New Report Highlights Prevalence of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

Kentucky News reported this week on a disturbing new report on nursing home neglect that serves as an important reminder of the dangers faced by seniors in these facilities across the country. Each Illinois nursing home abuse attorney at our firm has seen the consequences of this poor care up close, and we remain proud to help families recover following these incidents. We appreciate that a good portion of our work is focused not only on providing relief to the harmed but also to spur changes to prevent future harm. Sadly, it remains an uphill battle, as chronic mistreatment, cut corners, and profit mongering continues to affect many local facilities.

More Substantiated Abuse Claims
The report in this latest story out of Kentucky found more instances of abuse and neglect from investigated cases. Specifically, 28% of investigated cases last year were substantiated while only 18% of similar cases were substantiated in the previous year (2010).

One advocate summarized the finding by noting that “these are very disturbing statistics, and they reinforce the fact that we’ve got to get serious about elder abuse in nursing homes…”

The data is part of a report released by the state’s health and family services department. All told, in 2011 there were more than 2,000 reported cases of nursing home abuse and neglect which were actually investigated by social workers. Those investigations took place in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and similar locations. Nearly 600 cases of abuse were uncovered. Of course, this represents only a fraction of the mistreatment that actually occurs, because studies show that the vast majority of elder abuse is never reported. Most seniors suffer in silence.

Even though identified cases of abuse went up nearly 60% in one year, the figure may be a result of better education and recognition of elder mistreatment. In the past there was little formal means by which those in a position to uncover this problem were taught about it. Fortunately, more resources are now being steered to the problem, which may result in more cases of abuse identified that would otherwise fly under the radar.

In addition, the state recently enacted a mandatory reporting law, which requires various individuals to step up and report suspected problems.

Report Elder Abuse
No senior can be helped if those around them remain silent about their neglect and abuse concerns. We continue to urge all local community members to be vigilant and take a stand against this form of mistreatment. Contact the proper authorities if you feel someone is being abused or was hurt as a result of caregiver negligence. It is only then that we can truly tackle the overall problem and improve the lives of millions of seniors across the country.

In our area, Illinois nursing home neglect and abuse lawsuits might be appropriate to hold facilities accountable for poor care. Not only do the lawsuits provide redress for residents and their families, but the lawsuit also can spur facility-wide changes. Staffing levels and safety protocols often improve after successful legal actions.

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The Problem With Mandatory Arbitration Clauses in Nursing Home Contracts

Contract laws are often complex. In general, individuals are free to contract with one another as they see fit. The courts exist to enforce those contracts. However, our Chicago nursing home neglect lawyers know that it is rarely that simple. Power differences in the modern world mean that the principles of negotiation in business dealings simply do not exist in some settings. That is why for decades courts have acted as a key intermediary ensuring that egregious contract terms, usually forced upon one without knowledge or ability to negotiate fairly, are not upheld.

This debate continues today, including on issues related to nursing home neglect. In particular, there remains much disagreement about mandatory arbitration clauses in nursing home admission contracts. These clauses force residents to give up their basic legal rights in the event that a dispute arises related to the care they receive at the home. Essentially, the clauses mean that if a nursing home causes harm by acting negligently, the victims cannot use the regular civil justice system to seek relief.

A recent letter to the editor from The Legal Intelligencer poignantly discussed the problems with these clauses. The letter points out the extreme emotions in play when a loved one is forced to move into a nursing home. This is an incredibly stressful time, often faced by seniors and their adult children. The contracts and clauses must be signed in the middle of the emotional rollercoaster. Our Illinois nursing home attorneys appreciate that this fact must be taken into account when evaluating the merits of these legal arrangements.

Some claim that arbitration is actually a superior model of resolving disputes, and residents are better served by using arbitration. If that were true, then residents could always agree to arbitration when the dispute arises. However, these clauses are always included “pre-dispute” when the family does not have the aid of counsel. Clearly, these companies place the clauses in the contract for their own benefit at a time when virtually no nursing home neglect lawyer would advise the agreement be signed.

