COLUMBUS, Ohio — An elderly woman at a patient care facility in Kent, Ohio, was having trouble installing her dentures when patient-care worker Anthony O’Neal stepped in, applying enough force into her shoulder with his fingers that the patient screamed out in pain.
O’Neal then shoved the dentures into the woman’s mouth.
Elsewhere, Christopher Negulis was transporting a 71-year-old man for a private ambulance company when he failed to lock the front wheels of the patient’s wheelchair once he was lifted inside the vehicle. When Negulis took off in the ambulance, the patient, a double amputee at the knees, tipped backward and struck his head.
The patient suffered two fractures in his back.
In both cases, the care workers recently pleaded guilty to felony charges after investigations by the Health Care Fraud Section of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office (AGO). Negulis was placed on community control, and O’Neal was sentenced to 90 days in jail.
“Protecting our aging loved ones is a responsibility all Ohioans share and one that I take very seriously,” Attorney General Dave Yost said. “We are all likely going to be in a position someday relying on the care of others, and we all want to be treated like we matter.”
AG Yost and other leaders worldwide are speaking out today in recognition of World Elder Abuse Awareness Month, an occasion to reflect on the care of our elders and shine a spotlight on patient abuse.
The awareness campaign was created by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization. Populations are aging worldwide, according to the United Nations, with those 60 or older expected to total a combined 1.4 billion by 2030, surpassing the global youth population.
UN research shows that roughly 4 percent to 6 percent of elderly people suffer some kind of abuse, although much of it goes unreported.
In Ohio, there were 456 cases of patient abuse and neglect from 2019 to 2020 opened by a team of experts and prosecutors in Yost’s office, along with partners from the Ohio Department of Health, Ohio Board of Nursing, Ohio Department of Aging-Ombudsman program and Ohio Bureau of Long term Services and Support.
Over the past two years investigations have brought 106 indictments, thus far.
The abuse investigated by Yost’s office ranged from minor injuries suffered from being moved improperly to death from gross neglect.
In January, for example, a criminal complaint was filed against Tisa Lahagu, a nursing assistant at a skilled nursing facility in Cincinnati. The investigation by Yost’s office found that Lahagu had ignored orders that the patient she was transferring from a bed to a bathroom needed the assistance of a two-person team.
The patient fell during the transfer, suffering a significant cut on the back of her head. A nurse found the elderly woman lying in her own blood and vomiting. The patient received treatment at a hospital and is recovering.
Lahagu faces a misdemeanor charge of gross neglect.
“Those who abuse or neglect our loved ones will be held accountable for their actions,” Yost said. “We will always protect the unprotected, no matter where they are.”
AG Yost’s office provides a vital net for those who feel that a loved one has been mistreated: a website to report abuse. Anyone with questions can call 800-282-0515.
And while the Health Care Fraud Section in Yost’s office investigates issues within care facilities and the Elder Justice Unit helps those with issues outside of those facilities.
That unit helps connect the elderly and families to vital resources to provide the help they need. Experts can be reached at the phone number mentioned above.
“The younger generation has is duty bound to protect those who helped pave a path for them by caring and looking out for our elderly friends,” Yost said. “It’s what makes us the greatest society.”