Financial Abuse in Nursing Homes?
Elderly individuals who live in nursing homes may be susceptible to various types of abuse, including financial abuse. Financial abuse involves taking advantage of someone else’s financial assets for one’s own gain, without that person understanding the consequences or implications of any financial transactions that are made.
Since the elderly may have physical or mental conditions that limit their cognitive abilities, they may not be able to understand when someone is taking advantage of them. Abuse can be committed by caregivers, family members, or any other individuals who have contact with the elderly person.
Statistics show that elder abuse is common. Approximately 1 in 6 people aged 60 years and older experienced some form of abuse in community settings during the past year. 2 in 3 staff members of nursing homes reported that they had committed abuse in the past year against a patient. Cases of financial abuse were among the most common types of abuse, representing over 14% of all abuse cases.
What is nursing home financial abuse?
Financial abuse is another form of nursing home abuse that involves the illegal, unauthorized, or improper use of an elder’s money, benefits, belongings, property, or assets for the benefit of someone other than the elderly adult. It is one of the six types of elder abuse experienced by individuals in nursing homes.
Examples of Financial Abuse in Nursing Homes
Financial abuse of the elderly can take place in a number of ways. These can include:
- Unusual activity in a person’s bank accounts, including frequent, unexplained withdrawals
- ATM withdrawals by an older person who has never used a debit or ATM card
- New powers of attorney that the older person does not understand
- People who want to accompany the older person to the bank
If financial abuse of an elderly person is suspected, it’s important to step in and take action.
Who's likely to financially abuse someone in a nursing home?
Over 90% of abusers are family members or other trusted individuals, such as primary caregivers. Those who are closest to the elderly individual often have knowledge of the person’s finances and develop a relationship to gain the trust of the person in an effort to take financial advantage of them.
There is also a potential for elderly abuse committed by in-home nurses who oversee the care of an elderly person. Since they often spend a lot of time with the older person, they may attempt to extort funds from them to cover their own bills.
Private companies may attempt to convince elderly people to purchase services they don’t need and overcharge them. Common business schemes involve selling home-improvement services or overpriced insurance.
Signs of Nursing Home Financial Abuse
There are a number of red flags that may indicate an elderly person is experiencing financial abuse while in a nursing home. These can include:
- Unexplained changes in a bank account or banking practices
- Unexplained withdrawal of large sums of money or securities
- New or added names on an elder’s bank signature card or brokerage accounts
- Unauthorized withdrawal of the elder’s funds using the elder’s ATM card
- Sudden changes in a will or other financial documents
- Unexplained disappearance of funds or valuable possessions
- Substandard care being provided by staff or family members
- Unpaid bills despite adequate funds
- Discovery of an elder’s signature being forged for financial transactions or titles of possessions
- The sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming financial rights
- Unexplained transfer of assets to a family member or someone outside the family
- An elder’s report of financial exploitation
- Fear and anxiety when finances are brought up
- An elderly person signing strange financial documents they don’t understand
- An elderly person not having a clear picture of their financial situation
- Nursing staff paying an inordinate amount of attention to the elderly person’s finances
- Missing money after nursing staff visit
Financial abuse of an elderly person can occur at any time, either in a nursing home or outside of it. If the elderly person doesn’t have much support from others, they may be more vulnerable to financial abuse. This is especially true if there’s a cognitive impairment that prevents the individual from making sound decisions or realizing when they’re being taken advantage of.
Resources for Family Members: Protecting Your Loved One from Nursing Home Financial Abuse
The best strategy to prevent the financial abuse of an elderly person is to have a team in place that prevents harm from occurring. This team should know the signs of financial abuse and keep close track of the person’s behaviors.
Nursing homes should assemble their own teams that monitor patients and their caregivers to ensure the patients are not being abused, financially or otherwise. Teams should receive training on preventing and responding to financial abuse, set jurisdictions and boundaries of pertinent agencies, and monitor the interactions among these agencies.
The team should implement a system for effective responses to financial abuse through regular meetings, case reviews, and coordinated action. There should be a designated leader on the team who is responsible for keeping records and reporting cases of suspected financial abuse.
Without a team approach, periodic changes in staffing can allow a bad situation to endure. An effective team promotes the safety of the residents and the financial security of the nursing home or assisted living community.
