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Inside The Senior Alliance: Elder Abuse Task Force with Attorney General Dana Nessel & Scott Teter (Ep 39)

Jason Maciejewski (00:00):
Welcome to Inside The Senior Alliance, a podcast exploring resources and issues in the field of aging. I’m Jason Maciejewski, CEO at The Senior Alliance, the Area Agency on Aging serving Western and Southern Wayne County. Joining me today is Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and head of the Elder Abuse Task Force, Scott Teter. Thank you both for joining me today.

Dana Nessel (00:17):
Hey, great to be with you this morning, Jason.

Scott Teter (00:20):
Good Morning.

Jason Maciejewski (00:20):
Great. Thank you both for joining us on this episode. Attorney General Nessel, what was your goal when you created the Elder Abuse Task Force?

Dana Nessel (00:28):
Well, shortly after I entered office in 2019, we partnered up with the Michigan Supreme Court to create the Elder Abuse Task Force, you know, in an effort to affect systemic change really within the elder justice system. So our our real goal is to assemble an array of experts providing services to elder and vulnerable adults in the state of Michigan, and really to work together to enhance senior services and just do a full system review and to recommend changes. So the task force consists of over 55 different organizations and then public, private, nonprofit sectors. And our shared goal is combating elder abuse. So we immediately went to work. We hosted a listening tour with stops all over the state of Michigan, traveled thousands and thousands of miles around the state, you know, where we heard firsthand the horror stories about some of the problems in the probate court and guardian system.

Dana Nessel (01:22):
And some of these problems were involved, things like unqualified people who were serving as guardians, emergency guardians who were appointed without hearing, family members being denied guardian appointments without any explanation or guardian ad litem reports that were inadequate for the court to make a proper decision. Guardians moving someone from their home, putting them in a nursing home, cleaning out their house and throwing away most of their belongings in a dumpster, and then just putting the house up for sale. And as a result of this tour, the task force started three slates of initiatives with actions that we really wanted to accomplish on behalf of older and vulnerable adults in Michigan. And so we’ve been working for over four years now, about four and a half years to address these complaints.

Jason Maciejewski (02:04):
Great. Well, thank you for the background on the Elder Abuse Task Force, and Scott is the head of the task force. Could you explain the process that you have followed and what your particular role is on the task force?

Scott Teter (02:18):
Sure. First of all, the privilege of heading up this task force is like coaching an all-star team. The AG really did call together the best of the best in this state on this topic, and we have them from you know, private law or all the law enforcement agencies. We have probate attorneys, we have elder law attorneys, we have legal aid attorneys, we have adult protective services, and everybody who had regular contact or provides regular services to the elderly, we pulled them in and said, help us, you know to create a set of initiatives that address some of these systemic problems. And so initially I went back and reviewed the 1998 Supreme Court Task Force report on guardianships and conservatorships, and made a number of recommendations and some of those were incorporated in a law change called Emancipated Protected Individual’s Code, which is EPIC.

Scott Teter (03:09):
That is our probate court statute for guardianships and conservatorships. Well now it’s 23 years old. We’ve identified a number of gaps in the way those laws are applied, and some issues that I don’t think that task force originally contemplated would be problems with the way that it was implemented. We’ve identified those. In addition, I went back and looked at the 2007 Governor’s Task force report on elder abuse and some of the recommendations in that report were to adopt the recommendations from the 1998 task force that never got adopted, including guardianship certification for professional guardians. And that’s one of the things that are in the first batch of initiatives we put together and the set of statutes that we have proposed. The task force meets every month, the AG’s on it, usually one and sometimes more than one member of the Michigan Supreme Court. And then individuals representing, we were 110 individuals now representing those agencies from across the state. In addition to that, there are committee meetings and there’s seven standing committees to meet every single month. There are subcommittees that meet every other week. In addition to that first set of initiatives that we reviewed, we adopted a second and a third set, most of which have been implemented. We’re now working on our fourth and fifth list of initiatives.

Jason Maciejewski (04:29):
So it’s certainly been a very active and productive task force. And Scott, as the new updated elder abuse reporting form was released by the task force, it was there to report suspected elder abuse and exploitation for residents in long-term care facilities along with a long enforcement training series. Could you tell us more about this new form and the training series that law enforcement is engaging in?

Scott Teter (04:52):
There’s actually a couple initiatives involved in that. The first one was we wanted to standardize the investigative part of Law enforcement’s response. And so we developed a standard investigation form and each of the state police agencies, the Michigan State Police, the Michigan Sheriff’s Association, the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Association, all joined with the Attorney General and recommended that as the best practice investigation form. So that went out to law enforcement. In addition to that, a video series training law enforcement officers and there short videos, they run eight to ten minutes long and it allows an officer, they could either do it at a staff meeting, at the beginning of the shift, they could do it while they’re on the shift and in between the responding to calls, but they could pull up these videos and take a look at several areas.

