Saturday, May 2, 2020

Ex-guardian Rebecca Fierle asks judge to pause lawsuit by family of man who died under DNR

Rebecca Fierle, the disgraced guardian at the center of Florida's guardianship scandal, was released from the Marion County jail on Tuesday, February 11, 2020, the morning after her arrest on charges of aggravated abuse and neglect of an elderly person.(Monivette Cordeiro / Orlando Sentinel)
Disgraced ex-guardian Rebecca Fierle is asking a judge to pause a lawsuit recently filed against her by the family of a client who died while under her care, citing the criminal charges she’s facing in connection with his death.

Both the lawsuit and the case brought against Fierle by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement center on a common accusation: She signed a “do not resuscitate” order for ward Steven Stryker against his wishes and those of his daughter, health care surrogate and a psychiatrist.

Because the suit and criminal case are so similar, attorney Kara S. Graham argues in a newly filed motion, Fierle would have “no plausible ability to defend herself in this new civil proceeding without forfeiting her constitutional rights in the pending criminal proceeding.”

“The most important factor is the degree of overlap between the criminal charges and the civil claim. Here the events, essential facts, and general allegations to be determined are the same," Graham wrote. "Equally important, [Fierle] is the key witness in both proceedings.”

Stryker, a 75-year-old Navy veteran, died last May at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa. Fierle was arrested in February on charges of aggravated abuse and neglect of an elderly person after a lengthy FDLE investigation.

Despite Stryker stating “several times" that he wanted to live, Fierle signed the DNR and opted to have his feeding tube capped May 9, 2019, FDLE said. Stryker, who was using a feeding tube because he had difficulty swallowing, aspirated and went into cardiac arrest, the suit said.

Stryker’s daughter, Kimberly Stryker, in her lawsuit alleges Fierle “preyed” on his vulnerability and abused him. She is also suing AdventHealth Orlando, where Stryker was a patient when the hospital petitioned a judge to declare him incapacitated and appoint Fierle his guardian.

“This case is about how Rebecca Fierle and AdventHealth — who were both trusted by hundreds of vulnerable adults and the Florida court system — took advantage of Steven Stryker... and robbed him of his right to live,” said the lawsuit, filed in March in Orange County Circuit Court. “As a result of their negligence, abuse, and neglect, Mr. Stryker died.”

Graham’s motion to stay the lawsuit was filed Wednesday. No hearing has been set and Circuit Judge Kevin B. Weiss has not filed a ruling.

A probe of Stryker’s death by the Okaloosa Clerk’s and Orange Comptroller’s Office, details of which were first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, sparked a scandal that embroiled Florida’s entire guardianship system.

Investigations found Fierle had routinely abused DNRs and unearthed conflicts of interest in her handling of cases, as well as that AdventHealth Orlando had paid her nearly $4 million over a decade to care for vulnerable patients, an arrangement not allowed without court approval.

Meanwhile, the Sentinel in a series of special reports revealed potentially widespread conflicts of interest in Florida’s guardianship system and loopholes in the state laws that govern guardians.

State lawmakers have since reformed the guardianship system, addressing several loopholes the Sentinel’s reporting exposed, including by requiring guardians to get a judge’s approval before signing DNRs, prohibiting them from seeking their own appointment to specific cases and revising provisions related to conflicts of interest.

Fierle, who had an office in Orlando and had been assigned hundreds of wards across at least a dozen counties, resigned amid the scandal. She is still under investigation by the FDLE, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and Florida Attorney General’s Office.

She has denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.

Full Article & Source:
Ex-guardian Rebecca Fierle asks judge to pause lawsuit by family of man who died under DNR

See Also:
Marion deputies release video of arrest of former Florida guardian Rebecca Fierle

Attorney General Ashley Moody fires back at embattled former Florida guardian

Guardian at center of Florida scandal appeals judge’s ruling that she broke state rules by misusing DNRs

Ex-guardian Rebecca Fierle charged Altamonte Springs facility $100K, illegally pocketed refunds, investigation finds

Florida Elder Affairs chief announces ‘immediate’ changes as embattled Orlando guardian Rebecca Fierle resigns from all cases

Florida professional guardian Rebecca Fierle: Devoted or dangerous? | Exclusive

Cremated remains of 9 people found at Orlando office of disgraced former guardian Rebecca Fierle

Expert’s complaint against Florida guardian Rebecca Fierle was ignored for years before scandal erupted | Exclusive

Orlando guardian accused of filing unauthorized ‘do not resuscitate’ orders resigns from Seminole cases

Watchdog: In Short Hearing, Fierle Given Guardianship Over Patient

Judge releases confidential information to authorities investigating former Orlando guardian Rebecca Fierle

‘It was a horror house.’ Workers at N.J. nursing home said they didn’t have masks, sanitizer as crisis escalated.

Outside the Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center, where police said 17 bodies were stored in a makeshift morgue at the nursing home in Andover, N.J. April, 16, 2020 Ed Murray
By Rodrigo Torrejon

Long before the anonymous tip that led to the discovery of 17 bodies in a makeshift morgue at Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center, there were problems at the state’s largest nursing home.

There weren’t enough supplies. Staffing was short. Protective equipment was in short supply.

And as the coronavirus outbreak began to engulf the facility in Sussex County, two nurses, one former and one current, recalled how they would move the sick from room to room with no masks, deal with filthy floors and corridors and handle beds that were not disinfected even after residents died in them.

“It was a horror house,” said one nurse, who said she tested positive for COVID-19 and spoke on the condition of anonymity, for fear of losing her job.

The coronavirus crisis has ravaged nursing homes across the state. Nearly 30% of New Jersey’s COVID-19 related deaths were in long term care facilities or nursing homes, according to Monday’s state department of health statistics. As of Monday afternoon, a total 45 people had died at Andover, with 190 positive cases of COVID-19, according to DOH numbers.

Neither nurse was at Andover Subacute when the makeshift morgue was discovered on April 13. One had already left and one was out on disability. But both said they were working when more and more patients became ill and started to die.

Trying to care for more and more ailing patients without even the most basic protective gear, some nursing home workers would fall ill themselves, fighting an uphill battle against a lethal disease as it ravaged residents who they tried to keep safe.

At the same time, they said there was a stunning lack of transparency and information, even among staff, as the crisis escalated.

