Suppose you or someone you know is the type of person who would take advantage of an elderly relative or acquaintance – falsely claiming they are incompetent with the intention of committing them to an elder care institution with you as their guardian, and diverting all their assets to an account in your name.
Then suppose someone else steps in the way, foils your nefarious scheme, and gives the elderly person a warm and loving home where they can live out their days in peace. What will you do? Well, if you live in Connecticut you can harass the daylights out of them for as long as you wish by repeatedly making false allegations to the state Department of Social Services that the elderly person is being abused in their new residence.
In the previous two columns I have given you the background on the Granny Snatching case of my widowed mother, Ella Winter, 94, who moved to my home in Connecticut from her former home in New York State in Dec. 2008. Today I’d like to discuss proposed and desperately needed changes to Connecticut’s elder care laws.
Before moving to Connecticut Mom was hospitalized, suffering from potassium deficiency, dehydration and resultant disorientation. My siblings decided to place her in a nursing home, and actually were attempting to place her in such a facility for years previous to her hospitalization.
I didn’t know about their efforts. Nonetheless, when I found out that my sister was just hours from putting Mom away – nursing home personnel were in the hospital preparing to move her – I offered to open my home to her as an alternative.
Mom was then sued in Albany Supreme Court by her only daughter – abetted by my brother and some of their children – within weeks of moving to my home. The suit falsely claimed Mom was mentally incompetent, suffered from Alzheimer’s and dementia, and it sought to give my sister guardianship, sole control of all of Mom’s assets in a bank account in my sister’s name, and the power to place Mom in a nursing home.
Mom went to trial and won the day, but that didn’t stop the scheming.
Initially, my concern with the overall concept of Granny Snatching was the lack of national elder care legislation that would give all elderly citizens equal rights no matter where they resided. That still is a major concern, but Mom’s case has revealed another flaw in existing legislation, this time at the state level.
Nearly immediately after they lost in court, Mom’s antagonists began a rotating series of complaints to the Connecticut Department of Social Services alleging that Mom was the victim of elder abuse, with every single complaint requiring an investigation. This incredible waste of taxpayer resources included unannounced visits to my home and interviews with my mother.
The first investigation revealed that the Connecticut DSS was being used as a pawn by my siblings and the case was closed. So my sister’s daughter in Massachusetts, who testified against her grandmother in court in March 2009, immediately began another series of complaints with the same result. That was followed in 2010 by a flurry of complaints from the original perpetrators, along with new complaints from my brother and his daughter – separately filed from different states.
But the state’s unexpected presence in her life, and the requirement that Mom submit to lengthy interrogations by investigators, triggered a condition referred to as stress- or fear-induced delirium, a progressive condition that according to Mom’s doctors can ultimately result in coma and even death.
Each time the state intervened Mom was again seized by her original terror of being institutionalized. Efforts to reach out to my siblings were slapped away, and it was clear that they would never step back and give Mom some real respite.
Fortunately, in December 2010 a task force of attorneys, elder care advocates, and legislators began a series of meetings designed to correct the defect in the present law. Led by state Senator Edith Prague, the co-chair of the Legislature’s standing Committee on Aging, the task force already has completed a first draft of legislation that enables the state to file criminal charges against people who make false complaints.
In the interest of full disclosure, Sen. Prague, who represents the district where we live and has become Mom’s staunchest advocate and friend, asked me to attend these meetings to give input from the public side. I gladly accepted.
As currently proposed in the new legislation, false allegations of elder abuse will be a Class D felony right up there with assaulting an elderly person. There still is work ahead to smooth out the proposed legislation, and then it must go before the full legislature for approval. If passed the new law will put Connecticut on the cutting edge of elder care in the legal arena.
It won’t penalize people who make valid complaints, and it won’t penalize people who inadvertently make a complaint that proves to be unfounded. But people who use false complaints as a means of harassing the elderly and their caregivers could easily find themselves staring our through the bars of a prison cell! Hardly draconian, yet possessed of the potential to create a significant deterrent.
Next week, we’ll discuss national and international elder legislation, or the lack thereof, and what it means to individual Americans.
- Granny Snatching: Legislature Passes “Ella’s Law” – False Elder Abuse Complaints Bill!
- Granny Snatching: Legislation and Jail Time
- CT Golden Years: Hospice Facilities Considered For Senior Alternative Care
- Granny Snatching – You Have to Keep Smiling
- Granny Snatching: Connecticut’s State Sen. Edith Prague Back at Work for Elderly!
- CT Golden Years: Help is Available in Connecticut for Elder Issues But You Have to Look Hard