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Post date: May 5 2004

Attorney General Creates Special Unit To Protect Elderly

Attorney General Spitzer today announced that he has established a Patient Protection Section within his Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) to respond to allegations of patient abuse and neglect in the state's nursing homes. Spitzer made the announcement at a meeting of the New York StateWide Senior Action Council.

"We must never lose sight of the fact that nursing homes are more than just long-term care facilities, they are ‘home' to more than 120,000 of our most vulnerable citizens, each of whom deserves to be treated with the utmost care and respect," said Spitzer. "The establishment of a Patient Protection Section, consisting of prosecutors and investigators dedicated exclusively to patient protection, represents a major commitment, and will substantially enhance the MFCU's ongoing efforts to aggressively combat violence against patients and inadequate patient care in nursing homes."

In addition to investigating and prosecuting acts of patient abuse and neglect, the Patient Protection Section will scrutinize available information for evidence of institutional abuse and neglect that might otherwise go undetected, and work to achieve institutional and regulatory reform to better protect nursing home patients. It will work with the state Department of Health, ombudsman programs, community groups around the state, and the nursing home industry.

Veteran prosecutor Cassandra Bethel is heading the section. Previously, Bethel served as a Special Assistant Attorney General for the MFCU's New York City Regional Office. Prior to her tenure with the Attorney General's Office, Bethel was an Assistant District Attorney in Bronx County prosecuting homicides and police shootings. Bethel earned a Bachelor of Arts and Masters in Public Administration from City University of New York and received her Law Degree from the University of Denver College of Law.

Recent cases prosecuted by the Patient Protection Unit Section and by MFCU attorneys across the state demonstrate that victims of nursing home abuse and neglect are often elderly and especially vulnerable. Most of the victims in these cases have been nursing home residents who were in their seventies and eighties. At least two were in their nineties. Some were confined to wheelchairs or beds.

The convictions obtained by the unit reflect verbal and physical abuse, including broken bones. They include cases where patients were struck, choked, and tied up, as well as cases where medications, water and even oxygen were withheld.

It is this combination – our most vulnerable victims and the potential for serious crimes – that caused the Attorney General to form this unit. The experience and special expertise of the team will yield quick, aggressive investigations and prosecutions.