“Early on, they said they were preparing,” said the current nurse. “But they never disclosed an exact number to us. Everything was kept kind of hush hush amongst management.

According to the nurses, the situation was already out of control in the weeks leading up to the Easter weekend when 15 residents died.

Andover Subacute and Rehab is owned in part by Chaim “Mutty” Scheinbaum through Lakewood-based Alliance Healthcare Holdings. Scheinbaum also has ownership stakes in nursing homes in Pennsauken and Cinnaminson in New Jersey, and two other nursing homes in Pennsylvania.

In a statement released by Scheinbaum responding to questions from NJ Advance Media, the 37-year old CEO of Alliance said across the country, the virus has hit nursing home patients and their health care professionals the hardest.

“With one of the largest nursing home populations in the state, Andover Subacute II is on the front lines of this crisis, cooperating with public health officials to prioritize patient safety,” he said.

Andover has two separate buildings: Andover I, a smaller facility that serves those with less serious medical issues, and Andover II, a larger unit with many dementia and Alzeimer’s residents, and others suffering from schizophrenia and other mental problems.


Andover Subactute has been in the spotlight since the discovery that the nursing home was holding 17 bodies in a makeshift morgue April 13, the day after Easter Sunday.

The facility’s existing morgue was little more than a small holding room with a window and an air conditioner, meant to hold two gurneys.

“They’re calling it a morgue,” one of the two nurses said. “It was nothing more than what we called a holding room. Where a patient expired that’s where they went before the funeral home picked them up. It’s disgraceful.”

The township police had been asked to supply 25 body bags on Easter and found five bodies being stored in a room in Andover II, Police Chief Eric Danielson had said. The day after, police found 12 more bodies being stored on site, officials said.

Even before the pandemic hit the nursing home, supplies were scarce, said employees. They would ask for supplies and were told they weren’t coming since the bills were not being paid, said one nurse.

And when the nursing home received a shipment of protective gear from the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office, the home’s administration made it clear that it was not available tor everyone, said one nurse.

The first shipment of protective gear from the Sheriff’s Office arrived at the center April 1, according to a statement from the Sussex County Department of Health and Human Services.

“It was kept under lock and key,” said the nurse. “It was not distributed to the nurses, short of the isolation wing. It was kept under lock and key. We were told ‘Go figure it out. If you want your own PPE, you have to get it.’”

After nurses approached the home’s administrator, demanding answers as to how they could get protective equipment, an employee responsible for ordering supplies allegedly chastised the group, telling them to watch the news to see how scarce protective gear had become, the current nurse said.
Eventually, by early April, staff were given one mask each, said the current nurse. The employees were told to wash and spray the mask with Lysol before reusing it.

Although Scheinbaum would not address the question of whether employees were initially denied protective gear, he acknowledged the lack of protective gear at the facility.

“Like virtually every other healthcare facility across the region, Andover Subacute II has faced challenges due to a general lack of PPE, as well as staffing complications caused by front line workers becoming ill,” said Scheinbaum.

At the same time as nurses were struggling to keep themselves safe while treating sick residents, they were being told to swab their patients as part of the tests for the coronavirus, said the two employees. The testing, which requires healthcare workers to get close to a patient and swab their nasal cavity, was ordered without even the basic training required, they said.

The lack of protective gear and training led to a backlog of residents that needed to be swabbed, said the former nurse. One man died before he could be swabbed for COVID-19, said the former nurse.

“There was no swabs available and he expired before that swab could be done,” the nurse said.

As the outbreak snowballed, nurses were moving patients from one wing to another, sometimes transferring residents who were on the ground floor to the second floor, and from the third floor back down to the ground floor, said both the current and former nurses. They did this with no protective gear, said the current nurse.

“Talk about cross contamination? Oh my god. Oh my god,” said the current nurse.

As workers scrambled to move sick patients from one area of the hospital to the other, they struggled with waning staff, said both employees. For the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, there was one nurse covering two wings of the facility, with more than 50 residents in each, one nurse said.

While Scheinbaum did not address staffing for specific shifts, he said that the illness affecting employees has caused the facility to operate with a smaller staff than usual.

“While Andover Subacute II has a full complement of licensed and qualified staff, unfortunately some of its front line workers have been impacted while fighting this pandemic and are unable to return to work at this time,” he said in the statement. “The facility is working with the Department to find replacements for those people who have become ill, has already retained a licensed nursing home administrator consultant along with a certified infectious disease consultant, and is otherwise working to ensure that the facility has qualified professionals to deal with this unprecedented health emergency.”

Scheinbaum said that staff was given updates regularly, but did not specify if staff were notified of new positive cases of COVID-19 as they were reported.

“We communicate regularly with our staff directors in daily meetings and conference calls to provide the latest updates on what is happening across our facility,” his statement said.

Separately, both employees said it was extremely difficult to get information to residents’ families.

“We had families calling continuously,” said the current nurse. “They didn’t want anything disclosed to families. They weren’t sharing the details with us staff. It just goes on and on.”

At least three relatives of residents previously told NJ Advance Media that it was almost impossible to reach anybody at the home. Francesca Veen said it took her four hours to get through to the home to check on her grandmother.

The facility has been barred by the state Department of Health from admitting any new patients, and the state ordered Andover to retain an infection control expert and key consultants.

One of the two nurses, though, said somebody needs to be held accountable.

“The owners, the administration. It was horrible. It was downright criminal how they went about everything,” said the nurse.

Full Article & Source:
‘It was a horror house.’ Workers at N.J. nursing home said they didn’t have masks, sanitizer as crisis escalated.

Michigan nursing homes protected from lawsuits for negligent acts during COVID-19

By Charlie Langton

Full Article & Source:
Michigan nursing homes protected from lawsuits for negligent acts during COVID-19

Friday, May 1, 2020

'It’s horrific': coronavirus kills nearly 70 at Massachusetts veterans' home

Deadliest known outbreak at a US long-term care facility leaves 68 veterans dead and dozens more sickened

An ambulance outside the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, Massachusetts, where nearly 70 residents have died. Photograph: Hoang ’Leon’ Nguyen/AP
Nearly 70 residents sickened with the coronavirus have died at a Massachusetts home for ageing veterans, as state and federal officials try to figure out what went wrong in the deadliest known outbreak at a long-term care facility in the US.

While the death toll at the state-run Holyoke Soldiers’ Home continues to climb, federal officials are investigating whether residents were denied proper medical care and the state’s top prosecutor is deciding whether to bring legal action.

