On June 22, the Elder Abuse Prevention Committee of the DC Office on Aging will host a seminar at Catholic University on "The Financial Exploitation of Our Elder and Vulnerable Populations." Since the elderly and disabled are prime targets for scam artists and criminals, it's critical to raise public awareness of this growing problem.
Some of the worst exploitation of vulnerable D.C. residents, many of them elderly African American women, is being perpetrated by D.C. Superior Probate Court judges and professional vultures in the legal system, who exploit seniors using the very system meant to protect them.
At a March 7 hearing before the District Council's Committee on Human Services, Carolyn Nicholas, president of Advocates for Elder Justice and daughter of the late Council member Hilda Mason, testified that even her well-known mother and multi-millionaire stepfather were victims of neglect and financial exploitation by their court-approved conservators.
Adult Protective Services "continues to refuse to protect people who reportedly are being neglected, abused and/or financially exploited ... by court-appointed guardians and conservators," Nicholas testified. For example, three different attorneys charged Helen Caraway, a retired DC Public Schools food service worker, $250 an hour to "protect" her while the conservator pilfered $19,700 from her meager retirement savings.
APS is the same agency that allowed Theodoric James, who worked in the White House under 10 U.S. presidents, to die alone in squalor and did nothing to help the widow of a former Howard University dean bilked out of $13,000 by an unscrupulous home contractor -- even after a second contractor had to kill 27 rats living in her home.
APS recently refused to respond to calls from the police regarding the reported abuse of a French citizen living in D.C. Her daughter, a federal law enforcement officer, told The Examiner that she was prevented from seeing her own mother on her 91st birthday last Sunday. Meanwhile, the court-appointed conservator continues to bill her mother for "services" -- which apparently don't include repairing her long-broken dentures.
Theresa Cain was also barred from celebrating her mother's 83rd birthday last month. Since January 10, when Sallie Lou Thomas was admitted to George Washington University Hospital after a minor fall, the elderly woman has been under the total control of court-appointed strangers.
On January 25, GWUH filed a petition with the D.C. Superior Court's Probate Division requesting a health care guardian be appointed for Thomas, stating, "there are concerns that Ms. Cain neglects/abuses her mother because she came into the hospital smelling of urine." But that assessment is at odds with the elderly woman's former neighbors at St. Mary's Court, who described Cain as an unusually loving and dutiful daughter.
A GWUH spokesman declined to discuss the case, citing patient confidentiality. However, in that same court petition, the hospital admitted it had registered Thomas under a phony name, Rose Lou Nyland, supposedly to "protect her privacy." More likely it was to protect the hospital.
Cain has provided The Washington Examiner with gruesome photographs of a fourth-degree bedsore and strangulation marks on her mother's neck, taken while Sallie Thomas was under the guardianship ordered by Judge Rhonda Reid-Winston.
D.C.'s Guardianship Assistance Program is woefully understaffed, with one social worker reportedly assigned to monitor close to 2,500 guardianship cases. And it has no authority to represent guardian-abused wards in court.
Although council members have been informed about the ongoing abuse of elderly District residents by either omission or commission, none of them can even be bothered to submit legislation amending the Adult Protective Services Act to reflect other states' best practices.
Their inaction is inexcusable.
Barbara F. Hollingsworth is The Examiner's local opinion editor.