The plan had always been for Julia Rodriguez to care for her elderly mother-in-law in her Miami home.
But in her 74th year, just as Gladys Horta began to slip into dementia, fate intervened and forced the family to do what they vowed not to: put Abuela in an assisted-living facility.
The youngest member of the family -- 20-year-old Juliette -- was diagnosed with a rare, disabling neurological disorder. The burden of tending to both women was too great for family members, who faced a decision that thousands of Floridians confront each year: finding someone else to keep Abuela safe.
It was a decision that cost Gladys Horta her life and prompted a criminal investigation that led to the rare arrest of an ALF owner.
On a friend’s recommendation, the family looked at The Gardens of Kendall, an assisted-living facility within walking distance of the dozens of shops at Dadeland Mall. Owner Mayra Del Olmo said Horta would have her own room, eat well and be treated like a member of the family.
Horta’s stay would be far shorter than the family imagined.
[Mother's Day]morning, the phone rang. It was Del Olmo. Abuelita had fallen in the shower and had “a little bruise,” the family said they were told. Del Olmo suggested cancelling dinner because Horta wasn’t feeling well.
The family decided to go ahead with the Mother’s Day outing anyway. When they arrived at the home, Julia poked her head into Horta’s darkened bedroom and made a joke: “I heard you were causing trouble,” she quipped.
But they said they quickly realized something was wrong. The room smelled of urine. Horta was curled up in bed, her skin white, cold and damp, with food dribbling from her mouth. Her leg was swollen and bruised.
“Her left leg was black, and her right leg was beginning to look the same way," [grandaughter] Julia said.
As Julia reached over to wipe the ailing woman’s mouth, Horta pleaded, “Get me out of here!"
The family called for an ambulance.
At South Miami Hospital, they learned Horta’s injuries had nothing to do with a fall in the shower. According to the vascular surgeon, Steven Kang, the woman’s legs had been restrained “for a prolonged period of time," causing her to develop a blood clot, which was blocking her femoral artery.
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The Rare Arrest of An Assisted Living Facility Owner