“It’s horrific,” said Edward Lapointe, whose father-in-law lives at the home and had a mild case of the virus. “These guys never had a chance.”

Sixty-eight veteran residents who tested positive for the virus have died, officials said on Tuesday, and it is not known whether another person who died had Covid-19. Another 82 residents and 81 employees have tested positive.

The home’s superintendent, who has been placed on administrative leave, has defended his response and accused state officials of falsely claiming they were unaware of the scope of the problem there.

The superintendent, Bennett Walsh, said this month that state officials knew that the home was in “crisis mode” when it came to staffing shortages and were notified early and often about the contagion at the facility.

Staffing problems that plagued the home for years contributed to the virus spreading like wildfire, said Joan Miller, a nurse at the home.

Because staffing was so tight, workers from one unit were constantly moving to others to help out – and bringing their germs with them, she said. At one point, a unit was shut down because there wasn’t enough staff to operate it, and those veterans were moved into close quarters in other parts of the building, she said.

“Veterans were on top of each other,” she said. “We didn’t know who was positive and who was negative and then they grouped people together and that really exacerbated it even more,” said Miller, who spoke through a mask during a break from her job at the facility.

“That’s when it really blew up,” she said.

The situation was now “somewhat contained” because there were so few veterans living there, Miller said. There were nearly 230 residents living at the home in late March and only about 100 remained on Monday, the Boston Globe reported.

‘Every day I would ask … what’s going on?’

Beth Lapointe said her father’s roommate had tested positive for the virus in March, and later died, but her father was initially denied a test because he had not showed any symptoms. As the virus spread, family members were kept in the dark about what was going on inside, she said.

Tributes to veterans cover a sign outside the care facility on Tuesday 28 April. Photograph: Rodrique Ngowi/AP
“Every day I would ask different people, ‘What’s going on in there?’ And I would never get information,” she said.
The Republican governor Charlie Baker’s administration has hired an outside attorney to conduct an investigation into the deaths. Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general, is also investigating to determine “what went wrong at this facility and determine if legal action is warranted”.

And the US attorney’s office in Massachusetts and federal justice department’s civil rights division are looking into whether the home violated residents’ rights by failing to provide them proper medical care.

The death toll at the home appears to be the largest at a long-term care facility in the United States, experts said.

“It’s also symbolic of how unprepared many nursing facilities have been,” said Dr Michael Wasserman, the president of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine.

“Geriatricians and experts in long-term care medicine were sounding alarms at the beginning of March and we’ve essentially been ignored by everyone: federal, state, local government and the nursing home industry,” he said.

There is currently no official count of nursing home deaths across the country. The federal government has only recently required the nation’s more than 15,000 nursing homes to start reporting numbers of confirmed and presumed deaths and infections, but it is not yet clear when that count will be published.

In the meantime, the Associated Press has been compiling its own tally from state health departments and media reports, finding at least 13,762 deaths from outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the country.

But that is probably an undercount because only about half the states are currently reporting nursing home deaths and not all count those who died without being tested for Covid-19.

Full Article & Source:
'It’s horrific': coronavirus kills nearly 70 at Massachusetts veterans' home

11 South Florida Attorneys Disciplined

The Florida Supreme Court disciplined 23 attorneys, including 11 from South Florida.

South Florida attorneys have landed in ethical hot water this months. Photo: Michail Petrov/
The Florida Supreme Court disciplined 11 South Florida lawyers between March 5 and April 23, including three who were disbarred, according to information released Thursday.

West Palm Beach attorney David Andrew Jaynes has been disbarred for allegedly failing to notify clients, opposing counsel and tribunals of his suspension, after a court held him in contempt.

Ocean Ridge attorney Kip Williams Kootz was disbarred after an arrest for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. He failed to advise the bar of four previous DUIs in Minnesota, according to court documents. A prosecutor learned of the convictions after Kootz had a new DUI arrest in February 2017. A jury later convicted Kootz.

Boca Raton lawyer Craig Barry Sherman agreed to a permanent revocation of his license to practice law following allegations that he misappropriated more than $4 million from a client over three years. The capital was supposed to be used for loans to real estate developers, according to the bar.

A Miami attorney, David Philips, was disbarred after he did not answer an order to show cause. A court found Philips in contempt for continuing to practice law, and continuing to receive funds into his trust account, despite an order revoking his license in February 2019, according to the bar.

Delray Beach attorney Aaron Matthew Cohen was held in contempt and publicly reprimanded for not promptly responding to inquiries from the bar.

Lantana attorney Stafford Nicholas Shealy got a public reprimand and two years of probation. Shealy pleaded guilty in November 2018 to a charge of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and received 24 months of probation.

The Florida Supreme Court suspended the following six lawyers.

Edmar Mauricio Amaya, who was practicing in Miami, was suspended for 30 days following an April 9 court order. The document says he engaged in a sexual relationship with a client. Amaya failed to communicate the substitution of counsel after he realized he could no longer represent his client in a divorce proceeding.

Brian Bechar was suspended for two years. The bar said the Boca Raton lawyer displayed conduct that was “contrary to honesty and justice,” and that he defended proceedings that had no merit.

George William Castrataro has been suspended for 30 days after an April 6 court order. The bar filed a petition for contempt and order to show cause after the Fort Lauderdale attorney did not respond to its inquiries multiple times. Then Castrataro did not respond when the Florida Supreme Court ordered him to show why it should not sanction him. The attorney was held in contempt and his suspension is pending until he fully responds to the bar inquiry.

The Florida Supreme Court suspended Joshua Todd Hill Hauserman for six months, retroactive to Oct. 21, 2019. The West Palm Beach attorney did not adequately supervise a nonlawyer, and did not notify a court that he would not be present for a hearing, the bar said.

The high court also suspended Theodore G. Mastos for 10 days. The Coral Gables attorney failed to inform the court of a potential conflict of interest, and obtain a waiver, when he provided joint representation for two defendants in a single criminal case.

Full Article & Source:
11 South Florida Attorneys Disciplined

Michigan Radio’s Sarah Cwiek wins Advancement of Justice Award for investigative story

By Suzanne Belanger

Michigan Radio reporter Sarah Cwiek has been selected as a winner of a 2020 Wade H. McCree Award for the Advancement of Justice by the Michigan Press Association Foundation.  Cwiek was recognized for her story, “They say their son needs to be in a psychiatric hospital. He went to jail instead” from February, 2019.

