Saturday, January 18, 2020

Doctor known as 'king of nursing homes' convicted in kickback scheme

The Sacred Heart Hospital building at 3240 W. Franklin Blvd. in Chicago remains vacant on July 27, 2015. (Zbigniew Bzdak, Chicago Tribune)
A federal jury on Friday convicted a doctor known as the "king of nursing homes" for routinely referring elderly patients to a financially struggling hospital on Chicago's West Side as part of a kickback scheme.

Dr. Venkateswara Kuchipudi became the fifth physician and 10th defendant overall to be convicted for taking part in the massive Medicare and Medicaid fraud scheme at the now-shuttered Sacred Heart Hospital for 12 years. Doctors referred patients to the hospital in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks disguised as office rent, teaching fees and other bogus payments, prosecutors charged.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly, who presided over the five-week trial, set sentencing for June 2 for Kuchipudi, 69, of Oak Brook.

Jurors deliberated a day and a half before finding Kuchipudi guilty on one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and nine counts of illegally soliciting or receiving benefits in return for referrals of patients covered under a federal health care program, said Joseph Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago.

The scheme kept patients coming to the hospital despite its location in a high-crime neighborhood as well as its limited emergency services, skeleton staff on nights and weekends, and lack of access at those hours to routine procedures such as X-rays or lab work, prosecutors said.

Federal agents raided the hospital in April 2013 amid bombshell allegations that doctors were performing medically unnecessary and sometimes risky procedures such as tracheotomies as well as giving heavy sedation to patients in a process called "snowing." At least five deaths at the hospital had been under scrutiny at one time, authorities said. But the indictment ultimately made no allegations of patient deaths or oversedation.

Prosecutors instead focused on kickbacks they alleged were paid out on nearly every level to fill empty beds.

Sacred Heart administrators referred to Kuchipudi as the "king of nursing homes" for his alleged prowess in bringing elderly patients to the hospital. He routinely had patients taken to Sacred Heart from as far as 25 miles away, often bypassing hospitals that offered better care, prosecutors alleged.

Prosecutors alleged Kuchipudi knew many of his patients had dementia or other mental health problems, but had no real reason to be admitted to the hospital. But his order for direct admission meant they were able to bypass the evaluation of emergency room doctors and be admitted at least overnight, allowing him to bill Medicare at a higher rate, they said.

Prosecutors alleged Kuchipudi had been aware of problems at the hospital for years. For example, in fall 2009, shortly after Kuchipudi obtained privileges at Sacred Heart, the hospital had a fly infestation, prosecutors said.

Full Article & Source:
Doctor known as 'king of nursing homes' convicted in kickback scheme

New State Law Establishes Protections from Financial Exploitation for Vulnerable Adults


New State Law Establishes Protections from Financial Exploitation for Vulnerable Adults
Credits: File Photo

TRENTON, NJ – With the goal of preventing the financial exploitation of elderly New Jersey residents, legislation to increase protections for adults at risk of falling victim to financial crimes was signed into law Monday by Governor Phil Murphy.

“Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for senior citizens to be taken advantage of by people seeking to take their money, property, assets or identities,” said John McKeon (D-Essex, Morris). “These crimes often go unreported and untracked. The good news is financial exploitation can be prevented with the right protections in place.”

The law (formerly bill A-5091) provides that when a qualified individual believes the financial exploitation of an eligible adult has occurred or been attempted, they must notify the Bureau of Securities in the Division of Consumer Affairs in the Department of Law and Public Safety and the applicable county adult protective services provider. A “qualified individual” is defined under the law as any agent, investment adviser representative or other person who serves in a supervisory, compliance, or legal capacity for a broker-dealer or investment adviser.

Additionally, the qualified individual must notify any third party previously designated by the eligible adult, unless the third party is the party suspected of the financial exploitation.  The qualified individual who makes disclosure in good faith would be immune from administrative, civil or criminal liability.

An eligible adult is defined as a person 65 years of age or older or a person subject to the “Adult Protective Services Act.”

“Elderly people are often the target of scammers aiming to trick them into giving them money or divulging information, from telemarketing calls to solicitation for fake charities or causes,” said Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “In fact, one in 20 older adults has indicated some form of perceived financial mistreatment, according to the National Adult Protective Services Association. Our senior citizens deserve far better. The protections outlined in this law will help keep older adults safe from financial exploitation and bring perpetrators to justice.”

“It’s heartbreaking to think that scam artists are ready and willing to solicit money from senior citizens, simply because they are vulnerable,” said Nancy Pinkin (D-Middlesex). “No one deserves to fall victim to these crimes, especially our seniors. This law takes an integral step to safeguard the elderly from financial exploitation.”

The law also provides that a broker-dealer or investment adviser may delay a disbursement from an eligible adult’s account if it may result in financial exploitation. In such cases, a broker-dealer or investment advisor is immune from any administrative or civil liability.

Additionally, the broker-dealer or investment adviser is required to provide access to or copies of records that are relevant to the suspected or attempted financial exploitation of an eligible adult to agencies charged with administering state adult protective services laws and to law enforcement.  The statute provides that those records shall not be deemed public.

In December, the law passed the full Assembly 77-0, and the Senate 38-0.

Full Article & Source:
New State Law Establishes Protections from Financial Exploitation for Vulnerable Adults

Woman arrested in Thomas Co. elderly exploitation case

Resea Ray (Source: Thomas County Sheriff's Office)

THOMASVILLE, Ga. (WALB) - A caretaker was arrested after exploiting an elderly couple out of thousands of dollars, according to the Thomas County Sheriff’s Office.

Resea Ray was arrested Tuesday on two counts of exploitation of the elderly and three counts of felony theft by taking.

An investigation found that over several months, approximately $30,000 was taken from the couple.

The sheriff’s office said Ray was entrusted in caring for the couple.

Full Article & Source:
Woman arrested in Thomas Co. elderly exploitation case

Friday, January 17, 2020

Daughters claim widow of Henry Ford II is being abused by longtime companion

Kate Ford, right, and Frank Chopin
 at the Susan G. Komen Perfect Pink
 Party at Mar-a-Lago in 2015.
(Photo: Meghan McCarthy, Palm Beach Post)
PALM BEACH — During the Christmas holidays, two giant inflatable nutcracker soldiers flanked the entrance to Kathleen DuRoss Ford’s sunshine-hued estate along the Intracoastal Waterway.

But the whimsical decorations, along with a towering Christmas tree and a life-sized Nativity scene, belied the ugly battle being waged for control of not just the sprawling $44 million mansion but of Ford herself.

In a court fight that those involved say could have been plucked from the pages of a British tabloid, Ford’s daughters claim their mother’s longtime companion is abusing the 79-year-old widow of automobile tycoon Henry Ford II.

