When Elder Abuse Hits Home
Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day – a day to stand strong against physical, emotional, sexual, or financial abuse of the elderly. Abuse of any kind against such a vulnerable population is despicable and should always be reported.
So it’s perhaps the perfect day to share the following: I was reported to Adult Protective Services.
There, I said it.
I’ll say it again. I was reported to Adult Protective Services.
Shocking to you? Most definitely shocking to me. So shocking in fact that only now am I able to write about something that actually happened - and was resolved! - roughly 6 months ago.
Six months ago I was innocently minding my own business when my cell phone rang. This is about how the conversation went:
APS: Hi, this is Amber Smith [not her real name] from Adult Protective Services. I am investigating a report concerning the care of your mother.
APS: Actually, the complaint is against you.
APS: I was wondering when might be a good time for us to meet.
Me (emphatically): The sooner, the better.
My first reaction was actually not one of fear, but of incredulity. How could anyone possibly think my mom was suffering any sort of abuse, let alone from me — her daughter and, almost more importantly, her strongest advocate??!!
Once the incredulity wore off, the anger kicked in. I started running through my mind a list of possible “suspects.” I did this because all reports are kept anonymous, and I could tell already that “Amber Smith” was not going to be giving up any names.
So, who turned me in? A neighbor? A relative? (Nope, I couldn’t imagine any of them interested enough to take the time to file a report, let alone a false report.)
Someone from the home health agency? (I didn’t get on well with one of the nurses, and ultimately had her replaced by another one, but I really didn’t think she would have the time or energy to make a false report.)
One of my mom’s helpers? Possibly. I had some thoughts on that - which I shared with the home care agency owner when I called to give a heads up on my upcoming meeting and the fact that she might be dragged into it as well.
The call had come in around 9:30 a.m. My meeting appointment was at 1 p.m. the same day.
I had just enough time to call my elder law attorney for some sage legal advice: “Answer all the questions honestly. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say you’ll get back to her. Call me back if you need anything.” (For that sage legal counsel, dispensed in a 10-minute phone conversation, I was later charged $75!!)
Armed with that advice - and a binder containing my mom’s Power of Attorney and other legal documents - off I went to my meeting.
“Amber" turned out to be very nice. Walking to a conference room, she chatted about her upcoming cruise vacation. She certainly didn’t seem like someone getting ready to drop the hammer on me.
We sat down and she eventually transitioned to the matter at hand.
She informed me that the complaint made was specifically against me and related to wet briefs and leaving my mom in bed for long periods of time. (Outrageous on every level.)
She asked me to briefly describe my mom’s care situation, which I did: In her own home, 24/7 care from her helpers or myself, home health care visits twice a week, primary doctor visit every quarter.
She then asked how long my mom had the 24/7 home care helper service.
About 5 YEARS.
Silence. “Amber" closed her notebook and began to chat.
It turns out that anyone with an ax to grind - or who just wants to cause trouble - can make an anonymous report to Adult Protective Services. Each report, no matter how outrageous, must be taken seriously and investigated for the protection of the elder involved.
Clearly “Amber" recognized the absurdity of the complaint. We chatted a little more about her upcoming cruise vacation, and that was it. As she predicted, 3 weeks later I received a letter that there was no finding and that the case was closed.
I found out later that “Amber" had apparently contacted the home care agency. But I never found out who filed the report.
End of story right? I guess. Unless someone else decides to file an anonymous report, in which case the process begins again because, of course, all reports must be taken seriously and investigated.
Elder abuse - by strangers and family - is very real. Each and every report SHOULD be taken seriously and investigated. I totally support that. But I truly do resent someone corrupting the process and causing trouble for everyone involved.
As I write this my mom’s home care arrangements remain stable, and life goes on.
Caregiving an elderly loved one - especially one with a challenging personality - is not for the faint of heart. If you’re contemplating - or already in the caregiving mix - check out my website, caregivingwithoutthecrazy.com.
But don’t stop there. Just to play it safe, go a step further and find a good elder law attorney - then be sure to put their number on speed dial! After all, you never know.
And always – always – report any suspicions you have concerning an elder who may be being abused.