Monday, July 13, 2020

Nursing home 'overwhelmed' by positive response to pandemic pen pal program

By Janine Puhak

Will you be their pen pal?

 

There’s nothing better than getting a letter.

Increased loneliness and isolation are two heartbreaking consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, inspiring one network of care homes in North Carolina to proactively promote a pen pal program for residents.

Officials say the center has since been “overwhelmed” by an outpouring of love and support since the campaign went viral on social media, with letters arriving from around the world.


Victorian Senior Care operates 14 nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the Tar Heel State, and has restricted visitors since March 13 for the health and safety of its residents amid the COVID-19 crisis.

To help beat the blues after months of isolation, Victorian Senior Care recently sent out a call to action, asking the public to send letters to residents at Phoenix Assisted Care in Cary, Fox 5 DC reports. Exceeding expectations, the late June pitch went wildly viral on Facebook with over 327,000 shares, 37,000 likes and 16,000 comments.

In the weeks since, the care center has shared images of residents from other locations who hope to receive snail mail of their own. For the cute campaign, Victorian Senior Care is posting photos of the residents with a sign listing their name and a fun fact or information about their hobbies or interests, in search of a perfect pen pal match.


Thanking program participants in an update last Tuesday, the care home said that they have been “overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support not just from our own state or country but from all around the world!”

“Our residents are truly the reason we do what we do and seeing the excitement and smiles on their faces make our day,” a spokesperson wrote on Facebook.

According to Victorian Senior Care’s chief operating officer Meredith Seals, about 15,000 letters and care package items have poured in since the pitch went viral.

“There are so many people whom have reached out wanting to help, we are trying to respond to everyone quickly but having trouble keeping up,” she told Yahoo Lifestyle on Wednesday. “[It] warms my heart that so many people care.”

The care center is still seeking letter-writing buddies for the #VSCPenPals project; those interested can learn more about potential partners on the Victorian Senior Care site.

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Nursing home 'overwhelmed' by positive response to pandemic pen pal program

‘A catastrophic outbreak’: How Oregon failed to slow coronavirus before death overtook nursing home

By Fedor Zarkhin

Oregon’s top nursing home regulators received repeated warnings and even acknowledged privately that the coronavirus could decimate a Southeast Portland care facility but failed to take fast and aggressive action before the first 10 residents died, an investigation by The Oregonian/OregonLive has found.

State officials were told as early as March 25, about a month after Oregon’s first case, that Healthcare at Foster Creek was struggling to protect its residents from coronavirus, records obtained by the newsroom show.

A caregiver who worked in the facility filed a complaint that day, warning the Oregon Department of Human Services of inadequate safeguards and impending death.

“We have residents who I believe will not survive and I’m fearful for them,” the caregiver wrote.

A top state regulator, Jack Honey, expressed alarm over other alleged problems at the facility. “And just between you and me,” Honey later wrote to a colleague, “I am so worried about this erupting into a devastating outbreak.”

That anxiety was prophetic.

Coronavirus cases linked to Healthcare at Foster Creek quickly ballooned, eventually infecting 120 people and killing 34 Oregonians. By the time the last resident was evacuated May 5, the facility accounted for about one out of every four deaths statewide, and it remains Oregon’s deadliest outbreak.

The newsroom’s investigation found that despite warning signs state officials took days and in some cases weeks to act, losing critical time to help slow spread inside the nursing home.

Blaming a lack of protective equipment for state regulators, authorities waited nine days to inspect the facility after the March 25 complaint but inexplicably found no violations during their 47-minute visit – only to return one week later to uncover a slew of problems, including some outlined in the initial and subsequent complaints.

Among them: caregivers wearing the same masks for entire shifts, employees not washing hands between interactions with residents, and workers moving between units with and without known coronavirus infections – potentially serving as conduits to spread the dangerous disease.



Kevin Fortune was a resident at Healthcare at Foster Creek when he got sick with the coronavirus and died. Fortune's brother is now suing the nursing home. Here Fortune is in his 1979 high school graduation photo. Photo courtesy Fortune family
It’s impossible to know if the state’s drawn-out response contributed to the immense death toll at Healthcare at Foster Creek. But Charlene Harrington, a professor at the University of California San Francisco, said delays almost certainly cost lives.

“Every day of delay was spreading it,” said Harrington, who has been researching senior care oversight for two decades. “They had the authority. I don’t understand why they didn’t act sooner.”

The state could have put in place a temporary management company, immediately gone into the facility, or sent inspectors to monitor Foster Creek’s workers, Harrington said.

“I feel sad when I see a leadership failure,” Harrington said. “They could have saved lives.”

The newsroom’s findings, based on more than a dozen interviews and more than a thousand pages of documents obtained through public records requests, underscore the chaos of the state’s overall response to the pandemic in the first months after coronavirus emerged Feb. 28 in Oregon.

The state became overwhelmed by an onslaught of unemployment claims filed by laid-off workers. It repeatedly held back information vital to the public. But nowhere was Oregon’s failure more stark than at Healthcare at Foster Creek.


Healthcare at Foster Creek, now closed, saw the largest and most fatal coronavirus outbreak in the state. Kevin Fortune was one of the residents who died. His brother is now suing the nursing home. July 3, 2020. Beth Nakamura/Staff
State officials knew how devastating the disease could be if left unchecked inside a nursing home, where residents are mostly elderly and suffer from underlying health conditions, making them the most likely to die from COVID-19.

