* * *

Two days later I am sitting in a chilly room on a flat bed with leather handcuffs, reconsidering that thought. I am not free. No one wants to hear that I want to live, except Renae.

“Do you believe me?” I asked my partner of fifteen years as she watched me being unhooked from all my tubes in the Cardiac Unit. The doctors were removing me from my blissful cocoon and getting me prepared to be ambulanced to the psychiatric hospital across town.

Renae had tears in her eyes. “Yes, I believe you. You sound like the old Susan, the real one. I thought I’d lost her.”

I hang on to that thought. I am not exactly the “old Susan,” but I am the real one. What had it done to my brain, to take so many lethal pills and yet live? Some kind of giant chemical shock had jolted me right out of suicidal depression. I feel clearer than I ever have in my life. I feel renewed. I feel triumphant.

Triumphant, but frustrated and afraid as well. The handcuffs, currently dangling at the sides of the wooden bed, are a clear sign that I am not out of this yet. Of course they have to put me on a psych hold, I tell myself. Twenty-four hours, or seventy-two at the most, just to make sure I’m not going to try it again. It seems a long wait in some ways; in other ways, it’s just a hiccup on the way to my new life. Surely they’ll see, like Renae does, that my mind has changed, that I am free of depression.

* * *

Three days later, it is clear that no one else sees me like Renae does. The walls are closing in. My family members have called the hospital and were given all my information. “Your father was so concerned,” the nurse tells me. I remind her of my HIPAA rights, of the large sign I myself had put on the nurses’ desk specifying that no one but Renae and Patricia, my therapist, be allowed to know I was here.

It does not matter. I have no rights. I laugh to myself as I walk away from the desk past the huge poster called “Patients’ Rights,” a glaring piece of fiction written by people who were never in my position.

I am forced to take medication that makes me fall over constantly. The tiled floor is like the deck of a ship, constantly tilting side to side. I stagger and slam against walls. I speak to the nurse who hands out the meds but she glares at me. “Do you really want to be non-compliant? she asks. I take the comment as it is meant: a threat.

I take another dose, and prepare for rough seas.

Time passes like jam spilling through a screen. No movement for a long time, and then splat, it’s afternoon. The weight of gravity is the only clock I can measure by.

They can imprison my body, but not my mind. If I can get through this, I can get through anything.

Every other morning I see people lined up in wheelchairs to go get shock therapy. ECT by assembly line. This can’t be happening, I think. It’s 2010, not the nineteen fifties. But every evening the nurses or psychiatrist present me with a piece of paper. They put a pen in my hand. Sign it, they say. It’s an agreement for electro-convulsive treatment. Every evening I put the pen down next to the unsigned paper. I do have this right, at least, but the cost is dear.

“You don’t want to get well,” my shrink admonishes me. “You know there’s nothing more to be done with you: You’re medication-resistant and a danger to yourself. The procedure is safe. Research has proven it. If you don’t agree to ECT I assume you don’t want to feel better.”

“I’m not a danger to myself,” I explain. “I’m glad to be alive, I want to live.”

“That’s not what your family says. They say you’re a liar.”

“You’ve been talking to my family?”

He looks at me like I’m stupid.

* * *

I finally decide to take my father’s call on the patient phone, just to find out what’s going on.

“We can’t let you do this anymore,” says Dad.

“I’m fine now, Dad, I just want to go home.”

“We tried that.” His voice is rough. “You need a safer facility.”

“Safer? What do you mean?”

“There’s a great place right here in Massachusetts, beautiful grounds, a really excellent program.”

“I can’t go to Massachusetts, Dad. I live in California, remember.”

“You’ll live where I decide.”

“Did I wake up in Russia this morning?” I ask sarcastically. “Because I think I have a right to live where I want after I get out.”

“Not if you’re judged to be ‘gravely disabled.’”

