The Columbus woman suspected of stealing thousands of items from assisted living facilities formerly worked as a nurse’s aide, according to the Delaware County prosecutor.
Prosecutor Carol O’Brien said on Monday that Susan Gwynne, who was indicted by a grand jury on 101 charges last Wednesday, had worked as a nurse’s aide at one time in an assisted living facility.
Authorities believe Gwynne began posing as an employee at several area assisted living facilities — including two in Delaware County — and stole items while residents were out of their rooms during meals. Prosecutors say they believe the thefts have been going on since 2008. Police say they have recovered nearly 3,000 pieces of stolen jewelry, as well as stolen credit cards.
Most of the crimes are alleged to have been committed in Franklin County. The Delaware County assisted living facilities affected were The Inn at Olentangy Trail and Abbington of Powell. An employee at Abbington hung up the phone when contacted by The Gazette on Monday.
The case has officials at other assisted living facilities thinking about security.
Before the case came to light, the Sarah Moore Community in downtown Delaware had taken steps to prevent any possible theft, according to its director. “We have recently made upgrades to our system,” said executive director Aric Arnett.
Sarah Moore is a small assisted living facility of fewer than 100 residents where staff get to know residents’ family members, he said.
Arnett said both staff and vendors are required to wear identification badges. If the staff sees someone they don’t know, they are to ask questions.
The staff undergoes a “rigorous pre-employment process,” Arnett said, “background checks, fingerprints and drug tests.”
“The vendors have contracts that are reviewed once a year,” Arnett said. “We know who is coming and going in the building.”
Sarah Moore residents are not discouraged from having valuables in their rooms. “This is their home and they should be allowed to keep things with them,” Arnett said. “It’s great to have possessions and it’s an important part of our identity for everyone.”
“Sarah Moore doesn’t supply lock boxes or safes but residents are more than welcome to have them,” Arnett said. “It’s important that our residents and their families feel confident and comfortable.”
“If people’s intentions are to steal personal property, they will do it,” said Ken Levering, administrator at the Delaware Court assisted living facility. “We count on the long-term staff who are loyal to the facility and residents.”
Dedicated and loyal staff have the best interests of residents, he said. “It has proven to be the most effective way to catch people,” Levering said.
Levering said he likes the layout of his facility. Visitors enter through one dedicated entrance to a receptionist desk where they sign in and are given a visitor badge. The nurse’s station is located in the center of the facility, giving unobstructed views down each wing.
In the light of the thefts, staff at Delaware Court revisited policies. “We have reviewed the policies with the current staff,” Levering said.
Since Delaware Court is small, the staff knows family members and vendors. “If someone comes in they don’t know, the staff is to ask questions,” Levering said.
Tracy Whited, spokeswoman for the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office, had advice for anyone with a family member living in or moving to an assisted living facility.
“For stuff they are just hanging onto and not wearing, give it to a trusted loved one or put it in a safety deposit box at the bank,” she said. “If they do wear and use the item, put it in a lock box hidden in the closet.”
Whited said many of the victims provided detailed lists when they initially filed theft reports.
O’Brien also offered advice for older couples who are downsizing from the family home and entering assisted living facilities. “It’s important to have a safe to put good jewelry and sentimental pieces in,” she said. “Take pictures of the items and list everything, including clothing.”
Gwynne was indicted on 31 counts of burglary, which are second-degree felonies; 43 felony counts of theft; 12 counts of possessing criminal tools, which are fifth-degree felonies; and 15 counts of receiving stolen property, which are first-degree misdemeanors.
The investigation began after deputies received a call in January regarding a theft from an elderly woman living at The Inn at Olentangy Trial, 6 Corduroy Road, Delaware.
Deputies reported other missing items included cash, credit cards and Social Security cards.
Prosecutors said Thursday that several stolen items were also recovered from area pawn shops.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin