Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Senior Centers as Financial Abusers

Can a senior center incur civil liability for elder financial abuse if it permits its facility to be used by a presenter who then financially abuses attendees?

The answer may be yes, at least in California, according to San Francisco attorney Steven Riess, who contends that:

“By permitting an abuser to use its facilities for a presentation, a senior center is increasingly likely to be named as a co-defendant in an elder financial abuse lawsuit based upon direct, vicarious, and joint enterprise theories of liability.”

A memorandum containing his supporting legal analysis was recently sent to city attorneys in several Santa Clara County cities, shortly after which they instructed local centers to deny access to suspect commercial enterprises. The Riess memo was also cited by the Parks and Recreation Department of the City of Red Bluff in adopting new guidelines for the use of public centers by commercial enterprises.

The memo describes how senior centers have unknowingly facilitated abusers in their efforts to exploit elders. Trust mills and unscrupulous annuity agents, reverse-mortgage brokers, and others claim that their “free seminars” provide seniors with valuable educational information and materials relating to estate planning, Medi-Cal eligibility, and other topics.

According to Riess, under California's definition of elder financial abuse, an organization that facilitates the financial exploitation of an elder could arguably be liable for damages and attorneys' fees because the law protecting elders appears to apply to organizations that merely enable the exploitation. Although the theories are untested, senior centers remain likely targets of suits.

None of the Santa Clara centers are admitting that liability concerns are what motivated them to take action. And, other factors may have had a role. Shawna Reeves Nourzaie, a social worker with the Fair Lending Project for Seniors at the Council on Aging of Silicon Valley, who has alerted several centers to Riess' memo, also makes sure they know about a class action lawsuit filed by California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform and the Institute on Aging, which alleges that several companies used "free" living trust seminars to improperly learn about seniors' finances and then sent agents to the seniors' homes selling annuities. Shawna also comes armed with a 2003 alert from former Attorney General Bill Lockyer warning seniors against unscrupulous sales agents who pose as trust advisers or senior estate planners. The warning also exposed how the agents work with assisted living centers, churches, and other trusted entities to give themselves a cloak of legitimacy.

This is definitely one to watch!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Comings, Goings, and Congratulations

Congratulations and heartfelt best wishes to Mary Twomey, who will be leaving her job as Director of the San Francisco Consortium for Elder Abuse Prevention at the Institute on Aging to become co-director, along with Laura Mosqueda, and northern California liaison of U.C. Irvine's Center of Excellence in Elder Abuse and Neglect.

Obviously I've had a strong interest in Mary's work since she took over as the Consortium's director when I left in 2000. I think it's only natural, when someone takes over a job you've had for 16 years, to have a certain amount of ambivalence. Of course you want them to do well and carry on your work. But there's also a nagging fear that they'll discover your skeletons or shortcomings; or worse, outshine you.

But watching Mary take the Consortium in new and exciting directions has been wonderful to watch. She's led the program with grace, skill, and panache. Under her guidance and with the help of IOA staffers Dana Smith, Melissa Anderson, and Tessa ten Tusscher, the Consortium has made remarkable strides. What was a fledgling support group and counseling program when I left is now an integral component of the IOA's geriatric psychology training program, which means that every participant in the program receives training in working with elder abuse victims. They currently have 20 marriage and family therapist interns, practicum students, and a post-doc. Plans are underway to secure funding for an elder abuse forensic center, which will be modeled on UC Irvine's. The Irvine Center is staffed by legal, medical, social services, and law enforcement professionals who review abuse cases, develop care plans, conduct in-home medical and mental status evaluations and evidentiary investigations, and provide training and consultation.

Mary's new job will involve working with other projects funded by the Archstone Foundation around the state, overseeing technical assistance to grantees, and helping the center provide leadership in statewide advocacy.

Of course I'm looking forward to seeing who fills "our" job next and will keep you posted.

Congratulations too to Lori Jervis, Assistant professor of American Indian and Alaska Native Programs at the University of Colorado, Denver, for being awarded a grant from the National Institute on Aging for a pilot study on the mistreatment of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) elders. The goal is to lay the groundwork for studying the prevalence/incidence of mistreatment among rural and urban Native elders by exploring alternative methods and proposing recommendations for future research that are both scientific and "grounded in local realities."

They'll be assembling two groups to guide the project: 1) an interdisciplinary team of researchers with expertise in AI/AN communities and a track record in conducting epidemiological studies with the population, and 2) a culturally and geographically diverse panel of Community Experts with backgrounds in Native elder advocacy and abuse prevention. I'm pleased to have been asked to serve on the latter.

Earlier this week, the Administration on Aging announced grants to operate the National Center for Elder Abuse. The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse will oversee NCEA's multidisciplinary efforts, the National Adult Protective Services Association will oversee training, and the University of Delaware will serve as co-manager.

As many of you know, I've had a strong interest in restorative justice approaches to preventing elder abuse. So, I was intrigued and pleased to learn that Arlene Groh, Elder Abuse Restorative Justice Resource Consultant for the Elder Abuse Response Team in Waterloo, Ontario, spent the Second World Elder Abuse Awareness Day in Busan, Korea, giving a workshop on her work. Participants came from all over the country and included elders, academics, experts in family violence, and representative from Elder Abuse counseling centers across the country. The event was hosted by the Korean Information Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (KINPEA) in collaboration with the administration of Busan and the Metropolitan City National Health Insurance Corporation, which is playing a leading role in creating a long-term care insurance service in Korea.

Arlene's visit was at the invitation of Dr. Dong Hee Han, who has a doctorate in elder abuse and is attempting to make changes in how elder abuse is addressed in Korea by looking at a new definition of filial piety, connecting isolated seniors with "cyberspace families," and working with elderly prostitutes.