It is a family’s worst nightmare: You hire someone to help care for your elderly parent and then you find out this so called “caregiver” stole hundreds of thousands of dollars. This happened to a Jacksonville family recently. Edwards Whitehead, who was 91 years old, died without any of his six children in attendance. Why? Dementia was robbing him of his memory and an attendant was allegedly draining his bank account.
The family says that Diane Harvell portrayed herself as a caregiver, but instead of caring for Mr. Whitehead, she alienated him from his family and drained all of his bank accounts.
Harvell was hired to provide transportation for Lewis’ father and help with small tasks. What happened next is a warning inspectors have for all families.
Investigators said Harvell convinced the elder Whitehead to sign over his power of attorney. She then altered his will and forged notary public signatures — all without his family knowing. When the 91-year-old died, his family learned the truth. Even though they learned the truth once he was deceased, Harvell had already filed a forged will.
Postal inspectors began poring over bank records and surveillance video and verified Harvell stole hundreds of thousands of dollars. “She took his money in structured withdrawals, less than $10,000 from the bank, drained over $200,000 of his personal savings,” said Van de Putte of the Postal Office. Investigators said her control and his dementia were a terrible combination. “Senior citizens generally have savings, or a decent amount of money, and are generally easy targets because they are very trusting,” Van de Putte explained. Some advice from postal inspectors: Don’t wait until it’s too late to set up a plan that protects your elderly loved ones and pay attention. “Be wary of any new person coming into your life, especially if you are dealing with a senior citizen, or a parent or grandparent that suffers from dementia (or) Alzheimer’s,” said Van de Putte.
Harvell faces mail theft, ID theft, mail fraud, forgery and several other charges. Postal inspectors said she could face up to 15 years in prison.
After reading this article, you may ask what exactly is elder abuse?
Abuse may be physical, mental, emotional, or sexual. Neglect can be self-neglect or neglect by a caregiver. A caregiver may be a family member, an in-home paid worker, a staff person of a program such as an adult day care center or of a facility such as a nursing home, or another person. Exploitation means that a person in a position of trust knowingly, by deception and intimidation, obtains and uses or tries to obtain and use a vulnerable person’s funds, assets, or property. This includes failure to use the vulnerable person’s income and assets to provide for the necessities required for that person’s care.
Groups most at risk for elder abuse include:
- Older women are most commonly reported. Older men may be just as much or even more at risk but are less frequently reported.
- The higher the age, the greater the risk.
- Those who live with a caregiver or depend on someone for care and assistance.
- Physically frail or disabled.
- Confused, disoriented, or mentally impaired.
Individual characteristics include:
- Very loyal to the caregiver. Willing to accept blame.
- Socially isolated and history of poor relationship with caregiver.
- Alcohol, medication, or drug abuse.
- Has illness that causes behavior that is stressful for caregiver (verbal outbursts, incontinence, wandering, agitation).
- Displays behavior that provokes caregiver (ungrateful, overly-demanding, unpleasant).
The more of the following observable indicators are present, the greater the risk:
- Physical indicators such as bruises, burns, unexplained fractures, bedsores, being dirty and unkempt, inadequate clothing, showing evidence of malnutrition.
- Behavioral indicators such as being nervous or agitated, avoiding eye contract, hesitant to talk openly, depressed or despairing, feeling hopeless, withdrawn, denying problems, covering up for caregiver, confused or disoriented, suspicious.
- Environmental indicators such as dirty, cramped, unsanitary living space with inadequate light, heat, or cooling; health and safety hazards such as doors with no locks, rodents or insects, open space heaters, broken plumbing, no water or electricity, fire hazards, repairs needed to roof, stairs, railing; and questionable care as evidenced by lack of food, medicine not managed, soiled bedding, or patient is restrained.
Reporting Elder Abuse
Florida Law requires that any person who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a vulnerable adult has been or is being abused, neglected, or exploited shall immediately report such knowledge or suspicion to the Florida Abuse Hotline on the toll-free telephone number, 1-800-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873). The TDD (Telephone Device for the Deaf) number for reporting adult abuse is 1-800-955-8770. Vulnerable adults are persons eighteen and over (including senior adults sixty and over) who, because of their age or disability, may be unable to adequately provide for their own care or protection. The Florida Abuse Hotline accepts calls 24 hours per day, seven days a week. The Abuse Hotline counselor is required to let the person calling know whether the information provided has been accepted as a report for investigation.
When you call the Abuse Hotline to make a report, have this information ready:
- Victim’s name, address or location, approximate age, race, and sex.
- A brief description of the adult victim’s disability or infirmity.
- Signs or indications of harm or injury, including a physical description if possible.
- Name, address, and telephone number of any possibly responsible person/ perpetrator.
- Relationship of the possibly responsible person/perpetrator to the victim, if possible. If the relationship is unknown, a report may still meet requirements for investigation.
- As the reporter, your name, address, and telephone number. This information is never given out. The reporter may choose to remain anonymous.