USA: Is Adult Protective Services Protecting Abusers?

By Janet Phelan

When the Elder Justice Initiative was recently funded by Congress for $4 million for the fiscal year 2015 — at a mere fraction of the $25 million requested by President Obama — consumer advocates were ecstatic. The funds are earmarked for Adult Protective Services (APS), which has a national mandate to protect the elderly from abuse.

America’s dirty little secret (well, one of them, anyway) is the reality of elder abuse. As reported by ElderJusticeAction.com, 14% of older adults have experienced abuse since turning 60. As far as the financial cost of elder abuse, EJA reports that those who have been financially abused have lost an estimated 2.9 billion dollars per year and that the medical costs associated with elder abuse are greater than $5 billion. Furthermore, those who had confirmed cases of elder abuse, according to EJA, had twice the chance of ending up dead than those who had not been abused.

This abuse, however, is not limited to those who are related or socially connected with an elderly person. In fact, those who are appointed by the court as guardians are often the perpetrators of elder abuse. The Government Accountability Office published a study in 2010, entitled “GUARDIANSHIPS: Cases of Financial Exploitation, Neglect, and Abuse of Seniors” and had this to say about the phenomenon of guardians abusing their wards:

GAO identified hundreds of allegations of physical abuse, neglect and financial exploitation by guardians in 45 states and the District of Columbia between 1990 and 2010. In 20 selected closed cases, GAO found that guardians stole or otherwise improperly obtained $5.4 million in assets from 158 incapacitated victims, many of whom were seniors. In some instances, guardians also physically neglected and abused their victims.

So is the Obama Administration actually stepping up to the line and taking a good hard swing at elder abuse?

The answer appears to be no. For the funding going into the Elder Justice Initiative is, as mentioned above, earmarked for APS. And APS may be one of the worst abusers around.

Doug Franks contacted APS in Florida when he saw the effect that his mother’s diet was having on her health. Ernestine Franks is under a guardianship and her son, Doug, reported that his mother, whom had been prescribed a cardiac diet, was being plied with unhealthy fast food by those who were allegedly taking care of her.

And by so doing, Doug Franks almost got himself a pair of striped pajamas. After APS went out to Mrs. Franks home, the social workers and guardian stated that Mrs. Franks ate out very little and that Doug Franks’ concerns about her diet were untrue. APS then inaccurately declared that Franks had made a false report to the courts and to State Attorney Bill Eddins’ office. Doug Franks was then contacted by his attorney who stated that charges would be filed against him and to contact her on how to “turn himself in.”

Franks was able to show, per what the guardian filed with the court in the annual accounting (which is sealed from the public in order to protect the ward), that his concerns were accurate. And that not only was Mrs. Franks being fed a steady diet of Big Macs and Whoppers, but that her funds were being inappropriately used to feed her caregivers, as well.

How could APS have been so wrong?

Doug Franks is now in the process of being sued by the guardianship company, Gulf Coast Caring Solutions, for allegedly interfering with his mother’s constitutional right to privacy for his attempts to make such abuses public.

Teresa Lyles, also in Florida, states that her report to APS met with retaliation by the guardian for her mother and that Lyles, who holds a PhD in Health Behavior, was restricted from visiting her mother as a result of making an APS report. The report included pictures showing bruises and cuts, in support of concerns that her mother had been physically harmed.

Ginny Johnson of Raleigh, North Carolina, stated she called APS about ten or twelve times after her father, WWII vet and former Captain of a B-17 bomber and prison camp survivor, was taken from his home and put into a locked- down facility by his guardian and isolated from family. Johnson states that her father was happy and healthy prior to what she terms his “abduction” and had been playing golf the day before he was taken.

Johnson alleged that her father was “abused, neglected, starving, his finances are being raked over the coals.” For her advocacy in terms of her father, Johnson now has a restraining order against her and dares not even breathe the guardian’s name, for fear of being put into jail for violating the order. States Ginny Johnson: “APS did nothing.”

Her father died within a year. It gets worse.

According to Catherine OLaughlin, MD, her reports to APS were “dismissed” by a social worker named Christine Daly. Daly subsequently got a job with the very probate court in which the guardianship of her mother, Sally OLaughlin was being supervised. According to Dr. Catherine OLaughlin:

In February 2005 another call was made to APS about an intruder who came to the house at 03:00 and had gone through the garbage put out for collection in the morning….The next morning a woman came to the house claiming she had been sent by the Judge to enter the house for an inspection. She had no Court order or other document to prove she had been sent by the Court. The police were called in view of hours prior to this the terrifying incident of the intruder. The police came and spoke with the woman who then got in her car and duly drove away. …..As the police were still there APS arrived but it was not Christine Daly. The inspector claimed she was there on behalf of the Court and not my phone call. She entered the home and demanded to view all financial records stating that my refusal or my mother’s refusal could amount to my arrest…The APS inspector left having copied by hand private data from financial statements and interrogating me as the Successor Trustee and personal representative of my mother. APS would not return my calls or furnish any reports for the Court. They were satisfied that there was no financial or abusive environment and the case for APS was closed. Over the next few days threats of bodily harm began by Shawn OLaughlin and the police said I needed proof for them to act. I was able to get an Order of Restraint against her. This Order then escalated the assault and again APS said the case was closed and they would do nothing.