Having survived a double lung transplant only to be stricken by spinal ailments that left her incontinent and in a wheelchair, the once feisty former model is powerless to combat the physical and emotional cruelty heaped on her by attorney Frank Chopin, her daughters claim in the lawsuit raging in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.

While lawsuits to protect the frail and elderly are typically settled quickly, this one has dragged on for more than a year with no end in sight.

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Scott Suskauer has ruled that Ford is no longer capable of making decisions about her own life or controlling her hundreds of millions in holdings. But, he has yet to rule on the salacious allegations of abuse and financial exploitation or decide who should care for Ford in her final years.

To Ford’s daughters from her first marriage, the decision is clear-cut.

“He just treats her horribly. Disrespectfully. Condescending. Yelling. Physically abusive,” her eldest daughter, Deborah DuRoss Guibord said in court records, explaining why the 77-year-old Chopin should be stripped of his legal hold on her mother.

To shore up her claims, Guibord has enlisted the help of her mother’s sizable team of caretakers.

Chopin screams at Ford, according to testimony from roughly a half-dozen nurses, housekeepers and personal assistants who have attended her. He tilts black back her head, shoves the dozens of pills she takes each day in her mouth and then pours water down her throat, sometimes causing her to choke, they said.

At night, he forbids nurses from touching her, even to turn her or change her wet clothes to prevent her from getting life threatening bed sores, they testified. He removed the phone from her bedroom, and if friends or family call, he tells the staff not to give her the messages. He controls what she eats, what she wears and where she goes, they said.

“He doesn’t treat her with respect, with dignity,” testified Vicky Carrion, who worked as a housekeeper for Ford for about six years before Chopin fired her in March 2018. “I felt that somebody that’s in her last days of their life should be loved and live with dignity and respect. She has none of that there.”

“When you’re giving care, and hands-on care, when you see certain things, you know, that don’t feel right, it’s not acceptable,” registered nurse Denise Gordon said, explaining why she left her year-long job as Ford’s night caregiver in 2018. “Whether it be turning her every couple of hours, changing her, there were just some absurd things that were just not right.”

Chopin, who became Ford’s adviser, confidante, travel companion and eventually her live-in partner in the decades since her fabulously wealthy husband died in 1987, vehemently denies the allegations. He has summoned high-powered medical experts and respected Palm Beach residents to convince Suskauer that the claims are pure fiction.

That Ford has survived more than a dozen years since undergoing a double-lung transplant in 2006 is a testament to the care she has received, testified Dr. Joshua Multack, an intensivist who treated Ford in October 2018 when she was rushed to Good Samaritan Medical Center because she couldn’t breathe. Only about half of lung transplant patients live beyond five years.

Dr. Charles Pu, an internist who specializes in geriatric medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, described Ford’s care as top-notch.

“I will say it is probably in the top 0.1 percent of what I typically see,” said Pu, who has treated Ford at the Harvard-affiliated medical center since 2017. “I would say very few people, very few families can, you know, have this type of care ... You don’t see it very often.”

During the deposition, Pu said he had examined Ford 30 times and never saw any evidence of abuse.

Those who have watched Chopin over the years said his devotion to Ford is extraordinary.

“All of her friends talked about how incredible Frank has been,” testified former Palm Beach Mayor Lesly Smith, who has been friends with Ford since the 1970s when she began dating the automobile tycoon. “If it wasn’t for Frank, Kate would be dead. He’s taken such good care of her.”

Architect Jeffrey Smith, who helped design and renovate Ford’s homes in Palm Beach and England and has vacationed with the couple, made similar comments during a deposition.

 “I don’t think Kate would be alive if it wasn’t for Frank,” said Smith, who isn’t related to the one-time mayor. “He’s dedicated his life to Mrs. Ford. I mean, all my friends — all the men talk like we could not do that for our wives. How can he do that? We all say, ‘No, we couldn’t be that dedicated like he’s done.’”

Attorneys who represent Chopin claim that the legal battle is nothing more than a cash grab by Ford’s spoiled and greedy daughters. They want to get their hands on Ford’s house and the millions she inherited from her late husband.

Full Article & Source:
Daughters claim widow of Henry Ford II is being abused by longtime companion

Blogger Agrees Not to Disparate Singer’s Conservatorship, Reps

Britney Spears’ father and the founder of the Absolute Britney blog reached a settlement in a suit in which the blogger agreed not to disparage the singer’s conservatorship or its representatives, court records obtained Friday show.

Spears, 38, has been under a conservatorship since 2008, when she exhibited bizarre behavior, including shaving her head. The singer underwent treatment for undisclosed mental health issues last spring at a Los Angeles facility.

Her father, Jamie, served as one of her conservators until last September, when her care manager, Jodi Montgomery, was appointed to the role. Jamie Spears sued the blogger, Anthony Steven, on June 26 last year.

A judgment was signed Dec. 20 by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark Mooney in favor of Jamie Spears and against Steven, enjoining the latter from “republishing, distributing or otherwise disseminating” in the social media or making statements alleging that the conservatorship is harming Britney Spears. He also is barred from making disparaging remarks about the conservators.

Steven also was ordered not to utter or authorize third parties to make any statements “alleging or insinuating that the conservatorship or people at the conservators’ direction are deleting positive posts on social media and keeping negative posts up on social media so as to create a negative portrayal of Britney.”

In his suit, Jamie Spears lashed out at Stevens.

“It is time for the conspiracy theories about Britney Spears’ well-being and the mob #FreeBritney movement to stop,” his court papers stated.

The singer and her father have sat by while some fans have accused them of “false and malicious things,” including attempts to mislead the public with the content that appears on her social media, according to the suit.

The complaint alleged that Steven had “made it his mission to spread numerous false and malicious lies on the Internet about Britney, her conservatorship and her team” and “made it his agenda to ensure that Britney is no longer in a conservatorship.”

Steven had alleged that members of Spears’ “team” were manipulating comments on her Instagram page to “keep up the illusion she needs help,” according to the suit.

Full Article & Source:
Blogger Agrees Not to Disparate Singer’s Conservatorship, Reps

Warrant: Marion in-home nursing aid struck ‘vulnerable adult’ with belt

Odette Akers (Source: Marion County Detention Center)
MARION COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) – A Marion County in-home nursing aid was arrested this week for allegedly abusing a patient, according to a report.

Online records from the Marion County Detention Center state 43-year-old Odette Akers was charged with abuse of a vulnerable adult. She was released on Jan. 8.

According to a warrant and report from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Akers is accused of striking a patient with autism with a belt.

Authorities said the alleged abuse happened on Oct. 13, 2019.

