Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Old and Disabled? Here Come the Criminals

I know that many people get their news from the internet as opposed to TV, radio, or newspapers. This article can be found in today's Oregonian. Some people go well beyond cruel in the way they treat elderly and people with disabilities. The only thing I wish the paper had done, is to publish the names of these criminals.

The Woman Who Put a Face on Elder Abuse

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Before the nightmare began, Amelia Lewis de Gremli had led a rich, exhilarating life.

The former actress had received a marvelous education. She had been a Rhodes Scholarship finalist. She had directed theaters and taught drama all over the world. And she had saved for her retirement and owned her home in Nevada.

In 1986, however, when de Gremli was 66, she suffered a crippling stroke and became the vulnerable victim of outrageous exploitation. Seven years later Oregon authorities found her -- ill, lonely, unable to walk or speak -- in a Bend foster care facility where she had been secreted by a married couple who had drained her assets.

Barely able to scratch her name on a piece of paper, de Gremli managed to draw attention to her plight by scrawling the word "help" on a postcard. Then she got an aide at the care facility to address it to a Nevada friend who didn't know what had become of de Gremli, and that touched off a remarkable chain of events.

De Gremli, who died Friday in Bend at the age of 88, left a legacy far greater than her colorful career on the stage. Her heroic plea for help caused ripples that ended up changing Oregon law and heightening awareness of a quiet crime known today as elder abuse.

Some victims suffer a physical form of this evil, but de Gremli's abuse was financial. It began soon after her stroke when a friend's grown son and his wife, who had been having money problems, offered to move into her home and look after her.

Soon they had her power of attorney. Then they moved her to the Bend area, not telling any of her friends where she'd been taken.

The couple quickly sold de Gremli's Nevada home and bought themselves a new one in Oregon. A year later they moved her out of the house and into a place for foster care.

They cashed her Social Security checks and spent more than $90,000 of her money on such things as a boat, a camper and a college education for their daughter. They refused to obtain the physical therapy de Gremli needed, telling the foster home they couldn't afford it.

In an astonishing 1993 ruling, a Deschutes County judge acquitted the couple of charges that they stole money from de Gremli. She later prevailed in a civil suit but received very little of the judgment because her abusers filed for bankruptcy and their only source of income, a government pension, could not be attached.

Inspired by this injustice, advocates for the disabled and elderly succeeded in changing that quirk in Oregon law. Best of all, the 2005 Legislature adopted several strong elder-abuse laws, including the Oregon Elder Abuse Prevention Act.

Those who suffer this abuse are usually helpless and without a voice. De Gremli, with her desperately scrawled postcard, did much to raise public awareness of this emerging field of crime.

1 comment:

quinnjm said...

The full story of this tragedy is at