This story highlights the impossible situation in which some families with autistic children find themselves: stuck in a loop of emergency rooms and police encounters, in a state that makes it all but impossible to get a child admitted to inpatient psychiatric medical care.

The McCree Awards recognize journalism that examines, explains, exposes and details important issues in law and government.  The award is named after distinguished Michigan attorney Wade H. McCree, who served as judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals and Solicitor General of the United States.

The Advancement of Justice awards were established in 1974 in a collaborative effort between the State Bar of Michigan and the Michigan Press Association.  The Michigan Press Association Foundation was created in 1980 to further the interests of journalism in Michigan.

Other winners of a 2020 McCree Award were Reporter Karen Bouffard of the Detroit News for an in-depth investigation “Healing Justice” which showed America’s underinvestment in mental health services, and the enormous expense of incarceration; and Reporter Heather Catallo of WXYZ for an in-depth investigation “Guardianship Epidemic: I just want my parents back.”  Her reporting showed that as baby boomers age, guardianship abuse is increasingly becoming a bigger problem across the country.

The awards are presented annually to the winners at the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame ceremony, held each spring, but which has been moved to a later date to be determined.

Full Article & Source:
Michigan Radio’s Sarah Cwiek wins Advancement of Justice Award for investigative story

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Report: 56 coronavirus deaths at 14 assisted living homes owned by same company

Benchmark Senior Living at Ridgefield Crossing, on Route 7, in Ridgefield, Conn. March 19, 2020.
Photo: Peter Yankowski / Hearst Connecticut Media
At least 56 residents at assisted living facilities operated by one company throughout Connecticut have died after being exposed to the coronavirus, new data shows.

A total of 163 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, across 14 facilities owned by Benchmark Senior Living in Connecticut. At least 104 employees have also gotten sick after being exposed to the virus.

The data, obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media, is based on Benchmark’s own accounting of the disease’s path through its senior homes and represents only a fraction of the 111 assisted living facilities in Connecticut.

“We are deeply saddened by the significant impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the world’s senior population and those who care for them,” said Amanda Cillo, a spokeswoman hired by Benchmark Senior Living from the public relations firm Burson Cohn & Wolfe.

“It is well-documented by public health experts that older people and those with underlying medical conditions are particularly susceptible to this novel coronavirus.”

Cillo did not immediately respond Tuesday to questions about the data.

Full Article & Source:
Report: 56 coronavirus deaths at 14 assisted living homes owned by same company

Mount Vernon homeowner accuses ex-con disbarred lawyer of mortgage fraud

By Bill Heltzel

A Mount Vernon woman claims she and her husband were fooled into paying $331,500 to a disbarred attorney to ostensibly pay off their home mortgage.

Tricia P. Williams sued the ex-lawyer, Rafael M. Pantoja on April 16 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in White Plains to get back the payments.

The adversary bankruptcy proceeding also names Rachel Thull, Levanta Global Inc., BTW Trust Inc. and others as players in the alleged scheme.

Williams and her husband, Barrington, had fallen behind on their home loan payments in 2013, according to the complaint, and Wells Fargo Bank foreclosed on the property.

Tricia Williams filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition last year, declaring $513,365 in assets and more than $1 million in liabilities. The house on Tenth Avenue South, Mount Vernon, was valued at $420,000, but the couple owed the bank $1,030,329.

In 2018, according to the adversary proceeding, a real estate broker arranged for Barrington Williams to meet Pantoja at the Levanta office in the Seagram Building in  Manhattan. The broker allegedly depicted Pantoja as a high-powered lawyer who could negotiate a short payoff on the mortgage.

Pantoja, of the Bronx, was disbarred in 1996 and again in 2008, according to the complaint, and served two stints in prison totaling more than 14 years on grand larceny charges.

In the second case, a 2008 ABA Journal article states, Pantoja assumed his deceased father’s identity, misrepresented himself as a lawyer and obtained nearly $1.8 million in real estate financing through fraudulent mortgage transactions.

Barrington Williams met with Pantoja and Thull in June 2018, and was allegedly told that he and his wife qualified for Levanta’s toxic mortgage release services and loss mitigation services.

The couple had to deed their house to BTW Trust Inc., in care of Levanta, and pay $85,000 in fees and $254,000 to pay off Wells Fargo. The unpaid balance on the loan was then $900,000.

Levanta was supposed to negotiate a short payoff with Wells Fargo.

“We are experts in mastering this process in the face of the most challenging foreclosure circumstances,” the service agreement states. But “there is no guarantee of success in satisfying a loan for less than the amount due.”

From June 2018 to October 2019, the Williamses transferred $331,500 to Levanta, the complaint states, but Levanta did not negotiate a payoff with Wells Fargo.

Pantoja, Thull and Levanta were “part of a fraudulent scheme” to obtain the couple’s money, according to the complaint, and to get the deed to their property “by virtue of fraud.”

Tricia Williams is asking the court to deem the house as property of her Chapter 13 bankruptcy estate and to nullify the $331,500 in payments.

Pantoja and Thull did not immediately respond to a telephone message asking for their side of the story.

Tricia Williams is represented by White Plains attorneys Todd S. Cushner and James J. Rufo.

Full Article & Source:
Mount Vernon homeowner accuses ex-con disbarred lawyer of mortgage fraud

Meet the101-year-old who was born on a ship during the 1918 flu pandemic and just beat coronavirus

By Mallory Hughes

Angelina Friedman celebrates her birthday.
(CNN)Angelina Friedman survived cancer, miscarriages, internal bleeding, sepsis and now not one, but two pandemics. More than 100 years after living through the 1918 influenza pandemic, the 101-year-old woman just beat coronavirus.

An administrator at the Mohegan Lake, New York, nursing home where Friedman lives said Friedman is back to her old self and celebrating life as if nothing ever happened.

"It also just goes to show how much the world needs hope that you can beat this at 101," Amy Elba told CNN.

Friedman's daughter, Joanne Merola, told CNN affiliate WPIX that her mother is a survivor.

"She and my dad had cancer at the same time. She survived. He didn't," she said.

Her mother died giving birth, and her two sisters helped her survive until they could reunite with their father in New York, where they lived in Brooklyn, Merola told WPIX.

