Scam jams help you avoid the swindler


Scam jams help you avoid the swindler

By Mac McLean

Bill Hamilton’s mother was scammed by an unscrupulous contractor 20 years ago.This prompted his involvement in AARP’s fraud prevention efforts.. (Courtesy AARP Oregon)

Bill Hamilton joined the fight against fraud a few years ago because an unscrupulous building contractor scammed his 83-year-old mother-in-law out of about $10,000.“I wanted to help prevent this type of thing,” said Hamilton, 70, of Portland, a retired software manager who has volunteered with AARP Oregon’s Scam Jam program for nearly three years.

Since October 2013, AARP has worked with the Oregon Department of Justice and other agencies to hold Scam Jam sessions across the state, where people learn about local fraud schemes and ways they can avoid being ripped off.

“We bring all the experts in a community together at one time,” said Joyce DeMonnin, who organizes these events as the communications director for AARP Oregon. She said each session typically attracts 300 to 1,000 people.

DeMonnin said it’s important to warn older people about scams because many are retired and living off savings, and may never be able to replace the money lost to a swindler.

The AARP Fraud Watch Network ( ; 877-908-3360 toll-free) is another way to keep up to date on the latest types of fraud, with email alerts about scams in the state.

For Hamilton, he knew something was wrong about 10 years ago when his mother-in-law talked about some work she was having done to her roof and driveway. This bothered him because the roof was in excellent condition and her driveway didn’t need to be replaced.

Yet, when a building contractor  showed up one afternoon, he told her that both projects needed to be done right away. He offered to do the work for $20,000, and she gave him the go-ahead.

“By the time we found out about it, half the driveway was done,” said Hamilton, who managed to stop the contractor from working on the roof but had to eat the cost of the driveway replacement.

Hamilton learned that his mother-in-law had fallen victim to a classic construction fraud scam. According to the Oregon Construction Contractors Board, this common scam involves contractors who show up unsolicited, claiming work is needed on a home and can be done for a very low price.

Bogus IRS calls

In another scam, a person “from the IRS” calls, trying to collect a bogus tax debt over the phone. But government agencies always send letters in such cases. Other callers offer to begin or renew a magazine subscription at an inflated price.

The state Department of Justice received 2,818 written complaints about those two telephone scams in 2015, said Ellen Klem, the department’s director of consumer outreach and education.

Klem said this total fails to represent the true number of victims because it counts only those cases that were reported to her office.

DeMonnin said that many scam victims are too embarrassed to step forward and make a report. “If someone has scammed you, you’re not foolish,” she said. “You’re the victim of a crime and that person is a criminal.”

DeMonnin said it’s also important for victims to provide a first-person account of how the scammer operated. This information can be shared  through Scam Jam sessions and the Fraud Watch Network to help keep other people from falling into the same trap.

“Prevention is the best medicine,” DeMonnin said.

AARP Oregon, the state Department of Justice, and the Department of Consumer and Business Services are planning a series of Scam Jams. Call 877-926-8300 toll-free to register. Each event runs from 10 a.m. to noon:

  • May 18: Hermiston Conference Center, Hermiston
  • May 19: Pendleton Convention Center East Rooms, Pendleton
  • June 2: Beaverton City Library-Main, Beaverton
  • June 3: Four Points by Sheraton Portland East, Gresham

On Sept. 29 in Portland, Frank Abagnale, an AARP Fraud Watch Network ambassador, will share his expertise on how to avoid scams. The event, at 7 p.m., is free. Go to  for details and registration.

This article was originally published in The AARP Bulletin on May 1, 2016


Living the Alzheimer’s Story

Living the Alzheimer’s Story
By Mac McLean

Julianne Moore’s Oscar-winning role in “Still Alice:” rings true for a Bend woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Christine H. Jones grabbed a copy of “Still Alice” from her coffee table and started to read a passage she had marked in its 19th chapter.

