Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Fighting elder abuse means defending the defenseless

Post by Brian O'Neill on July 10, 2011 at 6:11 pm with 9 Comments »
July 11, 2011 7:09 am

A neighbor had been hearing the elderly woman next door for weeks, screaming “Help me!” Not wanting to get involved, the neighbor did nothing. Finally, the incessant pleas overcame his lack of concern and he called the police.

Officers from my department arrived to investigate and soon uncovered an ugly truth. The elderly woman had been living a nightmare in which her caregiver had been assaulting and raping her for a period of months if not years.

What a hellish existence it must be when the only person you can turn to for help is your tormentor.

Abuse of the elderly, the infirm and disabled has been getting a lot of attention lately. Because this criminal activity is rarely seen in public, much less reported (as evidenced by the above recent incident), so the current discussion in prosecutor’s offices and news agencies can only help to educate people on the plight of victims who have no means to defend themselves.

A recent Trib article, which continued an ongoing report on the death of a vulnerable adult, highlighted the need for new legislation on elder abuse.

David Vernon was described as a developmentally disabled man who lived, and died, in a group home here in Tacoma. The purpose of the home was to keep Vernon safe, and in the midst of a heat wave, this equated to staying cool. Left alone in his all but closed up room, with an inoperative fan and no air conditioner, Vernon died–his body temperature several minutes or more after his death was 107 degrees.

How different is the method of Vernon’s tragic than, say, an infant left in a hot car? On a lesser note, I have come upon enraged adults yelling at careless pet owners upon their return to hot animals in parked cars. I’ve even written such irresponsible jerks a ticket.

If we agree–and we had better agree on this–that we owe vulnerable adults more consideration than our animals, then someone needs to be held accountable when a human being is simply left to die, unprotected in a dangerous environment.

The problem appears that the only current applicable code that could have been charged in Vernon’s death has too high a threshold. It stipulates that the mistreatment must be intentional. If such is the case then we simply need better law. We need a code that mandates responsibility for group homes like the one Vernon counted on for his safety and well-being.

Negligence killed David Vernon, and somebody needs to be held accountable.

Leave a comment Comments → 9
  1. Much of the elder abuse I have observed is by family and friends. It is particularly rampant, and never reported, when there are assets for the abusers to gain. Recently I stepped in to set up a “protective” environment for a 75 year old dementia friend whose children and ex-wife were raping him financially and leaving him in the hands of an incompetent caregiver who neither fed nor gave him vital medications. These are the kinds of cases we as friends, neighbors and caring family members must watch for. “None of my business” doesn’t fly.

  2. Brian, a friend told me a saying and I want to pass it on to you. “He who saves one life, it is the same as saving the whole world.” I think your writings have raised awareness for mandatory and permissive reporting suspected neglect, abuse and abandonment that will result in the saving of many. Many thanks,

  3. @Olemag,

    Washington‘s system for responding to abuse and neglect of adults is currently failing to provide the protection that adults with disabilities need in order to live safely and with dignity. Most cases that we hear about that are file by prosecutors are against family member. Rarely do we hear about criminal charges filed against caretakers and facilities because prosecutors are reluctant to file charges against them.

    Our State is not holding mandatory reporters accountable for failure to report incidents of abuse and neglect as required under state law. Where abuse is witnessed but unreported by others, a climate of acceptance – and continuing abuse – is fostered.

    According to Washington State law neglect is defined as:

    Vulnerable Adult Statute, RCW 74.34.020: (a) a pattern of conduct or inaction by a person or entity with a duty of care that fails to provide the goods and services that maintain physical or mental health of a vulnerable adult, or that fails to avoid or prevent physical or mental harm or pain to a vulnerable adult; or (b) an act or omission that demonstrates a serious disregard of consequences of such a magnitude as to constitute a clear and present danger to the vulnerable adult’s health, welfare, or safety, including but not limited to conduct prohibited under RCW 9A.42.100.

    It’s everyone’s business to protect the vulnerable, we are all stakeholders on this issue because, we will all be vulnerable one day.

  4. elderjustice2010 says:

    Imagine watching your elder be abused for over a year, mentally and psychologically brainwashed and after APS says they can rule for elder abuse, the case is swept under the rug after a Democratic relative visits APS management and tells them to look the other way. Then since the state won’t do a darn thing, $100,000 is spent to go to trial to seek justice. The judge rules there was theft money, yet the abusers run free. I commend those who are willing to sacrifice to ensure our elders are protected when the state won’t. Far too many are cowards including those in APS management & DSHS and of course the local politician who helped cover-up elder abuse crimes in Pierce County for their political campaign contributor.

  5. @elderjustice,

    No State agency is holding non-licensed individuals civilly accountable for abusing or neglecting vulnerable adults receiving services from DSHS licensed providers.

    RCS, (Residential Care Services) however, is not equipped to conduct investigations calculated to substantiate whether the incident of abuse or neglect or financial exploitation actually occurred. According to RCS‘s current policies, the purpose of RCS investigations is limited to identifying a ―failed facility practice, which by RCS‘s policy definition is ―more than one occurrence of ―inadequately providing services or the provision of poor quality of services to one or more residents, although ―one severe incident may constitute a practice as an exception to the rule. Thus, these investigations do not seek evidence to substantiate whether single incidents of abuse or neglect occurred. RCS, instead, relies heavily on the facilities‘ own investigations, and unless it finds a flaw in the facility‘s investigative process, defers to the facility conclusions.

    Source, Disability Rights Washington.

    In other words, Facilities and caretakers conduct investigations on themselves and then, APS defers to their findings and conclusions.

    It’s not surprising then that the vulnerable adults are placed right back into the same facility, with the same caretaker who may have originally abused, neglected or financially exploited the vulnerable adult.

  6. BlaineCGarver says:

    This state has lots of laws, and no follow through. A half-assed program is worse than no program because people assume that everything is being taken care of.

  7. @ Blaine,

    There is a consumer protection aspect that needs to be properly addressed. Since the programs are voluntary, the public needs to be able to review the health and safety data to be able to make informed decisions for placement. Currently, there are no points of measure for the health and safety of vulnerable adults at APS. You cannot improve what is not measured. Nor can the public rely on other information that would be provided at placement by the facility.

  8. Sometimes just letting the elderly talk and do as much on their own
    as possible will cause them to bloom. If you don’t impose your own
    needs on theirs and need nothing it’s pretty easy. Real elder abuse
    is a cause of many of the malady’s of old age. If they can’t act or think because the caregiver is doing that for them they deteriorate.

  9. PumainTacoma says:

    Again another Pierce County case where the elderly vulnerable abusers are not given justice. Another wart for our prosecutor!

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