All team members should be fully aware of the signs of financial abuse of an elderly person. This includes full training to understand the warning signs of financial abuse. They should be aware of who monitors the patient’s finances – if it is the patient themselves, a family member, trustee, or another individual whom the elder has hired.
Nursing home staff should be alert to changes in the individual’s financial status, including unpaid bills to the care facility or other indications. Signs to look out for include:
- The resident says someone is stealing their money or property
- The resident is agitated or distraught before or after a family member or friend visits them
- The resident becomes secretive or suddenly starts hiding possessions or hoarding papers
- The elderly person’s possessions go missing or are replaced with items of lesser value
- There is pressure from the resident to make a financial decision, change a will, or sign a document
- A visitor or family member has a known addiction to gambling, drugs, or alcohol
- The resident’s adult children or others with close relationships with the resident have financial conflicts
- A family member, friend, or financial caregiver says they plan to move the resident after questions arise about suspected financial abuse
- Stalling or broken promises from the person handling the resident’s money
Financial abuse of an elderly person is very serious. If enough money is stolen or misappropriated, it can leave the individual with fewer funds to maintain their quality of life. In worst-case scenarios, they may not be able to support themselves.
If suspicions arise that an elderly person in a nursing home may be experiencing financial abuse, it’s important to start documenting evidence immediately. Consult with other team members who are familiar with the patient and may have observed relevant behavior. Make sure that they document each instance with the date, time, what was observed, and contact information for any witnesses.
All pertinent communications, such as phone calls, meetings, letters, or emails, will need to be recorded. Speak with all caregivers who spend significant time with the individual and see if they have concerns that the individual may be being abused. Encourage them to talk with you and include their observations in the record.
Once you have recognized and recorded documentation pertaining to the individual, you must report it. State laws will include the definition of financial abuse and exploitation. The primary agencies that investigate reports of suspected elder financial abuse are Adult Protective Services (APS), licensing agencies, law enforcement, and the long-term care ombudsman.
However, requirements differ between states. In some cases, APS does not oversee financial abuse cases pertaining to the elderly. It is the responsibility of caregivers to find out which agency is responsible for reporting suspected elder financial abuse.
Who do I contact if I suspect nursing home financial abuse?
No form of abuse or neglect should be tolerated at a nursing home, including emotional, physical, sexual, or financial abuse, abandonment, or neglect. You have the right to adequate and safe treatment as a resident at a long-term care facility. If your loved one is unable to advocate for themselves, you can speak up on their behalf. To do so, follow these steps:
File a Report with the Nursing Home Facility
The first step you should take is to file a report with the nursing home facility. This should occur whether you expect staff or a family member, friend, or acquaintance of the elderly person to have engaged in financial abuse.
Contact Your Local Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program
The long-term care ombudsman program was formed in 1975 due to public concern about substandard care in nursing homes. Each state has an appointed ombudsman that works to resolve problems related to the health, safety, welfare, and rights of individuals who live in long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes and other residential care communities.
If you witness financial abuse occurring to an elderly patient in a nursing home, your state’s ombudsman should be notified.
Contact Adult Protective Services (APS)
Adult Protective Services is a social services program provided by state or local governments nationwide. It serves older adults and adults with disabilities who are in need of assistance.
APS team members work closely with a wide variety of professionals to investigate cases of abuse, neglect, or exploitation. When a report of potential abuse is made to an APS agent, the APS worker will assess the adult’s safety, need for assistance, and determine what services would be beneficial to maintain their well-being.
Financial Exploitation Is a Crime. Contact Your Local Law Enforcement Agency.
If financial exploitation is suspected, reach out to your local law enforcement agency and report your concerns. You may also consider contacting a lawyer with experience in nursing home abuse.
If you suspect nursing home abuse is affecting your loved one, or if you’ve experienced financial harm due to nursing home financial abuse, contact us for a free case evaluation.
Dr. Patricia Shelton, MD
- University of Washington, Doctor of Medicine – MD. June 2008
- University of Washington, Bachelor of Science – BS, Jun 2003
Neuroscience and Medicine
- Dr. Shelton primarily writes content for health-related websites, but has also written test prep materials, white papers, published research articles, court documents, and more.
- Dr. Shelton teaches anatomy and physiology at the college level for the National Institutes of Health.
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