Scott Teter (05:42):
One is how to complete that investigative form. One may be, you know, the role of a guardian or conservator. Another one is on powers of attorney, one more is on joint bank accounts, all of those things to assist law enforcement. We then created a manual that literally is paint by numbers. It is from start to finish how we, in my division, put together a financial exploitation case from the beginning to the trial. And it includes what witnesses that we would interview, the questions we would ask those witnesses, the subpoenas that we would issue the search warrants and what those would look like to gather the information and really train not only law enforcement officers, but also prosecutors on how to pick up these cases and then respond appropriately. Often times that doesn’t happen. They classify these as civil cases and then they don’t see a true law enforcement response.

Scott Teter (06:33):
In addition to that, just recently we changed the reporting form on the AG’s website because we found that often times the complaints that we were receiving online did not have the specificity that we would need to make a determination on whether or not that was the case so we could move forward with criminal investigation. So it asked for some very specific information about is there a power of attorney? Who’s the person who’s a suspect, is there a pending probate court case? All of those things that would assist us in guiding the investigation. In addition to that, as it relates to long-term care facilities in 2021, our healthcare fraud division under the AG’s office developed the Sentinel Project. And the Sentinel Project is truly unique. It is a voiced approach to investigating vulnerable adult abuse. And that’s abuse, neglect or financial exploitation that may occur in the long-term care facility.

Scott Teter (07:26):
And up until now, sort of our response has been, well, you contact us, you file a complaint, we respond, we investigate that specific complaint. The Sentinel project really takes a much more holistic approach. It comes in and looks at, we do unannounced visits. We look at what is the history of this particular facility and were there other complaints that maybe didn’t rise to the level of criminal prosecution, but still were cause for concern. Put all of those together so that when we go into the facility, we look not only just at this particular complaint, but any other issues that may exist and also would involve criminal prosecution. So those stats, we’ve had thirty three visits, we’ve had two return visits, there’s two criminal charges, one is currently pending and sixteen referrals. And so again, that’s sort of a different approach than just the you come, file a complaint and we send out an investigator to take a look. We think these things require a little broader approach.

Jason Maciejewski (08:24):
Well certainly been some impactful work that you’ve done as head of the Elder Abuse Task Force and the tools that have been produced. I think are going to have a significant impact in our community. Could you tell our audiences listening how they can find out more information about the Elder Abuse Task Force or maybe find some of the reports or work that has been done?

Scott Teter (08:42):
Sure. Couple of different things to address. First one is regarding the task force. We do have a website on the AG’s website, so it’s www.michigan.gov/ag/initiatives/elder-abuse. And you can pull up that, it’ll have the full rundown of what the task force has been working on. There’s also the ability to sign up there to receive the regular newsletter that we put out quarterly updating where the task force is at, what we’re working on, and what initiatives are in process and kind of the progress reports of those initiatives, including the legislation and the training programs. All of it’s on there. In addition to that, for additional information, you can contact our hotline, which is 1-800-24-abuse. And if you have questions about, you know, where do I get resources or where do I ask questions about this, that’s the place to call. Separate from that, if you want to report suspected abuse, neglect or financial exploitation, you call the Adult Protective Services hotline, and that is (855) 444-3911.

Scott Teter (09:48):
And that call-in line is manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s where you make complaints of suspected abuse, neglect or financial exploitation. You don’t have to be a relative, you don’t have to be a law enforcement officer, you don’t have to be a mandated reporter. Anyone in the state of Michigan is a permissive reporter. If you suspect something’s happening with your neighbor, somebody at church, you know, a friend or a relative, pick up the phone and call. If we don’t know about it, there’s no way we can respond to it.

Jason Maciejewski (10:16):
Scott, thanks for sharing that information, and we definitely want to share it with the public and make sure everybody knows how to utilize those resources and report suspected elder abuse. So let’s turn to holiday scams and Attorney General Nessel. During the holiday season, there’s a heightened risk of older adults being victimized by scams. What should older adults be on the lookout for?

Dana Nessel (10:36):
Well, you know, this is one of my favorite things about being Attorney General is it’s not just that at our department, we have the ability if someone does fall victim to a scam, to, you know, investigate it. And if we can find the perpetrator, hold them accountable and, and try to get an individual indemnified. But really the best thing for folks who are out there to know is that if you educate yourself on what a scam looks like, you might be able to avoid falling victim to one in the first place. And these scams have gotten so much more sophisticated over the years, but no matter what the scam is about, you know, whether it’s a holiday scam, whether it has to do with some sort of, you know, storm or natural disaster, whether it has to do with other current events that are in the news, scams usually have the same ingredients that are used over and over and over again.

Dana Nessel (11:28):
Firstly, you know, people should be on the lookout for an urgent request. Anything that has to be done right away, something that won’t allow you to even get off the phone because somebody needs your information so quickly. And again, you know, it’s typical that a scamster is going to be seeking one of two things. Either your financial information like a credit card or bank account information, or your personal information like a social security number or your address or date of birth or driver’s license number. And that’s in order to try to steal your identity. That’s why somebody would be seeking that information. So if somebody says they need that information right away, something very bad has happened or is about to happen. If you don’t provide that information immediately be suspicious. It’s a secret request, something that no one else can know about, but you, you know, some deal that’s so great that you can’t tell anybody else about it.

