COLUMBUS — As part of Older Americans Month, Attorney General Mike DeWine announced a new Elder Justice Initiative within the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to increase the investigation and prosecution of elder abuse cases and improve victims’ access to services.
The office’s Crime Victim Services Section will spearhead the initiative, which will also draw on the expertise and services of the Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) and Consumer Protection, Health Care Fraud, and Special Prosecutions sections.
“Older Ohioans are vulnerable to abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation for a number of reasons,” Attorney General DeWine said. “Through the Elder Justice Initiative, the Attorney General’s Office will work with local officials and advocates to identify, investigate, and prosecute elder abuse cases and increase services to victims.”
Elder abuse can take the form of physical, sexual, verbal, and emotional abuse; neglect, including abandonment; and financial exploitation, including exerting undue influence.
A Department of Justice study estimated in 2009 that about one in nine people 60 and older suffers abuse each year. For every one case reported to authorities, it is believed five more go unreported. A study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, also in 2009, found victims of elder abuse have a 300 percent higher risk of death than individuals not subject to abuse.
Recent and current cases within the Attorney General’s Office illustrate the type of work the initiative will encompass:
Last week, a Preble County attorney was found guilty of stealing money from four clients who are elderly or have disabilities. James Thomas Jr., 38, of Brookville, pleaded no contest to a bill of information charging him with three counts of theft from an elderly person or adult with disabilities and three counts of falsification. The charges followed a BCI investigation revealing that Thomas withdrew more than $208,000 from the four individuals’ bank accounts between 2007 and 2013. The Preble County Sheriff’s Office assisted in the investigation, and the Attorney General’s Special Prosecutions Section prosecuted the case.
Virgen Caraballo was sentenced in 2012 to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of patient abuse. As an aide in a Cleveland nursing facility, he repeatedly threw a frail, elderly patient from her bed to her chair and back rather than relying on help from another aide and using a lift, as protocol dictated. The Attorney General’s Health Care Fraud Section, which investigates patient abuse and neglect in care facilities, handled the investigation. The Elder Justice Initiative team can investigate and prosecute such incidents in home settings.
In a Central Ohio case under investigation by BCI, a woman is suspected of stealing more than $500,000 from an elderly man over the past decade. A family member asked the Attorney General’s Office to investigate after discovering suspicious withdrawals from his bank account and fearing the woman had violated his trust. A similar situation is under investigation in Northwest Ohio, where a woman is believed to have taken more than $200,000 from an elderly woman on the pretense of investing it for her.
Ohio’s population of adults age 60 or older, which stood at 2.28 million in 2010, is expected to grow significantly in coming years. The number is projected to increase 29 percent (to 2.95 million) by 2020 and nearly 50 percent (to 3.42 million) by 2040, according to the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University. Such statistics point to the potential for a significant increase in elder abuse cases in coming years.
The Attorney General’s Office is well-positioned to carry out the Elder Justice Initiative given its existing work to assist older Ohioans — through its Elder Abuse Commission of Ohio; elder abuse training for law enforcement and victim advocates; consumer awareness efforts; investigation and prosecution of patient abuse and neglect in care facilities; and investigation and prosecution of those who perpetrate scams and fraud.
“We will work to complement and bridge the gap between existing systems that serve older adults, including Adult Protective Services and local law enforcement,” Attorney General DeWine said. “Our goal is to identify areas of greatest need, connect with local officials to triage cases and identify gaps in services, and assist in investigations, prosecutions, and coordination of victim services.”
Patterns of abuse and exploitation are more readily identifiable in care facilities than in home settings, where incidents can occur in a more isolated environment with fewer opportunities to witness abuse. The Elder Justice Initiative will include an outreach component to educate community members, civil and elder law attorneys, aging advocates, and others on the signs of elder abuse.
“Raising awareness and increasing advocacy will be a key component of the initiative,” Attorney General DeWine said. “We can all play a part in helping our older relatives, friends, and neighbors avoid abuse and exploitation by asking questions if situations seem suspicious and offering to assist if an older Ohioan needs help.”
How to help: Reports of the possible abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation of an elderly Ohioan can be made to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office by calling 800-282-0515.