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Theft from Nursing Home Patient Trust Funds Rampant, Report Says

When we send our loved ones to receive care in a nursing home facility, we expect them to be treated with kindness, dignity and respect.
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Too often, that doesn’t happen. In fact, a recent national report by USA Today reveals that many patients at nursing home across the country are being robbed of their trust fund accounts, funds that are overseen by nursing home staffers. Our Coconut Creek nursing home abuse lawyers have learned that in some cases, these thefts have exceeded $100,000.

This kind of financial abuse is all the more egregious when you consider that despite the term “trust fund,” these savings were often accumulated by the elderly themselves, through decades of hard work and sacrifice. To be raided without a second thought by those who are supposed to be ensuring quality care is despicable.

In one case highlighted by the paper, it was an administrator at the home who first noted a problem. Apparently, numerous audits had noted nothing amiss. However, she was first alerted to a problem when conducting a cursory review of the books and discovered an odd discrepancy. One of the patients had charged $90 on his account to purchase a pair of women’s designer jeans. This would be strange in itself, but was especially concerning considering the man in question had both of his legs amputated.

At that point, the administrator decided it was time for a closer look. Although there were receipts for every purchase, she began to notice that many of those receipts reflected purchases that were unlikely initiated by the residents or their family members aiding in their care. Those purchases included designer jackets, high-end leather boots, make-up and expensive sporting equipment.

When it was all pieced together, it was revealed that more than $100,000 had been swiped from the accounts of more than 80 patients in two facilities. One woman, an office staffer, was suspected to be the culprit. A few months ago, she pleaded guilty to numerous counts of exploiting vulnerable adults.

The daughter-in-law of one of the victims expressed deep concern over the fact that there wasn’t a greater level of oversight when it came to accessing patient funds.

But this is not an isolated incident. USA Today’s investigation revealed that there are thousands of cases annually in which disabled or elderly adults have their personal savings either mismanaged or pilfered by someone working for the agency to whom their care is entrusted.

These accounts are supposed to be managed like traditional bank accounts. They should be receiving interest, getting regular statements and have someone who is providing some form of reliable oversight. However, some 1,500 recent cases of elder financial abuse involving these accounts has been investigated by state and federal authorities in recent years, the reporters learned.

The money stolen went toward gambling sprees, shopping excursions and coverage of basic household bills. In other cases, the nursing homes didn’t pay interest on the funds or they didn’t properly ensure them so that they could be replaced when a theft or loss was reported.

While a number of states’ attorneys general have begun taking notice of this issue, increasing investigative units that examine financial exploitation of nursing home residents, problems persist. For all the cases we know about, there are undoubtedly far more in which the thieves’ actions go entirely undetected.

Many of these cases, it seems, involve those who work in the finance, business or office management sector of the facility. These are the individuals who are responsible for overseeing the books, which means detection of a discrepancy could take many years – if it’s ever discovered at all.

A perfect example of how easily these cases can go unnoticed: A case out of South Carolina was only discovered after the person responsible for allegedly forging trust fund checks from patients accidentally dropped one of those checks in the parking lot of the facility. That check was discovered by a co-worker, who reported it. An investigation later revealed the theft of some $50,000 in patient funds.

Ninety percent of state nursing home ombudsmans say tighter oversight of this issue is needed.

Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Thefts from nursing home trust funds target the elderly, Oct. 16, 2013, By Peter Eisler, USA Today

More Blog Entries:
When Elder Care Facilities Cling to Patients Whose Care Exceeds Their Abilities, Aug. 25, 2013, Coconut Creek Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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