St. Petersburg Police arrested a 94-year-old man's licensed guardian for allegedly using her position to steal thousands of dollars from his bank account. This charge is just one shocking example of exploitation and abuse perpetrated by hired elder care professionals who were trusted to care for seniors.
Jane E. Vatelot was granted power of attorney, despite the victim’s inability to consent at the time, and allegedly stole $126,000 from his living trust account, using it to pay her mortgage, credit cards, and car insurance payments.
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It's not just financial abuse that plagues the elderly, though. Sadly, reports of abuse perpetrated by unscrupulous elder care professionals — such as professional guardians, in-home caretakers, and nursing home employees — are becoming increasingly common, despite efforts in Florida to overhaul the standards of practice in elder care. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 1 in 10 seniors in the United States have experienced elder abuse, according to the National Council on Aging.
However, a true and caring professional in the elder care industry can make a world of difference for senior citizens unable to care for themselves and their families, who may struggle with the medical and financial care of their loved one.
Find Qualified Elder Care Professionals
Whether you’re choosing an at-home caretaker to visit your elderly loved one at home, or are searching for the best quality nursing home or assisted living facility, there are a few steps you can take to ensure that the person or staff you are hiring are true professionals.
It’s essential that those looking after your elderly loved one are, in fact, professionals. When searching for a nursing home or assisted living facility, be sure to consult the state long-term care ombudsman, as well as various advocacy groups, to check the condition of the facility you are considering. Visit the facility and ask about staff licensing, the frequency of staff turnover, and the staff-to-resident ratio, recommends A Place for Mom, a resource for long-term senior care.
If you are searching for an at-home caretaker, be sure to ask the agency you are considering how they screen their staff, and if their interviewing process includes federal background checks or drug tests, recommends= the American Association of Retired Persons. This will help you to avoid agencies that are too lax in their hiring process.
Watch Out for These Tell-Tale Signs of Elder Abuse
When searching for facility care, avoid nursing homes or assisted living facilities that appear dirty or have strong odors, have staff that does not interact warmly and politely with residents, and those that lack activities and social gatherings for seniors. Be sure to also check for violations online in any facility you are considering, and avoid any facilities with excessive violations.
While some of these infractions may be minor, they can often be a sign of major, unaddressed issues within the facility, and a staff that is not held accountable to the responsibilities of their job. An environment of negligence can likely result in the financial abuse, physical abuse, or psychological abuse of resident seniors.
If you are searching for an at-home caretaker, warning signs of an unqualified caretaker or potential scammer include their refusal to supply references, a home address, or submit to a background check. Frequent moving from state to state is another red flag, according to the Institute on Aging, as this may be a sign of a person who is evading the law.
How to Know if a Guardian Is Stealing from a Senior Citizen
As with Vatelot, who allegedly stole over $100,000 from her client, those who financially exploit the elderly are often not caught until a large sum of money is drained from the senior’s nest egg. Whether it’s an at-home caretaker or those employed by a nursing home, it’s essential for families to keep tabs on the staff that they hire to care for their loved one in order to prevent abuse.
Be aware of any of these signs of financial elder abuse and exploitation, as outlined by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which can occur in both facility and at-home care:
- Disappearance of possessions and valuables.
- Missing checkbooks, credit cards, or important financial papers.
- Unpaid utility or facility bills.
- Unusual changes in power of attorney, especially if the senior is without the capabilities to consent and sign new power of attorney documents.
- Suspicious signatures — This can often be a sign of forgery or an unscrupulous caretaker making a senior who may have dementia or Alzheimers sign a blank check for them.
- Frequent and expensive “gifts” to staff members or the caretaker.
- Erratic withdrawals from bank accounts.
- Bank deposit or withdrawal forms left in conspicuous places.
- Staff or caretakers not allowing the senior to visit their family without their presence — This is called “chaperoning” and it is a sign that a senior is being threatened if they disclose abuse to their family members.
If You Suspect Elder Abuse
If you suspect that a caretaker or nursing home has harmed or exploited your elderly loved one, you don’t have to stand for it. Read more to learn how our elder abuse attorneys in St. Petersburg will fight to secure compensation for the senior in your life to cover medical expenses and pain and suffering caused by mistreatment or neglect. If you are ready to pursue a claim, fill out our free, no-risk case evaluation form today.