“Gravely… Dad, you’re kidding, right? That’s for people who can’t feed or dress themselves, not someone like me who owns a home and pays their bills. Not to mention a fifteen-year stable relationship.”

“You’ve tried to kill yourself twice this year. We can’t allow this to go on. I will be your legal guardian from now on.”

“There’s no judge in this world that will say that I’m gravely disabled under the law.”

“Enough money will get a judge to say whatever I want.”

“You bastard! You f       controlling a      , you are doing this for yourself, not me!”

“Think what you like.”

Shaking, I slam down the phone and wobble over to the nurses’ station. “Can I talk to someone, please?”

The nurse hears me out. She shakes her head. “You have to convince them that you have a plan for treatment after the hospital. If they see you are intending to go into a voluntary program, maybe they will re-think putting you on conservatorship.”

I call Renae. She finds me phone numbers of outpatient treatment programs in Sonoma County. I call them all, trying to sound both urgent and sane at the same time. One calls me back, saying that Dr. B. told them not to accept me. When did I give my former psychiatrist the right to talk to anyone about me? Never. I start to seethe, but control myself. I need my mind to stay clear; I need to find my way out of this.

But no one will take me. I contact my therapist, whom I’ve seen every week for the last seven years.

“I can’t be your only support anymore,” she tells me. “If you go into a residential program, I will agree to see you, but only then.”

I feel stabs of pain in my belly and chest. Patricia, how could you desert me?

“No one will take me,” I whisper.

“Then there’s nothing I can do. I’m sorry, Susan.”

She refuses to refer me to another therapist, and hangs up.

I go to bed and cry and cry. I try to be quiet because how will they believe I’m not depressed if they see me bawling my eyes out? Tears and mucus and snot run all over my pillowcase. I turn it over and drench the other side. This isn’t depression. This is grief, and betrayal, with a mix of terror. I still want to live, want to be free. But it hurts. How it hurts. Patricia was in my heart closer than anyone but Renae. Now I only have Renae.

Renae is holding strong for me. She exhausts herself driving back and forth a hundred miles to see me almost every night. She smiles and hugs me and says she believes me. Her trust is golden. It is the most precious thing in my life. The only sweet thing in my life.

My determination will not let me despair. I have met with the so-called Patients’ Rights Advocate, a young man who seems both uneducated and apathetic. He sat through my 5250-hearing, which extended my 5150 (3-day hold) for another two weeks, without saying a thing. Now there’s a new code to learn.

* * *

“What’s a fifty-two sixty?”

The shrink looks oddly uncomfortable. “Thirty-day hold. That will keep you here through your conservatorship hearing.”

“You can’t possibly think I’m gravely disabled. You’ve talked to me almost every day for two weeks. You’ve heard reports from the nurses. Do you really think I’m still a danger to myself? That I need to be in the hospital?”

His answer surprises me. “No, I don’t.”

“You think I’m well enough to leave?”

“Yes, but it’s not up to me.”

I’m puzzled. “Who is it up to?” Even as I ask the question, the answer comes to me.

“Your family.”

“Since when has my family been psychiatrically trained? This doesn’t make sense. You are the one that signs the discharge papers!”

“Not in this case.”

“Why not? What’s going on? Is the idea for me to live in a locked facility forever?” A silent wail of despair wells up inside me. I fight it down.

“That’s the general idea, yes.” He sounds disinterested and looks down at his desk.

I can’t speak. The room wobbles and it’s not just the meds. What’s happening to my life?

The doctor looks up and sees something in my face that makes his tone kinder.

“Susan, if it were up to me you would have been out of here a week ago. But I’m not going to have my children go to community college because of you.”

It takes me several moments to process his meaning. “You’ve been threatened with a lawsuit?”

He gives a curt nod, his face expressionless now. “A psychotherapist and an MD, I believe.”

“My brothers?” Outrage swamps my terror.

The doctor shrugs.

* * *

“Mom, mom. Tell me you’re not part of this.” I grip the phone in my fist.

