The recent hospitalization of my grandfather led me to make an emergency trip to San Diego to check on his well-being. When I arrived I found my grandfather unable to walk, eat or swallow. He was somewhat confused, though he did say he had not seen my grandmother for several days. I tried to locate my grandmother, but could not find her. After checking with the charge nurse at her nursing home facility, I was informed that my grandfather’s power of attorney, filed eight years ago, gave him legal rights to authorize a dubious caregiver to remove my grandmother from the retirement facility and relocate her to the caregiver’s home. Apparently despite the recent decline in my grandfather’s physical and mental health, the power of attorney still held legal precedence. My lack of power of attorney or a conservatorship over my grandparents, restricted the police from acting on my request to remove my grandmother from the caregiver’s custody or terminate the caregiver. The police could only perform a “welfare check” and recommend that I contact Adult Protective Services (APS) for further assistance.
Adult Protective Services, in California, is an agency that helps seniors of 65 years and older and dependent or disabled adults between the ages of 18 to 64. On the California Department of Social Services it breaks down the assistance provided by each agency: APS assists when seniors or disabled adults are “unable to meet their own needs, or are victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation”. APS investigates abuse of elders or dependent adults in “private homes and hotels or hospitals and health clinics when the abuser is not a staff member”. The California Department of Aging is responsible for investigating abuse that takes place in nursing homes, board and care homes, residential and long term care facilities. The California Department of Health Services “handles cases of abuse by a member of a hospital or health clinic.” The APS evaluates “abuse cases and arranges for services such as advocacy, counseling, money management, out-of-home placement, or conservatorship” as well as providing information, referrals to other agencies and public education of “Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse Reporting laws.” The services of APS are available to all regardless of income level (CDSS, 2007).
When I called the San Diego County APS on Saturday, I was dismayed to get their answering service, which informed me that their business hours were weekdays only from 8am to 5pm. I did however find a form on their website called “SOC 341,” a “Report of Suspected Dependent Adult/Elder Abuse.” The “SOC 341” form has sections to be filled out for information on the victim, suspected abuser, and reporting party (along with an option to waive confidentiality to specific parties or all). The form asks for incident information and designates two types of abuse categories. The category “Perpetrated by Others” offers a checklist for abuses of assault/battery, constraint or deprivation, sexual assault, chemical restraint, over/under medication, neglect, financial, abandonment, isolation, abduction or other. The category “Self-Neglect” offers a checklist for abuses of physical care, medical care, health and safety hazards, malnutrition/dehydration and other. The next section, “Abuse Resulted in”, has check box options for physical injury, death, mental suffering, minor medical care, hospitalization, care provider required or other. The last five sections ask about the reporter’s observations, targeted accounts, other people believed to have knowledge of abuse, others responsible for victim’s care, and report information.
While I was impressed with the depth of information that the APS form requires, I was displeased with the inability to contact APS on the weekend. The fact that my grandmother was in the custody of an untrustworthy caretaker, who was responsible for the disappearance of my grandfather’s car and miscellaneous valuables from their home including jewelry, antiques and furniture, led me to investigate a conservatorship further. Similar to guardianship of a minor, “a person under conservatorship is…a protected person” (Wikimedia, 2009). “A conservatorship can be set up after a judge decides that a person (called the "conservatee") can't take care of themselves or their finances. Then the judge chooses another person or organization (called the "conservator") to be in charge of the conservatee's care or finances, or both” (California Courts, 2009). My mother, now seeking a conservatorship of my grandparents, has to submit addresses of several relatives for notification. Both my grandfather and grandmother will be interviewed by social workers and my mother’s background will be investigated to consider her for the conservatorship.
At present financial abuse of the elderly is on the rise since the economy has collapsed. As seniors “usually have steady income -- Social Security and sometimes pension checks”, they are targeted in turbulent economic times. Although people generally consider “financial abuse…[as] phony investment schemes or Internet scams…attorneys say just as common are instances of exploitation perpetrated by a loved one or friend”. The most usual suspects of financial abuse are “in this order -- family, caretakers and new best friends”. Protecting seniors proves difficult if they have given authorization to bank accounts or signed over a power of attorney to the abuser. Without a power of attorney or conservatorship held by a trusted family member or friend, seniors continue to remain at risk.
While it is commendable to have an agency devoted specifically to the protection of seniors and disabled adults, APS needs to be available like other emergency services – 24 hours a day. APS should also work to make the public fully aware that without the legal action of a power of attorney or conservatorship, families will not be able to protect their loved ones.
Adult Protective services (APS). (2007). California Department of Social Services (CDSS). Retrieved from: http://www.cdss.ca.gov/agedblinddisabled/PG1298.htm
Conservatorship. (2009). Wikimedia Foundation Inc. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservatorship
Duties of a Conservator. (2009). California Courts Self-Help Center. Retrieved from:
Jun, C. (2009, July 27). Financial abuse of elderly rises as economy sinks. The Detroit News. Retrieved from: http://www.detnews.com/article/20090727/METRO/907270338/1409/METRO
SOC 341. (2006). Report of Suspected Dependent Adult/Elder Abuse. State of California. Health and Human Services Agency. Retrieved from: http://www.dss.cahwnet.gov/cdssweb/entres/forms/English/SOC341.pdf
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