“‘I’m honored to have this opportunity to talk with you today, to hopefully shed some insight into what it’s like to have dementia,’’ she read. “‘Soon, although I’ll know what it is like I’ll be unable to express it to you. And too soon after that, I’ll no longer even know that I have dementia.’’

Written by Lisa Genova in 2007, “Still Alice’ is a New York Times bestselling book that tells the fictional story of Alice Howland, a Harvard University professor and mother of three adult children who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when she was 50.

It has received a lot of praise from people in the Alzheimer’s community because it paints a well-researched picture of what it is like to have Alzheimer’s — particularly when the disease strikes someone at such a young age, a rare condition known as early or younger onset Alzheimer’s. It was at the time an unprecedented first-person manner that describes what the person was experiencing as their symptoms progress.


The book was recently adapted into a movie starring Julianne Moore, who was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of the book’s title character.

“(This story) tells you what (having Alzheimer’s) is like from the inside out,’ said Jones, 70, who loves the book because she went through a similar set of experiences as the book’s title character when she started showing signs of Alzheimer’s in her late 50s. “If I could write my story this would be it.’

The disease

Believed to be the third-leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer, Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative neurological condition that occurs when plaques and tangles form in a person’s brain and blocks their cells’ ability to communicate with one another. The damage caused by the condition makes a person forget things and interferes with the ability to concentrate, plan and organize certain tasks. It continues until patients can no longer control their muscles, hold their heads up, swallow or smile.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, most of the 5 million Americans who currently have Alzheimer’s started showing signs of the disease when they were in their late 60s, 70s or 80s. But in rare cases like Jones’ and Howland’s the disease can also strike people in their 50s or 60s.

“We don’t usually think of Alzheimer’s as something that happens to people in their 50s and 60s,’ said Sarah Holland, field services director for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Oregon Chapter. She said this happens with only 4 percent, or 200,000 of the 5 million, people who have the disease.

Jones knew exactly what would happen when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease because she worked as a critical care nurse in West Texas and taught at the University of Texas El Paso’s nursing school. She also cared for her aunt and her father, both of whom died of Alzheimer’s, and believes her grandfather may have died from the disease as well, though he was never formally diagnosed.

When the last of her family members in West Texas died, Jones said, she moved to Central Oregon in the late 1990s so she could be closer to a cousin who lived in the area. Jones, who has lived alone since her family members in Texas died, took a job working as a nursing director at an assisted living facility in Redmond. She said it was a couple years after making this transition — a time when she was in her late 50s — that the signs of her condition started to show themselves.

“I saw what was happening to me,’ she said. “I felt it and I knew it wasn’t right.’

The loss

Jones said she has lost all concept of time and cannot remember the exact circumstances that led her to suspect she might have had Alzheimer’s disease. Though, she does remember one evening when she couldn’t balance her checkbook because she forgot how to subtract numbers in her head.

“I’ve lost the ability to subtract and I’ve just recently lost the ability to multiply,’ said Jones, who managed her family members’ finances when they were older and often worked with institution-sized budgets during her career. “I don’t know how to do the numbers any more.”

Over the years, Jones said she also lost her ability to read music, which is tragic to her because she sang in her church’s choir since she was a child. She also can’t remember what she read in a book or saw on TV the day after it happened, doesn’t use the stove in her apartment because she’s afraid she’ll leave a burner on, and doesn’t write anything by hand because she can’t remember how to make letters.

“My immediate memory is what seems to be going first,’ said Jones, who keeps a sign on the front door of her cottage at the Aspen Ridge Retirement Community that reminds her to turn off her fireplace and lock the patio door whenever she leaves the house.

But even with her condition, Jones is able to maintain some level of independence because she has figured out how to ride the city’s bus system and uses it to get around town. She has a friend who takes her to church on Sundays and another one who comes by her house every week to help organize her medications, organize her belongings and lay out her clothes so she always has something to wear.