One of 11 children, Friedman is the last surviving.

"She is not human," Merola said. "She has superhuman DNA."

Now a resident of the North Westchester Restorative Therapy & Nursing Center, Friedman battled yet another pandemic.

"She had gone out to the hospital for a procedure and when she returned she had tested positive," Elba told CNN.

Merola told the affiliate her mother isolated in her room and ran a fever on and off for several weeks as she battled the coronavirus until April 20, when she tested negative.

Nurses called Merola and said Friedman was doing great. She was eating again and looking for yarn to crochet with, they told her.

"She is a mover and a shaker," Elba said. "She's a big knitter and she makes all kinds of things and gives them away to visitors."

The staff threw a big birthday party for Friedman's 101st birthday, and last year she was crowned prom queen.

Friedman was named Prom Queen at the nursing home.
"She's super active. You couldn't believe it for her age," Elba said. "Still doing her leisure activities probably that she's done forever."

Like many other facilities, Elba said, they have set up alternative means for patients to remain in contact with their families.

Due to a back injury, Merola hasn't been able to visit her mother since February, but she doesn't live far from home. Because her mother is nearly deaf, they can't speak on the phone.

As prom season approaches, Elba said that although the schools might not get a dance, Friedman is certainly going to have hers -- and hopes she will be named prom queen for the second year in a row.

Full Article & Source:
Meet the 101-year-old who was born on a ship during the 1918 flu pandemic and just beat coronavirus

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Coronavirus Entered My Father’s Nursing Home and Nobody Warned Me. I Did Not Get the Chance to Save Him.

Reporter Jan Ransom’s father was the fourth resident of his nursing home to get COVID-19. Nobody told her about the first, so she couldn’t move him before he got sick. “I think that’s very unfair,” her father told her a week before he died.

by Jan Ransom

The call came around 9 a.m. on March 25. It was my father.

“I’m not doing too good,” he said in between gasps for air. I asked him what was wrong. “I’m coughing up blood,” he said, adding that the medical staff at the nursing home in the Bronx where he lived wanted to send him to a nearby hospital.

The author and her father in 2002.
(Courtesy of Jan Ransom)
My father, 75, had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a crippling illness that causes severe breathing difficulty and can lead to death. He had lived in nursing homes since 2017 after X-rays showed his lungs had badly deteriorated.

“Do we really have to send him to the hospital?” I asked a nursing supervisor over the phone. I worried about my father, already in poor health, waiting in an emergency room full of patients infected with the coronavirus.

What I did not know was that he already had the virus. Shortly after being admitted to the hospital, he tested positive for COVID-19. Hours later, I called the nursing home to alert the staff. A nursing home staffer told me that my father was not the first resident to test positive. He was the fourth. I was stunned.

I’m a reporter for The New York Times and have been covering the pandemic’s impact on New York City jails, including Rikers Island, and the state’s prison system.

Other journalists at the Times and elsewhere have been writing about the toll the virus was taking on nursing homes, killing hundreds of residents and infecting thousands more. As I read those harrowing stories, my dad was never far from my thoughts.

After realizing my dad’s nursing home had left me in the dark, I started to make some calls. I thought about my father’s roommate and the families of other residents at the facility who were unaware of the storm brewing inside.

I was certain I should have been alerted that the virus had been detected in the home they shared. I was wrong.

When I called the state Department of Health to complain on my family’s behalf, I was informed that nursing homes in New York — the epicenter of the crisis in the United States — were not obligated to tell families when the virus is detected in other residents.

“Guidelines require nursing home operators to notify a resident’s family of illness, they do not require notification to relatives of other residents,” a Department of Health spokesman later said in a statement.

That left me even more puzzled, and not just as a daughter but as a journalist. So I emailed the state asking if the agency was weighing whether to change the policy in response to the growing crisis.

A day later the policy had changed. The Department of Health is now directing nursing home officials to tell residents and families within 24 hours of learning of a suspected COVID-19 case.

More than 6,470 nursing home residents in New York have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the state Department of Health. The disease had killed 42% of infected nursing home residents as of Friday. The outbreak has now spread to 354 of the 613 licensed nursing homes in New York and, and in hot spots from New Jersey to Seattle, nursing home residents have been especially hard hit.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that nursing home providers will soon be required to report potential infectious disease outbreaks not only to state health departments but directly to federal health officials to accelerate efforts to contain outbreaks.

But the revised New York state guidelines came too late for my family, and for many others. My father died on April 9, due to complications from the virus, 15 days after he was admitted to the hospital.

The lack of notification deprived us of the chance to move my father out of the nursing home before he got sick. “I think that’s very unfair,” my father said more than a week before he died. “They have no consideration — in other words you’re just cattle. It goes to show a great indifference.”

My experience was not unique. My colleagues at the Times have reported that several other families said nursing homes did not tell them when a resident tested positive or what steps the homes were taking to prevent the virus from spreading. Outside of New York state, families are raising similar alarms and demanding the release of better information by governments and facilities. In recent days, Florida and California began releasing information on which nursing homes have outbreaks.

Indeed, it was only by chance that I learned my father was not the first resident at his nursing home to test positive. When I called to update the home about his test results, a staffer asked how he was doing. I sighed and told the staffer he had tested positive for coronavirus. To my surprise, the staffer said that there were others and that the facility had been slow to quarantine floors. My heart dropped. How could this have happened?

On March 12, I had received a robocall letting me know that all medically nonessential visits to the facility had been suspended, but reassuring us that there were no cases in the facility. My father started hearing rumors from staff and residents that the virus had quietly seeped into the nursing home. One staffer told him that another staffer had fallen sick and could not work, and residents spoke about another resident who was hospitalized.

My father said he and some of the other residents were still being allowed to move around the nursing home without masks and were never warned that the virus had entered the 159-bed facility.

And while my father had symptoms of the disease — a persistent dry cough, diarrhea, fever, headaches and body aches — no one at the home, including the doctor who called to follow up with me about his persistent cough, told him or me that they suspected he might have the virus.

On March 18, I received another reassuring robocall from the nursing home. “We continue to take stringent precautions in ensuring that your loved ones remain safe,” the automated call stated. “To date, we do not have any presumed or positive cases in any of our facilities and will continue to provide you with relevant updates as they become available.”

On March 23, I emailed Aharon Wolf, the administrator of my father’s facility, Hudson Pointe at Riverdale Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in the Bronx, asking for an update and whether the virus had made its way there. I did not get a response. Two days later my father was hospitalized and the next day tested positive for COVID-19.

After I learned my father was the fourth resident to test positive, I immediately called Wolf.

He explained that three residents had tested positive for the virus at a hospital before my father was hospitalized. A staff member at the home had also tested positive around the same time, he told me. He said that infected residents had been transferred to hospitals and were no longer in the nursing home.

It was a day after I received my father’s positive test result that a staffer finally left a voicemail message to inform me that the virus was in the nursing home. Then, three days before my father died, I received another robocall from the facility stating that some residents had tested positive for COVID-19.

When I called Wolf back while reporting this story, he told me relatives were being updated and that notifying 150 families takes time.

My father fought hard to beat the virus. His condition changed every few days. At first he was stable, and then his symptoms worsened. At one point, his blood pressure dropped, and his breathing became labored.

The other times he was hospitalized with complications from his lung disease, I would drop by his hospital room after work with a hamburger and a smile. I would hug him, rub his mostly bald head and encourage him to hang in there.

This time was different. I could only talk to him over a video chat app. This virus has made it unsafe to visit our infected and dying loved ones in the hospital, leaving them isolated and alone.

I tried to keep his spirits high, reminding him he was a fighter. I played for him the songs he loved and that I grew up listening to: “Cruisin’” by Smokey Robinson and “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers.

When he had the energy, we chatted and I blew him kisses over the phone. “Hey, big guy,” I’d say, to my dad, who was 6-foot-7. My father, whose name I share, was a retired Metropolitan Transportation Authority employee who had spent much of his time there doing trackwork and swore that he had the answers to fixing the beleaguered subway system. (The transit authority has suffered its own losses, with more than 50 MTA workers killed by the virus.)

Sometimes he griped about the hospital food — it was too cold, he said, or they were served chicken for dinner, again.

But in his last week, he looked increasingly tired. He was out of breath and had lost his booming voice.

Hours before he died, I called him on his cellphone, but he did not answer. Minutes later, he called me back, and I was overjoyed to see his face.

Full Article & Source:
Coronavirus Entered My Father’s Nursing Home and Nobody Warned Me. I Did Not Get the Chance to Save Him.

Alabama Federal Court Tosses Ex-Lawyer’s Appeal of Disbarment

An Alabama attorney’s appeal of his disbarment for letting clients lie in court and for allowing another disbarred lawyer do legal work for his law firm, was rejected Monday by a federal judge.

“This court does not have the power to review and reweigh evidence that was presented to the bar’s disciplinary panel almost a decade ago, and it certainly has no authority to reverse the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision to affirm the bar’s decision,” Judge Liles C. Burke of the Birmingham-based U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama said.

Only U.S. Supreme Court decisions can bind state courts, the judge said, citing a 2003 opinion from the 11th Circuit. Liles sits in Huntsville.

Carl Michael Seibert of Huntsville was disbarred in 2011 for “intentionally engaging in unethical and illegal conduct on behalf of a bail bonding company,” Burke said.

Seibert alleged in his defense in 2011 that he had been the target of “hostile plans and conspiracies” from a local district attorney’ s office. Since then, he’s sought on “multiple occasions” to have the ruling overturned, Burke noted.

Here, his “specific factual allegations are difficult to discern because the complaint is rambling at times and is somewhat disjointed,” the judge said.

While Burke noted several claims, including that defendant Jeremy McIntire, the state bar’s prosecutor, “knew that the other allegations were false but continued with the prosecution anyway,” he said, any discussion of the claims and the defendants’ defenses, including immunity, don’t warrant discussion because the court lacked jurisdiction.

The case is Seibert v. McIntire, 2020 BL 127093, N.D. Ala., No. 5:19-cv-1619-LCB, 4/6/20.

Full Article & Source:
Alabama Federal Court Tosses Ex-Lawyer’s Appeal of Disbarment

Carla Fried: Part 1 — Financial abuse steals billions from seniors each year

Aging baby boomers represent a growing market for financial fraud. The official figure for elder financial fraud used by a congressional committee is around $3 billion a year, but that’s based solely on reported cases of fraud; other estimates are 10 times that much.

The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau published a report last year that highlighted the growth in banks and brokerages reporting “suspicious” activity on accounts of elderly clients. Between 2013 through 2017, the monthly filing of suspicious activity reports tied to elder financial exploitation increased fourfold from an average of 1,300 to 5,300. When the victim knew the other person (an acquaintance or, sadly, a family member), the average loss was $50,000. When the victim didn’t have a personal relationship with the fraudster, the average loss was $17,000.

There are many ways to build a line of defense that will make it less likely you, or an elderly parent or loved one, will fall prey to scams. In this installment, I’ll cover advice for people in their 50s and 60s on how to start building protections into their financial life. In a second article, I’ll cover tips for how to approach an elderly family member to help them stay safe.

Steps to take today to protect an older you from elder financial abuse

—Don’t delay. You likely are on top of everything right now. And hopefully will remain so for decades. But building in protection from elder financial abuse is akin to why you have insurance: You put it in place, just in case. And besides, if you keep putting off decisions that can make you less vulnerable to elder financial fraud, you will miss opportunities to make smart choices today that essentially will buy you protection in retirement. And let’s face it, if dementia or other cognitive issues arise, you’re likely not going to notice a year in advance and take steps then to protect yourself. Do it now.

—Create a durable power of attorney. This is someone you appoint who can step in and handle your financial affairs easily if the need arises. Given the depressing earlier mention that the elderly lost more to fraud when they knew the person, this obviously needs to be someone you can trust. An estate planning lawyer can help you with a power of attorney (POA), or if you prefer, a web search of “durable power of attorney” will land you at sites that offer free forms. Just follow the instructions carefully; the finished POA must be notarized. A POA is just one of the essential documents you should have in place to protect yourself and your family.

—Embrace the “guaranteed income” approach to retirement planning. As you near retirement, you’ll need to tackle the job of figuring out how to generate a reliable stream of income to support you into your 90s. (Yep, your 90s; a 65-year-old today has pretty strong odds of living that long.)

A strategy recommended by many retirement planning pros is to make sure your essential living costs are covered by “guaranteed” income, not investments whose value can rise and fall.

