Minnesotans in assisted living facilities lost more than $117,000 to theft over the past five years, according to an analysis of state data.
Eilon Caspi, a research associate at the University of Minnesota school of nursing, examined confirmed reports of theft between March 2013 and August 2018. He found 116 residents were victims of theft and $1,130 was the average amount lost by the 104 residents who provided that information to investigators.
“This is the hard-earned money of people who are aging and becoming more vulnerable physically and cognitively,” Caspi said. “They become a target.”
Caspi’s analysis was funded by the Steven’s Square Foundation for Elder Voice Family Advocates. Caspi is an active member of the Elder Voice group, which played a leading role in the recent passage of new state laws to protect seniors and vulnerable adults.
While physical abuse and neglect of seniors has received a lot of attention in recent years, Caspi says financial exploitation is also a big problem. “We know it is one of the most common types of maltreatment against elders,” he said.
Jean Peters, a retired nurse and one of the founders of Elder Voice, says the substantiated reports of theft from the Minnesota Department of Health that Caspi analyzed are likely a fraction of the financial exploitation of seniors and vulnerable adults happening in Minnesota. Thefts can be tricky to prove and many seniors and their families fear retaliation so many offenses go unreported.
“I don’t feel that. I believe it,” Peters said. She added that the increased electronic surveillance and other new protections established in a bill passed in May by the state Legislature should provide more evidence of how rampant theft is in assisted living.
“We are going to find out just how much of this is going on once camera use becomes more popular,” Peters said.
But Patti Cullen, president of Care Providers Minnesota, doesn’t believe thefts and financial exploitation are substantially under reported. Older residents may temporarily misplace things or forget where they spent some money, but that doesn’t mean they’re being robbed.
“To the extent there was a real theft,” Cullen said. “These are reported. If it’s an employee, we don’t want them working for us. If it’s outside people, we want to find them. We want the police involved.”
“We don’t want anyone stealing from the people we serve,” she said.
HARD TO INVESTIGATE
Financial exploitation of residents in assisted living typically involves the theft of jewelry, cash or unauthorized use of credit, debit or gift cards, Caspi’s analysis found. Of the 64 substantiated reports, state officials determined individuals were responsible for all but two of the thefts.
In those two incidents, individuals and the facility shared in the blame.