Investigator Joseph Bostwick spent nearly a year tracking a drunken Catonsville nursing home aide who attacked a schizophrenic man and an elderly retarded woman during her shift.
Bostwick gained access to the aide's home and passed out his business card in her neighborhood in an attempt to locate her. After her arrest, he gave prosecutors enough evidence to win a conviction and 18-month jail sentence without testimony from either victim.
"These people really are vulnerable. It's time for us to protect them," said Bostwick, 49, a former Baltimore County police officer and now the sole investigator of elderly abuse for the state attorney general's office's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.
Since the unit opened in 1989, all but one of 53 cases brought to trial have resulted in convictions. Prosecutors attribute this largely to Bostwick.
"Joe will get a beep in the middle of the night and be out there if that's what it takes to get the evidence," said Carolyn J. McElroy, the prosecutor who heads the unit.
Added Timothy U. Sharpe, an assistant attorney general who prosecutes many of the cases: "Once he decides there's something he needs to do in an investigation, he keeps trying until it's done. He's like a bulldog."
But a polite one. The blond, bespectacled and muscular Bostwick totes a briefcase and is a regular user of "sir" and "ma'am." He lives with his family in Carney.
His investigations helped to win convictions against:
* A nurse's aide at Catonsville Community Convalescent Center, who in 1993 put an 87-year-old resident in a closet for 15 minutes. The aide got three years' probation, 100 hours of community service and a $200 fine.
* A nurse's aide at the Cardinal Shehan Center for the Aging in Timonium who, in 1993, punched an elderly Alzheimer's patient in the head. The aide got two years' probation.
* A Pikesville Nursing and Convalescent Center nurse who last year grabbed an elderly patient's hands and made the woman punch herself in the head. The nurse got probation before judgment and was ordered to undergo retraining as a nurse.
Asked why he works so doggedly, Bostwick said, "These people were all somebody -- war heroes, housewives, policemen in a better time of life. Except for the time and place, they would be that today. We just owe it to them."
Nationwide, about 1.5 million abuses of elderly and vulnerable adults are reported each year, about 4,000 of them from Maryland. "Vulnerable adults" are those who lack the physical or mental capacity to provide for their daily needs.
Bostwick joined the attorney general's office in 1989 when a law was passed outlawing abuse of elderly and vulnerable adults. Most of his investigations involve nurses or aides who physically or sexually abuse elderly people in nursing homes that use Medicaid.
He honed his investigative skills during two decades with Baltimore County police, more than half of that as a detective.
Most cases come from Baltimore City or county, which each have more than 40 nursing homes.
Generally, he starts an investigation after a complaint, tip or report about an obvious sign of victimization.
After reviewing nursing home and police records, he interviews the victim. In most cases, they are unable to verbalize or remember details of the attack.
Then he talks to nursing home staffers and finally interviews the sometimes-elusive suspects.
The drunken nursing home aide was one. According to court records and the attorney general's office, Diane I. Jones, 31, showed up drunk at Forest Haven Nursing Home in Catonsville during an evening shift in April 1991.
She pushed a mentally retarded woman to the floor twice and would have pushed her a third time if another aide had not intervened. Later, she repeatedly shoved a schizophrenic with heart problems.
During his yearlong investigation, which started in September 1991, Bostwick got to know Jones' housemate to gain entry to her home. He left his business card on her pillow to let her know he was looking for her. He also put her name into a national registry of wanted suspects.
Jones remained at large until June 9, 1992, when Bostwick knocked on her front door. She tried to run out the back door, where several Baltimore police officers were waiting to arrest her.
Bostwick says his forte is catching suspects in the early morning before they are alert enough to avoid him. "I get them when they're vulnerable," he said with a laugh.
That's how he got to Lionel Jackson, seen punching and kicking a retarded man in April 1995 while working at Emerge Inc., a Baltimore facility for developmentally disabled adults.
Bostwick sat in front of Jackson's West Baltimore apartment for 30 minutes in the dark until he saw a light come on about 6 a.m. Then he rang the bell.
During the interview, a weary Jackson was so taken aback by Bostwick's persistance that he asked incredulously: "Who are you?" He was convicted of battery and got 18 months of probation.
Even with thorough investigations, elderly abuse cases can be difficult to prove because victims often do not testify, Bostwick said. So far, none of the victims involved in his case has been mentally or physically able to do so.
But Sharpe, the prosecutor, still wins convictions -- in part because of Bostwick's ability to track suspects and elicit confessions or other statements useful to the prosecution.
If convictions don't always provide a sense of victory for the elderly victims, their families often feel they have won.
Brenda Rhett-Robinson's 91-year-old mother was assaulted in a Pikesville nursing home by a nurse who was convicted last year. After the trial, the nurse hugged Rhett-Robinson, apologized and acknowledged she had snapped during her shift.
Rhett-Robinson said, "The legal system can work if you give it the opportunity to work."
Pub Date: 10/29/96