Saturday, November 7, 2020

Doctor sues Texas judge over guardianized mom's will

By David Yates

HOUSTON - A Texas physician executive has sued a Houston-area probate judge in federal court, alleging unlawful treatment, rascality, unfair judicial practices that violated her mother Hattie Owen’s final wishes before she died under court-appointed guardianship. 

The plaintiff daughter, Dr. Sheila Owens Collins, named Harris County Probate Judge Michael Newman in her complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Texas.

“The court conspired and colluded in actions that caused the loss of life for Hattie Owens and loss of a mother for Dr. Sheila Owens-Collins,” the Oct. 22 federal complaint states.

As previously reported by the SE Texas Record, it is not uncommon for the elderly and people with disabilities to lose their individual rights around choice of meals, health insurance, marital status, medical care, medication, residence, visitation, assets and property once they become a ward of most American states under a court-ordered guardianship. 

“Hon. Judge Newman declared that the plaintiff [Dr. Sheila Owens Collins] was unsuitable to serve as the first-named executor,” the opening brief states. “The stated reason of family discord is unreasonable and not substantiated by case law. The siblings have been disgruntled all of their lives. Their mother, Hattie Owens, was aware of this and named plaintiff, Dr. Owens Collins to carry out her last wishes. The Judge is arbitrarily non-compliant with her wish in favor of channeling more monies out of the estate to the detriment of the beneficiaries."

Dr. Owens-Collins, a neonatologist on staff at a Clearlake hospital and other hospitals nationwide, alleges in the complaint that the Honorable Judge Newman caused undue diminution of her mother's estate and ignored her mother’s wishes, which were stated in a will, accepting instead as truth the submission of unsubstantiated claims that slandered the doctor's character, according to a press release.

"This case highlights the failures of the public entity known as the Harris County Guardianship and Probate Court system, as well as the failures of the agents and appointees of the Harris County guardianship program under both Texas state law and the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) for the acts and omissions of the Harris County guardianship program,” the pleading states.

After the plaintiff's mother died on Jan. 1, 2019, Dr. Owens Collins alleges that the Honorable Judge Newman abused his discretion by closing the guardianship prematurely before the estate was satisfactorily settled by all stakeholders.  

“Defendant exploited Plaintiff by subjecting her to conditions and mistreatment that are nothing short of vile,” according to the complaint. “Hon. Judge Newman allowed a toxic environment in the court proceedings by allowing Guardian Ad Litem [Tim Berlinger] to spew inflammatory remarks about the plaintiff that were defaming, unprofessional, and totally unsubstantiated.”

In the lawsuit, the plaintiff daughter states she has filed a complaint against the Honorable Judge Newman with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. The relief she seeks includes a jury trial, public injunctive relief as well as a declaration that reverses the alleged weaponization of the court system while enjoining the judiciary. 

At a Nov. 9 probate court hearing, Judge Newman is scheduled to consider the plaintiff’s son Dr. Roy Collins, a Yale graduate and psychiatrist-in-training at Stanford University in California, as the second executor. However, the federal complaint states, "Judge Newman has already signaled that the second executor, who happens to be the Plaintiff’s son and decedent’s grandson, will not be named executor, which is an abuse of judicial discretion."

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Judge says care home residents in England are legally allowed visitors

Mr Justice Hayden said courts were concerned about the impact on elderly people of lockdowns. Photograph: Rosemary Roberts/Alamy Stock Photo

A senior judge has said friends and family can legally visit their loved ones in care homes, in an apparent challenge to recent government policy that has in effect banned routine visits in areas of high Covid-19 infection.

Mr Justice Hayden, vice-president of the court of protection which makes decisions for people who lack mental capacity, said courts are concerned about the impact on elderly people of lockdowns. He has circulated a memo that sets out his analysis that regulations do “permit contact with relatives” and friends and visits are “lawful”.

He was responding to guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) last month telling thousands of care homes in England that visiting should be stopped in areas with tier 2 and tier 3 lock down restrictions, apart from in exceptional circumstances such as the end of life.

It triggered blanket prohibitions by some councils and sparked anguish from relatives who warn a lack of contact is leading to misery and early death in some cases. Within a week, Gloucestershire county council told care homes in its area to stop visits until next spring.

With the England-wide lockdown starting on Thursday, care home providers, families and groups including Age UK and Alzheimer’s Society, have called on ministers to this time make clearer provisions for visiting. The high court judge’s comments, issued on 15 October, could boost their cause.

Hayden said exceptions in the existing regulations mean contact with residents staying in care homes is lawful for close family members and friends. He said the court of protection was concerned about “the impact the present arrangements may have on elderly people living in care homes,” citing their suffering.

Relatives and residents have become increasingly despairing at a lack of access, with some feeling their loved ones are in effect “imprisoned”. A promise by the care minister Helen Whately on 13 October to start testing relatives to allow them to visit has not been fulfilled.

