Florida is a haven for senior citizens with more than three million residents 65 years and older, representing roughly 16 percent of the state’s population. People retire here from across the nation to take advantage of the warm weather.

Unfortunately, elderly residents often reach the point that they can’t take care of themselves, and they must enter assisted living facilities or nursing homes or enlist in-home care. Too often, they’re in no position to fend for themselves and they may fall prey to abuse from caregivers.

It happens more often than you might think. Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office recently charged two women with taking advantage of elderly people while working as in-home health-care companions.

Kathy Elliot, 66, of Ruskin, Fla., is charged with exploitation of an elderly person, grand theft, dealing in stolen property and giving false information on pawnbroker forms in connection with caring for two women, ages 67 and 98. Through her job with Hanson Services, Elliott allegedly took large amounts of jewelry from the victims’ homes and pawned the items.

Another Hanson Services employee, Anita Puskas, 42, of Riverview, Fla., is charged with grand theft, 12 counts of fraudulent use of a credit card and exploitation of an elderly person. Puskas allegedly withdrew large sums of money from the 87-year-old female victim’s account as she took care of her. Financial exploitation is a form of abuse that many seniors face.

Hillsborough County detectives are continuing to investigate the matter and ask other victims to call the sheriff’s office at 813-247-8200.

Choosing In-Home Care

Seniors have a right to be treated with dignity and receive attentive care free of any type of abuse. Yet given Florida’s large population of senior citizens, the problem is likely to increase, because when people get desperate for money they will target those least able to care for themselves.

Adult children who obtain in-home care for parents and other relatives must be alert to the potential for abuse, whether physical or financial. When making the decision to use in-home care and finding the right company to provide it, a great deal of homework is required.

Agingcare.com suggests people ask these questions:

  • What are your qualifications and experience?
  • How long has the company been operating?
  • Does the agency undergo evaluation or accreditation by a governing body such as The Joint Commission’s Home Care Accreditation Program?
  • Does the company have a state license?
  • Will the agency give references, including a list of doctors, hospital discharge coordinators and former clients?
  • What steps does the agency take to safeguard client confidentiality?
  • Can I see the results of the most frequent inspection by an outside organization?
  • Can I see the results of a recent customer satisfaction survey, if given?

Once an agency is hired, vigilance doesn’t end. Your parent or relative needs you to stop by regularly to check on their welfare and to monitor financial statements to make sure everything is in order.

Bill of Rights

If the elderly person enters nursing home care, both the adult child and senior citizen should be aware of federal regulations requiring all nursing homes to have written policies.

According to seniorcarecorner.com, the Nursing Home Residents’ Bill of Rights includes the right to:

  • Be informed about rights and policies of the facility
  • Be informed about the home’s services and charges
  • Be informed about medical conditions and treatment
  • Play a part in planning care and medical treatment
  • Select a physician
  • Manage personal finances
  • Have privacy, dignity and respect
  • Keep personal possessions
  • Be free of abuse and restraints
  • Make grievances without the threat of retaliation
  • Be discharged or transferred for medical reasons only
  • Access.

The nursing home is required to have written policies, and you must sign a statement saying you have received and understand them.

Once that is done, though, and the senior settles into the routine of daily care, the job of the adult child isn’t finished. Check on your elderly parent or relative consistently, making sure they are free of signs of physical, mental and financial abuse.

If you suspect that your loved one has been a victim of abuse or neglect by a caregiver, contact a qualified nursing home abuse attorney experienced in investigating cases of elder abuse. You’ll need someone with compassion and years of work in this field to ensure your loved one gets the outcome they deserve.