Many supporting these clauses seek to avoid a jury under the assumption that juries are always “guided by emotion.” Yet, this perspective flies in the face of the 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees a right to a trial by jury. Obviously jury verdicts will always go against one side in a dispute. That side will likely argue that the jury made a mistake and was guided by improper principles. At the end of the day, however, our Founders rightly identified that the only way to fairly settle disputes was via an impartial group of individuals pulled from the community. Flaws can be pointed out, but that does not mean the jury system itself should be replaced contrary to constitutional dictates.

We continue to urge all local residents to be aware of the details of agreements signed during a nursing home admission. No one should ever have to deal with the legal consequences of a loved one harmed by nursing home negligence. However, if the need does arise, the family deserves the same basic access to the justice system guaranteed by the constitution.

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Nursing Home Lawsuit Alleges Chronic Negligence at Facility

Mercury News reported this week on a lawsuit filed by five different plaintiffs alleging nursing home neglect and mistreatment at a health care center for seniors. The claims being made in the suit are familiar ones for our Chicago nursing home neglect attorneys who work with families whose loved ones have suffered all manner of injuries while living in long-term care facilities. In particular, this latest suit involves claims of inadequate staffing levels–a common problem throughout the country.

The Lawsuit
According to the story, a long-term care facility and its parent corporation were used by at least five individuals, all who claim that facility residents were subject to a range of abusive and downright dangerous conditions which violated basic standard of care regulations. The suit makes various claims about the injuries suffered by residents as a result of the chronic problems. Specifically, the suit alleges that residents are regularly left unattended for long periods of time (elopement), have soiled garments only changed irregularly, develop bed sores, and are frequently overmedicated (chemical restraints).

Each Illinois nursing home neglect attorney at our firm has worked on cases involving all of these issues. One would hope that these sorts of issues would be isolated problems. Unfortunately that is not true. As this suit shows, facilities across the country continue to provide substandard care on a consistent basis.

The suit suggests that the systematic problems are largely rooted in understaffing. There are not enough caregivers at these facilities to ensure proper treatment and so, even if no single caregiver acts inappropriately, residents as whole suffer neglect because there is not enough manpower to go around. Nursing home neglect results in this way from corporate greed, with profits and low staffing levels placed above resident care.

Inadequate Security
One particular allegation is this case is somewhat unique, suggesting an incredible lapse of basic caregiving standards placing residents at serious risk of harm. According to documents filed with the court, the facility had inadequate security measures. As a result a man was able to come in off the street and sexually assault at least four residents over a 6 months period. The man was eventually arrested and convicted of four different count of sexual battery.

According to the story, during the assault the victims did everything they could to get help. The suit claims that “During the assault, residents screamed for help, sometimes for more than 30 minutes, but no one came.”

It seems amazing that this sort of assault could happen without notice. Yet, when a culture of inadequate care permeates at one of these facilities, any number of egregious events can occur.

Those pursuing this latest lawsuit claim that they are motivated by the goal of preventing future residents from suffering. The underlying purpose is to force owners of the facility to follow regulations to ensure staffing levels are appropriate and care to seniors is sufficient. Sadly, many facility owners only act appropriately when they are forced to do so via the justice system.

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Affordable Care Act May Stop Federal Tort Reform in Its Tracks

On Thursday the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (so-called Obamacare). Our Illinois nursing home abuse lawyers understand that complex constitutional issues at play in the appeal. Obviously emotions were high on both sides. In a somewhat surprising move, virtually all of the law was upheld as constitutional, including the controversial individual mandate portion of the legislation.

Not only was the opinion surprising, but many were startled to see Chief Justice John Roberts join the majority and author the opinion. It represents the first time ever that the Chief Justice has joined in a 5-4 opinion with the Court’s 4 more “liberal” members–Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan.

The AFA was upheld on grounds that it represented a “tax” and was therefore within Congress’s power as a way to exercise its taxing power. This is actually different than the argument made by the Obama Administration in defending the law during the hearing on the bill. The Administration actually argued that the law was constitutional under the “Commerce Clause” which allows the federal government to legislative interstate commerce.

