Disturbing hidden camera video related to allegations of elder abuse is highlighting a loophole in a New Jersey law, an I-Team investigation has found.
The video shows then-unlicensed home attendant Gloria Pagonzaga appearing to throw a pillow and making threatening punching motions at a 99-year-old woman in her care. Pagonzaga, of Jersey City, was later able to obtain a license even after being charged with simple assault in the case.
Claudia and Vincent Proietti, the family of the elderly woman, are outraged and demanding the law be changed to prevent accused aides like Pagonzaga from getting licenses.
The Proietti’s had set up a camera in Maria Bologna’s bedroom in their Hasbrouck Heights home after past thefts by home health aides. They thought their prayers had been answered with the arrival a few years ago of Pagonzaga, who was recommended by a nun at the local church. Bologna’s daughter said she didn’t worry the aide wasn’t licensed.
In hindsight, Proietti said she second-guesses everything, including her mother’s terrified outbursts in the weeks before she died of dementia last spring.
Proietti told the I-Team, “She said to me,’ I can’t escape, I can’t run. She’s going to hit me.’”
The daughter attributed her mother’s claims to her worsening mental condition, but after Pagonzaga abruptly quit, the family decided to check the hidden camera video.
“We loved her like family, my mother loved her like family, and then when I saw this, I was so astounded,” said Proietti.
Her husband walked the I-Team through the video.
“There she goes with the fist,” he said. “She’s going to do it again right there.”
Vincent Proietti showed the I-Team several different instances where Pagonzaga allegedly pulled her fist back.
The family contacted Hasbrouck Heights police, who charged Pagonzaga with simple assault, but because there was no physical contact, Pagonzaga was given a summons and not held in jail. She pleaded not guilty. The family later learned she had been granted a home health aide license by the Division of Consumer Affairs, even though officials were aware of the video.
“Under the law, a license cannot be denied without a conviction or proof of a violation of law," a Division of Consumer Affairs spokesman told the I-Team. "Mere allegations are not sufficient.”
New Jersey State Sen. Robert Gordon, a Democrat, believes that any licenses in professions that deal with public safety should be put on hold if there are pending criminal charges.
“If it requires a change in the law, we should do that,” he told the I-Team. “It may be an administrative change that’s necessary."
He said the applicants should have to show proof of exoneration before getting a license.
Pagonzaga’s attorney did not return repeated phone calls. Her license is active through November, 2017. Claudia Proietti said she worries that Pagonzaga may be working elsewhere and promises to keep fighting for elderly people who have no voice.
“I can’t just sit back and let some other family go through this,” she said.
Pagonzaga is scheduled to be back in court in mid-January.