Caregiver charged with elder abuse

A photograph taken in the home of a Waldport woman for whom Patricia Norenberg acted as caregiver shows a soiled wheelchair and mattress.

WALDPORT — A state-provided caregiver has been charged with multiple felony counts of theft, fraud and mistreatment of a disabled senior under her care.

According to an affidavit of probable cause filed in Lincoln County Circuit Court, when the defendant’s client arrived by ambulance at the hospital in Newport after calling 911 Aug. 25, “she had visible wounds to the tendons and bones in her legs, and had live maggots in the wounds.” The emergency room physician told her that her leg might have to be amputated. She was transferred to Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis, where surgeons were able to save her limb.

Her caregiver, Patricia Dianne Norenberg, 54, of Waldport, was not there when her elder charge called 911, and the victim later told investigators she’d been alone in the house for several days prior to hospitalization. She said she’d lain in bed for several days, soiling herself, before calling 911 in extreme pain. The 77-year-old woman requires regular attention, including wound care, for multiple medical conditions.

While she was hospitalized, her son and daughter-in-law accessed her bank account to make some transactions on her behalf, and they noticed something other than the victim’s physical condition was amiss. 

“There’s no way Mom has ever spent $300 at Walmart. She’s very thrifty. It would never happen,” daughter-in-law Jessica Lindley, a forensic psychologist in Portland, told the News-Times. “But it was the food that initially stuck out. We’d been driving from Portland to Waldport to bring her food. There’s no way she was spending $1,500 a month at Ray’s Food Market,” she said.

They asked the bank for a fraud investigation and ended up disputing $4,780 in transactions made between June 27 and Aug. 21. There was also security footage, later shared with investigators, allegedly showing Norenberg using the victim’s debit card to withdraw $400 from a Waldport ATM on Sept. 5, when her client was in the hospital in Corvallis.

Lindley contacted the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office Sept. 10 and reported that her mother-in-law was the victim of elder abuse. She also shared with investigators photographs and a video walkthrough of her mother-in-law’s home she’d taken after her hospitalization. The images revealed a “dirty and disorganized house,” with “carpets full of stains and debris,” as well as a soiled wheelchair and mattress that were “discolored due to bodily fluids,” according to the probable cause affidavit.

Investigators brought Norenberg in for an interview on Nov. 19, during which, according to the affidavit, she admitted that she’d never bathed nor dressed her client during the time she was her caregiver, though those tasks were among her assigned duties. She also told investigators that she’d noticed the “filthy condition” of the wheelchair when she first assumed the caregiver role in May, and said she’d never cleaned it. “Norenberg told me the wheelchair was stained with bodily fluids because (her client) would often urinate or have bowel movements in the chair,” an investigator wrote in the affidavit.

She initially denied using the victim’s debit card to make purchases, saying that she’d been given the card to do some shopping for her client at Ray’s, but “she tried not to memorize the PIN.” After being shown security footage of the ATM withdrawal, she admitted to that and other transactions, including a nearly $300 payment on her personal health care account and $40 for her cellphone bill. 

She told investigators she intended to repay those expenditures, and she said many of the disputed transactions — including purchases of software, copy paper, charcoal, phone activations and a lace kimono — were in fact made for her client, as were multiple point-of-sale cash back transactions. The victim told investigators she did not know how to use a computer, nor was she aware that cash back at the grocery store was a possibility.

According to the affidavit, Norenberg told investigators she did not come to work the day prior to her client’s hospitalization — she said she’d spoken with her by phone, and her client said she wasn’t feeling well and did not want to attend her scheduled wound care appointment in Newport.

At the conclusion of the interview, Norenberg was arrested and charged with three Class B felony counts of aggravated identity theft — for alleged fraudulent use of another person’s PIN 10 or more times within 180 days — as well as Class C felony charges of theft, fraudulent use of a credit card and three counts each of non-aggravated identity theft and first-degree criminal mistreatment. She was also charged with misdemeanor counts of criminal mistreatment and recklessly endangering another person.

In giving grounds for the felony mistreatment charges, an investigator wrote that in addition to wrongfully appropriating money from a dependent person in her care, Norenberg had also recommended to her employer that her client be placed in hospice if she survived her hospitalization and offered to continue as her caretaker, thereby “taking charge of a dependent or elderly person for the purpose of fraud.”

Norenberg is next scheduled to appear in court before Judge Thomas Branford on Jan. 19. She remains in custody in the Lincoln County Jail on $100,000 bond. Judge Amanda Benjamin made “no employment as a care provider” a condition of her bail, should she secure conditional release. She has not yet entered a plea.

Lindley said her mother-in-law has been discharged from the hospital to a skilled nursing facility in Corvallis. “She’s doing much better with her wounds. The wound that had the maggots in it is still healing, but the other leg is completely healed,” she said. There’s currently a large COVID-19 outbreak at the facility, and her mother-in-law has tested positive for the virus.

Lindley enthusiastically credited Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Doug Honse, the chief investigator, for his commitment to the case.

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