Longtime advocate for the elderly remembered for her passion

Pat King, a forensics nurse who was one of the leading experts in Georgia on elder abuse and neglect, reviews a training class at the GBI July 10, 2019. King, who worked in the Department of Human Services, is credited with helping to transform Georgia law to help make it easier to prosecute elder abuse cases. (Tyson Horne / Tyson.Horne@ajc.com)
Caption
Pat King, a forensics nurse who was one of the leading experts in Georgia on elder abuse and neglect, reviews a training class at the GBI July 10, 2019. King, who worked in the Department of Human Services, is credited with helping to transform Georgia law to help make it easier to prosecute elder abuse cases. (Tyson Horne / Tyson.Horne@ajc.com)

Credit: Tyson Horne

Credit: Tyson Horne

When Pat King entered state government 15 years ago, seniors across Georgia were being exploited, neglected and dying because of the failure of laws and institutions to detect and prevent elder abuse.

King, who had an indomitable drive to wake people to this hidden problem, is credited with transforming Georgia through a special unit in the Division of Aging Services and a training program she created to teach police and others to spot abuse of elderly and vulnerable adults.

Behind the scenes, she was a driving force who helped transform state laws to make it easier to prosecute elder abuse cases. That work led the General Assembly in 2015 to adopt a special resolution recognizing her contributions. Her expertise was also recognized nationwide.

King, who was 66, died Wednesday from complications from an aortic aneurism, according to friends and family. She had been giving one of her training sessions the week before when she experienced shortness of breath, and doctors said she needed emergency surgery.

“Everyone called her a force of nature,” said Jeanne Canavan, a prosecutor in DeKalb County who specializes in elder abuse cases. “She had the passion. She had the knowledge. She had this special quality to inspire people.”

Patricia Steed King grew up in DeKalb County, graduated from Lakeside High and attended the University of Georgia for one year, before entering a nursing program in Atlanta.

She worked various nursing jobs around the metro area, including a stretch at the emergency room at Grady Memorial Hospital, before gravitating to forensic nursing. It’s a wing of the profession that focuses on victims of violence and trauma and helps prepare for the prosecution of cases.

She worked for the Gwinnett County Solicitor’s Office for several years before joining the state in 2006. She led in the creation of Georgia’s Forensic Special Initiatives Unit to help identify gaps in the system and raise awareness about abuse of at-risk adults. Out of that effort, the At-Risk Adult Crime Tactics Specialist training program was created in 2011.

The program has trained and certified more than 3,500 law enforcement officers, prosecutors, first responders, hospital personnel, coroners and financial industry professionals to detect the signs of abuse and exploitation of elderly and at-risk adults.

King was known for pushing a sometimes sluggish bureaucracy to do more and she didn’t mince words when it came to protecting vulnerable adults.

“Pat was a warrior for our state’s most vulnerable, and she will be dearly missed by us all,” Attorney General Chris Carr tweeted out on Thursday.

GBI Director Vic Reynolds said he first met King in 2013 shortly after he had been elected the district attorney in Cobb. She set up a meeting and came by Reynolds’s office with a demand for him to act.

“I have a case of a 92-year-old victim who is being exploited and nobody will do a damn thing about it,” King said, according to Reynolds. “Are you going to?”

Her persistence led to one of the largest financial exploitation prosecutions in the state and was instrumental in forming the Cobb Elder Abuse Task Force.

King helped focus the GBI on the problem of elder abuse nearly a decade ago. Former GBI Director Vernon Keenan recalls being appalled and awakened to the scope of the problem after a meeting with King. That led to a statewide initiative to get various agencies working together.

“We nicknamed her the spark plug,” Keenan said. “She was a mover and a shaker. She is one of the most remarkable individuals that I ever worked with in 46 years at the GBI.”

King was set to retire from the state in a couple months. She and her husband, Mark, had already purchased 10 acres of land in North Georgia, where they were going to build a retirement home and a small farm. He said his wife was smart and tough. Her Christian faith drove her to protect the elderly and vulnerable.

“Our society was turning a blind eye to a real problem,” he said. “Patricia realized she had to educate and train everybody. Nobody knew this. Unfortunately, in our society we treat the elderly like a second class.”

A funeral service is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 10 at Johns Creek Baptist Church. Visitation is scheduled for 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, July 9 at Crowell Brothers Funeral Home in Peachtree Corners.

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