Full Article & Source:
Warrant: Marion in-home nursing aid struck ‘vulnerable adult’ with belt

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Justina Pelletier's Family And Boston Children's Hospital Are Heading To Court

Justina Pelletier, seated, speaks to media alongside the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, left, and her mother Linda Pelletier on Thursday outside the State House in Boston. The Pelletiers filed a lawsuit against Children's Hospital in Boston over a medically-related custody dispute. (Bob Salsberg/AP)

A lawsuit filed by the family of a Connecticut teen who was placed into state custody after a dispute over her diagnosis and put in psychiatric unit is scheduled to start Tuesday.

The suit was brought by the parents of Justina Pelletier against Boston Children's Hospital and those who treated their daughter, The Boston Globe reported Monday.

"Justina has suffered severe and debilitating psychiatric trauma as a result of being held against her will in a locked psychiatric ward, isolated from her friends and families, and enduring several months of treatment in which her physical symptoms and disease were denied by her primary caregivers," according to the suit, which will be heard in Suffolk Superior Court.

The family is seeking unspecified damages.

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Pelletier was 14 in 2013 when she was placed in state custody in Massachusetts.

She had been diagnosed at Tufts Medical Center with mitochondrial disease, a disorder that affects cellular energy production. But Boston Children's diagnosed her problems as psychiatric.

When her parents rejected that diagnosis and tried to take her back to Tufts, allegations of medical child abuse were raised, and the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families took custody of her.

She eventually was returned to the care of her parents in 2014 after a judge's order.

The case drew national media attention and ignited a debate over parental rights.

The Pelletiers did not return calls about the lawsuit, and their lawyers declined to comment.

Children's said Justina Pelletier received "high-quality, compassionate care."

"We will vigorously defend the care our clinicians provided and unequivocally refute the allegations that are being made against them," the hospital said in a statement to the newspaper.

 Full Article & Source:
Justina Pelletier's Family And Boston Children's Hospital Are Heading To Court

Former bank manager sentenced to prison for stealing half-million dollars from elderly clients

By Clarence Williams

A former bank manager at an Alexandria Wells Fargo branch was sentenced to 33 months in prison for stealing more than a half-million dollars from elderly clients, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

The sentencing followed a September guilty plea by Fetehi Mohammed, who admitted to ingratiating himself with elderly customers and persuading them to sign blank withdrawal slips, according to court filings. He then lied to bank tellers, telling them he was obtaining cashier’s checks for the account holders, the filings state.

He had those checks made payable to Navy Federal Credit Union, where he and his wife had opened a personal account in 2014, according to court filings.

Authorities charged him Aug. 30 in Washington and said the scheme began in February 2017.

Mohammed worked as a manager since 2015 at the bank branch near the intersection of Quaker Lane and King Street, where he started as a teller about 10 years earlier and later became a personal banker.

He targeted customers who had enough money that his unauthorized withdrawals would not attract notice and used the customers’ personal identification information, such as driver’s license numbers, kept in bank records, according to the filings.

Court papers did not explain what Mohammed, who has lived in the District and Northern Virginia, used the money for but said he spent or used virtually all of it.

In addition to the prison sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Ellen S. Huvelle ordered three years of supervised release and that he pay the bank $509,864.95 in restitution and $38,779.01 as a forfeiture money judgment.

Full Article & Source:
Former bank manager sentenced to prison for stealing half-million dollars from elderly clients

Nursing home cited after maggots found on 89-year-old woman's wound

Mary Ellen Sharp with her daughter, Tarynn Willson, left, and granddaughter Krysten Schmidt as she celebrates her 90th birthday at Schmidt's house in Batavia on Jan. 11. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)
By Lou Michel

When Krysten Schmidt visited her 89-year-old grandmother at a Batavia nursing home, an aide pulled her aside to say there were maggots on her grandmother’s foot.

Schmidt started to cry and wondered if maybe she misheard the aide.

She hadn’t.

Staff at Premier Genesee Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation later described the Sept. 25 incident to a state Health Department investigator in graphic terms. On Mary Ellen Sharp’s left foot, there was “something wiggling between her toes,” a nurse's aide told investigators.

The state cited Premier Genesee for violations related to the maggots but did not fine the nursing home.

Schmidt said that if it hadn’t been for the aide, she might never have known that maggots – fly larva that look like small worms were infesting her grandmother’s leg wounds at Premier Genesee not only that day but also four days earlier.

Two nurses who responded to Schmidt’s demands for an explanation downplayed the maggots, the granddaughter said.

“My mother had just arrived for the visit and took off the shoe and sock and three or four maggots fell to the floor,” Schmidt said. "They proceeded to tell me the maggots were in her shoe and not her sock. I mean, does it really matter? Are maggots supposed to be anywhere? They were trying to downplay it.”

Later that same day, Schmidt said, she filed a complaint with the state Health Department, which initiated an investigation in early October.

An inadequate pest control program to prevent flies from entering and spreading maggots at the 160-bed nursing home was cited by the Health Department as the culprit.

The investigation found flies in residents’ rooms, a third-floor dining room, the main kitchen and elsewhere. Doors to the outside were ajar or too small, creating spaces for flies to enter. Screens were improperly installed, allowing for gaps, and bug light traps were not plugged into outlets.

The state cited other problems:

• An unsanitary situation occurred when a wound doctor, after treating one of Sharp’s wounds, failed to place a dressing on it. For hours, the wound was openly exposed, making it a target for flies.
• Officials at the nursing home failed to comply with a federal regulation requiring they immediately notify a physician and relatives when there has been a change in a resident’s condition.
• Breakdowns in communication among employees, ranging from the nursing staff to maintenance workers.

"What happened is inexcusable and horrifying," said Lindsay Heckler, supervising attorney at the Center for Elder Law and Justice in Buffalo. "Had staff followed basic standards of care and timely notified the physician, maggots would not have infested the resident’s leg for additional multiple days. Maggots should not have infested her leg on Sept. 21, and the resident should not have been left to suffer from further infestation."

Mary Ellen Sharp's left leg is still bandaged because the wounds have not yet healed. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Heckler and two other advocates said it is rare for a nursing home in New York to be cited for maggots found on a resident.

Richard J. Mollot, executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition, a national nursing home watchdog organization, suggested New York should have levied a substantial fine against Premier Genesee.

"Needless to say, a maggot infestation on a nursing home resident’s body is a very disturbing violation of minimum care standards. Sadly, this nursing home has a long history of these types of violations, which raises serious questions about what is being done to truly hold it accountable for substandard care and resident harm. In the absence of meaningful fines or penalties, there is little to stop a facility from relapsing, putting current and future residents at risk," Mollot said.

Health Department spokesman Jeffrey Hammond said the state has fined Premier Genesee $12,000 since 2017 for other violations, but it imposed no fine for the maggots.

