As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I know financial exploitation of seniors is a serious problem, but one that gets discussed less than some of the horrifying Pennsylvania nursing home abuse or neglect cases that have made it into the media. So I was interested to see a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Feb. 20 that a nursing home staff member was caught with property belonging to her patients when she was pulled over for another reason. Shakeana Sims of Newark, Del., works at the Kendal Crossroads Nursing Home in Kennett Square, Penn. Sims, 25, was pulled over at 12:45 a.m. after an officer noticed that her car had a false registration. Computer records then showed several outstanding warrants for Sims, leading to her arrest and the discovery of the stolen objects.
Sims is a nurse's aide at the home, in Chester County. News sources did not report on the reasons for her outstanding warrants. However, they were enough to lead to her arrest. After she was taken to the police station in New Castle County, Del., for processing, officers found the stolen items among her personal belongings. They included a watch, a bank card and a blank check, all belonging to two of the residents Sims cares for at the Kendal Crossroads nursing home. She was arrested for stealing property from those residents, as well as for several traffic offenses, and held in lieu of bail.
As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I suspect this arrest is raising some alarms among residents of Kendal Crossroads and their family members. Theft from nursing home residents is not necessarily reported by the state and federal agencies that track nursing homes' safety and hygiene, but it's a serious problem. As with physical abuse and neglect, nursing home patients may not be able to raise an alarm about theft because of their health conditions and because nursing home staff is not predisposed to believe them. As a result, discovery of the theft is often delayed until family members notice missing money or valuables. By this time, of course, a thief may have gotten access to the patient's accounts, potentially destroying his or her financial security. Patients and their families at this nursing home may be wondering how this happened under the watch of supposedly careful administrators -- and whether any other employees have sticky fingers or a criminal record that should concern them. As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I hope these families are effectively advocating for themselves.