In Washington, a nursing home outbreak near Seattle drew international headlines and accounted for more than half of all known coronavirus deaths across America by mid March. In Oregon, officials already had two weeks’ experience responding to an outbreak at a veterans home in Lebanon that ultimately infected 38 and killed 8.  (Click to Continue)

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‘A catastrophic outbreak’: How Oregon failed to slow coronavirus before death overtook nursing home

Special Report: With 'judges judging judges,' rogues on the bench have little to fear

Lawyer Marty Meason poses for a portrait at the Osage County District Court in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, U.S. November 19, 2019. REUTERS/Nick Oxfo
By Michael Berens and John Shiffman

BARTLESVILLE, Oklahoma (Reuters) - District Court Judge Curtis DeLapp was renowned for his hair-trigger temper. Mispronounce his name, come to court a few seconds late, fail to rise as quickly as he’d like – no slight was too small to set him off.

For almost a dozen years, DeLapp used his power to terrify people who appeared before him, pressing contempt charges against defense attorneys, prosecutors and even a prospective juror who brought children to court when she couldn’t find daycare, court records show.

Another juror was fined $340.70 after she objected to how DeLapp was treating people who appeared before him. “I never want to be a juror or ever go back to court again,” said Carolyn Duffey Love, now 68. “He treated me like a dog.”

In 2015, DeLapp grew incensed when he learned someone had dropped sunflower seeds in his courtroom, according to witnesses. After scouring footage from a courtroom security camera, the judge summoned a spectator to his chambers, charged her with contempt and ordered her jailed for four days.

Local attorneys had grown convinced that DeLapp was violating the state’s judicial conduct code by abusing his authority. But they felt it would be futile to file a complaint with the Oklahoma agency that investigates judicial misconduct, because the state hadn’t filed charges against a judge for misconduct since 2004. The lawyers also say they worried that crossing DeLapp risked retaliation against both them and their clients.

Not until 2018 – after DeLapp sentenced courtroom spectator Randa Ludlow to nearly six months in jail for talking to her boyfriend during court – did local lawyers find the courage to act.

They enlisted a lawyer from 50 miles away who seldom practiced in DeLapp’s courtroom. And they worked collectively to build a voluminous complaint alleging that DeLapp had unlawfully jailed not just Ludlow but also many dozens of people in the prior two years alone. The complaint also contained an explosive charge: that the judge may have fabricated a court document to justify jailing Ludlow.

Had DeLapp fought the charges, he risked more than disgrace. If it could be proved that he submitted a forged document to the supreme court, he might land in prison.

Instead, DeLapp, 53, struck a deal. He resigned and agreed never again to seek office as a judge. The case against him was dismissed. His state pension and law license remained intact. And DeLapp received a written assurance that neither his departure nor the settlement constituted an admission to the “validity of any of the allegations.”

In leaving the bench, DeLapp became one of at least 341 judges across the United States to escape punishment or further investigation in the past dozen years by resigning or retiring amid misconduct allegations, Reuters found.

DeLapp, who is still practicing law in Bartlesville, declined to comment. In court documents, his attorney said the former judge denies any wrongdoing.

The DeLapp case shines a light on one of the most opaque and dormant judicial disciplinary systems in America. In Oklahoma, repercussions for wrongdoing have been so unlikely that judges could behave with impunity.

Although each U.S. state has a judicial oversight agency to screen and investigate misconduct complaints, their powers are often limited. In most states, the ultimate disciplinary authority over a judge rests with other judges.

In Oklahoma, the chief justice wields enormous discretion over judicial misconduct cases. After the state’s Council on Judicial Complaints completes a confidential investigation of a complaint about a judge, the chief justice has the power to handle discipline privately – except in rare cases serious enough to justify removing the accused judge from the bench.

During their tenures, two former state supreme court chief justices told Reuters, about one or two wayward judges a year were quietly summoned to the supreme court. There, they received a tongue-lashing behind the closed doors of the chief justice’s chambers. No official record was kept of those meetings, the justices said.

As former Chief Justice Joseph Watt put it: “I’d much rather woodshed my brethren in private and not in public.” He added: “How does that judge feel, knowing he’s being taken to the woodshed in front of God and everybody?”

Confidential justice for judges is common in America. At least 38 states – Oklahoma among them – issue private sanctions when judges misbehave. The name of the judge remains secret, and most of these states keep from the public details of the transgression and the discipline. At a minimum, most states release summary statistics of how many judges are privately disciplined each year. Oklahoma doesn’t make that information public.

This practice – law professor Stephen Gillers calls it “judges judging judges” – undermines the system’s ability to prevent misconduct on the bench.

Gillers said the killing of George Floyd, the Black man who died in May under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, has fueled concerns about how judicial misconduct is handled, too. “The public has been alerted as it never has been before to the way police misconduct is concealed,” said Gillers. “The same is true for judges.”

When judges are the ones evaluating misconduct by other judges, they “tend to be more sympathetic, more understanding, more forgiving” to their own, said Gillers, a scholar on judicial ethics who teaches at New York University.

Privacy also robs the system of a deterrent effect: Concealing the punishment fails to discourage bad conduct by other judges, who may never learn of the consequences, Gillers and other ethicists say.

That’s precisely the dynamic that played out in Oklahoma, local lawyers say. Until Chief Justice Douglas Combs petitioned for DeLapp's removal, Oklahoma hadn’t publicly filed misconduct charges against a judge in 14 years – the longest stretch of inaction of any state in recent decades.

In its investigation into judicial misconduct across America, Reuters sought to quantify the personal toll inflicted by judges who break the law or violate their sworn oaths. Over a dozen years, Reuters found at least 5,206 people who were directly affected by a judge’s misconduct. The victims ranged from individuals who were subjected to racist, sexist and other abusive comments from judges to those illegally jailed.

“This is a broken system that absolutely empowered judges like DeLapp to operate with impunity,” said Josh Lee, the out-of-town attorney who led the effort to rein in DeLapp. “For more than a decade, not a single judge was publicly disciplined. What kind of message does that send?” Lee said that DeLapp “had no reason to fear that anyone would stop him.”

