Elder Justice Now!

The Elder Justice Act — part of health reform — will not stop the story below from happening to others, but it will give prosecutors and adult protective services nationwide more support for education, prevention and prosecution of such crimes.

Some years ago, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Like her mother and sister before her, colon cancer attacked her insides and led to debilitating surgery and a painful end.

Both my sister and I lived long distances from her, and long distance caregiving was difficult. Mother did not want hospice care. Having met two nurse assistants at an assisted living facility where she recuperated from surgery, she asked the couple to move in to an extra bedroom rent free.

They were there when she died and we weren’t. They administered pain medicine during her last days — watching and monitoring the drip.  The young man was strong enough to lift mother and carry her to the bathroom for bathing or toileting. The young woman took shifts during the days and nights mother must have suffered with the progressively horrific effects of this disease.

But, after Mother died, a detective informed my sister and me that the couple were forging checks without her knowledge during this period. While the financial damage was not horrendous, they broke the law. Their financial abuse made us question whether they had abused my mother in other ways.

The detective wanted to know if we wished to press charges. We decided not to, mainly because of the care we know they gave and for which they were not paid. Perhaps it was because we both felt a little guilty that we weren’t there and they were — when she died.  At the same time, I have thought many times whether, because of our inaction, they just moved on and abused another elder.

I am sure many families are faced with similar dilemmas, but the fact remains that these two broke the law and took advantage of someone who was frail and dying. It is inexcusable. It is elder abuse.