Social Security is one of the most valuable sources of guaranteed income. If you have a pension, that can be a source of guaranteed income, but only if you don’t do a lump-sum rollover with the intention of investing the money yourself. That lump sum makes you vulnerable to fraudsters. Just something to keep in mind.

Another source of guaranteed income is an income annuity: You hand a chunk of money to an insurance company, and they agree to give you a fixed monthly payout for the rest of your life, or a set period — it’s your choice. Not only is that guaranteed income, but it’s also a chunk of money that is no longer available for future fraudsters to set their sights on.

Income annuities are straightforward and recommended by retirement researchers. They are not to be confused with all the other types of annuities (index annuities, variable, etc.) that can be way too expensive and embedded with fine print risks.

—Consider rollovers of old 401(k) accounts. If you have more than one or two workplace retirement plans, consolidating them via 401(k) rollovers will make it easier for you (and anyone who might step in to help at some juncture) to manage your investments and your required minimum distributions that begin at age 72. That said, there can also be good reasons to leave the money right where it is. Learn more here:

Full Article & Source:
Carla Fried: Part 1 — Financial abuse steals billions from seniors each year

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

'This Is Really Life or Death.' For People With Disabilities, Coronavirus Is Making It Harder Than Ever to Receive Care

Alice Wong, Sami Leskin and Jeiri Flores
Courtesy of Alice Wong, Photograph by Eddie Hernandez Photography; Courtesy of Lori Leskin; Courtesy of Jeiri Flores;
By Abigail Abrams

Jeiri Flores is normally a busy, upbeat 29-year-old. But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, her go-to thought has been dark. “If I get this,” she thinks, “I’m gonna die.”

This is not an unfounded fear. Flores has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair and needs assistance with everyday tasks, including making food and getting dressed. Her disability means it’s tougher for her immune system to kick illnesses; she’s still recovering from a bout of pneumonia she had in January. So beating COVID-19 could easily mean a protracted battle and months in a hospital—a prospect that comes with a cascading series of challenges unique to people with disabilities. At a time when all Americans are facing unforeseen obstacles and concerned about their futures, Flores and more than 60 million Americans with disabilities like her are facing perhaps the toughest road of all.

With hospitals restricting visitors amid the pandemic, Flores and others who rely on family and aides for assistance and advocacy would no longer be guaranteed that resource. If access to life-saving care became limited, Flores would be up against potentially discriminatory state health plans to ration care. And if she made it out of the hospital, Flores’s fight would rage on: she’d need to ensure she could continue getting support in her home without exposing the health aides she needs to the virus.

All of this is why Flores’ top goal right now is to avoid getting COVID-19 in the first place, which means staying at her home in Rochester, New York. But even following stay-at-home orders is complicated for people with disabilities. Medicaid allows Flores to hire a home health aide to help with daily tasks and a “respite worker” to take her grocery shopping or see her friends. But in recent weeks, an effort to avoid infection has curtailed the outings with her respite worker, especially since the worker’s partner still works at Target and could expose them all. Shortages of personal protective equipment combined with existing workforce issues and uncertainty over future Medicaid funding are making it increasingly difficult for Flores and those like her to stay at home.

“This has completely changed my access to the community,” Flores says.

Roughly one in four adults in the U.S. has a disability, and an estimated 60% of Americans have at least one chronic health condition that could make the symptoms of COVID-19 more severe or deadly. Even in normal times, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses confront biases in medical care, face waiting lists to get support in their own homes instead of at nursing homes, and struggle to access government benefits. But amid a global pandemic, those challenges are heightened—and so far, lawmakers have mostly ignored their calls for help.

“You’re really increasing the risks to disabled people’s health when they don’t have access to these basic services,” says Rebecca Cokley, who leads the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress. “This is really life or death for our community.”

The Dangers of Nursing Homes

Congress passed another $484 billion relief bill on April 23 that focused mostly on funding for small businesses, hospitals and coronavirus testing. As the next relief package begins to take shape in Washington, advocates for disabled people are pushing lawmakers to, among other things, increase Medicaid funding for at-home care—a crucial mechanism to help people with disabilities avoid nursing homes or other group settings that have been breeding grounds for COVID-19.

“What the pandemic is putting a very fine point on right now is the fact that nursing homes and other congregate settings can be a public health hazard to people with disabilities,” says Nicole Jorwic, senior director of public policy at The Arc, an organization that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “What we need to do is provide more access to home and community-based services, so that they are not only integrated in their homes and communities as they should be, but also so that they are safe.”

Julia Ramos has seen the consequences of the virus devastating the Long Island nursing home where her grandmother lives with dementia. On March 25, when New York state began requiring nursing homes to accept patients discharged from hospitals, even if they had tested positive for COVID-19, Ramos was aghast. “It’s horrible,” Ramos says. “That’s just creating an explosion.”

By April 22, the 460-bed nursing home had seen 23 patients die from COVID-19 and 54 more had tested positive, including 17 people who came from local hospitals already infected. Stuart Almer, the president and CEO of Gurwin, was critical of the state’s policy requiring his facility to accept patients who had tested positive for the virus. “A different plan could have been developed to safeguard people who are positive and not introduce them where people are sick,” he says.

When a new patient gets infected, they—and their exposed roommate—may be quarantined in their current room, meaning the virus is not contained to just one area of the facility, and staff may need to care for both infected and non-infected patients. Ramos says her family feels helpless and her grandfather has been crying because he doesn’t know when he’ll see his wife again. “He is so worried that she is going to forget him and forget who he is,” Ramos says.

Julia Ramos' grandmother, Angelica Mendez, with her husband Pedro Mendez, on their 64th wedding anniversary.
Julia Ramos' grandmother, Angelica Mendez, with her husband Pedro Mendez, on their 64th wedding anniversary. Courtesy of Julia Ramos

Staying Safe, and Isolated, at Home

For people with disabilities, “stay at home” orders only work if they can access the support they need at home.

Michele Kaplan, 44, who has brain cysts and spine issues that often prevent her from moving her limbs, usually gets assistance through a Medicaid program that pays for home care workers. But these workers don’t get paid sick leave, health insurance or any PPE, and so her usual personal care aides, concerned for their own health, had to stop coming once the pandemic hit Manhattan. Kaplan wanted to hire new aides, especially since so many people are out of work, but her program requires health assessments and vaccinations that would be nearly impossible to get with non-essential health care shut down due to COVID-19, she says.