MASKING MISCONDUCT

The state of Washington is among a dozen states that handle judicial discipline more openly.

In 1989, Washington voters abolished the practice of private sanctions. Since then, every case brought against a judge by the Washington judicial conduct commission is made public. Reiko Callner, the commission's executive director, said judges should be treated the same as anyone who appears before them.

“The norm is that anything that happens in a court has the name of the participants on it – the names of a criminal defendant, the crime victim, people involved in a lawsuit,” Callner said. “Why should a judge who has been found to have violated the code that governs their conduct be allowed to keep that fact from the public?”

Many state commissions say there are sound reasons to discipline judges privately. “It’s quick, it’s inexpensive and you don’t have to hold a public hearing,” said Cynthia Gray, director of the Center for Judicial Ethics at the National Center for State Courts, an independent nonprofit research and training organization.

Often, Gray said, states see benefits to keeping matters confidential. “If it’s one-time, minor misconduct by a judge, and the judge shows remorse, you can issue a private sanction or letter and then move on,” she said. That means commissions can focus “on the judges who are out there committing patterns of misconduct and are fighting every step of the way.”

Still, a Reuters investigation found that private discipline has been used to mask significant violations of the law. For example, in 2018, state records show, a Texas judge failed to “maintain professional competence” and illegally jailed indigent defendants. And in 2017, a California judge engaged in sexual harassment and showed a “lack of candor” when accused of misconduct, records show. Neither their names nor their punishments have been made public.

In Colorado, the judicial commission has publicly disciplined four judges since 2008 but has privately sanctioned 52. Among those whose names and other identifying information remain hidden from the public: judges disciplined for sexual harassment, for drunken driving, for delayed rulings, and for demonstrating a “pattern of errors in handling trials or issuing rulings that indicate a lack of competence.”

Granting anonymity to rogue judges is routine.

A Reuters examination of judicial misconduct nationally identified 3,613 cases from 2008 through 2018 in which states disciplined judges in private, withholding from the public details of their offenses – including the identities of the judges themselves.

Over the same period, 26 state oversight councils resolved more judicial misconduct cases privately than publicly, the news agency found. In Massachusetts, for instance, reviews of judicial conduct commission annual reports show that about 9 in 10 judges disciplined were privately sanctioned.
Some judicial oversight agencies take their independence and secrecy to extremes.

California’s oversight agency went to court to try to prevent an audit of its records, a review that ultimately discovered sloppy investigations of judges. In Illinois, the agency misplaced or lost hundreds of complaints, which have not been recovered or investigated.

Kathy Twine, who directs the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board, declined to comment on the lost files. Twine also would not provide routine complaint and investigation statistics to Reuters – statistics disclosed to the news agency by almost every other state.“We’re like an island,” the official said. “We don’t have to disclose anything.”

A comparison between Oklahoma and a state of similar size highlights the discrepancies in how judges are treated.

From mid-2004 to mid-2018, Oklahoma did not file misconduct charges against any of its 600 judges, Reuters found. By contrast, the state of Mississippi – with virtually the same code of judicial conduct and almost the same number of judges – publicly sanctioned 75 judges in the same period.

“I’m sure every state would like to think it has a judiciary that is above reproach, but every profession’s going to have a few bad apples,” said Darlene Ballard, who retired last week as director of the Mississippi commission. “It sounds like other states like to keep their problems in-house so that it appears to the public that they don't have any bad judges.”

Steve Scheckman, who investigated misconduct cases in Louisiana and New York, said states that report so few cases are failing in their primary mission: to defend, before the public, the integrity of the justice system.

“To think that there’s no misconduct in your state, you’re either really naive, in denial or protecting people,” he said.

Former Oklahoma Justice Steven Taylor disputes such characterizations. Taylor, who served on the state’s top court from 2004 through 2016, said he was proud that the state had so few cases of public discipline. To him, the small number of cases doesn’t demonstrate weak oversight. It shows “a judiciary in Oklahoma that is ethical, doing their work and highly disciplined.”

“If we had 6o or 70 cases, I would be ashamed or embarrassed,” Taylor said.

As chief justice in 2011 and 2012, Taylor recalled, he visited the Washington County courthouse in Bartlesville, where he met Judge DeLapp and others. Taylor said no one mentioned any concerns about how DeLapp ran his courtroom.

But Reuters identified scores of contempt charges issued by DeLapp in traffic and other cases before, during and after Taylor’s time leading the bench. Some dated back a decade. In 2008, for instance, DeLapp charged a defendant with contempt for “being vocal” after the man protested because he had “no money to pay towards his fines & court costs,” according to a court record.

Taylor said he was “extremely disappointed” when he heard in 2018 that DeLapp had acted so inappropriately for so many years. He also was surprised that lawyers had remained silent for so long.

“Why didn't someone report this?” the former justice asked.

The local lawyers who kept quiet for years offer a simple answer, rooted in the state’s desire to keep judicial misconduct secret: An unchecked judge has the ability to cow his community.

In Bartlesville, the Washington County seat, four judges hear criminal and civil cases, with traffic infractions representing the bulk. The city of 36,000 is an hour north of Tulsa. The courthouse is convenient for visitors, who park for free just steps from the entrance. It also is an easy place for a judge to escape scrutiny.

That’s because in Washington County and thousands of other courtrooms nationally, there is no requirement to record or transcribe most proceedings. Employing a stenographer or recording the proceedings is considered too expensive and largely unnecessary for the assembly-line pace of misdemeanor cases that make up most of the court’s business.

This lack of an official and detailed record posed an obstacle to the local attorneys alarmed by DeLapp’s behavior. Absent transcripts or recordings to corroborate their concerns, six lawyers told Reuters, they worried that a complaint alleging misconduct would come down to their word against the judge’s.