Jones also has an 11-year-old cat, Elsie Kate, who keeps her company, friends she can call or visit at church and at the retirement community and a pair of dry erase boards in her bedroom where someone has written little messages that remind her “God is holding my life,’ “You are loved,’ and “It’s okay to visit the sadness’ along with the fact she needs to shower, brush her teeth and change her clothes every morning.

“While my journey has been difficult,’ Jones wrote in a typed letter that she delivered to the Bulletin, “I, also, am upheld by daily reminders of the many blessings that I have.’

The movie

Because the disease’s early stages affect a person’s ability to remember things and their ability to communicate or express themselves, Holland with the Alzheimer’s Association said it is extremely difficult to find a first-person account that describes what a person experiences when their symptoms start showing up and how they manage to come to terms with their condition.

“The voice of Alzheimer’s disease as it’s being experienced is not necessarily a perspective that’s out there,’ she said, explaining one of the reasons that Genova’s book is so important to her organization and the people its trying to help.

She said Genova, who worked as a neuroscientist before she started writing full-time, also spent a considerable amount of time with people who have the Alzheimer’s disease so she could write an accurate description what the fictional Alice Howland may have experienced as her symptoms progressed.

Genova also worked with the Alzheimer’s Association to craft a five-page discussion guide that comes at the end of her book. Shew has become a key advocate for people with the disease who talks about the issue on daytime television shows, news broadcasts and at events like the Oregon chapter’s 2012 McGinty Conference on Alzheimer’s, where she delivered the keynote address and met with the conference’s attendees.

Holland said she bought a several copies of “Still Alice’ after Genova’s appearance three years ago so she can give it to people who are dealing with a new diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease, or suspect they may have it, and have questions about what their future might hold.

She is looking forward to seeing the movie version of “Still Alice’ because Moore put a lot of research into her portrayal of Alice Howland and spent time shadowing a member of the association’s advisory council who developed Alzheimer’s at an early age.

“Julianne Moore is great and I’m excited to see what she does,’ Holland said. “Our hope is definitely that (her role in this movie) increases the awareness around Alzheimer’s disease. … Any time you raise awareness you’re going to get people involved.’

Jones is also excited to see the film because she thinks that it well describes what it is like to have Alzheimer’s in a way most people with the disease can no longer express. She feels this way about Genova’s book, which a friend gave her about six or seven years ago, even though it paints a depressing picture of the future that lies ahead.

“I know what’s going to happen,’ Jones said as she glossed over passages where Alice Howland doesn’t recognize the person’s she’s become, makes plans to commit suicide and forgets her children’s’ names. “There isn’t a cure. I will die of Alzheimer’s or an Alzheimer’s related condition.”

This article was originally published in the Bend Bulletin on Jan. 13, 2015

Drug Theft Affects Care


Drug Theft Affects Care

By Mac McLean

Courtesy photo

When he was confronted by police and his supervisors with some questionable medication records about nine months ago, Cole Elf, 28, of Bend, admitted he stole 40 prescription painkillers from a handful of residents at the Touchmark at Mt. Bachelor Village retirement community, according to a police report.

“Since November (2012), Elf estimated he has accessed the narcotics cabinet in the locked medication room approximately 15 times to retrieve hydrocodone and a couple Oxycontin pills,” Officer Whitney Wiles with the Bend Police Department wrote in a report chronicling an interview she had with Elf and Touchmark’s administrators on Dec. 11, 2012.

Elf was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of oxycodone and a schedule II controlled substance, both of which are felonies, as well as unlawful possession of hydrocodone and third-degree theft, which are misdemeanors.

Elf declined to comment for this story when contacted by The Bulletin. According to Wiles’ report, he had been working at Touchmark since 2010 and was known “as a good employee.”

“He told me he never took any of the pills when he was working,” she continued as she described her interview with Elf. “But when he got home he took (the pills) so he could sleep.”