Whately had told parliament that selected close relatives could be treated like key workers and allowed into care homes saying: “I am planning for us to launch a pilot on that shortly.” But no pilot has been launched. DHSC officials say they are “considering plans” with and promise further details “in due course”. Rapid turnaround saliva testing has been mooted by NHS test and trace as one way of allowing more care home visits and is being trialled in Liverpool, where the mayor, Joe Anderson, on Tuesday said it would be used in care homes.

“We can no longer stand by and watch the erosion of people’s human rights and the impact of isolation through the effective blanket bans on visiting in care homes,” said a statement co-ordinated by the National Care Forum ahead of MPs voting on Wednesday about new lockdown restrictions. NCF represents charitable care home providers and its call is backed by 60 care organisations, health charities and relatives groups.

“We know that isolation caused by restrictions on visits from loved ones is intrinsically harmful and we have heard over and again the extreme anguish that this is causing. After eight months of visitor restrictions – we cannot continue like this – there is simply not enough time for many of those living in care homes today to watch and wait.”

Blocks on care home visits were introduced in spring to reduce the spread of the virus into settings with highly vulnerable populations. More than 18,000 people have so far died from confirmed or suspected Covid-19 in UK care homes.

A spokesperson for the DHSC said: “We know limiting visits in care homes has been incredibly difficult for many families, but our first priority remains the prevention of infections to protect the lives of vulnerable residents.”

Some care residents have been in isolation since March triggering rising concern at the impact on their mental and physical health.

John’s Campaign, which lobbies for greater involvement of family and friends in care, has launched a legal claim over the government’s visiting policy which details harrowing cases of separation, according to filings seen by the Guardian.

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DeForest man charged with financially exploiting elderly relative

A 45-year-old DeForest man has been charged in connection with three alleged schemes designed to financially exploit his elderly relative.

Attorney General Josh Kaul announced the charges Thursday, Nov. 5, against Jason Thomas McDermott. They were the result of an investigation conducted by the Medicaid Fraud Control and Elder Abuse Unit of the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

"It’s important for Wisconsinites to be aware of the signs of, and to report, elder abuse and exploitation,” said Attorney General Kaul. "The Wisconsin Department of Justice is committed to preventing the victimization of seniors and to holding perpetrators accountable.”

According to the criminal complaint, McDermott, who also goes by the name Thomas McDermott, allegedly threatened to kill his relative and make it look like suicide if she did not sell her share of a condominium to him for far less than fair market value.

McDermott is also alleged to have signed his relative up for benefits through the Veteran’s Administration (VA), without her knowledge or participation, by forging a doctor’s signature and medical findings on the application documents.

Lastly, McDermott allegedly used his relative’s identity to apply for credit cards, again without her knowledge or participation. Reportedly, he used those credit cards for such things as airfare, hotel accommodations, and shopping spree in New Orleans, Louisiana.

As in any criminal proceeding, McDermott is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Timothy J. Filipa from the DOJ Medicaid Fraud Control and Elder Abuse Unit. The DOJ Office of Crime Victim Services is providing victim services.

Wisconsinites can help fight patient and elder abuse by reporting abuse at and 1-833-586-0107.

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Friday, November 6, 2020

Star Trek Actress' Son Seeks New Conservatorship for Mom in NM

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Nichelle Nichols' son will ask a New Mexico court to grant him a new conservatorship of his mother in that state, where he moved the 87-year-old “Star Trek'' actress on Sunday, his attorney told a Los Angeles judge today.

When Nichols was still living at her longtime Woodland Hills home, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Barbara Johnson appointed 68-year-old Kyle Johnson -- who is not related to the judge -- as the permanent conservator of his mother's person and her estate. The judge said a conservatorship was appropriate because of Nichols' dementia. In August, the judge approved the move of Nichols to New Mexico.

Judge Johnson has since retired and during this morning's hearing, Kyle Johnson's lawyer, Jeffrey Marvan, told Judge Paul Suzuki that his client interviewed two New Mexico lawyers about handling the new conservatorship there. Marvan said the two lawyers were both in a race to be elected judge and that the loser will be the one hired.

“OK, that's an interesting dilemma you have there,'' Suzuki told Marvan.

In a sworn declaration submitted to the court earlier in support of Kyle Johnson's move of his mother to New Mexico, one of the actress' sisters, Marion Smothers, noted that her nephew has lived in that state with his wife since the early 1990s.

“He is a respected member of his community and the former general manager of a radio station; he has many friends and a network of resources to support him,'' Smothers wrote.

Smothers said Nichols' income is limited and that her life has been impacted by aging and the coronavirus' effect on the economy. Smothers also said she already cares for her disabled husband and that Nichols' other siblings have health concerns of their own.

Meanwhile, Suzuki said he would defer to the New Mexico courts on a request by Angelique Fawcett, a friend of Nichols, to resume previous visits she had with the actress through a court order. Fawcette says she agreed in December 2018 to drop her challenge to Johnson being made his mother's permanent conservator in exchange for two monthly meetings with Nichols, who she met in 2012.