“While no fines were issued for the deficiencies cited in this instance, the facility was required to implement a plan of correction to ensure that this type of incident does not occur in the future," he said.

Premier Genesee has taken a number of steps to improve conditions at the facility since it was cited. They include making sure screens remain properly fitted in windows and eliminating gaps in doors to block flies from entering, making sure bug light traps are plugged in and that monthly recommendations for repairs from a pest control company are promptly addressed.

Premier Genesee Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Batavia. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

In addition, a new guideline and training on how the nursing staff can reach nursing supervisors has been put in place. Nurses and nurse supervisors have also been re-educated on the policy for notifications to physicians and relatives when there is a change in a resident’s condition.

In 2015, Genesee County legislators approved selling the nursing home for $15.2 million to Premier Healthcare, a for-profit Long Island company that owns nursing homes in New York and Pennsylvania.

The federal government rates the nursing home at an overall two stars, below average.

Sharp’s family moved her to another Batavia nursing home on Oct. 3 and on Dec. 19 filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court against Premier Genesee.

“You don’t really think it could be true or it could ever happen," Schmidt said of the maggots. "How would anyone feel having that happen to a loved one?”

Lisa Sofia, the chief executive officer of Premier Genesee, declined to comment on what happened to Sharp because of the pending lawsuit.

Discovery of maggots

Sharp, now 90, lacks mobility and has mild dementia, which was why her family placed her in the nursing home in June 2014 when the facility was known as the Genesee County Nursing Home.

A retired homemaker and grandmother, Sharp had lived in Erie County's Southtowns most of her life and served as a volunteer bringing library books to an East Aurora nursing home. About 20 years ago, she moved to Attica to be closer to her only child, Tarynn Willson, who is Schmidt’s mother.

Four days before Schmidt’s visit to see her grandmother, on Sept. 21, maggots were discovered in wounds on Sharp’s lower left leg, according to the Health Department investigation.

The wounds were caused by ruptured blisters from cellulitis bacterial infections. A licensed practical nurse hired through a staffing agency was changing old dressings on the wounds when the nurse “observed five – six maggots” on the wounds, flushed them down the toilet, completed treatment of the wounds and unsuccessfully attempted to alert the facility’s nursing supervisor of the situation, according to the Health Department investigation.

An additional two days passed before a wound specialist provided hands-on treatment. Even then, there was a mistake, the state determined.

The doctor told investigators that after removing dead tissue from Sharp's wounds, he did not have time to apply a new dressing and expected a nurse would complete the task. Instead, the wound was left uncovered for “five to nine hours,” allowing “enough time for a fly to have laid eggs on the resident’s leg causing the maggots,” the investigation stated.

Schmidt says the doctor should have taken the initiative and applied a fresh dressing.

“If a doctor comes in and debrides the wound, why can’t he spend a few moments and dress it for infection control?” said Schmidt, who is a nurse practitioner herself.

The facility’s director of nursing, in a statement to the Health Department investigator, said the time period of exposure was “unacceptable and provided ample time for a fly to lay eggs causing the maggots on Resident 1’s leg.”



Sharp’s medical file

Schmidt said that her training as a nurse practitioner and the behavior of the staff during her Sept. 25 visit raised her suspicions that there was more to the story.

“The director of nursing came to my grandmother’s room about 20 minutes later and acts like this is brand-new to her. They are trying to figure out what to do. They are saying, ‘We’re going to get housekeeping up here. We’re going to get the wound doctor. We’re going to put grandma in the shower and disinfect the room.' At the same time, there’s a roommate present with a family member. It was chaotic," Schmidt said.

“But I knew the maggots couldn’t have just happened that day,” she said.

On Sept. 26, Schmidt tried calling the director of nursing but was informed the director was out of the office. “I then asked to speak with the nursing home administrator. We spoke briefly on the phone and I felt she was disregarding the situation,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said she returned to the nursing home after work later that day and received her grandmother’s written permission to review her medical chart.

“That’s when I found out that this started on Sept. 21,” Schmidt said of the maggots, adding that she went to nursing home administrator Carole Francis’ office. “I had to wait 30 minutes, and in that time my mother arrived.”

Schmidt said the administrator refused to answer any questions during a five-minute meeting.

Sofia, the nursing home CEO, said that no staff members, including Francis, are allowed to speak to The News.

A scapegoat?

In the state investigation report, the director of nursing told an investigator that the licensed practical nurse who initially discovered the maggots has been banned from working at the facility “for lack of nursing supervision notification.”

The licensed practical nurse, however, told the investigator she not only recorded the incident in Sharp’s file, but also informed a registered nurse and tried “many times” to alert the nursing supervisor by phone, pages and texts, but could not reach her. The nursing supervisor told the investigator that her phone was not working that day, but that she had told personnel at different nursing stations she could be reached by page or text.

Schmidt and attorney Dean P. Smith, who represents Sharp in the lawsuit, say they believe the facility’s decision not to rehire the licensed practical nurse amounts to making her a scapegoat.

“The whole event when you look at the details of the state’s investigation is as nauseating as it is shocking to the conscience,” Smith said. “The excuses are absurd."

[Read the lawsuit against Premier Genesee]

Full Article & Source:
Nursing home cited after maggots found on 89-year-old woman's wound

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

91-year-old LI woman mouths ‘I want to live’ on video amid legal battle

By Israel Salas-Rodriguez and Laura Italiano

She can only mouth words and nod her head, but a bed-bound, 91-year-old Long Island woman has made herself clear — she does not want to be taken off the machines that keep her alive.

At least that’s according to her eldest son, who is set to face off against his brother in Nassau County court Monday, arguing he wants to keep their mother on a ventilator and feeding tube, while his sibling hopes to pull the plug.

“The bottom line is, my brother wants to kill her, and I want her alive,” Edward Lester, 62, told The Post last week from mom Arline Lester’s room at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan.

As part of the heartbreaking legal tug of war, Edward submitted video he says was taken in November showing their mother even mouthing the words, “I want to live.’’

Arline, who taught math for 25 years at PS 125 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, has been physically incapacitated since suffering a string of circulation and breathing problems over the past 11 months, Edward said.

His brother, Kyle, 58, a lawyer and CPA from Dix Hills, has asked a judge in Nassau County Supreme Court to declare him her sole guardian, acknowledging that he hopes to take her off life support — but maintaining this is what their mother would want.

In court papers, Kyle accuses Edward of keeping their mom alive against her will so he can stay in her Long Beach home and “plunder” her assets, including the total $5,400 she collects every month from Social Security and her public-school pension.

“Sadly, it appears that Edward Lester is keeping [the mother] alive so that he can continue to wrongfully take her Social Security, Pension and monies she has in the bank,” the younger brother alleges in a Dec. 3 filing.

Kyle has requested that the hospital take his mother off life support in accordance with a 1999 living will, in which she’d asked not to be kept alive by machines if she ever became seriously ill, documents show.

“It is respectfully requested that the hospital abide by Ms. Lester’s wishes and cease all treatments which only serve to prolong her dying,” Kyle’s lawyers said in a Nov. 12 letter to Mount Sinai, which is part of the court case.

But Edward’s lawyer, Jonathan Rosenberg, told The Post, “They want her dead, regardless of what her own wishes are.”

Edward contends in court papers that his mother has clearly changed her mind since 1999. He also denies he has a financial stake in keeping his mother alive.

In fact, should her health improve enough that she can be moved from the hospital into a nursing home, as he hopes, her income and estate — and therefore both sons’ inheritance, worth approximately a quarter million dollars to each of them — will soon be gobbled up by nursing-home costs, Edward argues.

Arline Lester
He contends that he gave up his career in Denver as a mortgage and real-estate broker to come back East and care for her.

In his mother’s “I want to live” video, filmed Nov. 7 from her hospital bed, Edward asks Arline, “You have no leg, right?” referring to a recent amputation of her left leg due to circulatory problems. She nods yes.

“You understand that?” he asks.

Again, she nods yes.

“You have a feeding tube in you, you understand that, right? You have a tracheotomy, you have the thing breathing for you?” Edward asks his mom.

His mother nods yes each time.

Edward then urges her to mouth the words, “I want to stay alive,’’ just to be absolutely clear. She does.

“With everything wrong with you, do you still want to stay alive?” he asks again, gently.

Yes, she nods.

Six days after the video was taped, on Nov. 13, Lester executed a living will, in the presence of an elder-law lawyer, that states, “I wish to be treated aggressively for all conditions” and directs doctors “to continue to prolong my life as long as possible within the limits of generally acceptable health care standards.”

On Nov. 15, “The hospital staff conducted a competency hearing” administered by a psychiatrist, and “she was determined to be competent,” Edward’s court papers assert.

Kyle Lester declined comment to The Post on Sunday.

Edward insists that there’s still a chance their mother’s health will improve.

Two weeks ago, a resident doctor at Mount Sinai, Dr. Varun Devaraj, told Edward that his mother “will squeeze his fingers when told, and shake her head yes or no to respond to questions,” his court papers say.

Devaraj “states that her actual prognosis is good and he is not discounting her ‘eventual improvement,” the papers say, including the possibility she could be weaned off the breathing machine, as she has been twice before.

“I’m not giving up,” Edward said.

“I know there’s no happy ending to this story, I know what time it is,” the son said. “But I think as a matter of fairness, this woman is a tough woman from Brooklyn, and everybody deserves to live their life out.”

Full Article & Source:
91-year-old LI woman mouths ‘I want to live’ on video amid legal battle

AG asks court to set hearing date for Limestone County judge indicted on theft, elderly exploitation charges

LIMESTONE COUNTY, Ala. -- The Alabama Attorney General's Office filed a motion asking the Limestone County Circuit Court to set an arraignment date for a judge who was indicted last month on multiple charges.

Limestone County District Court Judge Douglas Patterson was indicted Dec. 11 on charges of third-degree theft, financial exploitation of the elderly and using his position for personal gain.

According to the motion, the prosecution attempted pre-arraignment negotiations, but the effort was unsuccessful. Prosecutors said there is no reason to delay Patterson's arraignment to discuss a scheduling order.

The motion asks that a trial date be set for two reasons -- to notify the public if Patterson indeed abused his position or not and because he continues to get paid. State records show that as a district court judge, Patterson is being paid $5,400 every two weeks.

For fiscal 2019, that's a total of nearly $126,000. So far, in the fiscal year that began in October, while Patterson has not been on the bench, he's been paid at least $32,000.

Alabama has a process to investigate -- and if necessary -- remove a judge who violates judicial rules. The Judicial Inquiry Commission review process requires a formal complaint be filed -- which is not a public record residents can look at. After that, the commission would review if a judge has violated the judicial canons.  But, even during that process, up to and until a ruling from the Alabama Court of the Judiciary proceeding, the judge would still be eligible to be paid.

The motion goes on to say other Limestone County judges have to work extra to ensure important business proceeds as usual.

According to state law:

"A judge shall be disqualified from acting as a judge, without loss of salary, while there is pending (1) an indictment or an information charging him in the United States with a crime punishable as a felony under a state or federal law, or (2) a complaint against him filed by the judicial inquiry commission with the court of the judiciary."

Patterson was appointed a judge in 2016 by former governor Robert Bentley. Prior to that he worked as an attorney, including work as a conservator for incapacitated people,  the Alabama Attorney General's Office said.

Patterson is accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars by writing about 70 checks to himself from the Limestone County Juvenile Court Services Fund over a period of years. More than $47,000 that was supposed to go to juvenile programs and juvenile court staff among other things, prosecutors said.

Patterson also is accused of taking money before becoming a judge. According to the attorney general's office, Patterson took $47,800 from the conservatorship account of an elderly client. Over a six and a half year period, prosecutors said Patterson drained the account and left less than $200 in it when he was done. The client, who was living in a nursing home for military veterans, has since died.

Another person Patterson worked for as a conservator, also had between $499 and $1,500 taken from his estate's account after his death, prosecutors said.

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AG asks court to set hearing date for Limestone County judge indicted on theft, elderly exploitation charges

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Limestone County judge arrested for theft, elderly exploitation

Nursing home worker ‘simulated lap dance’ on 84-year-old, family says in wrongful death suit

A family suing a New Jersey nursing home says their loved one died as a result of negligence at the facility.

And among their allegations is a claim that a staff member at Cumberland Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center performed a "simulated lap dance” on the 84-year-old man.

Fred Pittman was a long-term care patient at the facility, located in Hopewell Township, Cumberland County, from late January through mid-February 2018. He died on March 2 of that year.

During his time at Cumberland Manor, staffers failed to prevent and treat injuries, manage pain, comply with physician orders and provide adequate food and hydration, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in state Superior Court.

An official with Cumberland Manor said the allegations were already investigated.

“The complaints of this particular family have been investigated by regulators and found to be unsubstantiated,” said administrator Steve Brodt. “We will defend any litigation as appropriate and will have no further comments.”

Pittman suffered from malnutrition, dehydration, sepsis, bedsores and weight loss, his family alleges.

“His medical condition degraded quite rapidly within that building,” according to the family’s attorney, David R. Cohen, of Cohen Kolodny Abuse Analytics Law LCC.

Pittman was transferred from the facility to a hospital for treatment.