Each Chicago nursing home abuse lawyer knows that while most attention will be focused on the fact that the law stands, the grounds on which the ruling was reached may have implications on future legislation. That including laws affecting nursing home neglect issues.

Federal Tort Reform
Perhaps the most obvious implication of the ruling is that it may limit tort reform legislation at the federal level seeking to limit the rights of medical malpractice and nursing home abuse victims. The U.S. Congressional House Republican caucus already plans to vote to repeal the law in a week and a half. After repeal they may propose an “alternative.” The alternative is likely to include tort reform proposals.

However, it is unclear how the tort reform efforts will stand up to constitutional scrutiny–at least if one believes the constitution applies in the way that most tort-reform advocates claim. Specifically, the only way that the federal tort reform mandates would pass constitutional muster would be under application of the commerce clause. Yet, it is unclear how the rules would be applicable considering the court just held that the AFA is not a valid exercise of the government’s ability to regulate interstate commerce.

In his decision in the AFA case, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that: “The facets of governing that touch on citizens’ daily lives are normally administered by smaller governments closer to the governed. The Framers thus ensured that powers which, ‘in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people’ were held by government more local and more accountable than a distant federal bureaucracy.”

In other words, details about the rules governing the local court systems must be left up to the states themselves. It is incredibly inconsistent for some to claim to support federalism while at the same time arguing that rules about every state court system should be dictated by members of Congress in Washington.

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Nursing Home Lawsuit Filed After Resident Left in the Heat

Our Chicago nursing home neglect lawyers often remind community members that elder abuse does not always involve direct, physical harm as is evidenced by an article in L.A. Now. A lawsuit has been filed against an assisted-living facility alleging that the responsible parties left the 89-year-old woman, Loretta Hooker, outside in the scorching heat. Hooker began living in the facility in April 2010 due to her weak physical condition and progression of mild dementia. Her son moved her into the facility due to its increased security for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia as she began needing greater assistance with day-to-day tasks.

In August of the following year, the son found his mother on the patio, unresponsive. She was taken to the emergency room where doctors stated that she was in cardiac arrest. Doctors unsuccessfully attempted to lower her body temperature, but she was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. Doctors determined that the cause of death was cardiovascular disease and hyperthermia. Her existing cardiovascular problems were triggered when she was left in the heat.

The nursing home neglect lawsuit, which was filed in June 2012, states that Hooker’s body temperature was 103.3 degrees when she was pronounced dead. The facility is accused of elder abuse, neglect, and wrongful death. Medical and funeral expenses as well as compensation for pain and suffering are among the damages sought.

An investigation of the facility was undertaken by the California Department of Social Services. Although there was reason to believe that neglect had occurred, the Department took the position that there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone with a crime. The facility received a citation, which it subsequently attempted to appeal. Our Illinois nursing home neglect lawyers know that criminal charges are very rare in these situations and whether or not charges are filed is not connected to subsequent civil lawsuits.

The problem with any form of abuse is that it is often part of a cycle. Hooker was found in a similar state prior to this incident. She was left on the patio where her son found her in a weakened state. She was unable to get back inside without assistance, and her son was upset over the hazardous environment of the assisted-living home. He brought his mother inside, complained to the supervisors, and scheduled a meeting with the executive director of the facility. The second incident, taking Hooker’s life, happened one week later, prior to the scheduled meeting.

Even after complaints regarding negligence, supervisors left Hooker in the same condition a week later. The son’s attorney summarizes why this problem occurs by stating, “This case is all about the tragedy that occurs when elder care facilities put profits over their sacred responsibility to do everything possible to protect and enhance the lives of the people entrusted to their care.”

Whether neglect occurs due to putting profits over responsibility or due to plain negligence, it is important to research the history of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities prior to placing loved ones there. One common thing to look for includes whether the facility has been involved with numerous lawsuits alleging neglect.

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Aging Expert Optimistic About Seniors Flourishing in Their Golden Years

When reading story after story about mistreatment, abuse, and neglect at long-term care facilities, it is easy to get discouraged about the state of growing old in America. Many assume that aging will undoubtedly be an unhappy time, with the only goal being to not be completely neglected by caregivers.