The local lawyers say they felt vulnerable to reprisal. DeLapp wielded authority to appoint attorneys to cases involving indigent defendants. They say the per diem pay for this work made the difference for some lawyers between insolvency and eking out a living.

That explanation bothers Taylor, the former state high court justice. “It's sad that the lawyers were intimidated,” Taylor said. “Part of the hallmark of being a lawyer is speaking truth to power. They should have spoken up.”

But many of those lawyers say they weren’t simply concerned about themselves. They worried that, if DeLapp got wind of a complaint, he might take it out on defendants as well. “It’s not just your livelihood at stake. It’s also clients,” said defense attorney Marty Meason, who practiced before DeLapp and once ran unsuccessfully against him for district judge. “Nobody wanted to take on the system.”

That changed in early 2018, when DeLapp ordered Randa Ludlow jailed for five months and 27 days in jail. Her alleged offense: talking during court with her boyfriend, a traffic defendant. Ludlow declined to comment.

The sentence seemed outlandish to Meason and other lawyers who had questioned DeLapp’s behavior for years. They suspected DeLapp broke the law by failing to afford Ludlow a hearing to challenge the contempt order, violating a basic constitutional right. They also believed he’d failed to properly document his reasons for jailing her. Whether DeLapp followed proper procedure in punishing Ludlow would become a key component in the misconduct complaint against him.

A few days after Ludlow was jailed, the lawyers decided to reach out to Lee, an attorney whose office was about an hour's drive from Bartlesville – and thus had less to fear because he didn’t regularly appear before DeLapp.

Lee remembers the call his firm received from a Washington County lawyer. The message was clear: You have to help us stop this judge.

“Everyone feared retaliation,” Lee said. “I worked far enough away that I might be safe. Plus, I was the only one crazy enough to do it.”

A DISPUTED DOCUMENT

About seven weeks after DeLapp had jailed Ludlow for contempt, Lee sought her release by filing a writ of habeas corpus with the state supreme court challenging her detention. The high court quickly heard the case in Oklahoma City.

At the hearing, DeLapp told the court that he had been unable to locate the specific document legally necessary to jail Ludlow. In the document, called a Contempt Court Minute, judges must lay out the rationale for the order. The document must also be time stamped and signed.

Shortly after the supreme court hearing, DeLapp notified the high court that he had located the missing record. Nonetheless, the high court voided DeLapp’s contempt order, and Ludlow was immediately released.

The case as it related to Ludlow was over. But now, Lee had grown suspicious of DeLapp, in particular the judge’s claim that he had so quickly located the missing Contempt Court Minute he used to justify jailing Ludlow. When DeLapp produced the missing Contempt Court Minute, the document seemed odd, Lee recalled.

It included a stamp that made no sense. It was dated two days before DeLapp claimed to have created the document. In other words, it appeared to be backdated, and poorly at that.

Lee wondered: Had DeLapp fabricated the document because one had never been filed in the first place? In late March, Lee received a call from Meason, the Bartlesville attorney who was quietly helping him build a misconduct case against DeLapp and harbored similar suspicions.

“I found the evidence,” Meason recalled telling Lee. “We’ve got him.”

DeLapp, Meason explained, had often used security cameras to monitor the conduct of people in the courthouse. He had used footage from one camera to identify the sloppy sunflower-seed eater.

There was also a security camera in the clerk’s office. Playing a hunch, Meason went to the sheriff’s office and requested a copy of weeks of video beginning in February 2018. To his surprise, he said, a staffer quickly handed over the footage on a flash drive.

Reuters reviewed the video, which has never been made public. It shows DeLapp leaving the clerk’s office with files. A clerk then leaves her desk. She returns later with what appears to be a single-page document. The clerk examines the page, then stamps it in two places.

Meason and Lee say they were convinced that the document shown on the security tape was the same Contempt Court Minute that DeLapp submitted later that day to the high court. The footage, they believe, showed the clerk backdating the document, apparently to make it look as though it had been filed at the time DeLapp issued his contempt order.

Lee submitted a 44-page complaint against DeLapp with the state judicial council, characterizing the contempt document as “suspect at best.” Meason mailed a copy of the unabridged footage to the oversight council. Lee captured key frames and created a video presentation, which he also submitted. “I wanted to make it simple for them,” Lee said.

The state’s judicial council investigated Lee's complaint about DeLapp. According to council director Taylor Henderson, the matter was then forwarded to Chief Justice Combs with a recommendation that DeLapp be removed from office. The council director declined further comment but records show that a short while later, Combs moved to oust DeLapp, publicly filing a 20-page petition with the Court of Judiciary, the nine-member tribunal that has the authority to remove judges.

In the petition, the chief justice accused DeLapp of “gross neglect of duty,” “oppression in office” and “complete disregard” for the law. The justice also criticized DeLapp for abusing his judicial power and declared him unfit for office.

In a section titled “Falsified Court Documents and Misrepresentation,” Combs chastised DeLapp for “gross misrepresentation” of the contempt of court document. If DeLapp created the document and pretended it was “newly discovered,” it may have constituted “a grossly intentional misrepresentation to the Oklahoma Supreme Court” – one that could be construed as a felony.

This was not the first time that DeLapp had failed to properly file a contempt of court document, then produced it after the fact, Combs concluded. In the 2015 case of a woman jailed for eating sunflower seeds in court, DeLapp waited more than two years before he “drafted” a required sentencing order. DeLapp filed the missing document “only after” his misuse of contempt powers came to light in 2018 in the Ludlow case, Combs wrote.

