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In-Home Caregiver Sentenced to Jail for Elder Abuse

Senior abuse attorneys at Pintas & Mullins report a troubling story out of Virginia Beach, VA, where an in-home caregiver was recently sentenced to 18 months in jail. The woman spent nearly five years caring for the senior, who died in June 2012 at age 94.

A video shown in court revealed that the caregiver, Sheila Beard, repeatedly punched, slapped, and taunted the senior. Another video showed Beard violently twisting the woman’s arm. The elderly woman suffered from dementia, and her family, unwilling to admit her to a nursing home, sought in-home services instead. The woman’s family found Beard through a Christian family-services provider and hired her to spend about 20 hours a week with the senior, who was living at a private home-care facility.

The facility administrators became suspicious of Beard, noticing bruises and other red-flags, and set up hidden cameras in the woman’s bedroom. One of the her sons said that, upon viewing the footage, he and his family were shocked and could not believe the woman they hired and trusted was the same person abusing her. He went on to say that his mother’s dementia prevented her from remembering or reporting the abuse.

The caregiver was previously indicted on similar charges of senior abuse and neglect of an incapacitated adult in 2011. Beard entered an Alford plea in that case, meaning she did not admit guilt but recognized that the evidence against her was strong enough for a conviction. At the end of the sentencing, Beard turned to the family, saying she knew what she did was wrong, and that she was ashamed of herself. Her nursing license has since been revoked.

In a similar story, a former caregiver at an assisted living facility also received 18 months in jail when she pleaded guilty to three counts of elder abuse. The woman, Sonia King, was fired from Carolina House after another employee witnessed her physically and verbally abusing at least three female patients during her shift. The co-worker saw King slap one 93-year-old woman and force her to smell her own soiled sheets, saw her hit a 70-year-old Alzheimer’s resident on the face, causing her cheek to swell, and saw her yank a 79-year-old Alzheimer’s patient out of bed by her arm, undress her, and wash her groin area with toothpaste.

The co-worker also reported that she told the patients that she would choke them if they attempted to stop her. Fortunately, none of the three residents suffered life-threatening injuries from the abuse, and each received medical treatment for their injuries. The employee who witnessed these troubling acts recorded them on an audio device, which undoubtedly contributed to the conviction.

In 2010, a Virginia nursing assistant was sentenced to 60 years in prison for aggravated sexual battery of four elderly residents. The defendant, James W. Wright, was working at National Healthcare in Bristol at the time of the abuse. All four of the abused residents suffered from Alzheimer’s or dementia. Investigators at the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit identified eyewitnesses and obtained an admission of guilt from Wright via an Alford plea, similar to Beard’s. Wright worked at National Healthcare for eight years. The judge in his case called his actions indescribably despicable before sentencing him to 60 years.

Families of aging loved ones often consider hiring an in-home care provider as a seemingly safer alternative to a nursing home or assisted living facility. Although personal caregivers may not be as understaffed or overworked as nursing home employees, the potential for abuse or neglect is still very present. Relatives should never assume their loved one is safe in the hands of a stranger, even if that person was recommended by a religious institution. As Sheila Beard’s case illustrates, elder abuse and neglect can happen anywhere, especially if the senior is suffering from a cognitive disorder like dementia.

Nursing home abuse and neglect lawyers at Pintas & Mullins have decades of experience advocating on behalf of elderly victims and their families. If you suspect your loved one is being neglected or abused by a caregiver, contact an attorney immediately. An experienced senior abuse lawyer will make sure the perpetrator is held responsible for their actions, and ensure you receive the maximum compensation for pain and suffering and medical bills.