The Covid-19 pandemic has “stoked” the spread of elder abuse, according to a recent report by the Wall Street Journal. Citing findings by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a study by Yale University researchers, the report observes that “the number of elder-fraud victims increased 55% between 2019 and 2020,” while more than 20% of seniors living in private residences “reported abuse in April and May 2020,” during the early pandemic lockdowns. That figure itself represents “an 83.6% increase over pre-pandemic prevalence estimates.”
While elder abuse was already on the rise before Covid-19, experts anticipate it will continue increasing as the population gets older and as a result declining caregiver workforces. The labor shortage in licensed caregivers is attributed in part to “low pay and burnout,” according to the Journal, which results in attrition. The loss of “social connections” during the pandemic also raises the “likelihood of isolation,” which the Journal notes is “a key risk factor in abuse.”
The Covid-19 pandemic left elderly Americans more vulnerable to abuse, as lockdown orders and distancing guidelines “left older adults isolated and at times sheltering with abusers, either family or caregivers who threatened to send them to a nursing home or cough on them if they didn’t give them money,” according to the Journal. At the same time, professionals who investigate abuse were left unable to visit potential victims in their homes, while nursing homes and other long-term care facilities “relied on questionable temporary workers.” A district attorney general in Memphis, Tennessee told the paper that her department’s elder abuse team “reviewed 51 cases in the first nine months” of 2021; in 2019, she said, it reviewed less than a dozen all year.
Elder abuse can be difficult to identify, let alone prevent, because it often involves family members, one advocate told the Journal. The report goes on to describe a case in which a woman discovered that her 55-year-old brother, while acting as caregiver for their 78-year-old father, hit him on the legs with a crowbar, causing injuries. The brother was arrested and charged with aggravated assault of an elderly person.
In other cases, the pandemic made it difficult for people to visit their family members in long-term care facilities, where they may have observed abuse by staff members. The Journal describes the case of a temporary employee at a Denver long-term care facilities who “stole an engagement ring and credit cards” from an 86-year-old resident. The employee had been hired during a “Covid-related staff shortage.” A background check conducted by a staffing agency reportedly failed to detect that the woman was “on probation for robbery and had a string of earlier arrests for driving under the influence, trespassing, and identity theft.” The staffing agency’s owner told the Journal that she had provided “false identification” and made false statements in her employment application.
More information about the Covid-19 pandemic’s influence on the rise of elder abuse cases is available via the Wall Street Journal.
The attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, PLLC work diligently to protect the rights of nursing home residents. Please contact us to discuss in the event you have a potential case involving neglect or abuse.