Bryan O’Malley, executive director of the Community Directed Personal Assistance Association, says he supports the requirements under normal circumstances, but is lobbying state officials to temporarily loosen these regulations during the pandemic. “The policies are actually serving to take away the community resources that exist at the exact time we need them most,” O’Malley says. As the coronavirus leaves more people with potentially lasting health and economic consequences, he adds, the need for assistance is likely to rise.

For now, Kaplan has been switched to a traditional home care model, which means she rotates through a series of temporary assistants who don’t have experience caring for her. It’s not an ideal situation, but Kaplan worries that if officials determine the aides cannot meet her needs, they could recommend she move to a nursing home, an outcome Kaplan has experienced before and says is “terrifying.”

For people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, COVID-19 can be disorienting no matter where they are. Lori Leskin pulled her 24-year-old daughter Sami, who has a seizure disorder and does not use words to speak, out of her day program in March as the coronavirus outbreak expanded. Sami is a “very social being,” Leskin says, so the pandemic has been hard for her without her usual routine. But Leskin knows this is safer than any group setting right now and is hoping her daughter’s program will survive the shutdown. “We spent years building this life,” she says, “and here we are praying that we could put it back together whenever we get out of this.”

Kate Haaland has been in her Waterford, Connecticut home with her son Chris Horwath since March 13, when she also pulled him out of the day program he usually attends. Chris, 25, is deaf, legally blind and has significant intellectual and developmental disabilities that prevent him from understanding something like a global pandemic. To Chris, Haaland says, the past six weeks have meant no friends from his program and none of his normal activities like swimming or going to restaurants in town. “Most days we are in crisis most of the time,” she says.

While staying home is hard for her son, Haaland says she wants to avoid going to the hospital at all costs, especially because Connecticut’s current no-visitors guidance for hospitals does not have an explicit exception for people with disabilities who live at home. (Those who live in group homes are allowed to bring a caregiver.) “That would just be horrific for both of us,” Haaland says. When Chris has gone to the hospital in the past, Haaland is the one who communicates with doctors because he cannot speak or follow their instructions. Some doctors have questioned whether it is worth operating on Chris in the past, she says, so she has had to advocate for him.

Concern Over Medical Biases

Haaland’s experience with Chris’s doctors is not a unique one. Most medical schools do not teach future doctors about disability, says Dr. Lisa Iezzoni, a physician and researcher at Harvard Medical School. And most clinical trials exclude people with disabilities, so many doctors only interact with disabled people when they are already sick and seeking care.

Iezzoni, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair, recently conducted a national survey of doctors’ attitudes toward people with disabilities. “The vast majority of doctors view quality of life for people with disabilities as less than that for people without disability,” she says. “That’s an implicit bias, or maybe it’s an explicit bias, that is inevitably going to affect how they approach a person with a disability.” Iezzoni’s own research and other studies have shown that disabled people face disparities in their rates of diagnosis, across various health outcomes and in overall access to care.

Dawn Gibson, who has ankylosing spondylitis and severe food allergies, says she is often dismissed as a black woman with chronic illness. After launching an online community in 2013 for disabled and chronically ill people to share their experiences, she became a patient advocate, speaking at conferences and pushing for more research into the impact of diseases on African Americans. “There is a systemic resistance to the pain of black people,” she says.

Even with this background, she is scared of going to a hospital in Detroit during the COVID-19 pandemic because she expects to be treated poorly. Several years ago, Gibson had broken out in hives due to a food allergy, and gone to the emergency room. But the staff, she says, assumed she had been taking drugs, so she had to fight to get seen before she passed out. “I don’t trust going in any of these facilities, but I can’t let that end my life,” she says.

Alice Wong, 46, sees these biases too. She has a progressive neuromuscular disease that means she uses a ventilator, attached to her wheelchair, all the time. When hospitals started talking about rationing ventilators during the COVID-19 crisis for the most “deserving” patients, Wong was angry but not surprised. At least 25 states have policies that could mean people with disabilities are less likely to get critical care if hospitals are overloaded, according to a report from the Center for Public Integrity. Six states’ triage plans allow doctors to take away ventilators from those, like Wong, who use them in everyday life to help other patients. Disability rights advocates have filed formal complaints in four states and Alabama revised its policy after the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights conducted a review.

“Just because I need assistance with my life, that doesn’t mean that I can’t live successfully,” Wong says. She is the founder of the Disability Visibility Project and edited a book about people’s disability experiences that is coming out later this year. “There’s this idea that to have a full life, to have a quality life, it must be without suffering or pain. If you have a disability, that’s not compatible with ideas of a good life,” she says. “There’s a real missing experience and expertise in terms of just how resilient we are and how much we can offer the world.”

Helping Each Other Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the country, disability rights organizations, activists and nonprofits have used their networks to care for their own communities.

The Disability Justice Culture Club in Oakland, California has launched a mutual aid network and is hosting workshops on self-advocacy, while Disabled American Veterans is helping people apply for benefits online, holding virtual job fairs, and has set up a disaster relief program to provide disabled veterans with small grants of about $250 to help cover immediate expenses like rent and groceries. So far, it has provided $1.3 million and hopes to raise more, says Dan Clare, DAV’s chief communications and outreach officer.

“The people that actually need the help are the people that have the hardest time asking for it,” says Jay Salazar, who is helping organize Disability Justice Culture Club’s mutual aid network.

People with disabilities organized on social media long before COVID-19 forced everyone to do so, but the pandemic has underscored those efforts. Many activists are using hashtags such as #HighRiskCovid, #WhatWeNeed and #WeAreEssential to highlight the disability community’s concerns, catching the attention of some lawmakers. Democratic Senators Bob Casey, Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren all encouraged Twitter users to share their experiences to help the lawmakers push for increased funding earlier this month.

But nothing is guaranteed in the next stimulus bill, and in the meantime, the pandemic is affecting disabled people more and more each day.

“My fear is what the long term effects will be,” says Flores, the advocate from Rochester. “If I get corona, I’m gonna die because I’m disabled and someone along the lines has decided that my life is of less value. I’m not 30 yet. There’s still so much more that I have to do.”

Correction, April 27
The original version of this story misstated the amount of money distributed by Disabled American Veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. It is $1.3 million, not $13 million.

Full Article & Source:
'This Is Really Life or Death.' For People With Disabilities, Coronavirus Is Making It Harder Than Ever to Receive Care