Combs detailed more allegations against DeLapp. One involved a father and son who became lost in the hallway of DeLapp’s courthouse. The boy asked DeLapp for directions to another courtroom, and the judge yelled at him, according to witnesses. DeLapp threatened that if the boy couldn’t find his way, “he could sit his ass in jail,” Combs wrote.

And the chief justice cited evidence that DeLapp had inappropriately contacted the county attorney’s office about a deferred prosecution agreement for DeLapp’s son, who was charged with traffic violations.

Rather than fight the misconduct allegations, DeLapp resigned without admitting to any wrongdoing.

Not every state is forgiving of judges facing misconduct charges who opt to resign. California, Texas and a dozen other states have pursued disciplinary cases and impose sanctions even after judges leave the bench.

West Virginia is among them. On average, West Virginia disciplines about four or five judges each year. Often, one or two of these cases involves a judge who resigned during a misconduct investigation, said Teresa Tarr, counsel for the state’s judicial oversight commission.

“It would be very easy for us to dismiss cases if they resign,” Tarr said. “I think the right thing to do is to hold them accountable, because it gives the public the understanding that the judiciary as a whole is not going to tolerate misbehavior. It also lets the other judges know what’s acceptable conduct and what’s not.”

Not so in Oklahoma, where the focus is on protecting the judge, not informing the public. “We want to try to self-police,” said Watt, the former chief justice. Handling matters informally is “the best way to take care of” wayward judges, “and not drag them through the mud.”

Settlement agreements like the one Oklahoma approved for DeLapp do more than permit accused judges to walk away without admitting guilt. When an accused judge leaves the bench, the commission’s investigation into misdeeds ends – even if other wrongdoing is suspected.

Because state judicial investigations are sealed, the public is left to wonder about a judge's culpability. Potential victims of misconduct may go undiscovered. And commission officials are prohibited from discussing cases under penalty of law. That silence can empower an accused judge to declare his or her innocence without citizens ever knowing the facts of the case.

DeLapp resigned to preserve his livelihood, his wife posted on Facebook. “He could’ve fought it, which he wanted too [sic] but did not want to risk losing his retirement, pension, Bar license, etc.,” she wrote.

In one of his last acts as a judge, DeLapp issued a statement in which he praised his judicial accomplishments and said he was leaving the bench with "a heavy heart but clear conscience."

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Special Report: With 'judges judging judges,' rogues on the bench have little to fear

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Wife takes dishwashing job at nursing home to visit husband with Alzheimer's

visBy Peter Aitken

A Florida woman took a dishwashing job at her husband’s nursing home after the coronavirus pandemic kept them apart for 114 days.

Mary Daniel’s husband, Steve, has been living at Rosecastle Assisted Living and Memory Care facility in Jacksonville since he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. 

Mary Daniel and her husband, Steve, reunited after 114 days apart after she took a job at the memory care facility that he lived in. 
Mary Daniel and her husband, Steve, reunited after 114 days apart after she took a job at the memory care facility that he lived in.  (Mary Daniel via Facebook)

Before the pandemic, Mary would visit her husband every night and help him prepare for bed. She couldn’t live with him, but it was what she could do to stay connected to him.

“I put him in a memory care center and everything was going really, really well,” Mary told CBS News. “He was thriving with all the people, and in March, obviously everything changed.”

When the coronavirus spread across the state, Gov. Ron DeSantis banned visitations to nursing homes to protect patients and prevent the spread among a vulnerable population. Mary sent “at least a hundred” messages to DeSantis asking for permission to visit her husband, and appeared on local news to tell her story.


“We tried a window visit,” Mary told First Coast News. She would visit twice a week and stand outside his window. “He just cried. You can’t explain it to him.”

Mary appealed to Rosecastle, offering to bring a therapy dog or volunteer in another way, but the facility wasn’t sure how long the pandemic might last. Then, out of the blue, the corporate office reached out to Mary and offered her a job as a dishwasher.

She finally reunited with her husband on July 3, after nearly four months of separation.

"He was teary-eyed," Mary said. "He touched my face, even with my mask on."

Mary has also created a Facebook group called Caregivers for Compromise - because isolation kills too, urging the governor to reconsider visits under certain circumstances.

"After 114 days, I got to hug my husband today. I also washed a lot of dishes," Mary Daniel wrote on Facebook, according to FOX 12. "Proof where there’s a will there’s a way!"

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Wife takes dishwashing job at nursing home to visit husband with Alzheimer's

Family accuses Warren nursing home of neglect, leaving woman with pneumonia and bed sores

By: Alan Campbell

WARREN (WXYZ) — The family of a young woman is speaking out after they say she was mistreated inside a nursing home leaving her with pneumonia and body sores.

The family says 29-year-old Ebony Butler was treated poorly for several months, even neglecting her well-being, leaving her on a ventilator and fighting for her life.

“She had to leave the hospital on life support, back to the hands of them who put her on a life support,” said Ebony Butler’s aunt Renee Butler.

The family says they want answers after they say Ebony was given poor care and terribly neglected.

“I’m trying to get her rehabilitated so she can come home and take care of her three children and be the productive person that she was,” said Ebony’s mother Chavette Butler.

The family says since February, Ebony has been mistreated, saying she suffered pneumonia, sores and is now on a ventilator after suffering an extreme asthma attack.

“Bed sores from her ear all the way down to her feet," Renee said. "It was so sad. It was so bad that the doctors at the hospital said that they wanted us to find another nursing home."

The family says Ebony was rushed to the hospital on two occasions, but was returned to Autumn Woods because no other place would take her. The family hopes she regains her strength and gets better so she can return home.

“We’re going to take care of her ourselves, but she has to be off the ventilator in order to do so,” Renee said.