“What do you want me to say?” She sounds oddly smug. No wonder; she holds all the cards. Now it’s my turn to feel as helpless as she has. I have a feeling she’s enjoying this.

“I want you to tell me you’re on my side. I want you to say you believe me, like Renae does.”

“I’m not as easy to fool as Renae. I see right through you, Susan. And so yes, I’m on your father’s side. You need help.”

I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. Mom’s attitude hurts less than Patricia’s. Perhaps so many losses have dulled my senses.

“Then it will be a long time before I’m ready to speak with you again,” I say.

I hang up.

There’s a woman here on the ward who says she’s had sixty ECT treatments over the years. Her voice is shaky, her eyes are oddly blank. But she does speak, and she tells me her story. Twenty years ago her husband left her. She tried suicide. She was hospitalized and given ECT. She was put on conservatorship. She was told where to live, had no access to her money, and was threatened with the hospital if she didn’t take the meds they gave her.

Round and round she had gone. To dingy, one-roomed apartments, group homes, board-and-cares. Back to the hospital. More shock treatment and more meds. Twenty years.

I might have been inclined to disbelieve her but for the line of wheelchairs that paraded shock victims back from the medical unit. Slumping, drooling, wide-eyed and pale. Not me, I thought, grateful that they were still allowing me to put the pen down before signing.

How long will I last? Will I give in, or will they sign my name for me and say I lost my memory of it? The only thing I have going for me is my brain. And Renae. I’ve got to keep the one, and get back to the other.

It’s always cold here. This unit is brand new, they say, and the air conditioning doesn’t work right. The other patients and I walk around or sit with layers of flimsy cotton blankets wrapped around us. There is a sort-of porch, on which people can go out at certain times. It’s covered and screened in, and I refuse to let myself go out there. The next time I breathe fresh air, I promise myself, will be when I’m free.

“Take your pills,” says the meds nurse.

“They make me dizzy. I’m getting bruises on my elbows and shoulder from hitting the walls.” I hold out my arm to let her see.

“What’s that?” She takes my arm, but not to see the latest bruise. There’s a rash underneath my wristband. “Why didn’t you tell us you’re allergic to latex?”

“I didn’t know.” I forbear to tell her that I’ve never worn a hospital band for so long.

The nurse cuts off the wristband, scans the bar code and hands me the dangling plastic strip and my cup of pills.

“I want to go home,” I murmur.

“It’s your own fault you’re here.”

* * *

There’s a new patient, a woman who came in last night. She is loud at dinner and when I ask her to be “a little quieter” she screams at me and calls me a bitch. The confrontation scares me.

The next morning the same woman appears stumbling out of her room, like me with my off-center gravity, but worse. Her eyes are glazed and she cannot speak at all. I look at her face, but no one is home. Seeing this scares me worse. I’d rather have her yell at me than lose her identity altogether.

By this time all the patients who’d been here before me are gone, as are almost all those who had been admitted after me. I talk to the people who seem nice and hear their stories and feel burgeoning friendships begin. They seem to like me. They all wonder why I’m here. Then they are discharged while I remain.

I ask one nurse who’s been nice to me about the 5260 order that my doctor has made. She looks surprised. “I’ve been here twenty years and I’ve only seen one other 30-day hold.”

“What was the other person like?”

She shakes her head. “Not like you. Who did you piss off?”

“Everyone. Almost. Particularly a very rich father and two professional a      brothers with no scruples. They threatened the doctor with a lawsuit if he lets me go, and my dad’s bribing a judge to conserve me.” I think about how insane this sounds. Why would she believe me?

The nurse widens her eyes. It seems that she believes me. “Which doctor?” Her voice is very low and secretive.

I tell her. She purses her lips and nods. I can see she’s distressed about something. So upset that I don’t want to make it worse by asking her what it is. She answers me anyway.

“It’s my job,” she whispers. Then she walks away.

