Update (June 19): Alessandro Giribaldi of Giribaldi & Manaras P.C. is now named as representing Ellyn Gottlieb in her criminal docket.
A criminal case related to the death of an elderly Jewish woman in Delaware County is shining light on the issue of elder abuse and neglect.
Ellyn Beth Gottlieb, 58, has been charged with neglect of a care-dependent person, aggravated assault, involuntary manslaughter, theft by unlawful taking and theft by deception in the death of her 83-year-old mother, Patricia Gottlieb, who died last year. Prosecutors allege Ellyn Gottlieb stole money from her mother and failed to provide her with care.
Patricia Gottlieb died March 12, 2018. An autopsy found her cause of death was bacteremia, with probable sepsis due to multiple ulcers, according to the affidavit of probable cause.
“This is a tragic case where a mother was inhumanely treated by her daughter, the person entrusted with her care, ultimately resulting in the victim’s death,” Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun M. Copeland said at a press conference, according to the Daily Times. “Ellyn Gottlieb clearly had no regard for human decency and life, as she stole from her mother and left her to die due to lack of basic care.”
According to the affidavit, on Jan. 10, 2018, County of Delaware Services for the Aging went to Patricia Gottlieb’s residence to check on her. But when they arrived, Ellyn Gottlieb, who was her mother’s power of attorney, wouldn’t let them enter, so they returned the next day with Haverford Township police.
Though she didn’t allow COSA to enter, Ellyn Gottlieb allowed the police into the residence. The police reported that they found the house “in complete shambles with significant hoarding present. There was an apparent water leak from the second floor and a strong odor of urine and feces throughout the home.”
When the police spoke to Patricia Gottlieb, “she rejected the need for medical attention and confirmed that her daughter was caring for her.”
A week later, on Jan. 17, 2018, police and Narberth Ambulance returned for lifting assistance from a fall. While there, EMS noted the “deplorable” living conditions, which included “hoarding, structural damage, animal and human feces, flies and moths.” Patricia Gottlieb was in pain, so they transported her to Bryn Mawr Hospital.
The hospital, according to the affidavit, evaluated her and found “so many wounds and sores all over her body they couldn’t count them all.” She also had bruises, as well as an ulcer that prompted the hospital to initiate sepsis protocol and required surgery. She smelled of urine and was covered in feces and was hungry.
The hospital also said that a psychological assessment showed she had a clear history of dementia. Patricia Gottlieb was unable to say what her medications were for; she couldn’t remember how she got to and from the bathroom. She lacked an ability to make decisions, she didn’t believe she had wounds and she couldn’t consent on wound care.
Ellyn Gottlieb told police she was unaware of ulcers or wounds on her mother’s body, according to the affidavit. She said she fed her mother four times a day and gave her medication. She also said she had a hard time cleaning her mother because she was too heavy for her to lift, though she did clean her after she urinated or defecated.
Investigation by the police found that Patricia Gottlieb had been living at Broomall Manor nursing home, where she received occupational and physical therapy and “was clean and well attended.” In September of 2017, when the nursing home attempted to collect outstanding payments of $22,972.71, Ellyn Gottlieb took her mother out of the nursing home and brought her to the home in Havertown.
A financial analysis conducted on Patricia Gottlieb’s accounts from August 2016 to September 2017 — the period when she was in the nursing home — found more than $88,000 in unauthorized purchases, including 83 purchases from online auction site Tophatter, 19 purchases from QVC and multiple cash withdrawals.
Thomas Kidd Ellixson of the Public Defender’s Office, named as representing Ellyn Gottlieb in her criminal docket, did not respond to requests for comment.
About one in 10 adults over the age of 60 are abused, neglected or financially exploited, according to the National Institute on Aging. Victims are often women, lack nearby friends or family and have a history of disabilities, memory problems or dementia.
“As children are considered a vulnerable population, older adults are also vulnerable because of older age, decreased processing,” said Brenda Edelman, assistant director of older adults, individuals and family services at Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia. “They could have a diagnosis of some form of a dementia. When anybody is dependent on another person for care and support, they’re vulnerable, and sadly, these populations can be taken advantage of in a variety of ways.”
JFCS does not investigate older adult abuse. However, if a concerned bystander, such as a neighbor, calls, JFCS would provide that bystander with the information to contact the proper agency, such as the county’s adult protective services.
JFCS care managers and social worker also do home visits with older adult clients, during which they evaluate the clients for their level of functioning. Sometimes, the care managers and social workers may spot potential abuse, which they are required to report. Depending on the situation, JFCS may reach out to or connect a client with another agency or service, such as legal services in the case of financial exploitation or public benefits such as utility discounts or food stamps.
Anyone concerned about an older adult can make an anonymous report to the statewide elder abuse hotline (1-800-490-8505).