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GAO: Most States Don’t Track Financial Abuse in Nursing Homes

Investigators with the Government Accountability Office reported recently there are giant gaps in the collection of data on the financial abuse of seniors in nursing homes, making it next to impossible to accurately quantify the scope of the problem. 

The acting director of the agency’s Forensic Audit and Investigative Service Team offered up the latest report to members of the U.S. Senate’s Aging Committee. It’s the first comprehensive look at financial abuse of the elderly in six years. Unfortunately, the report is based on scant evidence – a limited review of just eight cases that were closed between 2011 and 2015. The agency is only allowed to examine cases that have been closed, and that can in some cases take years.

In most cases, the acting director said it’s the court systems of the state – not the federal government – that are in charge of keeping track of financial abuse. However, that isn’t happening in a lot of cases, which means we don’t have a clear picture of how serious a problem this is.

As our nursing home abuse attorneys can attest, financial abuse – also sometimes called financial exploitation and material exploitation – involve illegal or improper use of a patient’s individual funds, assets or property. Nursing home patients are especially vulnerable to this because they may not be fully aware of what is happening with their finances or assets. Some examples of financial abuse in nursing homes can include:

  • Cashing the checks of residents without permission;
  • Forging the signature of the resident;
  • Stealing/ misusing a resident’s money or possessions;
  • Coercing or deceiving a resident into signing certain documents, such as wills or contracts;
  • Improper use of power of attorney, guardianship or conservatorship;
  • Stealing a resident’s medical equipment or drugs.

The issue doesn’t receive a great deal of attention from the media or the community, but studies that have been conducted previously indicate it is a fairly serious and widespread problem. For example, a study by the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse reported in 2009 that elder financial abuse costs victims as much as $2.6 billion annually. That figure is likely to have increased in recent years because of advances in technology and the fact that the elderly are a growing cohort in the U.S.

The GAO acting director said that while the problem is undoubtedly quite serious, what is known about its proliferation over the last few years is just, “the tip of the iceberg.”

In many cases the perpetrators are family members – including children, nieces, nephews and grandchildren. However, it also sometimes involves nursing home staffers.The GAO’s report offered numerous instances of anecdotal evidence, but they lack actual statistics. The GAO did say courts need to more regularly check in to see whether guardianship is still needed, whether it’s being used appropriately and whether guardians are free of any criminal background that might indicate the individual could abuse the power with which they are entrusted.

Another possible tool to fight senior financial exploitation is The Senior $afe Act of 2016. This law would work to protect over-65 persons who have an increased likelihood of suffering financial exploitation by offering increased training to banks and other financial service professionals and removing bureaucratic barriers that might otherwise make it difficult to report suspected elder financial abuse.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Lack of data makes financial abuse of seniors nearly impossible to measure, Collins’ committee told, Nov. 30, 2016, By Eric Russell, Portland Press Herald

More Blog Entries:

$2M Nursing Home Neglect Settlement Involves Claims of Failure to Provide Marketed Services, Nov. 11, 2016, Elder Financial Abuse Lawyer Blog

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