Autumn Woods Health Care Facility sent 7 Action News a statement saying in part, “We maintain meticulous notes regarding residents’ care plans, changes in their condition, communication with responsible parties and more. As with all of our residents, she is like family to us and we continue to provide her with the quality care she deserves.”

“I just want my daughter to be taken care of the way that she should be,” Chavette said.

A peaceful protest is planned for Friday at 3 p.m. Organizers says more than 40 people are planning on attending.

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Family accuses Warren nursing home of neglect, leaving woman with pneumonia and bed sores

Moberly nursing home employee charged with financial exploitation

By Erik Cliburn

A Moberly woman is facing multiple felony charges after allegedly stealing money from a Moberly Nursing and Rehabilitation resident while she was working at the facility.

Kristina Sires, 39, is facing two charges each of stealing and financial exploitation of an elderly or disabled person after she allegedly stole $16,000 from a resident of the nursing facility. Sires’ employment status at the nursing home was undetermined Monday afternoon. Administrator Sarah Enyard was unavailable for comment.

Moberly police were contacted by Enyard on Dec. 4 in reference to a potential case of felony stealing involving a nursing home employee. Enyard was contacted by the vice president of Regional Missouri Bank in Moberly about a resident who had made two cash withdrawals, totaling $16,000, from her bank account over the course of two weeks. The resident was allegedly escorted to the bank by Sires during the withdrawals, according to court documents.

The resident told Enyard that she had given the money to Sires to secure in the resident’s safe, which was in her room, according to court documents. Enyard did not find any of the cash after the resident consented to a search of their room.

Enyard confronted Sires about the money. Sires admitted to escorting the resident to the bank, but claimed that she stayed in the back of the bank while business was conducted, documents state.

Sires had told the resident that the money was for a plan to pay her bills in one lump sum, according to court documents. The resident said Sires escorted her to both withdrawals, but could not remember the amount taken out. The resident allegedly gave the money to Sires for safe keeping.

A teller at the bank told police that Sires was with the resident during both withdrawals and that Sires had taken the envelopes containing the cash, documents state. Video surveillance of the bank corroborated that Sires was with the resident at the teller desk and had taken the envelopes.

In an interview with police, Sires said she accompanied the resident to the bank and was standing at the teller desk during both transaction, but she denied stealing the money.

Sires initially was charged Jan. 9, but her case was continued several times. She was arrested Jan. 10 and posted a $20,000 bond. A July 15 arraignment is scheduled for her case.

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Moberly nursing home employee charged with financial exploitation

Saturday, July 11, 2020

OPINION: The Demise of Mary Cobbs Under Conservatorship of Court Appointed Conservator Michelle Tiernan

By Michelle Snider

Mary Cobbs was conserved in the early Spring of 2015.  Mary developed the onset of early dementia leading to concern by her church family at Allen Temple Baptist Church.  An anonymous call was made to APS leading to a conservatorship without seeking relatives or additional family members who resided in the Bay Area.

A temporary conservator James C. Plummer was assigned, removed within six months, Michele Tiernan became conservator, and that’s when mismanagement of Mary Cobbs’ finances and her health/wellness began to decline.

The care Michele Tiernan set up for Mary was subpar and inadequate.

Mary’s nieces learned of her conservatorship and quickly became involved, visiting her at  “Heart & Soul care facility and immediately felt her finances should’ve afforded her better healthcare. Frank Cobbs, Mary’s ex-husband called a niece in 2018 with concerns about her tooth missing that the care facility couldn’t give an answer regarding what happened.  Her nieces noticed visible scars on her forehead upon their visit.  Once questioning began, Mary’s care changed, her health and wellbeing went downhill.  Cousin Carolyn Hewett asked care providers about her disheveled appearance, as Mary was very well kept, an elegant lady. To see her dressed in oversized, soil clothing and too large shoes was shockingly disturbing.  A call to the owner of the care facility went nowhere, blank stares, and no answers.

Mary had an unexpected fall and broke her hip in the Spring of 2019, never recovered, and passed away shortly thereafter.  The conservator did not allow the family to properly memorialize Mary and noted in her documents to the courts that “Mary’s friends were not available.”

Cousin Carolyn disputes Tiernan’s documentation. “I called Tiernan and asked if a memorial service could be held and Tiernan told me “no.”

Mary was a member of Allen Temple for more than 50 years and served for her would have been appropriate.  The family learned of her burial by calling the cemetery, where she’d been placed two days prior to their inquiry.  The family contacted Tiernan making her aware of their concerns. She ignored them.

Mary had enough assets to afford better care and attention she received under Tiernan.  Her million-dollar estate was mismanaged by Tiernan.  She inflated all costs for service, while Mary’s care was unjust and totally disturbing.  Tiernan must be stripped of her duties for not looking out for the wellbeing of Mary, and the Cobbs family demands an investigation into her practices.

Mary’s niece Donna Pinkard has filed a court motion regarding Mary’s estate and distribution of assets. The final accounting is problematic, as lots of charges and fees that should have been questioned, were not.

Mary was a devout Christian who lived and worked in Oakland for most of her life.  She worked hard for everything she had and for a stranger to step in with what appears to be financial gain is not acceptable to family and should not be to the courts.  To take out loans, divert money, inflate service costs, cash-out money outlined in the will for designated beneficiaries is blatant fraud.

Michele, Tiernan has taken advantage of a vulnerable client and must answer and be held accountable for her actions.

Editor’s Note: Attorney Michele Tiernan was contacted by Post writer Tanya Dennis by email and phone to respond to this op-ed article, as was the management of Heart and Soul, who were contacted by phone.  Both parties failed to respond.