According to records obtained by The Bulletin, the Oregon Aging and People with Disabilities Division has investigated 29 cases of medication theft that have taken place at 17 long-term care facilities in Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties since 2009.

With 15.8 cases of medication theft per 1,000 beds/units in a long-term care facility, these three counties — which make up the division’s District 10 region — have the second-highest medication theft rate in the state, according to the division’s data. District 14, which includes Grant, Harney and Malheur counties, has the state’s highest medication theft rate with 16.2 theft cases per 1,000 beds/units in a long-term care facility.

In each of Central Oregon’s medication theft cases, investigators suspect the thefts were committed by a facility employee who, as part of his or her job duties, was given access to a locked cabinet, cart or room where the medicines needed by dozens of elderly residents were kept.

These staff members, some of whom had been working at their facilities for years, most often stole strong narcotic painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycodone.

Local law enforcement officers, working with the state’s investigators, identified and arrested five medication theft suspects and charged them with a variety of felonies and misdemeanors, depending on the number and type of pills stolen.

The state agency also cited the suspected thieves with abuse — an administrative red flag that according to one expert can wreck a person’s career — even if there wasn’t enough evidence to bring them to trial. In cases where a suspect couldn’t be identified, it administered this sanction against the facility itself for allowing such a theft to happen.

“In our legal definition, it is elder abuse to steal anything from a person living in a nursing home,” said Paul Greenman, legal counsel for the Oregon Health Care Association, a trade organization with almost 600 long-term care facilities as members. “This is a prohibited activity and there is a clear penalty for it.”

Local law enforcement officers say these thefts aren’t as common as other examples of drug diversion — the act of taking a legitimate drug such as a painkiller and putting it to an illegitimate use — that they’ve seen in our community.

According to a report by the Mayo Clinic, this problem has been seen with increasing frequency in health care facilities across the country, yet its full scope is still relatively unknown.

But while medication theft from long-term care facilities may not be as common as obtaining drugs through stolen prescription pads or doctor shopping, its consequences can be severe for the people whose drugs were stolen. Residents can experience increased pain or be put at risk of taking an improper medication or going through opioid withdrawal, according to reports.

“Certainly it has a detrimental impact on the resident,” Greenman said. “If a caregiver steals a resident’s medication, then he or she may not be able to get it when they need it.”


Located on the banks of the Deschutes River in southwest Bend, Touchmark is a sprawling 25-acre community where more than 260 people ages 55 and older live in an array of well-appointed apartments and cottages.

It also features a 75-unit residential care facility known as Terrace Lodge, where a team of nurses and other health care workers provide 24-hour care to people who cannot live alone.

Since 2009, the Oregon Adult Protective Services program — a state agency that investigates any allegation of theft or abuse in Oregon’s long-term care facilities — responded to five alleged medication thefts at this facility, more than any other place in the region.

Scott Neil, the facility’s resident care manager, declined to comment for this story about the thefts that have happened at his facility or the steps it took to correct them. Investigators also recorded a series of steps Touchmark’s managers took during the past three years that made it easier for them to not only discover medication theft but to identify and prosecute the alleged thief as well.

The facility’s problems started in September 2010 when staff discovered a bubble pack of prescription painkillers — each of which contains about 30 pills — was missing from a medication cart. This prompted a full audit of Touchmark’s medication room that found 12 other bubble packs, or a total of 360 pills, had been stolen between June and September of that year.

When Touchmark’s administrators called APS investigator Michelle Smith to report the crime, she noted they had already taken considerable steps to beef up their policies regarding how often the medication is counted and how each dose of medicine is handed out.

Smith noted these steps made it possible for Touchmark’s administrators to immediately detect the theft of two more bubble packs on Oct. 22, 2010. These enhanced counting and logbook procedures also helped catch Elf when he stole medication from the facility two years later.

During the winter of 2010, Touchmark’s administrators also implemented a policy that required a weekly audit of the medications kept in its medication room.

