State lacks laws to protect seniors from retaliation
Fourth in a five-part series by CHRIS SERRES • Photos by DAVID JOLES • Star Tribune staff
Estelle Schaust thought she was being helpful. On the veranda of her senior home in Champlin, she scooped up a large ashtray full of cigarette butts, placed them in a plastic bag, then knotted it around the doorknob of the manager’s office. She then taped the facility’s “No Smoking” policy to the bag.
Schaust, who is 84, suffers from a pulmonary condition so severe that a doctor ordered her to avoid smoke.
The next day, she said, she and her husband, Mathias, were summoned to the manager’s office and given a scolding.
When the couple pointed out that the facility’s rules ban smoking, the administrator threatened to evict them for “misbehaving” and “stirring up trouble,” the couple told the Star Tribune.
“We were petrified,” Estelle Schaust said. “We were being labeled as troublemakers and had nowhere else to go.”
Across Minnesota, families who take maltreatment complaints to the state Department of Health encounter dead ends and delays, according to a Star Tribune review of public documents. Yet when they take their complaints directly to the management of their care homes, many find themselves facing retaliation, even the threat of eviction.
Statewide, complaints about involuntary discharges and transfers from senior care facilities have surged 50 percent since 2012, according to public records. They are now the top reported grievance, with more than 600 complaints lodged in 2016.
Compounding the problem: Minnesota’s consumer protection laws have failed to keep pace with rapid changes in residential care for seniors, and in fact have fallen behind those of many other states.
In the past decade, hundreds of assisted-living facilities have sprung up in Minnesota, accepting residents with acute health problems, including dementia. With about 65,000 beds, these facilities now serve more