However, our Chicago nursing home lawyers know that it doesn’t need to be that way. Instead of merely trying to exist without abuse, it is important for seniors to flourish in their old age–taking advantage of their situation to help others, grow, learn, and thrive as human beings. While we work on cases at the opposite end of the spectrum involving Illinois elder abuse and neglect, we know that the overall goal is not merely to eliminate neglect at these facilities. Instead the goal is to ensure seniors at these homes are able to live their lives to the fullest.

That goal is echoed by one of the pioneers in the field of geriatric care, Dr. Linda P. Fried. In an interesting new profile from the New York Times, Dr. Fried explains how new science in the field of aging needs to be embraced to improve the lives of seniors. As dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, Dr. Fried hopes that new research into these areas will lead society to “reframe our understanding of the benefits and costs of aging.”

For example, Dr. Fried is a pioneer of a “frailty assessment” which seeks to better identify health risks for seniors and the ways that stressors affect the body. The assessment is now a popular tool that, among many other things, can help ensure prevention of nursing home neglect. The research into the frailty scale show how many problems related to care result in a “chain reaction” of problems. Inadequate nutrition, for example, often leads to senior muscle loss. That muscle loss in turn causes mobility problems and lack of energy. Those concerns then lead to increased risks of falls or other dangers incidents. Our Illinois nursing home neglect lawyers understand that stopping this chain of events in its tracks is the duty of caregivers at nursing homes.

But how can seniors thrive?

Preventing nursing home abuse and neglect is just the start. Beyond that, senior residents need opportunities to use their skills in unique and worthwhile activities. For example, over a decade ago Dr. Fried started a volunteer program called “Experience Corps” which trained seniors to help in various tutoring programs for children in economically disadvantaged areas. Not only was the program a huge success in providing community support to children in need, but it proved incredibly beneficial to the volunteers themselves.

Small details of the volunteer program were thrown in to ensure the senior volunteers received various incidental benefits. For one thing, the layout of the program was such that seniors were forced to walk a certain length before reaching the children in order to provide a bit extra exercise. In addition, the health of the senior tutors was monitored and used in studies comparing them with seniors not in the program. The effects of the participation on health could then be monitored.

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Nursing Home Employee Allegedly Swindled Over $100K from Elderly Resident

The San Diego nursing home abuse attorneys at our firm understand the many ways that seniors can be taken advantage of in long-term care facilities. Physical abuse, neglect, sexual assault, and even financial exploitation often strike at these homes.

tax%20calculator%20%28Dave%20Dugdale%29.jpgFor example, a 31 year-old staff member of the Maple Glen Center, a nursing home community located in Maywood, New Jersey, faces up to fifteen charges for conning an elderly resident. As reported by Fair Lawn Patch, Maple Glen employee Kye Giacalone was charged on June 15 with theft of entrusted funds, theft by deception, and four counts of theft by credit card. Though as details leaked out, the initially estimated $29,000 of allegedly embezzled funds continued to rise. Giacalone, the nursing home’s admissions director, supposedly made credit card purchases exceeding an astounding $100,000. Maywood Police announced Friday, June 22 that nine new charges would be added, including four counts of impersonating another and one count of second-degree theft; by New Jersey law, amounts surpassing $75,000 constitute second-degree theft charges.

The resident of Lodi allegedly befriended the 82-year-old nursing home victim, eventually gaining access to his bank account. Authorities say that, in September of 2010, Kye Giacalone acquired the Power of Attorney. This privilege gives one or more individuals the power to act on behalf of another; the Power of Attorney may be limited to a specific activity or general in its application. Regardless of its nature, Giacolone supposedly exploited this newfound entitlement by opening credit cards in the man’s name. Even after the unknowing victim moved from Maple Glen Center into another nursing home, she continued to purchase personal items with the credit cards.

Citing privacy laws, the nursing home’s acting administrator declined to release much information regarding Kye Giacalone’s tenure at Maple Glen. Furthermore, Harrison stated that she did not regularly have direct contact with the nursing home residents. Though supposedly all Maple Glen Center employees are subject to a background check. It appears that the director held no knowledge of these wrongdoings before the authorities came to the center on June 15 to arrest Giacalone.

