Thursday, August 9, 2012
Seniors ~ or ~ Such a Sad Day
I was I've mentioned before that I have a small rental property in town that I go in and mow. I am very fortunate that all my tenants in this building are long term. One has been there 32 yrs. if you can believe it. All have always paid their rent on time and even mail it to me so I don't have to drive to town to get it. When I go there to mow I exchange pleasantries but have never become friends with any of the tenants.
In May for the first time ever one of my tenants, a 69 yr. old woman, I'm going to call Mary, didn't send her rent. I tried to call her but she's more than a little deaf and it was an exercise in futility. I wasn't too concerned. I knew she had a younger sister that has helped her out over the years and figured it would get worked out.
Then June rolled around and again, no rent. Now 2 months behind, she's got my attention. I drove in to speak to her to find out what was going on. I thought she would talk to her sister and get her to help but it turned out her sister had died. She told me she had a nurse coming in now and the nurse was helping her pay her bills. I thought that was good and that things would soon get straightened out. I agreed to a payment plan and thought we were good. The nurse called to let me know she had sent out one months rent. Great. It bounced. My bank collected it eventually but I was beginning to have a bad feeling about this.
The next time I mowed Mary was outside with another tenant and she was holding a loaf of bread. She told me the other tenant gave it to her because she had no food. I asked again what was going on and she said the nurse had her money all messed up. She also said it was my fault because I didn't cash the check on time and it was the banks fault for taking her money because it wasn't there anymore. I wasn't sure if it was senility or nervous chatter because she was embarrassed about the rent. I told her the bank wasn't taking her money and it wasn't my fault either. The other tenant piped in about how she shouldn't be giving her check to the nurse to pay her bills either. For the first time I realized Mary wasn't handling her own money. I told her she should be careful and pay her bills herself. And, I added to get rid of the nurse if she thought the nurse was messing with her money. She said she was going to fire her and request another nurse.
The next time I saw her she told me she couldn't pay me any more period. She had no money and there was nothing she could do about it. I got annoyed and said this was ridiculous. "I don't want to deal with this and you need to do something or your going to be evicted". I'm pretty sure those were my words. Then I left. I knew she had fewer bills because she couldn't drive anymore so her car was gone. She couldn't get out to shop anymore. Her income was the same. This was making no sense.
True to her word no rent came again this month. She was saying she had no food, no money and couldn't even pay her bills herself. I honestly didn't believe any of it. She's 69, not 89 but still... On the 6th I called and started to leave a message saying I was going to call adult protective services. The nurse picked up the phone and said she felt really bad about all this and if I would wait she would pay it herself out of her own pocket. But could I do her a little favor and just give her till September 15 before I made that call to protective services? At that moment my intuition kicked in and I knew something really was very wrong although I wasn't sure exactly what yet. I said no, I wouldn't wait. I called another tenant and asked if she knew what was going on. She told me the nurse had moved in with Mary. I then remembered the nurse telling me in the beginning of our conversation that she had paid all the bills this month but all had bounced. I hadn't gotten paid so what was she talking about. And Mary's check came on the 1st and it was only the 6th. I had a sick feeling about it all. I went ahead and called adult protective services and left a message. Then I googled scams and the elderly. Wow. Elder exploitation is what financial abuse is called and it's a felony by the way.
I woke early this morning thinking about it all and drove over to the apartment. The nurses car was there at 6:30am. I waited till 7:30 to see if she left for the other job she said she had but she didn't leave. I finally knocked on the door and after 10 minutes got them to open it. I told them I wasn't going to let this go and we were going to talk. I wasn't leaving until I knew what was going on. I said it wasn't even about the rent, but something wasn't right and I was going to find out what or the police would. The nurse left.
After she left the tenant handed me a huge pile of overdraft notices and said this was why she had no money anymore. I knew she didn't write her own checks and was just signing them. She said she still didn't understand how this had happened. I asked if she would show me her checking account. She did. Clearly the nurse wasn't balancing the checkbook. The nurse had been writing checks and a lot of them without caring if there was any money or not in the account. I asked Mary where the nurse came from and she gave me a letter from her doctor ordering a nurse for her. I asked why she was living there when she was only suppose to be there a few hours a day and she said she really didn't know. I knew she meant it. I realized then just how confused she really was. I was beginning to feel like someone was playing ping pong with my head. Each new revelation was like getting hit again.
I spent 3 hours there going through her bills and checking account and all the overdraft notices. Her overdraft fee's alone for July were 2/3 of her total income for the month. Every bill was at least 2 months behind. Her utilities were 3 months behind. I called her doctors office and told them they needed to get the nurse out of there - now. As I spoke to all the different people involved, I could hear the shock and sadness in their voices. None of us had really known and we were all horrified, as much from our unawareness of what was going on as from the situation itself. The nurse at the doctors office, the social worker and the adult protective services worker who had been involved with Mary before. And everyone was scrambling to find out where the nurse had come from. Adult protective services said they thought she may have hired the nurse herself. I asked how this was possible. If she's mentally incapacitated how could she be expected to make a decision about who to hire?
I also called the bank and tried to get some of the fee's waived in light of the situation and they agreed to try and said a letter from protective services would allow them to reduce them even more. They told me about even more fees she owed.
Before I left I told Mary she was getting a social worker and the bank may be willing to forgive some of the fees. I could see the relief on her face and realized how horrid this had been for her. It was one of the saddest moments I've ever experienced. I also talked to some of the other tenants that had seen this unfolding. One had played super sleuth the night before and gotten the nurses full name for me off a prescription bottle in her car by peeking through the window. It was a good thing too since no one seemed to know who she was or where she had come from.
In the end we all wondered how did we not see this. I know it seems like we should have seen it sooner but it's amazing how we all missed it. The doctor and the staff there. The other tenants. Me. We don't look too closely sometimes. It's none of our business or it's not our problem. We really don't want to see sometimes. And that's how it happens. That's how these things happen right under our noses. Elder abuse, especially financial elder abuse is on the rise. And this particular kind of abuse is not like the scams we hear about perpetrated by strangers. Often times it's by a family member, many times by paid caregivers or someone the elder trusts and thinks of as a friend. It's a crime and not that many of us are aware of it yet. Someday it will be like child abuse and everyone will know but as a society we aren't there yet.
I know for me I won't soon forget the vulnerability I saw today on Mary's face and I can only imagine how frightening this had to have been for her. She knew she was in a mess with no way out and to be in that predicament and not be able to figure out how you got there and without anyone to help you...it's truly unimaginable to me.