Elder abuse task force meets with Culver

Apr. 25—SHAMOKIN DAM — Members of a newly formed task force recognize it will be a long "journey to justice" as they advocate for new laws to address elder abuse.

The task force held its second meeting on Wednesday at the Shamokin Dam office of state Sen. Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-27. The task force consists of Culver, Union County District Attorney Brian Kerstetter; Buffalo Valley Regional Police Patrolman Gary V. Heckman; attorney Erica C. Wilson, of Murray, Stone & Wilson PLLC, in West Conshohocken; advocate Kim Rigel and Lynn Fiedler, the daughter of elder abuse victim Alice Longenberger.

"We realize this is going to be a long journey," said Fiedler, wearing a purple shirt with the words "Journey to Justice" on it. "This is one of the first steps to the journey. We're all very invested in this. Our goal is to create better legislation to protect this population. A Journey to Justice. First, second, third or however many steps it takes, we're in for the long haul."

Longenberger was one of 17 older individuals at Heritage Springs Memory Care in Lewisburg allegedly targeted by two young employees. The employees are accused of taking numerous nude and demeaning photographs and videos of residents between December 2022 and April 2023 at Heritage Springs Memory Care, 327 Farley Circle, Lewisburg.

Fiedler said she knew she had to do one of two things when she found out about her mother's abuse.

"I could allow the criminal justice system and the legal system to take over, and when it was over, it was over," said Fiedler. "Or I could take a horrific situation and make something positive out of it. My parents always taught me to be part of a solution. That's why we're here."

Culver's involvement

Culver was immediately on board to start a task force and advocate for new laws and legislation to better protect older citizens, said Fiedler.

"It's one thing to read it, but it's another to talk to folks who have family members that were impacted," said Culver. "This impacts entire families, people who went to visit, people who support, this impacts an entire family. You never, ever think no matter how much research you do, no matter how many times you visit, that this can actually happen in that small amount of time you're not there. We're coming to learn that we're not protecting our senior citizens. We're leaving them out there very vulnerable. The law is not the same as if you were a child."

Culver praised Fiedler for the work she is doing.

"Lynn is so dynamic, so focused," said Culver. "As traumatic and emotional as this is, she's very focused on getting this done in protecting her mother in the future and any other human being frankly that this would come to."

Alice's law

The first priority of the task force is to establish Alice's Law. The goal is to put elder abusers on lists like child abusers are placed on lists, said Fiedler and Culver.

Culver learned that Senate Bill 885 was introduced on July 27 by state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-33. The bill proposed an amendment to the act of Nov. 6, 1987, known as the Older Adults Protective Services Act, that would provide for a statewide registry of perpetrators of abuse in facilities.

"We're going to rename the law after her (Fiedler's) mother," said Culver. "We're going to be tweaking the law over the next few weeks and we're going to reintroduce it. We're going to seek out sponsors and try to get it moving."

Culver said it's too early to tell how soon the law will be passed. It must go through committees first.

This part is only one piece of the work they plan to do, said Culver and Fiedler.

Employees charged

Madison Laine Cox, 19, of Pinchtown Road, Montgomery, and an unidentified then-17-year-old male resident who turned 18 in August, allegedly posed with patients in the shower or on the toilet, took pictures of patients who had defecated themselves or had fallen to the ground and took videos of themselves demeaning or harassing individuals, according to court documents filed by Buffalo Valley Regional Police.

They allegedly sent those records to each other, shared them on the phone app Snapchat, and showed them to classmates at a school, police said.

The victims range in age from 69 to 100 years old. The majority of people residing at Heritage Springs Memory Care in Lewisburg, are in various stages of Alzheimer's Disease or dementia, which limits or severely impedes their cognitive abilities, police said.

Cox in February pleaded guilty to 12 misdemeanors: one count of criminal conspiracy to commit abuse of a care-dependent person and 11 counts of abuse of a care-dependent person. Union County Judge Michael Piecuch last week rejected the plea deal, which places Cox's case back on the pre-trial list where the commonwealth can either take the matter to trial or negotiate another plea deal with the defense.

Kerstetter said he does not anticipate the case being brought to trial. Plea negotiations are ongoing, he said.

In November, the unidentified male was adjudicated in Union County Court on 17 of the 34 counts and his disposition was transferred to his home county in Lycoming County. Adjudication for a juvenile is the functional equivalent of being found guilty in an adult criminal procedure. A disposition hearing in juvenile court is akin to a sentencing hearing in adult court.

The juvenile was sentenced on April 11 in front of Lycoming County Judge Ryan M. Tira, but the judge would not release the sentencing results for the defendant. Due to being charged as a minor, the court proceedings are not open to the public and The Daily Item does not print the names of juvenile defendants unless charged as an adult.