Exclusive: Protecting the elderly

May 20, 2008 9:00:00 PM PDT
Family and friends say an elderly woman is being hidden from them. They allege that a young relative suddenly spirited away a 69-year-old Brooklyn woman from her home, then took her out of state. Now, family members and friends say all contact has been cut off.

The Investigators' Sarah Wallace has the exclusive story.

The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office has launched an investigation into the case, which we believe raises a host of important issues. What happens if you believe an elderly loved one or close friend is being taken advantage of or is suddenly isolated?

"I need to see my sister," Bernadette Blackman said. "I came from Atlanta and I need to see my sister."

Blackman flew all the way from Atlanta, only to be denied access to her sister, 69-year-old Muriel Blackman, now living in an assisted living facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

"I don't know what is going on, but they can at least allow us say hi to her," Murial's best friend, Esther Scott, said. "Even on the phone. Even bring her outside."

Scott, who is Muriel's best friend of 46 years, and another friend took the bus down all the way from Brooklyn. They were also denied access, even though Scott has a limited power of attorney appointed by Muriel herself.

Home employee: "This [power of attorney] is old."
Sarah: "This is old? What does that mean?"
Employee: "This is not the current power of attorney."
Sarah: "Well, could we talk to the administrator and get an explanation?"
Employee: "He doesn't want to talk to you."

Rewind to a few months ago, when Muriel lived in a two-family home she owns in Canarsie. Family members and neighbors say Muriel's rarely-seen niece, Jackie Thomas, suddenly entered the picture.

"Her niece came and said she was going to take her to breakfast and she'll be right back," Scott said. "And we never see her no more. She never came back."

That was March 2.

Neighbor Kern Lewis says that a couple of weeks later, two trucks showed up and workers emptied out the house.

Lewis: "I saw them throwing things on the truck, just throwing things on there."
Sarah: "Like garbage."
Lewis: "Yes."
Sarah: "Like they were gonna throw it away."
Lewis: "That's right."

After her home was cleared out, someone apparently cleaned out one of her bank accounts.

Sarah: "So you checked on an account with $17,000, and what is it now?"
Scott: "Zero balance."
Sarah: "No balance."

Then, Muriel Blackman's home started being renovated, possibly to be sold. We tried to ask a workman.

Sarah: "Who do you work for, sir?"
Worker: "I work for the niece of the lady who's sick."
Sarah: "You what? You're working for the niece of the lady who's sick?" Worker: "Yes."

Bernadette Blackman believes her own estranged daughter, Jackie, set out to silence her aunt by snatching her away and sticking her in virtual isolation in Pennsylvania, getting her to sign over all legal rights in an updated power of attorney.

Bernadette: "My own daughter will not let me see my sister."
Sarah: "How does that make you feel?"
Bernadette: "I am very hurt and upset about that."

We tried to reach out to Jackie Thomas to get her side of the story. We left several messages and even made multiple trips to her home in Horsham, Pennsyvania, to talk to her.

We finally tracked her down in her car as she came home one evening. But she refused to roll down the window and just leaned on the horn.

The home issued the following statement: "The Power of Attorney (Jackie Thomas) is responsible for making all care decisions for this resident, and we are obligated by law to follow her requests."

Attorney Joy Solomon specializes in elder abuse prevention.

Sarah: "What raises concerns about this case to you?"
Solomon: "That someone shows up in their life and all of the sudden takes in interest in this person where there are financial gains to be had, in a way to control and segregate that person and isolate them from other people, that they physically remove them to a different place, here to a different state."

Sarah: "Is it possible that Muriel had a breakdown and this woman is protecting her?"
Scott: "I don't know. You protect her in some ward where no one is allowed to see her? Her friends or even her own sister? That's not right."

The home says it has referred the case to adult protective services. The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office is also conducting a separate investigation.

Elder Abuse Prevention expert Joy Solomon, of the Weinberg center at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale offers these tips on signs and symptoms of elder abuse:

  • Unexplained physical injury
  • Agitation, trembling, confusion, disorientation
  • Emotional distress, like crying and/or depression
  • Withdrawn, showing no emotion
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Social and physical isolation
  • Unexplained loss of financial independence and/or control
  • Home in disarray, lacking basic necessities

    Be aware if:

  • Elder appears fearful of caregiver
  • Elder appears reluctant to respond when questioned; caregiver seeks to prevent elder from interacting privately with you
  • Elder and caregiver give conflicting accounts of incident
  • Caregiver is indifferent or angry towards elder and refuses to provide necessary assistance

    What to do:

  • If an emergency, call 911
  • If adult is at risk, contact Adult Protective Services. In New York City, call 212-630-1853. In Westchester, call 914-995-5411.
  • For community services, contact the New York City Department for the Aging at 212-442-3103 or the Westchester Department of Senior Programs and Services at 914-813-6300.