Writes Dr. OLaughlin:

My life and my mother’s became a living hell with dirty cops, corrupt Probate Judge and the racket of predatory attorneys jumping in to get their bloody hands on all the assets.

Sally OLaughlin passed away April 17th 2005 under the most heinous terror a human could endure. But her death would not be the end of suffering.

According to Dr. OLaughlin, she again encountered Christine Daly as a supervisor with the San Diego Probate court. Writes Dr. OLaughlin,

I would struggle to fight for the Trust of my parents from Europe but only to heightened oppression and suppression of rights by the Judge. I would be notified of rulings but never notice of service for proceedings. They deliberately denied me the right to notice of Service according to State, Federal and International Law. The Probate Supervisor would never speak with me. Only her assistants until after maybe 30 phone calls I would learn the name of the Supervisor. Christine Daly.

The San Diego Probate court has declined to comment on Daly’s behavior, only stating that Daly no longer works for the court. At the time of going to press, San Diego APS had not returned phone calls inquiring about Daly.

APS occupies a unique slot in the investigatory landscape. Unlike many other government investigatory agencies, reports to APS are considered “secret.” Nothing will ever be disclosed to a complaining party or the press concerning actions APS may or may not have taken in a particular case. APS states that they are bound to secrecy by HIPPA—the Health Information Protection Privacy Act. In fact, the wall of secrecy surrounding APS investigations may protect the abusers, rather than the abused.

Case in point would be the bizarre twists and turns surrounding the Charlie Castle matter. Castle was a rather colorful homeless man who had been well known in and around Redlands, California when he suddenly seemed to have simply disappeared. As it eventuated, Castle was picked up by members of the Mental Health Department one day when he was reading at the public library, his favorite haunt. He was taken to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in San Bernardino and subsequently placed under guardianship. And put into perpetual lock-down.

When Castle attempted, with the aid of some friends, to file a writ of habeas corpus to get his matter squarely in front of a judge, the guardian, Melodie Scott, began to manically move him from facility to facility, in an effort to obscure his whereabouts from those attempting to assist Castle. The net effect of her shell game with Castle was that he was never served with the judge’s determination on his writ. His calls to the court asking for the court’s decision were also declined, as he was told he would have to personally present himself at the court to get the documents. The guardian wouldn’t, however, let him do so.

San Bernardino APS was contacted with two concerns about the treatment of Charlie Castle: 1) The fraud inherent in court proceedings when the same lawyer was representing both sides (attorney Bryan Hartnell was representing both the guardian and Castle and 2) Concerns as to why the guardian repeatedly placed Charlie Castle (who was under a mental health conservatorship) into facilities which did not have programs to address his alleged mental health problems.

However, when the report was referred to the police for investigation, something strange occurred. The report was altered. Gone were the concerns which prompted the filing of an APS report. Rather, the officer who went out to speak with Castle was investigating an APS report which stated that the guardian had stolen one of his social security checks.

Just to clarify the situation—the guardian, under law, would be in charge of Charlie Castle’s finances, so her cashing such a check would be completely legal.

When the slip between the cup and the lip—the alteration of the report –was brought to the attention of the Pomona Police Department, Captain Michael Olivieri refused to change the report or to discuss at which stage the report was altered. The case was subsequently closed with no action taken. Castle died shortly thereafter under questionable circumstances.

So much for investigating elder abuse…..

It appears that one of the primary functions of APS is to determine when an elder may be vulnerable so that a guardian may be then appointed. And if family abuse has been taking place, it is often replaced by guardian abuse. And guardian abuse appears to be something that APS just won’t investigate.

If President Obama is truly serious about routing out the systemic abusers, one might want to give him this tip: His Attorney General has been the recipient of hundreds of reports about guardians abusing their wards, as has the FBI. To date, the feds are ignoring the reality of guardian abuse. Possibly Obama might want to get on the horn to Holder and goose him about these cases. It might cost him a lot less than $4 million to make this call.

But then, with guardianships reportedly raking in over a six billion dollars annually in Florida alone, maybe this phone call is just too expensive to make.

Janet C. Phelan, investigative journalist and human rights defender that has traveled pretty extensively over the Asian region, an author of a tell-all book EXILE, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook” where this article first appeared

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