Elder care abuse case a sign of what's to come

Here and Now

Elder care abuse cases are becoming more common because of the aging population. (Image by Flickr user Borya(cc=sa))

This story was originally covered by PRI's Here and Now. For more, listen to the audio above.

When 91-year old Maria "Concha" Lopez died in her Madera, California home a few years ago, she weighed just 35 pounds and was covered in bedsores described as so deep that her bones were exposed.

Lopez's 26-year-old grand-niece Stephanie Hernandez was her great Aunt's sole caregiver, and was recently acquitted of murder and elder abuse charges, but not before Hernandez spent over a year in prison and lost custody of her daughter, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Prosecutors in the case alleged Hernandez had neglected her great aunt to the point of criminal negligence. But Hernandez told a court that her great aunt had refused to see doctors, and the defense portrayed her as a loving niece who was able to keep her aunt alive through many health setbacks.

Dr. Brad Stuart, chief medical officer for Sutter Care At Home, a northern California-based in-home hospice services agency, told Here & Now's Deborah Becker that cases like this will become increasingly common because of the aging population.

"First responders and medical examiners haven't seen a lot of cases like this, yet. But this is not going to be an unusual case in a few years," Stuart said.

Hernandez is now free, and fighting to regain custody of her daughter, but the case is reverberating in the elder care community, because experts say it's a sign of what's to come.

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