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Elderly fleeced - Call for special laws to shield vulnerable as families, caregivers plunder the aged

Published:Sunday | June 2, 2019 | 12:27 AMCorey Robinson - Staff Reporter

Scores of elderly persons are being fleeced of funds by caregivers and their own family, prompting the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) to call for increased protection and empowerment of the vulnerable group.

President of the CCRP, Jean Lowrie-Chin, argued that the exploitation of the elderly is becoming more prevalent and nefarious, resulting in a desperate need for specialised laws to shield the elderly.

“We have heard about young people, friends and relatives who take advantage of very generous elderly people. Sometimes they are entrusted with a PIN (personal identification number) for a bank account, and before you know it, these folks are plunged into poverty,” argued Lowrie-Chin, citing other reports of elderly persons being forced out of their own homes and properties by those entrusted as caregivers.

“There are cases of uncaring children who almost want to push the parents who are the owners of the homes into a back room and take over the house. This is where we have to be very watchful of these persons,” she told The Sunday Gleaner, following the CCRP’s annual general meeting at the Stella Maris Church Hall in Kingston last Wednesday.

“When persons reach that age, we want to ensure that people who may have negative plans know that there are laws, and that the long arm of the law is there to get them to ensure that they do not do this sort of thing,” she continued, as others who attended the meeting shared horrific stories of manipulation.

Justice of the peace (JP) and high commissioner at the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), Heru Ishakamusa Menelik, said the scamming and mistreatment of elders is pervasive.

Menelik said she is aware of a current case of a 96-year-old bedridden woman being ripped off.

The JP, who has repeatedly advocated for proper public restroom facilities for the elderly, said the 96-year-old woman receives pension payments from the United States, but has no living relative or children in Jamaica. She is entirely dependent on the caretaker.

“This person just goes in, takes the bank book … and we are talking about lots of money. The last withdrawal is over $240,000 and there is no accountability as to what she does with the money. So that is a case we are investigating right now,” he said, explaining that the bedridden woman was once a member of the UNIA.

Another female member of the CCRP related the exploitation of her 83-year-old friend. The elderly woman suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, pneumonia, stroke and is being taken care of by a live-in nurse who fleeced hundreds of thousands of dollars from her bank account.

The woman declined to be identified because her sickly friend is still in the care of the unscrupulous nurse. She said the caretaker took the woman to the bank on four occasions and told her to make withdrawals.

“She was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, so she didn’t know what was going on,” said the woman, telling The Sunday Gleaner that in months, the woman’s account, which had roughly $1.5 million, was drained.

“All the withdrawals were made in cash and my friend had no need to have that money on her at any time. Later on, the nurse admitted that she assisted her to the bank, and said my friend used the money to do work on the house. But there was no evidence of that; neither were there any receipts from any workman,” said the friend.

“When I asked my friend about the money, she just said she didn’t remember; and the bank said they couldn’t do anything because she came to the bank and signed for it,” she said, noting that her elderly friend has no living relative and spent her days with the nurse.

Another CCRP member told of another case where an elderly woman decided to turn over her house to her son, as she could no longer maintain it. However, years later, her son died, and since then, the elderly woman and his widow have been at odds.

“She is now destitute,” said the member, noting that the son’s widow has done everything to get rid of the lady from her own home.

“It is just another case of where these persons are being taken advantage of. Persons are vulnerable and people who they trust are exploiting them. Something needs to be done about it,” he stressed, adding that some elderly persons try to protect their abusers.

Attorney-at-law Aloun Assamba, who is part of the CCRP’s legal team, said that while there are broad laws governing the care of the elderly, there is still need for more specific regulations.

“There are, in fact, laws that are all over the place, many different pieces, and you have to go to each one and pick out and try and find a clause in a particular law that relates to the elderly,” said Assamba, noting that the Ministry of Labour and Social Security has already started looking at proposals for a policy specifically aimed at protecting the elderly, but that this could take years to be enacted.

The legislation, she said, would secure the elderly’s right to a place to live, the right to proper healthcare, and the right to protect their money and other possessions.