Elder abuse underreported, overlooked, detective says
A 59-year-old woman accused of depriving her mother of food and water, leaving the older woman soaking in feces and urine, and stealing thousands of dollars from her estate said the allegations are untrue.
The daughter, Nancy Husak, said she owned – and deserved – the new clothes, hundreds of new pairs of shoes and gold-plated silverware detectives found in her mother’s home.
Husak was booked into Spokane County Jail last weekend on one count of second-degree criminal mistreatment and 10 counts of first-degree theft, according to jail records. Her mother, Edna MacDonald, was moved to a nursing home. Husak posted bail and was released Wednesday.
In a tearful interview Tuesday at the jail, Husak said the accusations of police, health care providers and social workers are untrue.
“I have bought a few things, but believe me – I deserved them,” Husak said. If her mother was in the condition medical professionals claim, “no one told me,” she said.
Spokane police Detective Kirk Kimberly has been investigating the case since May. While he has investigated similar cases in the past, an approximately $380,000 renewable grant awarded to Spokane this fall has allowed him to focus exclusively on crimes against the elderly and adults who are physically unable to care for themselves. The money also will help train and educate prosecutors, judges, law enforcement and the community about such abuse.
“Elder abuse is extraordinarily overlooked” by law enforcement and the public, Kimberly said. About four in 1,000 people over age 65 are victims of abuse, according to an FBI report.
More than 1,300 cases of abuse were reported in the past 12 months in Spokane County, according to Adult Protective Services. Of those reports, 65 percent of the alleged victims were elderly.
The forms of abuse are broken into categories, officials said: mental, physical or sexual abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.
Only one in eight victimizations is reported, Kimberly said. Seventy to 90 percent of abusers are friends or family of the victim.
Another recent case, that of Elsie Gettman, was among the worst he’d seen, Kimberly said. The 91-year-old woman was found in her north Spokane home in October 2007, lying in feces and maggots. She had open sores and a bed spring embedded in her back, and she died five days after being removed from the home. Her grandson, Michael Bourassa, was found guilty of second-degree criminal mistreatment and sentenced to a year in jail.
Kimberly also considers the Husak case to be more severe than the average case, he said.
When Husak’s mother, Edna MacDonald, arrived at Sacred Heart Medical Center, she was covered in feces. A straw and napkin were found embedded in the woman’s back, and it appeared she’d been lying in one position for a long time, according to arrest papers. Medical professionals determined she had a urinary tract infection, malnutrition, dehydration and multiple pressure sores.
“Maybe there was a woman in that condition (at the hospital), but it wasn’t my mother,” Husak said this week.
Adult Protective Services assigns guardians to victims in cases where abuse has been alleged. MacDonald’s guardian immediately had her South Hill home cleaned. The five-bedroom house piled with trash that filled nearly four Dumpsters, according to arrest papers.
Police found 400 pairs of new or barely used shoes, nearly $10,000 worth of clothing, a new washer and dryer, a big-screen television and several other electronic appliances. Husak told them all the new things found in the home were hers.
Police say they found bank records showing Husak had taken out a reverse mortgage on the house and cashed several of her mother’s pension checks. When the suspect was asked about the money, she told police it’s “mine, all mine.”
Husak, who doesn’t work other than taking care of her mother, said some of the items were gifts from her parents.
“Anything that I might have been able to squeeze out of this, they were more than happy to give,” Husak said. “If I have to account for everything my parents gave me … so should everybody else.”
Husak had cared for her mother for several years, and for her late father and great-aunt before that, she said.
“I spent 14 years taking care of them, waiting on them hand and foot, going up and down stairs, feeding them, running to errands, driving them to the pharmacy, managing their finances,” Husak said.
No one claimed they were mistreated, she said.
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