|Lori Diane Fiorentino|
Lori Diane Fiorentino, 56, faces a maximum of four years in prison when she’s sentenced May 11, according to the settlement agreement, filed Monday in Mendocino County Superior Court. She is, however, eligible for probation in lieu of prison time.
The mummified body of Arlene Potts, 66, was found by Fort Bragg Police at the Duncan Place apartment complex Dec. 14 following a request by the apartment manager for a welfare check, according to testimony at Fiorentino’s preliminary hearing in January.
Potts’ emaciated body, clad in nothing but five layers of feces-encrusted diapers, was on a couch, hidden by a wall of shopping carts and debris, according to court testimony. She could have been dead for six months or more before her body was found.
A former tenant of the Duncan Place senior apartment complex told police the chronic smell in the hallway outside Potts’ door changed last summer from acrid urine to something rotten. She likened it to the stench of a dead whale on a beach.
An autopsy found severe muscle atrophy, emaciation and ulcerated lesions on Potts’ body, but was inconclusive on cause of death, limiting the charging opportunities, Deputy District Attorney Kevin Davenport conceded during the preliminary hearing.
Had there been a more conclusive death determination, Fiorentino might have been charged with an enhancement — that the abuse caused the death — and up to five years could have been added to her sentence.
The case raised questions about elder care in the county and how something so appalling could go undetected for so long.
Tenants of the apartment complex reported they’d repeatedly complained to its manager about the smell. At least one reported her concerns about Potts’ health to the county’s Adult Protective Services months before the body was found.
The manager had not entered the apartment in 11 months. It’s unclear whether Adult Protective Services ever went to the apartment.
The agency successfully fought a request by Fiorentino’s public defender, Frank McGowan, for her case documents, and would not divulge to the media whether Potts ever had been a client.
But according to court transcripts, the agency was contacted by the hospital in Fort Bragg in December 2013 about Potts, who had suffered a major hip injury but refused treatment and refused to go to a nursing home.
A physician who examined Potts suspected she suffered from chronic schizophrenia, but no one attempted to place her under a conservatorship or have her held for further psychiatric evaluation, according to court documents.
Instead, Fiorentino was hired to assist Potts at home through the county’s In-Home Supportive Services. The county reportedly checked on Potts during the first several months but apparently not afterward.
Elder advocates say the various systems responsible for providing or overseeing care for the elderly are rife with problems and in need of improvement. An estimated 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 60 has experienced some type of elder abuse, according to the federal Administration on Aging, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services.
In court, McGowan blamed the county agencies and the hospital for failing Potts. He also said Fiorentino did the best she could given the circumstances.
The “defendant asserts she provided all the care the alleged victim would allow,” McGowan wrote in a court filing seeking Adult Protective Services records.
The courts, he wrote, have held that “competent persons generally are permitted to refuse medical treatment, even at the risk of death.”
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Caregiver pleads no contest to elder abuse in Fort Bragg 'mummy' case