The plaintiffs have sought copies of medical charts, nursing records, nurse aides’ records and incident reports relating to Pittman’s stay at Cumberland Manor.

The suit also accuses facility operators of abusing Pittman, "by (among multiple other actions] allowing a staff member to sit on decedent’s lap (and/or knee) and performing a simulated lap-dance, and/or acted in such a fashion to otherwise embarrass and humiliate decedent.”

That claim was investigated by the state, Cohen confirmed.

“The state did not substantiate the complaint,” he said. “The family is very firm in their belief that it did in fact happen. It’s depraved if it did happen.”

Cohen said that nursing homes like Cumberland Manor receive substantial sums of taxpayer dollars to care for residents.

"Their whole job is to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves,” he said. "They’re supposed to keep people safe and keep people fed and hydrated. And they get paid a ton of money to do that.”

The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages from the privately-owned facility.

Cumberland Manor was owned by Cumberland County for more than 60 years, but was sold to a private operator in 2012. It’s currently owned by Cumberland Operations LLC.

Cohen said when families file lawsuits like these, their primary goal is to save others from similar situations and make nursing homes accountable.

"It’s important for people to understand that people in nursing homes have rights and New Jersey has a wonderful set of laws that enable people like Mr. Pittman and his estate to pursue their rights.”

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Nursing home worker ‘simulated lap dance’ on 84-year-old, family says in wrongful death suit

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Complaint says former Tazewell County Public Guardian stole over $30,000 from 2009 to 2019

by Kyle Beachy

Pekin Attorney Matthew Stropes was appointed as the Tazewell County Public Guardian on December 3, 2009 and served in that post until August 27, 2019. A report from the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission says during his time in the role he was "knowingly dishonest" and "involved in dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation" in stealing a total of $32,242.71 to use for his own personal purposes.

The public guardian looks over the estate and finances for elderly and disabled who have no one else to do so.

The complaint against Stropes was filed on November 20, 2019 to be reviewed in a hearing by the board of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

The complaint alleges Stropes wrote 3 checks and electronically transferred funds to himself from the account of James Westervelt totaling $20,955.21. The first check was written on December 13, 2013 with the last transaction taking place May 16, 2018. James Westervelt died on March 8, 2017.

Stropes is also accused of filing a false accounting. Steven Morgan, the attorney for the estate of James Westervelt, asked for a final accounting of the estate. Morgan filed an objection to the final estate on April 20, 2018. He accused Stropes of paying himself "guardianship fees" twice. One payment of $6,255 on October 29, 2015 and another payment of $6,787.50 on July 22, 2016. These payments were made in addition to the checks written to himself. The attorney for Westervelt's estate maintained the fees were not consistent with an affidavit and without approval of the court.

In addition, the final estate accounting does not include the checks that were written to Stropes by himself. The complaint said Stropes "knowingly omitted checks" which were payments to himself.

In Count III of the complaint, Stropes allegedly took $6787.50 belonging to Lonnie Brandon, a disabled man. Stropes allegedly took this money and transferred it to the account of James Westervelt in an attempt to cover up the money he had taken on May 15, 2018.

The fourth and final complaint alleges Stropes electronically transferred $2,500 and $2,000 from another disabled man, Peter Mitzo, to himself in October 2015 and March 2017.

In total, Stropes is accused of misappropriating $32, 242.71. The official complain was filed by Peter L. Rotskoff and Rachel C. Miller on behalf of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

A pre-hearing conference is scheduled for February 5, 2020 at 9:30 am via teleconference. An official hearing date is not set. It's unclear if criminal charges have been filed.

This story will be updated.

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Complaint says former Tazewell County Public Guardian stole over $30,000 from 2009 to 2019 

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Nick in the AM: Former Tazewell public guardian accused of stealing from clients

Bellingham bank employee pleads to exploiting elderly woman for thousands of dollars

A Bellingham bank employee was one of two women who pleaded guilty to financially exploiting and stealing thousands of dollars from an elderly victim with mental awareness issues.

Acting with the victim’s power of attorney between 2011 and 2013, court documents show the two women wrote checks to themselves for more than $300,000, withdrew $63,000 in cash from the victim’s accounts, bought $120,000 in artwork in their own names and invested $400,000 in property and issued a loan against it to an acquaintance.

Ferndale’s Elizabeth Clair Maxwell Klein, 61, pleaded guilty Oct. 16, 2019, to three counts of first-degree theft, according to Whatcom County Superior Court documents. Klein was sentenced Dec. 4 to three months in jail, the final 30 days of which could be converted to 240 hours of community service. Klein also was ordered to pay $5,000 restitution to the victim.

Samammish’s Michele Marie Webster, 63, pleaded guilty Oct. 16 to three counts of third-degree theft, according to court documents, and was sentenced to 364 days in Whatcom County Jail, 274 of which were suspended. Webster also was ordered to pay $10,000 restitution to the victim.

Bellingham detectives were first alerted by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to suspicious bank transactions by Klein and Webster, who had been appointed co-powers of attorney for an elderly widow in Snohomish County, according to court documents filed in 2016.

A Banner Bank employee first noticed the exploitation and contacted Adult Protective Services in Snohomish County, and the FDIC was notified because Klein was an employee at Banner Bank in Bellingham and later became the manager at another Bellingham bank, documents state.

Detectives found that the victim’s daughter and son-in-law had been caring for the victim’s financial matters due to her deteriorating mental conditions, and her son-in-law had been appointed power of attorney, documents show. The daughter was a close friend to Klein and Webster, and both women were known by the victim.

After the victim’s daughter died, Klein and Webster were appointed co-powers of attorney on Jan. 23, 2011.

The FDIC found that a savings account and two other banking accounts were opened at the Bellingham Banner Bank and Klein and Webster were added to those accounts, documents state. The victim’s accounts at a Snohomish County bank were closed.

Investigators also found that in April 2011 Klein and Webster asked an attorney to review a will that they had prepared and the victim had signed that would distribute the victim’s estate equally to her three grandchildren along with Klein and Webster, documents show.

The attorney spoke with the victim in May of 2011 and found she wanted her estate distributed only between the three grandchildren, records show. The attorney prepared a will to reflect those wishes.

On June 14, 2013, the attorney also prepared a durable general power of attorney for the victim, designating Ohana Fiduciary Corporation as the attorney-in-fact for the victim in place of Klein and Webster, documents show.

In reviewing the victim’s financial transactions conducted by Klein and Webster between February 2011 and June 2013 from the Banner Bank accounts, Ohana found:

Klein wrote checks payable to herself totaling approximately $182,342.

Klein wrote checks payable to Webster and Bank of America totaling approximately $121,605.

Klein made cash withdrawals, wrote checks payable to “cash” and made ATM withdrawals that totaled approximately $63,054.

