Massachusetts, like most other states, has its share of nursing home facilities. The baby boom generation’s oldest members are now in their mid-70s with millions turning 65 every year. Unfortunately, many of these individuals and those who are younger are entering nursing home facilities due to cognitive and/or physical decline.
Nursing home facilities are strictly regulated by state and federal laws, but such facilities are nearly all plagued by a lack of trained staff. Although we may have heard or read horror stories about physical abuse at these facilities, financial abuse is an even more insidious harm.
Many elderly residents at nursing homes are indigent or live on low, fixed incomes. Medicare and other insurance may go exclusively to the homes where the residents reside, so if their income or funds are depleted by a scam or outright theft, it threatens their living arrangements, health, and overall well-being.
The elderly are especially susceptible to scams and schemes designed to take their funds. Many are unable to handle their own finances due to:
- Cognitive decline—a person suffering from dementia is unable to make rational judgements about finances or anything else about their lives. Nursing home staff, relatives, and even friends will take advantage of them by making promises or offering to take care of matters for them.
- Loneliness and isolation—even if a person is among many other residents, the lack of family or visits or simply living in a strange and different environment contributes to feelings of helplessness and emotional vulnerability.
- Overall care—even residents who may still have full cognitive capabilities but who depend on nursing home attendants or staff for medical care may feel obligated or grateful, or even fearful if threatened unless certain staff personnel are paid cash, are written into the resident’s will, or given power of attorney over their financial affairs
It is because our elderly relatives are so vulnerable that strict regulations demand that nursing homes account for every dollar spent by a resident, and that meticulous records be maintained for periodic review.
Nursing Home Obligations
State regulatory agencies conduct yearly inspections of resident homes and their records to uncover instances of financial abuse. Nursing homes can be and are often fined for even minor violations such as failing to account for certain transactions, regardless of the expense amount.
Even with these safeguards, unscrupulous staff will still find ways to get residents to hand over cash, steal medications for them to sell, or have them invest in phony transactions that appear legitimate on the surface.
Warning Signs of Possible Financial Abuse
As a caring relative, you can spot these signs of possible financial abuse:
- Unexplained withdrawals from their bank account
- Unusual credit card transactions
- Purchase of unnecessary items
- Excessive purchases on a credit card
- Unpaid expenses
- ATM withdrawals that could not have been made by the resident alone
- Bank statements or cancelled checks that are going to someone else
- Forged signatures on checks
- Changes to a will
- Additional users on a credit card
- Missing medications
- Loss of real estate
- Purchase of unnecessary and expensive insurance products
- Missing medical devices that were paid for
- Unusual emotional reactions to certain nursing home attendants or staff
- Coerced transfers of funds or property
If you discover any of these instances, you should immediately meet with nursing home officials to discuss these unusual transactions. A forged check should be reported to law enforcement. Other agencies that you can report abuse to include:
- Real estate board
- State bar association if a lawyer was involved
- State insurance commissioner’s office if insurance products were purchased
- The National Center for Elder Abuse for advice and information
- An experienced nursing home abuse lawyer like Paul Tetzel
What a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Can Do
Retaining an experienced and aggressive nursing home lawyer can remedy many if not all abuses that your loved one has experienced. Nursing homes are liable for the actions of their employees and even for abuse perpetrated by other residents since such acts are entirely foreseeable.
Your attorney can force the nursing home to hand over records it is required to maintain for your loved one and conduct a full investigation of the practices and procedures the home is obligated to follow. In most cases where financial abuse is uncovered, the nursing home will settle because it failed to oversee the resident’s finances. In many cases, the home can be liable for negligent hiring if the responsible staff person had a history of abuse at other homes or a criminal record that was ignored or not uncovered.
Your loved one can recover the assets lost, have a POA revoked, have the will invalidated due to undue influence or lack of testamentary capacity, have the bank remove unauthorized persons from the account, and terminate credit cards, among other unauthorized or fraudulent transactions. If the abuse caused by or ignored by the nursing home facility caused your loved one emotional distress or physical injury, then he/she may be awarded damages for pain and suffering.
Fraud that led to the loss of your loved one’s assets may also have adversely affected her eligibility for MassHealth, have IRS implications, or resulted in an eviction from a nursing home. In such cases, your nursing home abuse lawyer can apply for a hardship waiver and demonstrate that financial exploitation caused the problem.
Retain Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Paul Tetzel
Paul Tetzel has been representing victims of nursing home abuse for decades. He has recovered lost assets for the elderly who were the victims of scams and other unscrupulous activities and held nursing homes liable. Call him for a free consultation about any suspected financial abuse at (617) 742-1700.