Pennsylvania nursing home abuse doesn’t always involve neglect or violence. Most cases – about 41 per 1,000, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse – revolve around financial exploitation, frequently the theft of a resident’s cash, benefits, debit cards, credit cards, or blank checks. That’s precisely what appears to have occurred in the recent case of Syreeta Nicole Jones, a Montgomery County nursing home worker who was arrested this month after being linked to purchases made with a deceased resident’s credit cards.
PA Nursing Home Worker Steals Checks, Credit Cards to Fund Vacation
On Sunday, November 1, Jones landed at Philadelphia International Airport after returning from a vacation in Miami. But instead of being picked up by a spouse or family member, Jones was greeted by a team of local police officers, who promptly placed the 30-year-old nursing assistant under arrest for forgery, identity theft, securing a document by deception, and other crimes. Jones is currently being held on $50,000 bail at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility, where she awaits a preliminary hearing scheduled for Friday, November 13.
Jones’ legal troubles began about five months earlier, on May 27, when police responded to a theft report originating from the Elm Terrace Gardens nursing home located at 660 North Broad Street in Lansdale, Montgomery County, PA. The police were called to investigate the disappearance of a personal check, which came to the victim’s attention after receiving a courtesy call from the depositing bank.
The missing check was filled in the amount of $2,450, made payable to 39-year-old Philadelphia resident Eugene Hudnell – a known associate of Jones’. At the time of this writing, police have been unable to physically locate Hudnell, who normally resides on 1400 block of West Rush Street. If and when he is located, Hudnell will face the same criminal charges as Jones.
Police determined that Jones, as one of the facility’s staff members, would have had access to the room from which the check was taken. However, no arrest was made at the time the check was reported stolen.
On October 19, local police were notified of a second theft, this time involving a credit card belonging to a deceased former resident of the same nursing home. More than $1,500 had been charged to the card, despite the fact that its lawful holder had passed away the previous month. Understandably concerned, the decedent’s surviving family members contacted Lansdale Police about the unusual transactions.
Once again, investigators determined that Jones would have had access to the room from which the card was stolen – but this time, there was enough information (and a warrant) to start piecing together a case against her. Investigating the theft incidents with Jones in mind as a suspect, police uncovered several major purchases in the nursing assistant’s records – notably two tickets for a personal trip to Florida, one of which was booked for a male, according to officers. Collaborating with the Philadelphia Police Department and the FBI, local law enforcement obtained a warrant for Jones’ arrest in October, leading to her apprehension on November 1.
Preventing and Reporting Financial Exploitation of Senior Citizens
The sad truth is that financial predators deliberately target elderly adults, for four reasons:
- Seniors are assumed to have considerable savings and benefits.
- Seniors aren’t always savvy to the technological dangers of sharing their personal information.
- If a senior has been placed in a nursing home, the scammer might assume he or she no longer has family members who will be watching out for unusual financial activity.
- Many seniors, particularly those who reside in nursing homes, have been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, which make it impossible to keep accurate mental records of financial transactions and authorizations.
As a result, financial exploitation is a rampant problem in many Pennsylvania nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Here are a few simple tips to help guard your loved one’s financial security:
- Choose a quality facility at the outset of the process. Start by using the Medicare Compare tool to compare nursing home ratings. Then, once you’ve narrowed down your options to a list of potential candidates, take a tour in person so you can get a better feel for the home’s atmosphere and staffing situation.
- Make a quick visual inventory of your loved one’s room each time you visit. Your loved one may not notice possessions disappearing.
Pay attention to unusual behavior. It might manifest as hoarding, agitation, fear, hiding personal possessions, or suddenly wanting to talk about an inheritance or will in the absence of medical problems.
Warning signs of financial exploitation include:
- Checks and documents being filled out, even though your loved one can’t write or has shaky hands.
- Credit card charges your loved one can’t remember making.
- The appearance of unfamiliar third parties who claim to hold power of attorney or be a representative.
- Medications, jewelry, or other valuable commodities going missing.
- The resident says they sold or gave possessions to a staff member. They may have been threatened or coerced.
- Inexplicable changes to the contents of your loved one’s will.
- Unusual bank account withdrawals.
- Hesitance to talk about financial matters.
If you’re afraid financial exploitation has already occurred, you should report the suspected incident as soon as possible. To speak to your Ombudsman, call the Pennsylvania Department of Aging at (717) 783-8975. You should also call the Pennsylvania Department of Health at (800) 254-5164. You can read more about the process in our article on how to report Pennsylvania nursing home abuse.
If you’re worried about the quality of care your mom or dad is receiving at his or her nursing home, or if you suspect the home was to blame for a slip and fall accident or wrongful death, you should consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. To learn more about your family’s legal options in a free and confidential legal consultation, call attorney Brent Wieand at (800) 481-5206.
***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes. It is not legal advice and should not be used as legal advice.***