Klein and Webster purchased artwork worth approximately $120,000 and registered their names as the official owners.

Invested $400,00 worth of the victim’s money in real estate. In return, the victim was listed on deeds of trust and received two promissory notes signed by an acquaintance of Klein’s, who stopped paying after only two payments.

Court documents show at least some of those funds were deposited directly into the accounts of Klein, Webster and a relative of Klein’s and were not used for the victim’s care.

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Bellingham bank employee pleads to exploiting elderly woman for thousands of dollars

Jones County women sentenced to prison in abuse of 89-year-old man

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JONES COUNTY, Ga. -- Thursday, January 9 was an emotional scene as an 89-year-old man's family addressed the courtroom before final arguments ahead of sentencing.

In February 2018, certified nursing assistants Vonshell Napier and Beverly Burney Jackson of Lynn Haven Health and Rehabilitation in Gray were arrested for elder abuse.

On Monday, January 6, 2020 both plead guilty -- Napier to four counts of exploitation or intimidation of an elderly person, and Jackson to two counts of exploitation or intimidation of an elderly person

Cody Parks, grandson of the victim, lovingly known as Peppermint Paw Paw approached the bench saying, "My late grandfather, paw paw, told me in his last days, 'They're hurting me boy.' How can a man who served this country be tortured like this? He had to look forward to two monsters visiting him on his last days. All he would respond to us was, 'help me' in his last days."

After hearing these allegations from his grandfather, Parks says he installed a hidden camera that caught the abuse.

The video recordings started on January 15, 2018, but the videos with evidence of the victim being beaten began nearly two weeks later on January 31.

In one surveillance clip, the victim was being beaten while Napier was shown laughing and calling him expletives. The victim asked Napier repeatedly for her name and to stop hurting him.

The video continued, showing that later the victim's daughters came for a visit. While they were there, Napier and Jackson treated the victim differently and as soon as they left, the abuse picked back up again.

On February 1, the victim's family saw the video and learned of the abuse. A few weeks later on February 16, the victim died.

The defense team for Napier and Jackson argued on Thursday that the state didn't allege the suspects caused the victim's death, and the evidence shows he died from pneumonia and old age.

However, they made his last days miserable, the defense further argued.

Napier's lawyer Sheri Smith stated to the court, "They're accusing the deceased of being a racist and prejudice against African-Americans." However, Smith says this was no excuse and that they should've taken the high road.

Smith asked the judge to look at things from the perspective of an African-American having to care for a racist. Additionally, Smith says the victim can be heard in these videos addressing Napier as the 'N' word, and added that Napier had never been in trouble with law enforcement.

Keith Fitzgerald, Jackson's attorney, said his client had worked at that facility for over 20 years and not once had a complaint.

Community member Linda Haynes, whose mother had been cared for by Jackson, was also called to the witness stand on Thursday. She stated that Jackson was wonderful with her mother and this was the first problem she'd heard about the facility or Jackson.

Haynes added that if she'd had a large family like the victim's, her family wouldn't have put their mother in a nursing home. "My mother loved Beverly as if she was family. She felt safe," she said.

Thursday afternoon, attorneys for Napier asked for probation, or time in a detention center at minimum. Jackson's attorney also requested probation.

But state prosecutors asked for 20 years on all counts concurrent, and at least five years in prison.

The judge then sentenced Napier to four years in prison, 20 years probation, and to undergo an anger management program. Jackson received three years in prison and 20 years probation.

The judge told the defendants, "You're very wise to say you're sorry...I hope your children will learn from this."

Full Article & Source:
Jones County women sentenced to prison in abuse of 89-year-old man

Monday, January 13, 2020

Nick in the AM: Former Tazewell public guardian accused of stealing from clients

Good morning, troops. It’s Wednesday, Jan. 8.

Criminal charges are uncertain, but the former Tazewell County public guardian faces professional sanction after being accused of tapping clients’ funds for his personal use.

Pekin-based lawyer Matthew J. Stropes withdrew about $32,000 from the bank accounts of three people whose finances he was overseeing, according to a complaint from the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Illinois Supreme Court.

The complaint was filed Nov. 20. A hearing is to determine Stropes’ culpability and discipline, if warranted.

A pre-hearing conference was scheduled for Feb. 5. No hearing date has been scheduled.

Tazewell County State’s Attorney Stewart Umholtz declined comment Wednesday. He stated it’s his practice to neither confirm nor deny existence of a criminal investigation.

Umholtz confirmed he’s aware of the commission complaint against Stropes.

Public guardians are appointed for adults who require help in administering their estates. Among clients are the developmentally disabled, mentally ill and elderly people who have disabilities.
The primary victim of Stropes’ alleged malfeasance sustained $20,955.21 in losses, according to the commission.

On three occasions between December 2013 and July 2016, Stropes was accused of writing checks, payable to himself, from the victim’s account at the former Herget Bank in Pekin.

Amounts of the checks were $5,362.50, $5,887.50 and $6,787.50, the commission stated.

Stropes also was accused of transferring electronically $2,917.71 from the victim’s account to his own. That alleged transfer took place in May 2018, about 14 months after the victim died.

In connection with those withdrawals, Stropes was accused of filing a false accounting report. An executor of the victim’s estate stated Stropes had paid himself unauthorized guardianship fees.

Another Stropes client lost $6,787.50 when the attorney allegedly transferred that money electronically to a Morton Community Bank account he had opened in the name of the first victim.

In October 2016, Stropes was accused of an electronic transfer of $2,500 from the Morton Community Bank account of a third victim. Stropes was alleged to have transferred an additional $2,000 in March 2017.

Disbarment, suspension, censure and reprimand are among punishments the commission can authorize, according to its website. As of Wednesday, Stropes’ law license was active.

In December 2009, former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn appointed Stropes as public guardian. He served until last August.

Full Article & Source:
Nick in the AM: Former Tazewell public guardian accused of stealing from clients

Family fights to reunite with ashes of loved one found at Orlando office of disgraced guardian Rebecca Fierle

ORLANDO, Fla. — The family of Marilyn Hammock has been trying to lay her to rest since she died in 2018.

This week, they got one step closer: After repeated requests by the Orlando Sentinel, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed Hammock is one of the 10 people whose cremated ashes were found last August in the Orlando office of former guardian Rebecca Fierle.

The acknowledgement comes after months of silence from authorities, who wouldn’t tell Hammock’s relatives if hers were among the remains discovered by FDLE when agents raided 1646 Hillcrest St., a small converted house northeast of downtown Orlando that was the office for Fierle’s business, Geriatric Management.

