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A close-up look at elder care

Last month, a Multnomah County jury awarded what is believed to be the largest punitive verdict ever handed to an Oregon care facility for compromising the safety and dignity of an elderly person.

The $904,200 award against The Pearl at Kruse Way, an Avamere facility, was seen as vindication for a son who believed his mother had been harmed while she was a resident at the Lake Oswego facility. But the case of 86-year-old Elvera Stephan also is illustrative of a deeper demographic trend and the potential challenges it brings.

This larger trend involves a fast-growing segment of the population - the elderly. And the challenges this aging population is confronting do not belong to just those who need care, but also to at least three other groups: Baby-boomers who want the best care possible for their parents, professional caregivers who are looking for innovative ways to serve a growing segment of the population and regulators who admit they are struggling to keep up with a care industry that is becoming ever more complex.

In the wake of the Stephan case, reporters for the Pamplin Media Group have analyzed some of the underlying issues exposed during the trial and found, among other things, that for-profit care companies such as Avamere are cited for violations at higher rates than their non-profit counterparts and that complex webs of ownership can cloud corporate accountability.

State regulators believe financial growth in the corporate care industry has outstripped their ability to regulate care providers through fines. Dwindling state resources also are a factor in enforcing minimum standards at care facilities.

A fuller examination of these concerns follows in the first of a two-part series - starting with the very personal story of a son who tried to do what was right by his mother.