On Oct. 6, 2007, a 57-year-old Foster City man took the sharp end of a claw hammer, hit his 81-year-old father on the head and left him to bleed on the floor for an hour before calling paramedics.
The father survived. On Aug. 25, Jayantibhai “Johnny” Patel pleaded no contest to a charge of elder abuse with great bodily harm. He faces up to five years in prison.
Prosecutors said the son launched the attack because he believed his father would not qualify for admission into a rest home unless he had been hospitalized first. Patel will be sentenced Nov. 7.
“[Patel] wanted to render him unconscious in the hope that he could go from the hospital to a care facility because he didn’t want to be burdened with arranging for his care,” according to Elaine Tipton, a prosecutor with the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office. “[In court], the father wasn’t looking for retribution — he wanted his son to be held accountable, but not punished.”
San Mateo County officials say they’re also working to hold those who abuse the elderly accountable. Elder-abuse cases range from neglect — untreated health problems, unsanitary living conditions, or a caregiver not attending to food and water needs — to horrific physical abuse.
According to data reported to the state Department of Social Services, elder abuse in San Mateo County is on par with statewide rates and lower than those in nearby San Francisco and Alameda counties.
Nonetheless, county officials say the Peninsula does have some factors that contribute to the likelihood of elder abuse.
A study from the county Department of Health and Human Services predicts that the over-65 population will rise 72 percent by 2030, to 157,366 — including a 148 percent increase in the over-85 population.
The county Department of Aging and Adult Services does what it can to help seniors live independently or with family. San Mateo County is also home to 490 different adult-care facilities, including homes for the elderly, according to Tippi Irwin, director of ombudsman services for the county.
Reports of institutional abuse within the county are slowly on the rise — predominantly because residents, family members and nursing-home employees are learning to watch for warning signs, Irwin said.
“There’s more awareness of elder abuse as an issue, but I believe it is where child abuse was 20 years ago,” Irwin said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Her team makes 6,000 visits to centers each year and handled roughly 350 allegations of abuse last year, including ones they discovered during inspections.
It took Irwin’s team nearly two years to prove that one facility administrator was abusing patients. Finally, two newer nurses secretly videotaped the administrator screaming at a nearly deaf, frail resident and yanking her into a wheelchair. Ultimately, the woman lost her license.
Institutional abuse cases rise when money is tight and staffs are stretched thin — a common problem in San Mateo County, where the rising cost of property and doing business keeps centers operating on a tight profit margin, according
“Caregivers are paid abysmally, and in some instances, facilities have 80 percent turnover,” Irwin said. “Burnout is another factor.
They can’t cope and start to take shortcuts, or rough-handle a [resident] because they’re in a hurry.”
Additionally, although nursing homes once gained notoriety for mishandling their residents, roughly two-thirds of elder abuse cases are perpetrated by a family member acting as a caretaker, according to the California Attorney General’s Office.
“A lot of times, family members are trying to do the best they know how,” according to Lisa Mancini, director of the Aging and Adult Services Department. “They don’t know other ways to manage.”
More elderly residents becoming victims of financial abuse
Lazar Maksic, 73, allegedly has a habit of romancing elderly Bay Area women and making off with their savings.
Maksic is currently on trial in San Mateo County, charged with marrying a 78-year-old San Bruno woman and pilfering $43,000 of her money, according to the District Attorney’s Office. The accused, whose last known address was in Clear Lake, reportedly told a friend he had done this to five other women.
Financial abuse is becoming most the common crime against the elderly, according to prosecutors with the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office. Although many cases are prosecutable, the decline in mental faculties that make seniors vulnerable to such scams can also make them more difficult to prove, according to Assistant District Attorney Elaine Tipton.
“Sometimes, an elder has agreed to give large amounts of money to a stranger or someone who’s just entered their life,” Tipton said.
For seniors, financial abuse comes in a variety of forms. Americans lose roughly $40 billion each year to telemarketing scams ranging from fake lottery winnings to credit offers — and 56 percent of victims are older than 50, according to the American Association of Retired Persons.
However, more often the perpetrator is a member of the victim’s family, according to Tipton.
“They may feel, ‘It’s going to be my money eventually, so why not start taking it now?’” she said.
In other cases, a caregiver or a professional, such as a handyman, might gain access to the senior’s wallet or talk them into paying extra money for unnecessary services.
In San Mateo County, where many residents older than 65 own homes, the real-estate investment may put them especially at risk of scams, according to Lisa Mancini, director of the county’s Department of Aging and Adult Services.
“If you own a home in San Mateo County, you’re practically a millionaire, and that can bring predators,” she said. — Beth Winegarner
Jury acquits son in death of ailing mom
In the months before her death, San Bruno resident Isabelle Lynch was bedridden, covered in bedsores and waste. Her room was filled with insects.
Her adult son, Paul Lynch, hired a part-time nurse to help look after his 76-year-old mother. However, it wasn’t until one of Paul Lynch’s siblings saw her condition that paramedics were called; by then, it was too late. Isabelle Lynch was hospitalized, but she died the next day, said Elaine Tipton, a prosecutor with the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office.
The caretaker hired by Paul Lynch pleaded guilty, but Lynch wouldn’t accept the elder-abuse charges against him. The county’s case against him went to trial, where a 12-member jury acquitted him Aug. 4.
“She decided to drink herself to death some years ago, and that’s what she did,” said Lynch’s attorney, John Kaman. “Paul couldn’t put her in an institution because everyone agreed she was competent. There wasn’t more that he could do than what he did.” — Beth Winegarner
Look for signs of elder abuse
Experts say one reason elder abuse is underreported is that people don't know what to look for. Here are some signs of common types of abuse:
Bruises, black eyes, welts, lacerations and rope marks
Bone fractures, broken bones and skull fractures
Open wounds, cuts, punctures and untreated injuries in various stages of healing
Broken eyeglasses/frames, physical signs of being subjected to punishment and signs of being restrained
The caregiver's refusal to allow visitors to see an elder alone
- Dehydration, malnutrition, untreated bedsores and poor personal hygiene
- Unattended or untreated health problems
- Unsanitary and unclean living conditions (such as dirt, fleas, lice, soiled bedding, smell of feces or urine, or inadequate clothing)
- Sudden changes in bank account or banking practice, including an unexplained withdrawal of large sums of money by
a person accompanying the elder
- Abrupt changes in a will or other financial documents
- Unexplained disappearance of funds or valuable possessions
- Substandard care being provided or bills unpaid despite the availability of adequate financial resources
- Sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming their rights to an elder's affairs and possessions
Source: National Center on Elder Abuse
Elder abuse in San Mateo County
705,499: Population of San Mateo County in 2006
91,732: County residents aged 65 or older
13%: Percentage of county residents who are senior citizens
797: Reports of elder abuse in county in 2006
157,366: Expected number of residents aged 65 or older by 2030
72%: Expected increase in county's senior population by 2030
Sources: County Aging and Adult Services Department, county Health and Human Services Department, state Department of Social Services, U.S. Census Bureau