A Touchmark employee performing one of these audits in January 2011 noticed some pills contained in a bottle of narcotic painkillers one of its residents hardly used had been replaced with an over-the-counter drug and that another patient’s bottle of cough syrup with codeine had been diluted with an unknown substance.

Because of this discovery, the facility’s staff members were able to prevent these tainted medications — the byproduct of medication theft — from going to residents and potentially causing an allergic reaction or another negative side effect.

But while these new procedures helped Touchmark discover the theft of its medications almost immediately after they had been taken, they didn’t make it any easier for Smith or local law enforcement investigators to identify a suspect.

The facility’s final step — installing a security camera in its medication room and hallways — did.

When a staff member discovered someone replaced hydrocodone pills that belonged to two residents with an over-the-counter drug during an April 2011 audit, Touchmark’s administrators watched the camera’s footage and saw Touchmark worker Shirley Postma, 63, of Bend, make the switch, according to Smith’s report.

They gave a copy of this video to Officer Troy Wiles with the Bend Police Department, who then had all he needed to bring a case against the suspected employee.

“I informed Postma there was solid evidence she had, in fact, taken medication that did not belong to her,” Troy Wiles wrote in his report. “I told her I knew what had happened, but was curious as to why it happened.”

The report said Postma took a total of 101 pills from Touchmark’s residents, including the two bubble packs that went missing on Oct. 22, 2010, and admitted she had about 10 pills in her purse at the time of her interview.

She was arrested and later charged with three counts each of second-degree theft and unlawful possession of a schedule III controlled substance, and two counts of recklessly endangering another human being, all misdemeanors.

Postma could not be reached to comment for this story. According to Wiles’ report, she had been working at the facility since 2009 and took the medications for her personal use.

“Postma said she suffers from back pain … she has taken about two tablets a day of the stolen medication,” Wiles wrote. “She said she could not afford medication of her own.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average personal care aide working with the elderly or disabled at home or in a specialized care facility in Central Oregon earns $10.20 an hour. A 30-day supply of 120 hydrocodone 5/325 (5mg hydrocodone, 325 mg acetaminophen) pills costs about $67.

“Medication aides receive very little training and they are paid poorly,” said Andrew Mendenhall, the outpatient director of the Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center in Beaverton, which has a program specializing in treating health care professionals. “They may steal medication because they have addiction issues or because they can make some extra money selling it on the street.”

Mendenhall said these jobs may also not include health insurance, and that causes even more problems — it could keep people who have a legitimate reason to take pain medication from getting help.

“The absence of health care may prevent people from getting what they need,” Mendenhall said, including both medication for pain and treatment services if they develop an addiction to the medication.

A new camera wasn’t needed to solve Touchmark’s fifth medication theft case. According to one of Smith’s reports, the facility’s enhanced record-keeping procedures were enough to suggest after a December 2012 audit that Elf was giving a considerable amount of painkillers to patients who normally didn’t ask for them at night.

None of these residents remembered asking for the extra drugs, and the facility’s key card records — which list any time one of Touchmark’s 100-plus employees enter a resident’s room — show that Elf never entered their rooms when he said he did.

Neil, the resident care manager, called police and arranged for them to talk with Elf when he was supposed to report to work.

“It should be noted that the facility’s uses of resident door and (other) monitoring systems enabled administration to quickly identify a suspect in this matter and stop the diversion,” Smith wrote in a report describing her investigation into Elf’s case.

Big and small

Almost two-thirds of the medication theft cases discovered in The Bulletin’s investigation took place at large long-term care facilities like Touchmark.

Between 2010 and 2011, Smith and other APS staff members investigated three theft cases at the East Cascade Retirement Community — a six-building campus in Madras that features a traditional retirement community, 12 independent living apartments, a 36-unit assisted living facility, a 16-unit memory care facility and a 20-unit nursing facility. It has about 60 employees, facility manager John Wakeman said.

