Institutions ‘named and shamed’ for elder abuse – a last resort of ombudsman, media

Canadian banks and financial companies mistreat seniors and ignore laws, abetted by a negligent government

 

The growing epidemic of institutional elder abuse is not limited to nursing homes, hospitals and health authorities. The banking industry also appears to be mistreating and taking advantage of seniors. Banks?!  Yes, banks.

Most senior citizens are customers, many are long-time and very loyal customers of the banking institutions they patronize, and all are citizens of Canada. It is their hard earned money that has made Canadian banks what they are today. Yet, our elders are frequently being treated with callous disrespect.

We are concerned with the evidence that banks and financial institutions are imposing their own rules, over and above the law of the land, ignoring legal documents such as power of attorney papers drawn up by lawyers, and creating desperate circumstances for seniors.

Here are three stories that surfaced in the media recently, perhaps the tip of a very chilling iceberg.

  • Royal Bank (RBC) branch in Vancouver refused to cash the pension cheques of a 94-year-old disabled and housebound woman for seven months. This bank ignored the Power of Attorney granted by their customer to her daughter. The daughter tried in vain to persuade the bank to relent but they would not budge… until she called the media. Then, three bank staff suddenly found their feet and made a visit to the elderly woman’s house to confirm the power of attorney (something that was not necessary to do in the first place, but presumably was done so the bank could save face).

“I took the power of attorney papers in. They were photocopied and sent to the [RBC] head office in Toronto,” said (daughter Linda) Graham. “Those were turned down as well because they weren’t explicit enough.” CBC, Go Public

  • Staff at a Toronto Scotiabank branch reportedly refused to accept the power of attorney of a dying woman (featured in same CBC story, 2nd incident). The bank insisted that she, not her designated POA, come to the branch in person. When her family drove her to the bank branch, they asked staff to come out to the parking lot to meet with the 73-year-old woman who was weeks away from dying of cancer and unable to be transported anywhere easily. The family got a “flat-out refusal” from bank staff. Her family was forced to wheel the ailing woman, swollen with painful lymphoma, into the bank on a commode chair. All this, while the bank rejected the Power of Attorney document that had been properly executed by the woman’s lawyer. Scotiabank refused to comment, citing privacy – even though the woman was by then deceased.
  • And, in a rare move, an Ombudsman publicly ‘named and shamed’ W.H. Stuart & Associates, a mutual fund dealer, for refusing to abide by a ruling that the firm pay $41,066 to an 82-year-old couple for failing to inform them of the real, and risky, nature of their investment, and for the loss of their life savings due to the firm’s mismanagement.

Which ombudsman you may ask? One you may never have heard of, but which might, one day, save your bacon (and your nest egg) – the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments. “OBSI has taken several significant and extraordinary steps to resolve this and certain other complaints that could not be resolved before we’ve resorted to announcing a refusal to compensate.”

The OBSI is Canada’s national independent dispute resolution service for consumers and small businesses that have a complaint they can’t resolve with their banking services or investment firm. It operates as a free alternative to the prohibitively expensive legal system. Read more about the OBSI below.

The Canadian banks that once again posted record profits in the last fiscal quarter are the same banks that are treating senior citizens with breathtaking disrespect and utter disregard for the law.

So what is going on with banks? More importantly, why is it going on, and why is it being permitted by our governments and our elected representatives?

One of the missions of Seniors at Risk is to inform senior citizens and their loved ones of potential problems they may encounter at the hands of our elected officials, civil servants, and public agencies and authorities, as well as the legal system and other organizations that have some responsibility for providing “a public good”.

Canada’s banking institutions are one such “public good”.

As a country, Canada established banks very differently from the United States. In the U.S., banks are just another type of commercial business. In Canada, banks were established by the government to ensure Canadian citizens have safe and reliable financial services. That’s why, in part, our banks were better regulated than many other countries who were hit by the massive, corrupt financial industry meltdown of the last decade. But Canadian banks also enjoy more government support (i.e. taxpayer dollars) than those in other countries.

Arguably then, Canadian banks owe a responsibility to the people of Canada, not just to their shareholders.