Dana Nessel (12:21):
That’s a scam. If somebody’s trying to create a believable story or connection with someone, you know, I know you through your grandson and has information about who your grandson is or maybe somebody that you go to church with a neighbor who lives down the street, it doesn’t mean that that person actually knows who you are. Remember, there’s all kinds of ways that individuals can get information about people. Our information is bought and sold daily. That’s what happens on Facebook every day. So just because somebody says they know you or know somebody in your family or in your community, doesn’t mean they really do. An unusual payment type. Somebody is saying that something needs to be paid right away, but it’s got to be paid through a gift card that is a big red flag or through a wire transfer or a cash reload card or Bitcoin, something that’s just out of the norm as to how somebody would normally pay a bill, for instance.

Dana Nessel (13:18):
That’s a red flag. And now, you know, with the expansion of AI technology, it’s even trickier, you know, and so it’s really important that people understand that when you get a call in something that’s coming from, you know, your caller id, if it says it’s from the state of Michigan or the local jail or hospital or your bank, doesn’t mean that it actually is. Spoofers can make it seem like they’re calling from any number at all. And it can also mimic a person’s voice. You know, this technology allows just a few seconds of a person’s voice that you can get anywhere on YouTube or on a TikTok video or wherever. And somebody can use a program to make it sound exactly like that person who can be saying anything typed through this program. So again, I’m not trying to scare people to the extent that they should never take a phone call from anyone, but if you’re receiving a call and the call is about trying to get information from you, personal information or trying to get financial information from you, best practices are to find out who’s calling you, hang up, independently look for that person’s number and confirm that you know it’s their number, and then call back and make sure it really is whoever it is that they purport to be.

Dana Nessel (14:34):
And if you’re not sure, always get the information. Hang up and call us at the Department of Attorney General and let us know. Our number’s, 517-335-7599 or you can visit us at www.michigan.gov/agcomplaints and you can fill out a complaint form online and we can review that for you. But always better safe than sorry. And unfortunately, better to be suspicious, again, whenever anyone is asking for financial information or personal information.

Jason Maciejewski (15:03):
Thank you for sharing that information. If somebody feels or believes they’ve been victimized by a scammer or maybe a caregiver realizes a parent has been victimized, is it that those same points of contact should be used? Or how should somebody go about actually reporting something and how should they document it?

Dana Nessel (15:20):
Well, the information that I just gave you is the best way to report anything that is a scam related incident. But again, you know we have this other separate hotline that can be used if there is suspected abuse, which again is 1-800-24-abuse, you know, again, or you could call it Adult Protective Services for that at 855-444-3911.

Jason Maciejewski (15:42):
Great, thank you. I want to turn to address the guardianship bill package that’s been moving through the State House. Recently House Bills 4909 to 4912 and 5047 were passed out of the Judiciary Committee in the State House. And these bills would reform guardianship statutes and create an office of the state guardian. What is the importance of these bills and what did they specifically mean for older adults?

Dana Nessel (16:07):
You know, we’re so excited about these bills. You know, they’ve really fulfilled many of the initiatives that we first identified in the task force. So they include guardian certification, the creation of the Office of State Guardian, the field complaints about guardian, additional due process rights, including the right to an attorney for an alleged incapacitated person requiring additional information to be gathered by guardian ad litem to be provided to the court would require judges to put on the record the reason for not choosing a family member as a guardian providing additional protection before removing somebody from their home. And the protection of personal and sentimental items for a person’s personal property. We think these are incredibly important bills urging everybody to reach out to their state representative, their state legislator, our state senator, and to urge passage of these important bills.

Jason Maciejewski (17:00):
At The Senior Alliance we’ve been following this and monitoring the bills as they’ve moved through the process and look forward to supporting them and hopefully getting them to the Governor’s desk for signature. So thank you for your work on this legislation. It’s very much appreciated. I want to thank you both for joining me on this episode of Inside The Senior Alliance. We appreciate you giving us some time.

Scott Teter (17:17):
You’re welcome.

Dana Nessel (17:18):
Thanks so much for having us.

Jason Maciejewski (17:19):
If you have questions about services or programs or would like to volunteer to deliver meals or holiday meals, call us at (734) 722-2830 or email us at info@thesenioralliance.org. Information about our agency and the programs and services we offer can be found on our website at www.thessenioralliance.org. On Facebook, we can be located by searching for The Senior Alliance. Finally, our X, formerly known as Twitter handle is @AAA1C. I’m Jason Maciejewski. Thank you for listening to this episode of Inside The Senior Alliance.

Speaker 4 (17:53):
Inside The Senior Alliance as a production of The Senior Alliance and Blazing Kiss Media.

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