The adult protective services program’s investigators also checked out two theft cases each at the Ashley Manor-Rimrock in Redmond, Emeritus at Cougar Springs in Redmond, the Ochoco Care Center in Prineville and the Summit Assisted Living Facility in southeast Bend.

The Ochoco Village Assisted Living Facility in Prineville and the High Lookee Lodge in Warm Springs were each home to one case of medication theft between 2009 and 2012.

Each of these facilities has been cited for financial abuse or exploitation at least once in the past three years because they failed to prevent thefts. Seven of their employees, including Postma and Elf, were cited for abuse as well.

Amber Darden, 31 of Prineville, is accused of stealing approximately 890 pills from Ashley Manor between September 2011 and April 2012, according to court records and Smith’s investigation report.

She was arrested and later charged with one count of first-degree aggravated theft, tampering with drug records and possession of oxycodone, all of which are felonies, and possession of hydrocodone, a misdemeanor.

Darden could not be reached for comment, but told Smith she “was not proud of her actions,” during a phone call the APS investigator logged in her report. It is not known how long she had been working at the facility at the time of the alleged thefts.

But the prevalence of medication theft cases at these larger facilities doesn’t mean adult foster homes — where a handful of employees provide care to a small group of residents in a setting that resembles a large family home — are immune to the problem.

In some cases, the closeness and intimacy of this setting only makes the crime worse.

“One of our girls left her position (last spring),” said Connie Thornton, owner of the Haven House Adult Foster Home in Terrebonne. “… It was devastating.”

On April 20, 2012, one of Haven House’s four employees counted the number of pills inside a resident’s bottle of narcotic painkillers and noticed eight of them disappeared between the time she left her shift the day before and when she returned to the facility that morning.

According to Smith’s investigation report, the employee confronted the person who worked the overnight shift — a woman the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office later identified as Mylea West, 31 of Redmond — and called the Sheriff’s Office.

West denied the allegations, saying she may have given the resident one pill without writing it down in the medication log and did not know what happened to the other seven pills.

Deputies arrested West that day and charged her with one count of possession of a schedule II substance, a felony, and one count of third-degree theft, a misdemeanor.

West could not be reached to comment for this story and according to Smith’s report had been working at Haven House for about a month when the alleged theft occurred. She has a trial scheduled for Sept. 26 in Deschutes County Circuit Court.

“Hopefully you can trust your caregivers to administer a resident’s medication properly and not take it for themselves,” Thornton said, expressing her frustration at the alleged theft, which ruined a theft-free record she had running the facility for more than 12 years.

According to one of Smith’s investigation reports, Thornton’s record was besmirched again four months later when one of her staff members noticed someone had replaced a handful of one resident’s anti-anxiety medication with another resident’s high blood pressure pills, a potentially dangerous switch.

“This is a worst-case scenario because you could get multiple doses of a blood pressure medication (if it was not detected),” said Bruce McLellan, with the St. Charles Heart and Lung Center. “There’s a good chance she would become lightheaded (if her blood pressure dropped too low) and could pass out as well.”

McLellan said if this condition lasted for a while, the resident could suffer other problems such as damage to the kidneys, brain, liver and heart. It could also induce a heart attack or a heart failure, he said.

This case yielded no arrests, but Smith noted a relatively new employee suspected of taking the medication was “no longer working at the facility” after the theft occurred.

“We are only going to hire people we know,” Thornton said, explaining she has since changed her policies so that only she and one other employee have a key to the home’s narcotics cabinet.

“We run a pretty tight ship.”

But even people who are trusted can change.

In August 2011, Bend Police Officer Robert Dewitt arrested Ardis Cox, 53, of Bend, and charged her with one count each of possession of a schedule III controlled substance and third-degree theft — both misdemeanors — after she admitted to stealing 40 Vicodin pills from a resident at the Butler Market Adult Foster Home in Bend.

According to Smith’s report, Cox worked at the facility for seven years and was responsible for ordering its medications. She could not be reached to comment for this story, but told police and Smith that she regretted what she had done.