Canada’s senior citizens worked their entire lives to build our country – and in so doing, helped our banks become the rich, robust organizations they are today. How is it then that Canadian seniors are so effectively swindled, their legal rights so casually dismissed, their dignity so thoroughly bruised, without so much as a blink of an eye, by these front-line employees and their bosses?

Our lawmakers protect institutional elder abusers

Just as we find in the health care industry, the banking and investment industry can arbitrarily ignore or interfere with legal documents such as a power of attorney, and blithely skirts our laws governing the rights of citizens. And, as is the case in our publicly-funded health care industry, banking staff virtually never face any accountability or punishment for crimes against seniors.

But wait you say, what about the Harper government’s tougher penalties for elder abuse that were passed into law in December 2012? Fuhgeddaboudit. These tougher penalties only apply to ordinary people. Institutional elder abusers get a free pass, a virtual ‘stay out of jail’ card.

Bill C-36, the Protecting Canada’s Seniors Act, amended the Criminal Code’s sentencing provisions to add age and other personal circumstances of the victim, including health and financial situation, as aggravating factors warranting increased sentences. Have a look at the summary document yourself. It’s just a few pages, colourful graphs. An easy read.

Not only does Bill C-36 make NO mention of institutional elder abusers, it appears to only apply to (or target?) family members. As the Bill itself states, the federal government believes that “Many perpetrators abuse elderly people who trust them; in fact, most are family members.” [p. 2, italics added]

However, Bill C-36 provides no sound data sources to support that statement.

Indeed, other credible sources contradict that myth. The World Health Organization reports that a U.S. survey found only 4 – 6 per cent of seniors who were living in the community (i.e. in their own homes) experienced some form of abuse, whereas 36 per cent of nursing home staff reported having witnessed at least one incident of physical abuse of an elderly patient in the previous year, 10 per cent admitted having committed at least one act of physical abuse themselves, and 40 per cent said they had psychologically abused patients. [WHO, 2002b].

And even StatsCanada reports that only 32 per cent of elder abusers are family members; leaving almost 70 per cent of abusers being someone other than family members… like institutional care givers.

Apparently health care providers, public agencies or other institutional bodies or authorities can commit serious, even criminal, acts against elderly people without any consequences, much less penalties.  The law literally does not apply to them.

Why is that? And why are none of our elected representatives, in Ottawa or in the provinces, doing anything to correct this very disturbing problem? Why did our elected representatives totally ignore institutional elder abuse in Bill C-36 as if it doesn’t even exist?

The public knows better

Surely those MPs, senators and legal staff who developed Bill C-36 noticed the media reports, like the hundreds of nursing home horror stories reported by the Toronto Star’s year-long investigation? And perhaps they may also have noticed the public survey commissioned by Justice Canada in 2011 that revealed 48 per cent of Canadians believe “paid caregivers in institutions” commit elder abuse.

People know what’s going on – despite the media campaigns over the last 2-3 years by governments, abetted by the self-serving elder care industry, to convince the public that elder abuse is “mostly” committed by family members. Of course, elder abuse by family members is a serious problem, but why have our governments so thoroughly ignored the arguably greater threat of institutional elder abuse? Is this an effort to redirect the public’s attention away from something they want to conceal and don’t want to stop?

The public knows that elder abuse committed by health care providers and others in positions of authority is a hazard in health care institutions of every stripe and category, whether private or public. It hits them right in the face, in the gut and in the heart when they see their loved ones mistreated and abused, and then find they are prevented from stopping these crimes by indifferent politicians and lax authorities.

Why is this epidemic of institutional elder abuse being so thoroughly ignored by Canada’s politicians, the elected “representatives” of the people, when almost 50 per cent of the public surveyed by Justice Canada believe it’s pervasive?

Well, for one thing, the perpetrators of institutional elder abuse crimes are either the governments themselves, or those who control the ear of governments at the executive level – big business, big health care unions, the pharmaceutical industry and the financial services industry, and other powerful vested interests such as the self-regulated physician and lawyer organizations.

Our elected representatives are loathe to implicate themselves, and as a result, they protect the organizations they work for and with whom they collaborate closely.

Individual citizens, members of the public, are ‘outsiders’. As such, they aren’t afforded the same level of protection and respect as are the powerful ‘insiders’, and they are readily abused by the powerful organizations and bureaucrats whose salaries they pay.

