TRENTON –As World Elder Abuse Awareness Day approaches, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Division of Consumer Affairs announced separate actions to protect elderly individuals and others from abuse or neglect at the hands of health care providers.
The Division’s Office of Consumer Protection (“OCP”) issued Notices of Violation (“NOVs”) against six health care service firms seeking a total of $57,700 in civil penalties for alleged violations of the statutes and regulations governing firms that place caregivers in the homes of senior citizens and the disabled who need their services. The violations cited against the firms range from improper record keeping and failure to establish a patient Plan of Care, to failing to properly verify the license status of each home care provider and failing to register with the Division as a health care service firm.
In addition, the State filed a Complaint with the New Jersey State Board of Nursing seeking to revoke the nursing license and homemaker-home health aide certification of a Sussex County woman who, while working as a Certified Homemaker-Home Health Aide, allegedly stole funds from one elderly patient and named herself the beneficiary of annuity policies belonging to another elderly patient.
“Home care providers spend long stretches alone with elderly and disabled individuals, many of whom are vulnerable and wholly dependent on their caregivers. It is imperative that they, and the firms that place them, obey the rules and laws that help ensure the most vulnerable among us receive proper care,” said Attorney General Grewal. “The Division of Consumer Affairs works year-round to protect our senior citizens from being preyed upon by those who view them as easy victims. World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is an opportunity to demonstrate those efforts as we join communities around the world in highlighting the need to keep the elderly safe from harm.”
“As our nation’s population ages and the home healthcare industry grows, so do concerns about the safety of the loved ones we entrust to their care,” said Acting Director Rodríguez. “The several actions announced today illustrate the Division’s vigilance in enforcing the laws and regulations pertaining to home care service firms and care providers. “
Health care service firms are defined as businesses that “place or arrange for the placement of personnel to provide companion services, health care, or personal care services in the personal residence of a person with a disability or a senior citizen age 60 or older.”
The firms must be registered with the Division of Consumer Affairs, and are inspected and investigated for compliance by the Office of Consumer Protection’s Health Care Service Firm Investigative Unit (“the Unit”).
The Unit was formed in 2014 to ensure that a cadre of investigators with specialized knowledge could undertake meaningful investigations to protect vulnerable senior and disabled population receiving services in their homes.
The Unit’s investigators cover the entire State of New Jersey handling initial and follow up inspections of more than 1,100 health care service firms and undertaking investigations of those health care service firms that appear to be violating the law. The NOVs announced today are a result of inspections and investigations conducted by the Unit.
The six health care service firms were assessed penalties ranging from $4,000 to $18,650 for a variety of alleged violations that fall into three categories:
The following firms received NOVs and were assessed civil penalties:
Each of the health care service firms receiving an NOV has the opportunity to contest the alleged violations of law, or the opportunity to correct the violation by ending any practices in violation of the law, paying a civil penalty, and submitting an application for registration, if not registered.
Today the Division also announced a Complaint filed with the Board of Nursing seeking to revoke the nursing license of LPN Kimblin Cowins on the grounds that she fraudulently obtained a license by lying on her application in 2017.
On the application Cowins responded ‘no’ to the question “Have you ever been named as a defendant in any litigation related to the practice of nursing or other professional practice in New Jersey, any other state, the District of Columbia, or in any other jurisdiction?” In fact, in 2014 Cowins was named as a defendant in two civil lawsuits stemming from her employment as a Certified Homemaker-Home Health Aide in the home of two sisters, the Complaint asserts.
The first suit alleged that while 88-year-old “M.C” was in hospice care, Cowins completed forms changing the beneficiaries on three of MC’s life insurance annuities to name herself as beneficiary. At the time the changes were made, M.C. was in hospice care where she was being treated with morphine and unable to feed herself or communicate, the Complaint alleges. In July 2018, a Superior Court Judge found that Cowins had unduly influenced M.C. to change the beneficiary on the three contracts, the Complaint states.
The second lawsuit alleged that Cowins used a credit card belonging to 97-year-old “J.C.” to purchase more than $5,000 in merchandise for herself without J.C.’s knowledge or permission, the Complaint alleges. Cowins also used J.C.’s checking account to pay more than $3,000 owed on her own credit card, without the elderly woman’s knowledge or consent and after she was terminated from employment in 2014, used J.C.’s debit card without the woman’s knowledge or permission to withdraw $4,000 from J.C.’s bank account, according to the Complaint. Cowins also induced J.C. to give her power over attorney of J.C.s finances and bank accounts and to name her Co-Executrix of J.C.’s will, according to the Complaint.
The State seeks to revoke Cowins’ Certified Homemaker-Home Health Aide certification, which is currently expired, on the grounds of fraud, deception, and professional misconduct.
Investigators with the Enforcement Bureau within the Division of Consumer Affairs conducted the investigation into the allegations against Cowins.
Deputy Attorney General Alina Wells of Professional Board Prosecution Section of the Division of Law is representing the State in this matter.