June 14, 2017

UPPER KEYS — Elder abuse takes many forms, from neglect and emotional or physical abuse, to financial exploitation and, in some cases, sexual abuse, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse. 

Asking questions and being vigilant when selecting a facility or provider to care for a loved one are key for avoiding a situation like the one discovered in the Upper Keys recently.

Last week authorities arrested a Miami Beach physician, Raul Arcadio Tamayo, 66, on two counts of neglect of an elderly or disabled adult after a multi-agency investigation uncovered his involvement in unlicensed elder care facilities being operated out of two Upper Keys homes last year.

The caregiver who worked under Tamayo’s supervision, Amarylis Maristan, 47, is wanted on the same charges and had not been arrested as of press time.

The investigation began in late November after an elderly woman, covered in urine and severe bed sores, was brought into Mariners Hospital in cardiac arrest, reports say. 

Investigations revealed at the time of her death she had been suffering from malnutrition and seizures, reports say. 

She was one of seven female patients over the age of 80 being cared for by Tamayo and Maristan in unlicensed homes in Plantation Key and Key Largo, reports say. The other six were found to have chronic and acute conditions requiring medical care and multiple prescription medications, reports say. They have since been moved to licensed care facilities.

Investigators say Tamayo was being paid by Medicare for services he was not providing. The investigation into possible Medicare fraud is ongoing and could result in additional charges.

Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Detective Bob Dosh, who investigated the local case, says reporting any suspicious activity involving the elderly can help expose cases of neglect or abuse. 

“If you see something, then report it. Even if it turns up not valid, it’s important,” he told the Free Press.

But identifying elder abuse can be challenging. Investigations can get stymied by laws that protect the privacy of medical patients or by the fact that many elderly victims suffer from memory disorders that prevent them from providing reliable testimony.

The Senior Moments Group is hosting a meeting at the Key Largo Library next week in hopes of raising awareness against elder abuse. The group has invited Dosh and a representative from the Florida Department of Children and Families to speak.

“If someone is committing a crime, especially in dealing with the elderly, they’re going to seem legitimate, especially up front,” Dosh told the Free Press.

He said the women involved in the local case all had family members living nearby who were led to believe they were doing the best for their loved ones.

“A lot of times when you fall into one of those categories, there is a common denominator. And it’s usually someone they trust,” he said.

It is important for families to research facilities to make sure they are licensed, Dosh said. He recommends finding a facility that can accommodate a loved one’s medical conditions. He stressed asking for references and checking them.

“Make sure you check the back side, and show up randomly. Make sure they are licensed and that staff has the medical training they need to provide for your loved one,” he said. “You can eliminate a lot of those issues by checking references.”

Key Largo resident Karen Beal, a member of Senior Moments, helped organize the upcoming presentation.

“People are obviously concerned that something like that could happen down here,” she said. “It’s something that we’re not going to tolerate. We need to learn how do you proactively avoid putting someone that we love, or us ourselves, into a situation like this.”

The Agency for Health Care Administration lists about 135 substantiated unlicensed providers in the state from 2014 to 2017. Maristan, the assistant, was on that list.

Like Dosh, Shelisha Coleman, AHCA spokeswoman, urges people to ask about proper licensing.

“Ask to see the current license issued by AHCA,” she said. “It should indicate if it is an assisted living facility, adult family care home or an adult day care center. It should have an effective date and an expiration date.”

She said her agency’s website, ahca.myflorida.com, also provides a checklist to determine or report unlicensed activity.

The Senior Moments Group will meet at the library community room at 10:30 a.m. Monday, June 19. The library is located in the Tradewinds Plaza at 101485 Overseas Highway.