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OPINION: The Demise of Mary Cobbs Under Conservatorship of Court Appointed Conservator Michelle Tiernan

Forced Assistance

by Rachel M. Cohen

In the summer of 2018, then-84-year-old Genyte Dirse was removed from her home — a motel she had owned and lived in for decades — and placed in an assisted living facility in St. Petersburg, Florida. This followed a relatively fast and bewildering legal fight between Dirse and a local real estate agent who argued that she wasn’t in her right mind to live independently. Ever since then, her closest living relative in the U.S., her great-nephew Gedi Pakalnis, had fought a losing legal battle to bring her back home.

Pakalnis’s fight to bring Dirse home ramped up this spring, as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the globe. In the United States, residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been particularly vulnerable, with more than 51,000 deaths reported nationally from those institutions so far. In Florida, like elsewhere in the country, the number of Covid-19 deaths at senior living facilities has grown at a much faster rate than the broader population and, by early May, accounted for more than a third of the state’s pandemic fatalities.

In late April, the virus struck Patrick Manor, where Dirse lived. For weeks prior, Pakalnis had been trying to reach his great-aunt’s legal guardian to get information about her health, raising concerns about the fast-spreading disease. After weeks of no news, Pakalnis finally learned that Dirse had been hospitalized with Covid-19 symptoms. Dirse’s guardian told Pakalnis that he could potentially visit her once the pandemic calmed down.

He never got the opportunity. On May 5, Dirse died of Covid-19, alone at St. Anthony’s Hospital. She was not the first Patrick Manor resident to be hospitalized with the coronavirus, and by mid-May, 11 Patrick Manor residents and two staff had tested positive with the disease.

The frequent deaths of elderly people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities has become a horrifying reality throughout the pandemic. But something was also different about Dirse’s death; according to her great-nephew and others who were involved in the guardianship process, she was confined against her will to Patrick Manor, where she faced a greater likelihood of getting sick — despite having family willing and able to take care of her.

For decades, adult guardianship has been a legally thorny issue, with independent watchdogs and journalists repeatedly finding that senior citizens are stripped of their rights and often financially exploited — with little government oversight. The cases often involve complex family drama and disagreements among siblings, but sometimes, as in Dirse’s case, it’s an outsider who gets involved, over the objections of the elderly person’s relatives. A court’s decision to appoint a guardian is usually final, as appeals are costly and complex, and appellate courts are highly deferential to the lower court’s initial findings.

The issue has taken on new relevance amid the pandemic. In a Covid-19 resource compiled by the National Guardianship Association, the American Bar Association, and the National Center for State Courts, advocates acknowledge the pandemic “will make it more difficult” for seniors to exercise the remaining rights they do have.

“In this pandemic we’re going to see abusive guardianships started over Zoom, with the virus facilitating the racket that’s already in place,” warned Dr. Sam Sugar, founder of Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, a national advocacy group. “The difference with Covid-19 is we’re going to see wards dying in nursing homes faster, in weeks, rather than months, and a further decrease of any monitoring.”

Like many legal guardianship cases, the story of how Dirse ended up at Patrick Manor is fraught with allegations of ulterior motives and complex family dynamics. It all started after a local real estate agent accused Pakalnis of exploiting his great-aunt.

Pakalnis, who is 37, is the great-great grandson of Dirse’s maternal grandmother. In the early 1990s, Dirse visited her relatives in Lithuania, where Pakalnis was being raised by his dad. Dirse invited him to come live with her in the U.S. He took her up on the offer in 2003, living with Dirse throughout high school, college, and graduate school. “My aunt has always been like my mother,” he said. “We were a happy family for 15 years, lived together, and loved each other.”

For several decades, Dirse managed her small motel business, Dirse Apartments and Motel. In 2017, in front of witnesses and a notary, she sold one of her three properties to Pakalnis for $50,000. Diana Sames, a local real estate agent who visited Dirse annually to pass out calendars and broach selling her property, was aghast at the transaction, which was for well below market-value.

Sames petitioned a court to appoint a guardian for Dirse, citing the property sale as evidence that she was not in her right mind. Though Sames denied doing so out of self-interest, she did tell local reporters that she “would have no problem” taking a commission from the sale of Dirse’s property if it were listed on the market. As the guardianship case proceeded, tenants said in sworn affidavits they repeatedly heard Dirse tell Sames that she had no intention of listing and had long planned to sell one building to her family. One recalled Dirse mentioning that she was “well prepared for retirement” and would “have more than enough for herself,” even with one less property. Pakalnis meanwhile scrambled to hire attorneys to provide evidence to the court and file complaints with local institutions.

But a few months later, a judge and a panel of professionals declared Dirse “incapacitated” and appointed an adult legal guardian to take over her affairs. The guardian, Traci Samuel, had no prior relationship with Dirse and was proposed to the court by Sames, the petitioner.

Samuel quickly filed a lawsuit to reverse the sale of Dirse’s property and moved Dirse against her will to an assisted living facility, Inspired Living in St. Petersburg. At first, Pakalnis was able to visit her there. After a visit on November 10, 2018, he filed an affidavit with the court saying that his great-aunt looked weaker, less healthy, had complained of untreated leg pain, and told him she wanted to go home. The guardian then barred Pakalnis from seeing Dirse again, claiming that Dirse didn’t want to hear from her great-nephew anymore.

Romualdas Pakalnis, Genyte Dirse, Gedi, and Gedi’s brother Tom Pakalanis in December 2016. Romualdas and Tom were visiting Florida from Lithuania for Christmas.
Photo: Courtesy of Gediminas Pakalnis

Samuel, who later changed her name to Traci Hudson, was soon engulfed in scandal. In November 2019, she was charged with felony exploitation by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and accused of stealing more than $500,000 from a 92-year-old man who she was also caring for. Investigators found that she had transferred nearly all his money to her bank accounts and used the funds to buy NFL tickets, new clothes and jewelry, and even a new house. She did not return requests for comment.