“Cox told me she had just had surgery and was under a lot of stress at work,” Dewitt wrote in his police report. “She told me she took the pills ‘to escape’ and admitted that wasn’t a very good excuse.”

The consequences

On Jan. 6, 2012, Cox pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree theft and in exchange for avoiding jail time, agreed to perform 40 hours of community service work, undergo a drug treatment program and complete 12 months of probation.

Postma got a similar sentence, except it came with 80 hours of community service, when she pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree theft on Sept. 6, 2011.

Elf also avoided jail time, pleading no contest to one count of unlawful possession of a schedule III narcotic on March 26. He was ordered to undergo a drug treatment program and complete 18 months of probation. But his story is not over.

The Deschutes County District Attorney’s office says Elf violated the terms of his probation when he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of intoxicants on June 27. He could get jail time as a result.

Both West and Darden face prison terms if they decide to go to trial.

But there are some cases where a person who is suspected of stealing medication from a long-term care facility does not go through the criminal justice system at all, said Rebecca Fetters, an operations and policy coordinator with the Oregon Department of Health.

“When it comes to our investigative process, our standard of proof is only a ‘preponderance of the evidence,’” she said, explaining this means that only 51 percent of the evidence in a particular case needs to point toward a suspect for them to be considered guilty.

This standard is much lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard police officers and prosecutors like to reach before bringing someone to trial, she said.

Greenman, with the Oregon Health Care Association, said that in the past this has created a huge problem for facility managers because there was no way of telling whether a potential employee had been involved in a medication theft case unless they were convicted.

He said the state’s background check system only flagged people with convictions — an applicant’s conviction for theft or drug possession serves as a red flag but does not necessarily bar the applicant from getting a job at a long-term care facility — and it was possible that suspected medication thieves could get a job at another facility and steal again.

“Unless law enforcement populates their criminal record with a conviction,” Greenman explained, “there’s no way to tell what happened. … That person can just go down the street, get a job at another facility and you’ll have a reoccurrence.”

Fetters said the 2009 Oregon Legislature worked to prevent this when it approved a piece of legislation that allowed her agency to cite individuals, as well as facilities, with abuse. The legislation passed and state officials said this database has been in effect for about two years.

The state has included these individual abuse citations in its background check system for the past two years, she said, so they now show up as a red flag when someone applies for a job at a long-term care facility.

The penalties are even stronger for certified nursing assistants who commit abuse at nursing homes, said Dave Allm, manager of the Aging and People with Disabilities Division’s nursing facility licensing unit.

These people are immediately added to the state nursing board’s abuse registry, a distinction that bars them from getting a job at a long-term care facility ever again and serves as a red flag whenever another health care facility or office looks up their license to see if it is still current.

For facilities, Allm said, an abuse citation can carry a fine, depending on a number of circumstances including how severely residents were hurt or put at risk because of the incident and whether the facility has a track record of abuse. Most of the time these fines range from $100 to $1,000 per offense, Allm said, but in especially bad cases the division may seek a fine of between $2,500 and $10,000.

Fetters said the division also keeps information about any abuse citation a facility receives on its website and keeps records of every investigation at the agency’s local office for public view. She suggests people check both these sources of information whenever they’re trying to find a facility for loved ones or themselves.

But these penalties pale in comparison to what can happen to victims whose drugs are stolen, said Mendenhall, of the Hazelden addiction clinic in Beaverton.

Mendenhall said on two separate occasions he experienced a case where patients suffered negative consequences because of theft.

In the first case, the patient was in a severe amount of pain before Mendenhall checked the patient’s urine and discovered a lack of painkillers.

His second patient was rushed to the emergency room one night because of severe diarrhea, sweating and a host of other problems. Nobody knew the cause until they checked the patient’s urine and realized the patient was going through opioid withdrawal.

This article was originally published in The Bulletin on Sept. 8, 2013