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Friday, July 8, 2011

Woman Faced Elder Abuse Charges, After Caring For Relative Who Refused Medical Care

When 91-year old Maria “Concha” Lopez died in her Madera, California home a few years ago, she weighed just 35 pounds and was covered in bedsores described as so deep that her bones were exposed.

Lopez’s 26-year-old grand-niece Stephanie Hernandez was her great Aunt’s sole caregiver, and was recently acquitted of murder and elder abuse charges, but not before Hernandez spent over a year in prison and lost custody of her daughter, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Prosecutors in the case alleged Hernandez had neglected her great aunt to the point of criminal negligence.

But, Hernandez told a court that her great aunt had refused to see doctors and the defense portrayed her as a loving niece who was able to keep her aunt alive through many health setbacks.

Hernandez is now free, and fighting to regain custody of her daughter, but the case is reverberating in the elder care community, because expert says it’s a sign of what’s to come.

Dr. Brad Stuart, chief medical officer for Sutter Care At Home, a northern California-based in-home hospice services agency, told Here & Now‘s Deborah Becker that because of the aging population, cases like this will become increasingly common.

“First responders and medical examiners haven’t seen a lot of cases like this — yet. But this is not going to be an unusual case in a few years,” Stuart said.

Guests

  • Maria La Gang, Los Angeles Times San Francisco bureau chief
  • Dr. Brad Stuart, chief medical officer for Sutter Care At Home

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  • B.A. Gilmore

    I’m glad Ms. Lopez was acquitted. In my opinion, she didn’t do anything wrong. She did what her aunt wanted. When my mother got sick we had someone come in to see if she would be eligible for some kind of home care. Although she could afford it, she told the woman that she had six children who could take care of her. But she didn’t. One lived in Boston. Three worked fulltime. One worked part-time at night. And one was disabled. My brother and I shared the majority of care for her. One day she had a serious accident. She refused to go to the hospital. Luckily, she came to her senses a week later after suffering and talking to three of us. She had fractured her knee and could no longer live in the house. She was admitted to a hospital and sent to rehab. Just because she was old didn’t mean we could force her to do what she didn’t want. We followed her instructions. She had the right to choose how she was going to manage her health even if we didn’t like it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Elise-Beaulieu/830574172 Elise Beaulieu

    This is a particularly horrifying case.  But there have been others throughout the country, Florida, Illinois have had recent cases. As a geriatric practitioner for many years, I agree with Dr. Stuart’s comment that we will be seeing more of these cases. Because we have more older adults living longer and as a result needing care, relatives in varying situations come forward to provide this care. Care at home is preferable to a nursing home, but obviously not at the expense of the life of the older adult. It is critical that we continue to fund oversights for older adults in family care, better known as Protective Services, and provide supports for those who are giving care. Abuse against older adults can take many forms as well, from financial abuse to physical and mental abuse. This is NOT related (according to researchers) caregiver burden but more the cycle of domestic abuse that is seen with child abuse and spousal abuse. Neighbors, family members, and friends of the older adult need to be involved with caregiving and look for signs of abuse and report when there is a suspicion of abuse.

    • Autumn

      I have difficulty accepting the jury’s decision, and feel that while Ms. Hernandez wasn’t guilty of murder–it was definitely neglect.  If a child were to get a wound, and refuse to see the doctor–would that be the end of it?  Of course not.
      I feel that an individual’s wishes are important; however, rotting in a bed without proper care couldn’t have possibly been what she wanted.  I think perhaps Ms. Hernandez could have benefitted from support from her local Department on Aging or DHS.  With more education–she may have been better equipped to care for Ms. Lopez. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Elise-Beaulieu/830574172 Elise Beaulieu

    I sense that this case (though we have limited information) is a little beyond choice. Self-determination is and should be respected, but serious beds sores (bones protruding) are incredibly painful and one has to question the capacity of the individual to make statements that they don’t want care. 

  • Jennifer

    I cared for my disabled mother-in-law for the last 2 years of her life, with very part time in-home help.  At one point, she said she was done and wanted to die.  She said that she wasn’t going to eat or drink anymore.  I discussed the consequences of doing that and she agreed.  I called the doctor and discussed this with her as I did want to follow her wishes but didn’t want to end up in jail for neglect.  We all decided that this was her choice (my husband and my sister-in-law, too).  I put 3 good meals a day in front of her.  She always had something to drink available.  No one forced her, or even encouraged her.  After 3 days of not eating or drinking anything at all, she was really hungry and thirsty and changed her mind.

  • Katori

    I feel much empathy for Ms. Lopez.  If the coroner did not know my parents, they probably would have been reported to Protective Services when my grandmother died.  My grandmother never saw a doctor iher life and wasn’t about to start in her 90s.  My mother knew she had a wound of some sort on her leg but my grandmother refused to let her see it and took care of it herself.  She did not die of issues related tot he wound but it was quite deep.  My grandmother was 93 when she died and would have been considered as having enough capacity to consent.  When she was near death she considered going to the hospital.  She asked my mother, who was a nurse’s aid, what they would do.  After my mother explained it, she decided she would rather die at home in peace.  If protective services had stepped in, it would have made this precious time much more traumatic.

  • worried

    The guests discussed “forcing” the elderly to accept care and/or protecting those family members who do take on the burden from ending up like Ms. Lopez, who, I don’t know how, is brave enough to be now helping take care of another elderly relative.  There is an elderly relative in our family who is nearly blind, almost deaf and has fallen badly at least three times that she’s admitted to in the last few months.  She is forgetful and proud, and so is being stolen from by her “housekeeper” and refuses to admit it even when presented with copies of the checks.  She is extremely depressed and does nothing but sit in front of a small TV with the volume turned up all day.  She does not eat properly, cannot keep herself properly cleaned, does not hear or understand her doctors (at least she does not refuse to go), doesn’t take her medication unless reminded and says she’s fine.  She always has bruises, from falling or bumping into things or from her pets.  There needs to be a way for someone to intervene for her good, but there isn’t.  There needs to be some way for her to legally indicate her wishes so that her family will not be blamed for what eventually will happen.  As it is now, whenever any of us does anything she does not like or makes any suggestion to improve her lot, she threatens to call the police and report us for elder abuse.  We keep taking care of her anyway because we love her, but what happened to Ms. Lopez scares the heck out of me.

  • Stan

    The Nanny State at work.
    You, the average citizen are not qualified to do ANYTHING with or in your life without Big Brother having his face in your business.
    So now this caregiver is charged with murder. This keeps the police, lawyers, bail bondsmen, judges, probation officers and the general prison incarceration industry busy suppling “customers or consumers” behind bars. What a sick culture which has arisen within America.

    And at a time when the prison in California are already overloading.

  • Isabel

    I agree with the freedom of choice of elders as well as every human being in capacity to do so. But letting somebody suffer with those bed sores? I’m sure Ms. Lopez wasn’t asking for that. Compassion make you react and contact a doctor, family members or friends for advise. If you (the caregiver) are aware of every second of pain the person is going through and have humanity, you would react and do something to alleviate the pain. Choosing to die is one thing but letting you suffer as consequence of that choice is inhuman.

  • Tpyupanqui1968

    To me, it is wrong that she was acquired.  I understand  that everybody has the right to choose how to die.  In this case, this 91 years old who died with just 30 pounds was neglected.  If you do not want to take care of your elders, put them in a nursing home.  If this elder woman did not want to go to the Doctor or eat , it was the niece responsibility to  notify this female elder’s doctor about her conditions.  It would also save you for the authority to think that you abused your love one.

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