The court appointed a new legal guardian for Dirse in late November: Jean Farnan. In March, at the outset of the pandemic, Pakalnis contacted Farnan through a court filing, requesting information about his aunt’s well-being and said he was concerned “since nursing homes and assisted living facilities are vulnerable to fast-spreading Coronavirus.”

But he got no response. A month later, he learned via Farnan’s attorney, Hamden Baskin, that Dirse had been taken to the hospital. Farnan and Baskin declined to comment for this article.

Pakalnis filed another court petition on April 29 asking for more information about Dirse’s whereabouts and lamented to Farnan that he could have been caring for his great-aunt at home. “My aunt has educated family who never committed any crime and we have healthy environment and people who love her and can take care of her at any time at no cost,” he wrote in a court filing. He begged for his great-aunt to at least receive video and phone calls, stressing that she needed the emotional support.

The next day, Farnan wrote back claiming that she hadn’t received his earlier court correspondence. Attaching a photo of Dirse from January, Farnan wrote that Dirse is a “very pleasant lady” and said, “I am sure she is not feeling that well, and being in the hospital is always stressful.” Farnan ended her email by saying when the Covid-19 situation is under control, she’d like to allow Dirse to see whoever she wants.

Pakalnis wrote back on May 1, urging again for the opportunity to talk with his great-aunt on the phone and reiterating that Dirse could stay with him. “[P]lease remember that she has her home near the beach in ecological environment with her family that misses her,” he wrote. “[Not] being able to hear and see her for many months is unhealthy for both of us.”

Four days later, Baskin filed a brief asking the court to deny Pakalnis’s emergency petitions and prohibit any further communication from him. Dirse died later that day. Diana Sames, the realtor who started this whole process, defended her decision to petition for guardianship for Dirse. “She’s in heaven now. Why is there so much drama around this poor lady?” she asked The Intercept. “I don’t need to make money; I own my car, own my home, I have my own conscience.”

Adult legal guardianship is a process that has existed in the United States since colonial times, imported from a 14th century English legal principle known as parens patriae. The idea entails giving full rights and obligations to the state if an adult is deemed too vulnerable or “incapacitated” to care for themselves. A judge can appoint a guardian — often it’s a family member, sometimes it’s a third-party professional like Traci Hudson or Jean Farnan — and they have full legal authority to manage the individual’s health care decisions, their financial assets, or both. Many people can petition a court for guardianship if they believe an elderly person needs it: relatives, hospitals, government agencies, and even acquaintances like the realtor Diana Sames.

Adult legal guardianship varies by state, even sometimes county by county. However, in most places anyone 18 or older can nominate themselves to be a guardian, and few states require any sort of registration or licensing for the role. No good data even exists on how many seniors are currently living under guardianship. The National Center for State Courts estimated that based on the average of active pending cases in four states in 2008, there were 1.3 million cases nationwide, in control of roughly $50 billion in assets. This could be a low estimate, and as baby boomers get older, experts anticipate the numbers to rise considerably.

Though guardianship can at times be beneficial for the elderly, particularly if they really are at risk of being swindled or do need assistance, a growing movement over the last few decades has raised staggering examples of how mentally sound seniors lose their rights through this process, becoming totally isolated and forced to live in ways wholly contrary to how they want. In the worst cases, it’s the guardians themselves who exploit the senior, draining their assets, cutting off contact with friends and family, and confining them to expensive facilities when they just want to remain in their homes. Seniors have described the experience as living a “civil death” or being a “legal ghost.”

Patrick Manor, the assisted living facility where Genyte Dirse resided, sits in St. Petersburg, Fla., on June 6, 2020.
Photo: Tailyr Irvine for The Intercept
How widespread guardian abuse is remains unclear, but following a yearlong investigation, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging said in a 2018 report that they “identified persistent and widespread challenges that require a nationwide focus” to ensure  that guardianship “works on behalf of the individuals it is intended to protect.” The committee acknowledged that in some cases, “more rights than necessary” may be taken from an individual and that with such minimal oversight “once a guardianship is imposed, there are few safeguards in place to protect against individuals who choose to abuse the system.”

Issues around guardianship have existed for decades, and efforts at reform really took off in 1987, following a six-part Associated Press exposé. The investigative series prompted a flurry of new state legislation and the formation of the National Guardianship Association to establish new standards.

Yet despite modest improvements, lasting and widespread change remains elusive, and media reports detailing guardian abuse have continued to emerge. The U.S. Government Accountability Office looked at guardianship in 2004, 2010, 2011, and 2016, each time identifying major issues and a lack of clear information to guide policy. In its 2010 report, the GAO “identified hundreds of allegations of physical abuse, neglect and financial exploitation by guardians in 45 states and the District of Columbia” since 1990.  (Click to Continue)

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Forced Assistance

See Also:
Hotel owner placed in guardianship by St. Pete Beach realtor dies from COVID-19

Realtor seeks court-ordered guardianship to take away rights of elderly beach hotel owner

Court Upholds Guardianship After Long Contest

On March 18, 2020, the New York Appellate Division, Second Department affirmed the decision upholding the proposed guardian selected by Korsinsky and Klein, LLP in a highly contested guardianship proceeding brought on behalf of its client. In addition, the appellate court affirmed the decision by the lower court that revoked the health care proxy and power of attorney of a sibling. In the Matter of Rachel Z., the Court found that the appointment of a guardian was necessary and found that the agent under the previously signed Health Care Proxy and Power of Attorney “was not a sufficient and reliable available resources to protect Rachel’s interests,” and that the appellant was not acting in Rachel’s best interest. You can read a copy of the decisions on our website by visiting https://www.kklawfirm.com/press/contested-guardianship-appeal/

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Court Upholds Guardianship After Long Contest