The death of another of Fierle’s incapacitated clients, 75-year-old Steven Stryker, sparked a scandal that has embroiled Florida’s guardianship system. Stryker died at a Tampa hospital last year while staff were unable to perform life-saving measures due to a “do not resuscitate” order Fierle filed against his wishes and refused to remove.

Fierle is under criminal investigation by FDLE, but is not currently facing charges. The once-prolific guardian, who handled hundreds of cases in more than a dozen counties, has resigned. In addition to misusing DNRs, she has been accused of ignoring her wards’ wishes, double-billing and conflicts of interest.

After Hammock, 94, died in June 2018 at a Winter Springs assisted living facility, her aunt-in-law Martha Register said she insisted Fierle send the ashes to Georgia so Hammock could be buried among family members. But Register said the guardian told her she would keep the cremated remains until Hammock’s husband, who is Register’s nephew, also died.

John is now 82 years old, has dementia and is under the care of a new guardian.

FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger confirmed the agency is still in possession of Marilyn Hammock’s remains. The identities of the other nine people and one pet whose ashes were found in Fierle’s office have not been made public. The state’s Office of Attorney General initially told media outlets the search uncovered the remains of nine people, but Plessinger said Wednesday that 10 were found.

“I’m frustrated with the whole system, really,” said Register, 93. “They’re not forthcoming with much information. There’s nobody down there who would tell you what you want to know.”

Fierle was appointed by a judge in 2015 to care for Hammock and her husband, John Hammock, then 77, Osceola County court records show. They came under her care after a series of events typical to guardianship cases.

Noemi Rivas Bass, 56, said she met the couple in church about 12 years ago. They began a friendship after John Hammock during a service requested a prayer for his wife, who had fallen, and Rivas Bass offered to help. At the time, the couple lived in a house in St. Cloud.

“Marilyn was already showing she was maybe having some dementia issues but it was not extreme,” she said. “John was doing his best taking care of her.”

One night, the Hammocks both fell and could not get up. Police found them on the floor and took them to a hospital, Rivas Bass said.

The elderly couple ended up at the former Osceola Health Care Center, now Solaris HealthCare Osceola. On June 11, 2015, Register became their health care proxy, meaning she was authorized to make health care decisions for them if they were unable to convey their own wishes. John Hammock’s brother said he was unable to take on a similar role, according to court records.

Register said she helped raise John Hammock and his brother after their mother died. Known to his family as “Johnny Mack,” he joined the Navy and later met his wife in Florida.

The couple had no children. Although they lived in different states, Register said she was close to her nephew and his wife, and they enjoyed joking, playing games and putting puzzles together during visits.

“They were always very loving,” Register said. “We always had fun.”

Register said a lawyer for John Hammock’s brother contacted Fierle. Less than two weeks later, the guardian petitioned a judge to find the Hammocks incapacitated and appoint her their decision-maker.

“They did not deserve to land in the hands of this woman,” Rivas Bass said. “John knew who he was. … He was still in that place where he could have made a decision for himself and for her — and they took that away from him.”

After Fierle sold the couple’s home, vehicle and belongings to pay for their care and compensate herself, she moved them to Arden Courts of Winter Springs in early 2016, Seminole County court records show.

“We didn’t see eye-to-eye on stuff,” Register said regarding Fierle. “She wouldn’t tell me much.”

In 2018, Register said Fierle called her to say Marilyn Hammock had broken her hip after she fell while moving from a wheelchair to a walker.

“(Fierle) said they decided that she would probably not survive hip surgery,” Register said. “They decided they would just put her back in bed and keep her comfortable until she died.”

Marilyn Hammock died weeks later, on June 23, 2018, according to court records.

Neither Fierle nor her attorneys responded to a request for comment on her former ward’s death.

Register said she arranged to bury Hammock’s cremated remains at a cemetery near her home in Georgia. Fierle agreed to pay for the funeral expenses through the Hammocks’ estate but refused to immediately send Marilyn Hammock’s ashes to Register.

“We had already prepared the thing here on the cemetery and were waiting on the ashes when (Fierle) said she was holding them until the time of John’s death, then she would send them both to me,” Register said.

Gina Rossi-Scheiman, the executive director of the Florida State Guardianship Association, previously told the Sentinel it was “not uncommon” for guardians to temporarily keep the cremated remains of dead clients until a final resting place was found.

Register and her niece, Melody Garcia, who lives in Texas, spoke to FDLE agents shortly after they found the remains in Fierle’s office in early August. But Register and Garcia said the agency stopped short of confirming that Marilyn Hammock’s ashes were among those found and later did not return their calls requesting more information.

Plessinger said Register is not considered Marilyn Hammock’s closest living relative — her next-of-kin is her husband, whose new guardian is Denise Willis.

“FDLE is working with Ms. Hammock’s next of kin’s guardian,” Plessinger said in an email. “Ms. Willis wouldn’t accept the remains without a court order. So we are working to obtain that now.”

Register and Garcia said they were relieved to know that Marilyn Hammock’s remains are safe but still feel frustrated that they haven’t been able to lay her to rest.

“It hurts me because it’s hurting my aunt,” said Garcia, 59. “She raised those kids most of their lives and was very close to them. … They’re just discarding these people like they’re trash, like they don’t have to answer to anybody or have accountability for their actions.”

Both women said they have tried to contact several people involved with John Hammock’s guardianship case in the months since Fierle resigned, including Willis, but no one has called them.

“I mean, I’m very happy they found out that Marilyn was one of the (recovered remains), but what’s the next step when you can’t get in touch with the guardian?” Garcia asked.

On a recent visit to see John Hammock, Rivas Bass said she saw a bruise on his head. Register said the facility’s staff told her he fell after trying to get out of his wheelchair. Register is anxious because, at 93, she can’t travel to see her nephew, having recently been hospitalized herself.

“That’s what started Marilyn’s death — a fall out of the wheelchair,” Register said. “I don’t want the same thing happening to him.”

Willis, who was appointed to the case in August, told the Sentinel she has not received messages from John Hammock’s family. She said she tried to contact Register once, weeks ago, but the person who answered the phone told her Register was in the hospital.

The guardian said she could not comment on her client’s health. Willis added she was contacted by an investigator because a container of ashes found in Fierle’s office had the name “Hammock” on it, but she said she never received the ashes.

“I don’t know anything about the status of that or what they’re doing with those,” she said.

John Hammock can’t speak much anymore, Rivas Bass said, but, sometimes during their visits, he tells her he misses his wife. She would like Marilyn Hammock to finally have a memorial service at their church a year and a half after her death.

“For crying out loud, she’s a human being,” Rivas Bass said. “She was loved by not only me but other people. … There’s no reason why these things should happen when we live in a country that’s supposed to be the best country in the world.”

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Family fights to reunite with ashes of loved one found at Orlando office of disgraced guardian Rebecca Fierle