MICHIGAN — An audit of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services' (MDHHS) Adult Protective Services (APS) division shows the department has areas to improve upon.
For months, FOX 17 has investigated a story out of Pullman with elder abuse taking front and center stage. This month, an audit shows more than 25 percent of the time, criminal acts reported to APS go unreported to law enforcement.
William Fitzhugh died by homicide in December. His grandchildren, Cory Nethery and Christopher Fitzhugh, were both arraigned this week and charged with felony murder, vulnerable adult abuse, and embezzlement of their grandfather.
It's a situation no one wants to see a loved one in.
READ MORE: 82-year-old’s death ruled homicide after years of reported abuse
Attorney Jessica Brandow handles estate planning and elder law almost exclusively. “I think it's something people don't like to think about,” she says. “Everyone wants to think they're going to be just fine.”
Brandow says it's something everyone should think about.
“An estate plan really gives you the control,” Brandow explains. “You've already decided who is in charge of your affairs and who handles your money and who makes decisions for you.”
“When you look at the statistics, elder-abuse cases are one of the most underreported crimes,” says Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker.
The audit shows needed improvements for communication between APS and law enforcement.
READ MORE: 6 months prior to homicide death, APS closed case with no investigation
Becker says in Kent County, they already have a group doing this type of work. He tells us the more agencies there to help, the better the justice system can reach victims in need of help.
“Maybe it's senior meals on wheels that recognize some of it,” says Becker. “Maybe the elder has a bond with the person who delivers their meals. Maybe that person can talk to them, much more than as soon as they see a police officer, they're going to put up their ‘I don't want to talk.’”
William Fitzhugh, a victim who did not want to talk to police or APS, was in an all-too-familiar situation.
“In an elder-abuse situation, 95% of the time it's a loved one,” Becker explains. “It's a son, it's a daughter, a niece, a nephew, a granddaughter, whoever; it's someone that adult loves and doesn't want to see in trouble.”
FOX 17 spoke with William before he died in December 2021.
“Those boys, for what they did to me, they need jail time," William said.
Jail time, for both of them, starts now.
READ MORE: Allegan Co. men charged with murder in connection to grandfather's death
The report finds lack of training to be an issue, and also disagrees with the MDHHS, who says that ambiguous laws are to blame. The OAG’s office says the law is clear and that the MDHHS needs to do a better job of overseeing APS.