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How to Detect and Stop Financial Exploitation of Nursing Home Residents

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A nursing home employee swipes a credit card from a resident’s open purse. A caregiver urges or coerces them to sign their name to papers or checks for false reasons and threatens them if they don’t.

Personal property and valuables repeatedly disappear from an Alzheimer’s patient’s room, only for a nurse to reassure them they never had the missing item in the first place. Or power of attorney is abused, with inappropriate decisions far from the resident’s best interest made without proper consent. Far from fiction, these scenes play out regularly in the United States in places that are supposed to be safe havens for the most vulnerable of our citizens.

Americans may picture physical scars or careless accidents at the mention of nursing home abuse and neglect. But financial exploitation in callous incidents like these are all too common and no less damaging, both to elderly and vulnerable residents of long-term care and to the wider trust in nursing homes as institutions.

Financial abuse of the elderly entered the public imagination some time ago, even being a key topic of this year’s Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Studies have produced disturbing numbers. A Bloomberg piece from 2018 estimated America’s seniors are scammed out of a staggering $37.5 billion annually, while some experts think such a figure is only a drop in the bucket. One AARP report cited average losses worth tens of thousands of dollars per person, with older age closely correlated to higher numbers.

Myriad sources prey on our loved ones, from callers pretending to be the IRS or Social Security Administration to foreign hackers. But if many cases are underreported, it is often because they are not recognized. When financial exploitation takes place at a nursing home or long-term care facility, perpetrators are overwhelmingly known to their victims. The National Association of Nursing Home Attorneys observes that 90% of financial abuse is committed by trusted individuals.

The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care notes that financial exploitation is the fastest growing type of elder abuse. With regulatory safeguards in place, this should not be happening. Consumer Voice reminds us that nursing home residents enjoy robust protections under federal law, with rights to manage their own financial affairs, have access to their own records and have personal funds they deposit with the nursing home protected.

Nursing home residents who may suffer from intellectual disabilities or progressive conditions, like Alzheimer’s or dementia, are especially vulnerable to manipulation by those who play on their lapses of memory or awareness. Physically limited residents may be more vulnerable to theft if valuable items are kept out of their sight or reach.

Depending on the exact circumstances, other financial harm to residents may also constitute exploitation or abuse. Charging residents for services covered by Medicare or Medicaid, which Consumer Voice also notes is against the law, constitutes a form of financial exploitation. More recently, questions about institutions seizing federal stimulus checks shed a light on potential institutional malpractice in managing funds sent to nursing homes for residents’ benefit.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau tells us that the signs of financial exploitation in nursing homes can be direct or indirect. For example:

  • Your loved one, no matter their cognitive capabilities, tells you someone is stealing from them or misusing their personal property. They report things like a checkbook or credit cards going missing, or they become overly protective or secretive about them.
  • You notice items have gone missing from their living space each time you visit them — or they seem to want for the essentials despite having healthy bank account balances.
  • Perhaps if the abuse is being committed by another family member or friend, you have become aware they recently signed legal documents without being of sound mind to do so.

Trust your gut, regardless of what you see, hear or feel. If this is happening to your loved one at a facility, it is unlikely they are the only victims, and whatever is uncovered by questions or probing is also certain to protect or rescue others.

The experienced trial lawyers of Jehl Law Group have helped countless victims and families of nursing home abuse secure compensation in the face of serious wrongdoing. If you believe your loved one has been financially exploited at a nursing home or long-term care facility, please contact us today.

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