I puzzle it through. What did she mean, it’s her job? Her job is to follow doctor’s orders. If she believes something is hinky with the doctor, she can’t say anything or she might lose her job. That’s what she means. She’s afraid to put her job on the line for me. I know what this means.

She’s going to help me.

* * *

At the end of her shift, right before visiting hours, the same nurse comes to me and slips something in my hand. A scrap of paper. I start to open it but she hisses at me to stop.

“Don’t put it anywhere,” she whispers.

“My lockbox?” That’s where my shoes and purse are.

“Don’t be silly, that’s not private.” Which is news to me. I thought it was private. I think of my journal, where I’ve been keeping my notes, and I’m glad that I carry it everywhere and sleep with it in my bed.

“Don’t look at it. Give it to the one who visits you,” she whispers. She must mean Renae. “Don’t let anyone see you give it.” The nurse turns around and walks away as if we’d never spoken.

I disobey her almost at once. The handwritten note, folded three times, has my doctor’s full name and medical license number on it. When will I have the freedom to use this information? I sigh.

More important than the possibility of filing a complaint someday, she’s given me something more. She’s given me courage.

I speak again to the Patients’ Rights Advocate. He has tousled hair and his young face looks sleepy. I tell him about my father’s threats to bribe the judge to conserve me, and about my brothers’ threat to sue my psychiatrist. The advocate just stares at me. I don’t know if he doesn’t believe me or just doesn’t care. He lets me know that an ambulance will take me to court for my next hearing.

“That’s a lot of money to waste on one nut,” I tell him.

The irony escapes him.

Renae is excited when she comes to see me. After a faux-casual hug in which I slip her the nurse’s note and tell her what’s on it, Renae tells me her news. “They can’t conserve you from San Mateo County,” she says. “Because only a judge in the county where you have a legal address can hear your case.”

A reprieve. It feels as though the heavens have opened up. They still can chase me when I get home, but maybe I will get home after all.

* * *

I’ve been here twenty days now, and one of the nurses hands me a letter. It’s from my insurance company. It seems they also think they’re spending a lot of money on one nut. The letter begins, “You’re clearly not benefiting from your hospitalization…”

No shit, I think.

It takes me another minute or two to untangle the bureaucratese and discover that the letter is in response to my doctor’s request for a 30-day hold. More importantly, it is a denial of the request. They will no longer pay for my hospital stay.

I get on the phone. “Get here now,” I tell Renae. “Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars; it’s time to bust me out of here.” She can barely contain her delight and I hear her rushing feet and slamming doors as she prepares for the fastest drive of her life.

I double-check with the nurse on duty. Is this right? I ask her. Can I just leave? She looks a bit bewildered but says “yes.” It’s the weekend, so my doctor’s not here, but she contacts his on-call person to double-check. Yes, my insurance is gone. And so will I be – if I can just get out of this building.

I request my shoes and purse. The nurse hands them over. She brings me papers to sign; I read them as carefully as I can in my excitement, and sign them. I grab my little comforter from home, my journal, and the puzzle books Renae brought me.

I don’t have a bag: it’s all piled in my arms. I don’t have meds ordered anywhere. I do not have a psychiatrist or a therapist anymore. All that stuff about not letting me go without an aftercare plan was just bull     after all. It was just about the money.

I’m about to jump out of my skin, worrying that my dad or someone will get wind of my exodus and stop me. But doors are unlocked before my eyes and I am ushered out. I stand outside the hospital in the cold December afternoon, feeling eyes on my back, wondering if and when someone will grab me and lock me back up again. Then I look up, and there is Renae, honking at me from the curb. I dive in with my pile of belongings like I am escaping a bank heist.

“Drive!” I yell, frissoning with fear and giggling at the same time. “Drive, baby! I’m free!”

“We’re together, and that’s all that matters,” says Renae.

I lean over and kiss her hands as we drive away.

***

Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

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