Government Watchdogs Warn About Theft and Financial Abuse In Senior Care Facilities

November 25, 2019

It’s Long Term Care Awareness Month, and here’s an important issue that needs your awareness and attention.

A recent report issued by the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned that some care facilities don’t perform background checks on key employees who have access to patient financial information and funds. This is a nationwide concern. In another study published this year, Michigan’s Auditor General criticized the state Aging and Adult Services agency, “citing insufficient background checks and inconsistent guidelines for reviewing such checks by Michigan’s 16 local agencies for the aging.

Health visitor and a senior woman during home visit. A nurse talking to an elderly woman.

If you or a loved one is currently living at a long term care (LTC) facility, nursing home, home health agency, or assisted living community, check with the administrators to find out what their policy is on employee background checks. They deal with a population that is often physically and cognitively vulnerable to abuse and manipulation. A criminal background check on all employees seems like a basic safety measure.

Theft is Common, but Under-reported

A woman takes money from open wallet a Senior women. The Senior keeps them by the arm.

While physical abuse tends to dominate the headlines, financial abuse is common. Often, the victims and/or their families have trouble proving the case or fear retribution from caregivers or administrators if they “make waves.” Just 1 out of 44 cases of elder financial abuse is reported, according to the National Adult Protective Services Association.

A University of Minnesota study published in July 2019, examined confirmed reports of theft between March 2013 and August 2018 in Minnesota assisted living facilities. The results showed that residents lost more than $117,000 during the five-year period, with $1,130 being the average loss per residents who spoke with investigators.  Sadly, the problem isn’t limited to Minnesota and it’s an ongoing problem. For example:

  • October 2019: The Security IT Director at Georgia assisted living community was charged with stealing at least $35,000 in jewelry from residents at a memory care wing of an assisted living facility. The sheriff said that his investigation revealed a “prior felony conviction” that was expunged due to “first offender treatment.”
  • October 2019: Two former employees of a Chicago senior living community were charged with stealing over $300,000 from a patient with dementia. According to the Office of the Cook County Public Guardian, the woman’s entire life savings, $750,000 has been stolen.
  • November 2019: Two certified nursing assistants in Florida face criminal charges for using their positions to steal from their patients. Charges include grand theft, check forgery, exploitation of an elderly person, and credit card fraud.

What You Can Do

A senior man is using a tablet computer and his credit card to shop online.

Elder abuse is often difficult to investigate and prove. Sometimes, victim doesn’t want to admit to being scammed or robbed. Part of that reluctance is embarrassment, but it’s often also related to control and independence. If relatives think you can’t take care of yourself, then maybe they’ll try to “take over.”

Still, if you think your friend or relative has been the victim of a crime, take action. Those criminals need to be caught and prosecuted before they target other victims.  Here’s what to do if you have reason to suspect a caregiver of theft or financial abuse:

  • Monitor your friend/relative: Stay involved in their life with regular contact. New friends or romantic partners may be just that – or they may be con artists who prey on lonely people. Remember too that relatives are often in the best position to steal. A power of attorney or guardianship gives a relative a lot of power and access to assets.
  • Talk with the facility or agency management: Explain your concerns and present any evidence you have. For example: canceled checks with a forged signature, unusual credit card charges, photos of your relative wearing a wedding ring that’s now missing, etc.
  • Report the theft to law enforcement: Remember that they don’t take action based on suspicion. Take the time to gather relevant documentation and get the names and contact information of any potential witnesses.

Many states have agencies, hotlines, and helplines that monitor elder issue and advocate for seniors and their families.  The National Center on Elder Abuse maintains a directory of state elder resources.  Use it to locate state reporting numbers, government agencies, state laws, state-specific data and statistics, and other resources.

We thought you might also like:

The Battle Against Elderly Financial Scams

Seniors and Financial Fraud: How To Spot & Prevent Scams

Five Financial Resolutions For Seniors

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