JUNE 9, 2003 VOLUME 10, NUMBER 49
Financial exploitation of vulnerable seniors is widespread. The problem even arises in controlled settings like adult care homes and nursing homes. That is why the State of Missouri took some extraordinary steps to try to curb financial abuses in institutional settings.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services maintains a list of facility employees who are known to have taken money from residents, and circulates the list among state agencies and institutions. Nursing facilities are prohibited from hiring any individuals on the Department’s list, so placement on the “employee disqualification list” can effectively end the career of a care provider.
Though maintenance of the list is clearly intended to help reduce the epidemic of exploitation of institutionalized seniors, a Missouri court recently decided that the Department’s interpretation was too broad. The challenge arose from the listing of Beverly Ann Wells, the admissions coordinator of social services at The Williamsburg extended care facility in Columbia, Missouri.
In 1999 Williamsburg resident Chester Riggins, then 91 years old, signed a series of small checks made out to Williamsburg employees. One of those checks, for $100, was to Ms. Wells. Though no one knew of the check to Ms. Wells at the time, it came to light a year later when Mr. Riggins applied for Medicaid.
When confronted, Ms. Wells first denied that she had received any money from Mr. Riggins. She soon acknowledged that she had gotten the check, signed it and deposited it in her own bank account, but she insisted that Mr. Riggins had simply been repaying her for numerous small expenditures she had made for him, and for errands she had run on his behalf.
When the check came to light Ms. Wells was fired from her position at The Williamsburg. The State then decided to put her name on the employee disqualification list, not for misappropriating Mr. Riggins’ money but for failing to report the payment, in writing, as required by state law. Ms. Wells appealed the decision to put her name on the disqualification list.
The Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that the list was supposed to include only individuals who had actually misappropriated residents’ money. The Court refused to permit her inclusion for failure to file a written report of the payment. The Department had not found that Ms. Wells actually misappropriated Mr. Riggins’ funds, so inclusion of her name on the employee disqualification list was not justifiable. Wells v. Dunn, May 20, 2003.
Arizona does not maintain a list like Missouri’s employee disqualification list. Arizona law does require the Attorney General to maintain a public list of individuals who have been sued for elder abuse, but that list is not readily available.