“We weren’t aware of any of this,” the director said. “When we found out, we suspended her immediately and launched our own investigation.”

A family friend of the victim notified police after recognizing abnormalities in the man’s bank account, Maywood Detective Sgt. Mark Gillies said. Sgt. Gillies also asserted that he was unaware whether the bank accounts of any other Maple Glen Center residents had been jeopardized. Yet, the Maywood Police Department advised residents who had regular contact with Giacalone to evaluate and examine their own finances, as additional irregularities may arise. Giacalone is currently being held at Bergen County Jail with the bail for the nine new charges set at $75,000.

Even a single case of nursing home abuse is one too many. Our San Diego elderly abuse lawyer understands and advocates awareness of nursing home maltreatment. This most recent case is a reminder that it is important to continually analyze the financial statements and accounts of the elders. Furthermore, families and friends should be cognizant of the power and sway nursing employees hold over their residents. Many caregivers have enriched the lives of elders, but as seen here: that is not always the case.

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Paying for Nursing Home Care

Not all nursing homes are created equal. Each Chicago nursing home abuse attorney at our firm often shares information about state nursing home violations as well as data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid’s “Nursing Home Compare” website. The quality of care data makes clear that some facilities far outperform others when it comes to keeping residents safe, secure, and happy.

Unfortunately, the difference between aging in place, living in a high quality home, or moving into a chronically negligent facility often comes down to finances. Paying for nursing home care can be daunting. For most families, Medicaid help is needed. Medicaid is the joint federal and state program that provides for low-income residents. When many seniors become ill and need long-term care, they are often forced to “spend down” their assets to qualify for the program–if they do not already.

However, our Illinois nursing home attorneys know that in a few, very rare, instances, adult children may actually be forced to pay for the care of their parents.

Filial Laws
For example, the Wall Street Journal published a story last week on one nursing home’s use of these, often ignored laws, that may allow facilities to hold children responsible for long-term care debts owed by parents. In the recent high-profile case, an appellate court in Pennsylvania found that a nursing home could seek to collect a nearly $100,000 bill from adult son of a former resident. The filial laws in the state require the creditor to prove that the senior is “indigent” and the child has the means to pay the bill to prevail. In that case, the senior had no money and the son was deemed capable of paying as a result of his $85,000 annual salary.

Legal observers across the country were shocked by the decision, because these filial laws are rarely used. In fact, in the few instances where an entity seeks to recover per the statute, it is usually only to force an adult child to help a senior with Medicaid application paperwork. Actually seeking to collect payment is very uncommon. Though, if successful, more nursing home may attempt to take this route.

Can this happen in Illinois?

Twenty nine states have filial laws, however, Illinois is not one of them. That means that a local nursing home would likely be unable to force any child to provide resources for parents.

However, the lack of a legal requirement does not mean that adult children don’t often help their parents with these issues. In most cases, it is the adult child who arranges for a nursing home move-in and works with the senior to ensure they qualify for Medicaid. Our Chicago else abuse lawyers remind all local families to be careful during the selection process. It is best to be as educated as possible about the care provided at various facilities. Not only should proximity to friends and family be taken into consideration, but staffing levels, bed sore development rates, and other data should be weighed when deciding what home is best for your loved one.

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Scandal: Seniors Suffering in Silence

Each Chicago nursing home abuse lawyer at our firm appreciates the often-incredible stories of mistreatment faced by seniors each and every day. Yet, there are always some stories of mistreatment that shock the conscience. For example, a recent Arizona Daily Sun story recounted an unbelievably tragic tale of elder abuse perpetrated by against a man by his own son.

According to the story, in 2009 police arrested a man on charges of endangerment and aggravated assault. The man was allegedly driving down an interstate with his elderly father in the car. It was only 39 degrees outside at the time. Essentially, in the middle of nowhere, the man pulled the car over. He took his 92-year old father out of the car, left him laying on the side of the road, and drove off. The elderly man could not walk without his walker, and the son kept the walker in the car. When arrested the son admitted that he was trying to kill his father.