A natural conflict of interest, and seeking a way forward

A natural conflict of interest exists when organizations or groups are “self-regulated” or when there is no truly independent (citizen) oversight of those who wield power, or when there is a tremendous power imbalance between the servers and the served, i.e. the government and the citizen, or between the business and the customer, or between the caregiver and the resident of a care facility.

The  Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments is a shining example of how “watchdog” agencies should act. It serves a model for ombudsman offices across the country.

Their website states: “OBSI looks into complaints about most banking and investment matters including: debit and credit cards; mortgages; stocks, mutual funds, income trusts, bonds and GICs; loans and credit; fraud; investment advice; unauthorized trading; fees and rates; transaction errors; misrepresentation; and accounts sent to collections. Where a complaint has merit, OBSI may recommend compensation up to a maximum of $350,000.

“Over 99.8% of the thousands of complaints brought to OBSI since the organization’s inception have been successfully resolved.

“Where a complaint is found to have merit, OBSI makes a recommendation for compensation where it would be fair to do so, taking into account all of the facts and circumstances of the case. Refusals of firms to follow an OBSI recommendation to compensate mean that OBSI must publicize that refusal and the details of the complaint under Section 27 of OBSI’s Terms of Reference.”

Must publicize” the conduct and the details – this is a refreshing change from so many ombuds and government agencies whose reports are moribund tomes of bafflegab, carefully written to remove or obscure all traces of identifiable misconduct.

Three cheers for the OBSI.

Conversely, shame on craven politicians at every level of government for protecting institutional abusers who wield terrorizing power and control over Canadian seniors in “care” facilities.

 

Knowledge. Compassion. Courage. Action.

Take a stand against institutional elder abuse.  

 

 

 

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4 Comments »

  1. NAMED AND SHAMED: The circle widens once again! Well done. D.

    Comment by Worker D. — March 2, 2013 @ 5:42 pm

  2. NAMED AND SHAMED… I do not understand why there is NO real public outcry against elder abuse.

    Comment by Audrey Laferriere — March 3, 2013 @ 11:57 am

  3. NAMED AND SHAMED… MPs ignore nursing home abuse too? Where’s the NDP in all this? They talk a good game and sound like they would care. How can they turn such a blind eye??? Why would the NDP and Liberals permit this bill C-36 to go through? It seems no matter who we elect the people who are supposed to be watching out for abuse and corruption are the same ones who are hiding it. It used to be we just couldn’t trust politicians and lawyers, now we can’t trust doctors, nurses, civil servants and even police. We should run for the hills. My aunt was in a B.C. nursing home, treated like hell, still cost lots of money even though it was operated by the government. We tried to get her out of there but we were tricked, lied to, nobody we helped us, we wnet everywhere. I have no trust left.

    Comment by anna — March 5, 2013 @ 11:39 am

  4. PGT MISCONDUCT – ELDER ABUSE… It is horrible that no one takes elder abuse seriously. I have gone to the police, the PGT, EAS and many others and they all say it is a family matter. NO it is a legal matter! If my neighbors depleted all my assets(over 500k) so I was left with 2k in the bank, changed my POA and will and I did not know or understand, it would be fraud and theft. However, if it is a 90 year old blind woman, with very questionable capacity and her son did such, everyone ignores it and will not do anything to remedy or help. The abuser has even been able to hire a big elder law firm to protect himself by having the elder file a law suit against the rest of the family. The abuser then told the elder that the family was sueing the elder, such a travesty. The lawyer has now charged over 50k and the elder doesnt even know the lawyers name!! If you dont have 100k to hire lawyers yourself, the abuser can get away with it and the elder suffers. The abuser has totally ruined a family, at the expense of the elder, all to cover his evil tracks. I would love to take this story public as a cautionary tale to other families. This abuse had been going on for almost 10 years before the family even knew and the family is extremely close. So, this could be happening in your family right now. Something needs to be done. There must be public awareness. People must start talking about elder abuse. Devastating financial abuse, fraud and conflicts of interest by family members place major risk to elders and it is happening every single day. There must be accountability and government intervention. I pray no other families have to go through this; however, those of us who have need a public platform to Name and Shame….

    Comment by GK — May 6, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

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