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Oct 30, 2013 by |

Elder Abuse Goes Unpunished in California

In California, elder abuse lawyers are reporting a disturbing trend—an alarmingly high number of financial and physical abuse cases against older people are going unresolved. California’s Department of Public Health has a myriad of laws in place to ensure that health care workers such as live-in caretakers and assisted living aides are properly vetted, and avoid hiring unqualified candidates, or those with a history of neglect and abuse. But a recent investigation by the state’s Center for Investigative Reporting indicates that the Department has failed to handle claims from elderly patients suffering abuse at the hands of already-hired employees in the state’s health care facilities.

The investigation team turned up several cases of abuse and neglect that had been left pending in the department’s files for years. Some of these untouched cases ended with the patient’s death, including the file that detailed how Elsie Fossum died from injuries sustained at Claremont Place, an assisted living facility in Pomona. And seven years after her death, her nephew, John Fossum, is still waiting for answers.

The facility initially reported that Elsie died after she fell down, suffering severe injuries. But several staff members, including Beverlee McPherson, a former nursing director at the home, claimed that Elsie’s bruises and other injuries were a result of punches delivered to her face and body. McPherson said that she believed the nursing assistant who worked at night may have been responsible for beating the elderly woman, but the facility declined to give an official comment. Although the coroner’s report also indicated that Elsie may have been an assault victim, the investigators at the Department of Public Health held onto the file without looking into the incident.

The Center’s report indicates that the number of outstanding complaint cases like Elsie Fossum’s that are filed with the Department has been steadily increasing over the last several years, especially in the southern parts of the state. But following the investigation, the Department of Public Health has issued several statements, promising to launch a full-scale investigation of their own. Also under the new management of Dr. Ron Chapman, who took over in 2011, the Department hopes to quickly resolve outstanding issues, aiming to get through at least ten cases each month.

However, the speedy resolution rate may be backfiring, as the department does not have enough time to fully investigate each case. Closing ten cases a month means conducting interviews over the phone, and relying on photographs and second-hand descriptions of potential crime scenes—a tactic that robs the investigators of the hands-on experience, and could even possibly put the public in danger.

And although the cases are being closed, investigators report that little other action is being taken to resolve further issues. The Department is still not revoking the licenses of accused caregivers, and very few cases are being taken to the Department of Justice for prosecution by the attorney general. Chapman has said that he is worried about the lack of cases being brought to court, but hopefully there will be improved numbers in the upcoming years.

Financial and physical abuse crimes against the more vulnerable elderly population should not be ignored, and the elder abuse lawyers at California-based Evans Law Firm represent anyone who has suffered from these types of abuse. Call our firm today at 415-441-8669.

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