Chicago elder abuse lawyers know that abuse perpetrated by relatives is quite common. The article shares another story where a 91-year old nearly blind woman had $52,000 stolen by her own son. The son bought a motorcycle and was planning to change his name and move to another state. Fortunately, sheriff’s deputies arrested that man before he could fulfill his plan.

It is unknown how many other criminals get away with this sort of abuse without punishment.

Elder Abuse Mostly Unreported
Authorities across the country, including in our area, agree that the vast majority of elder abuse is never reported. There many reasons for the underreporting, not least of which are seniors who don’t understand their rights or are ashamed of their situation.

Even then, when abuse is reported it is often difficult to prove. The criminal justice system, understandably, places high burdens on prosecutors to prove cases beyond of reasonable doubt. Obtaining actual evidence sufficient to meet that burden in a court of law is not easy. Part of the problem is the limited resources of those tasked will fully investigating allegations of abuse. Without proper resources the investigations cannot occur in a timely or sufficient manner, meaning legal cases cannot be put together.

Advocates explain that senior vulnerabilities are both the reason they are targeted as well as a reason the abuse is often never reported. For example, the story shares information on a senior with dementia who was moved into a small trailer by his family–his grandchildren. The grandchildren then re-mortgaged his home three times. The children spent the money. A legal advocate sought to prosecute the grandchildren in court (they were legal guardians), but in the end all of the money was spent and the man did not recover anything.

Even in cases where a senior has their full mental capacities, they may be reluctant to turn in their relative, because they have not have anyone else to support them. Many seniors have few close friends and a single relative may be their only link to others. Alleging abuse or mistreatment by the relative is unlikely to happen.

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Illinois Elder Abuse on the Rise in Some Regions?

My Journal Courier reported on some troubling news late last week on the trends in Illinois elder abuse. The report explained that there has been an increase in the number of reported cases of elder abuse in the region. The need is affecting local elder abuse program budgets. The financial strain is exacerbated by the fact that the state reimbursement system is in disarray, with significantly delayed payments becoming the norm.

One group, The Prairie Council on Aging, investigates abuse cases concerning those over age 60. The group executive director noted that at any given time there may be around seventy open cases. And this is only in one corner of our state. As the director noted, even though many community members may not realize it, elder abuse “is alive and unfortunately present right here in our own backyard.” Each Illinois elder abuse attorney at our firm reminds local community members of the consistency of the problem in our state.

Sadly, not only are there are a steady stream of abuse cases, but the problem may be growing. The Prairie Council on Aging, for example, explained that they have seen a 30% increase in demand for their services. The demand increase was not mirrored in an increase in the senior population, meaning the problems themselves are growing.

Yet, our Chicago elder abuse lawyers counsel that the increase in reported instances of abuse or demand for elder care services may in some ways be a good thing. For quite some time these issues flew under the radar, with only a fraction of mistreatment ever reported. The underreporting problem persists. Increased use of elder care services may actually represent a slow reversal of that trend, with more local community members appreciating the problem and taking action.

However, it is important for organizations and government entities working on these issues to have the resources they need to properly investigate claims, provide relief, and demand accountability when abuse is uncovered. Investigating abuse is a time-consuming and costly process–especially to do it right. Considering the financial mess in Springfield, many organization, including those working on elder care issues, are left struggling to figure out how to survive without getting proper payments from the state.

Many of the groups have resorted to emergency measure to raise funds, often including fundraising drives and events. For example, the Prairie Council on Aging recently held a gospel concert to raise funds. They are hoping that local residents will come out to donate money to keep seniors in the community safe. The program director discussed the organization’s mission, something that each of our Chicago nursing home abuse lawyers shares:

“We want them [local seniors] to maintain their dignity and grow old gracefully in a manner that they choose–not their loved ones and not someone who is pretending to be their caregiver and actually ripping them off.”

Hopefully these and similar organization soon see relief so that they are able to continue fulfilling their vital mission in the community. Raising awareness of these problems is an important goal, but that awareness must come with increased resources for those working to help the seniors affected.

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