For years, the two went to lunch together and visited each other on Christmas, according to Fawcette's court papers. But Fawcette maintains in her court papers that Johnson stopped allowing the visits in 2019. Her attorney, Farris Ain, asked that the visit be resumed, even if they were by video.

But Marvan told Suzuki the visits stopped after Fawcette allegedly violated a non-disclosure agreement.

“If the person is in New Mexico, I'd rather let them decide,'' Suzuki said. “I'm especially concerned if someone is leaking information to the media.''

Nichols played Lt. Uhura, a translator and communications officer, aboard the USS Enterprise in the “Star Trek'' series that ran on NBC from 1966-69, and also appeared in some of the later “Star Trek'' movies.

Her son had a major role in the 1969 film “The Learning Tree.''

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A Florida attorney stole $53,000 from a senior citizen client. What happens to him next?

By David J. Neal

Johnie Cooper The Florida Bar

There’s no question Starke attorney Johnie Cooper ripped off a client for $53,097, according to the Florida Bar. Now, the question is how much punishment Cooper will get.

Professionally, Cooper gave up his law license via disciplinary revocation, according to the monthly Florida Bar discipline report, which was released last Thursday. Disciplinary revocation makes any Bar discipline matters go away, but the attorney is, essentially, disbarred. Usually, the attorney requests and receives the option of applying for readmission in five years.

Cooper, 60 and admitted to the Bar in 1991, asked to be given no chance to reapply.

Disciplinary revocation does nothing to criminal charges, such as what Cooper is facing in Bradford County Court: one count of theft of more than $50,000 from a victim 65 years or older.

Cooper’s disciplinary revocation petition says he paid his victim back the $53,097 plus interest.

“I would hope that would result in some leniency,” Cooper’s attorney Robert Rush said Wednesday, “and he took that action before criminal charges were filed, I believe.”

Cooper was the attorney for George Browning when Browning tried to sell C&C Storage facility in Starke. A potential buyer couldn’t complete the deal, thus losing his $75,000 in escrow, $53,097 of which was to go to Browning. Sunshine Title Company sent a check for Browning’s money to Cooper on Sept. 17, 2018, according to court documents and it was deposited that day in Cooper’s trust account.

“Browning stated that he contacted Cooper several times about the $53,097 and Cooper would tell him the judge had not released the funds yet,” the probable cause affidavit said.

Finally, on March 3, 2020, Browning contacted Sunshine about the money and the title company showed him the checks that had been issued. The next day, Browning was in Cooper’s office demanding his money, the affidavit said. Cooper asked for two weeks to come up with the cash.

Browning went to the Bradford County Sheriff’s Office.

Rush said he guesses this case will be resolved in three to six months.

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Nursing homes cite shortages of masks, gloves, gowns and other PPE

By Khristopher J. Brooks

Click to Watch Video

Thousands of nursing homes still don't have enough gloves, N95 masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment to safeguard staff and residents from a potential coronavirus outbreak, according to a report released this week by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. 

The U.S. PIRG examined data voluntarily submitted to federal health officials by nursing homes in May through August. Almost 3,000 nursing homes said they had less than a week's worth of PPE on hand, according to the data. 

Nursing homes have an essential need for PPE because workers there are caring for seniors and other residents who are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

"It's critical because an outbreak could wipe out their supply in a day or two," wrote U.S. PIRG's Teresa Murray and Jamie Friedman of Frontier Group, the report's co-authors. "In addition, it's a huge problem because [nursing] homes don't necessarily know when they're going to get more of a particular item."

PPE shortages are once again taking place just as the nation is experiencing a third wave in COVID-19 cases. More than 83,000 new cases were reported on two consecutive days this week, marking an all-time daily high in new cases for the U.S. since the pandemic started. 

It's particularly important that nursing home workers get PPE not only to protect residents and themselves, but to prevent wider spread of the virus among family members when they return home from work or anyone they might come into contact with in public places, the U.S. PIRG said. 

With at least 84,000 deaths tied to them, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities for the elderly have been marked as COVID-19 hot spots, according to a New York Times database

Data published this week from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that nursing homes account for more than 40% of all COVID-19 deaths. The foundation also found that there were more deaths at nursing homes with Black and Latino residents. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asked nursing homes to report their monthly inventory of masks, gowns, eye protection, gloves and hand sanitizer. Masks and gowns had the highest shortage – particularly in New Hampshire, New Mexico, Vermont and West Virginia. Hand sanitizer was the item they were running low on the least.

Some states experienced a PPE shortage immediately after one-off outbreaks, such as a COVID-19 surge that followed the Sturgis motorcycle rally this summer in South Dakota, Murray and Friedman said. 

In other states, the shortages are harder to explain.

"In states like New Hampshire, cases and deaths dropped dramatically in late June and remained relatively low the rest of the summer [so] there's no immediate indication why PPE was in such short supply," the co-authors wrote in their report, adding, "Overall, the shortages likely were caused by myriad reasons: outbreaks, economics, poor planning or politics or some combination of those." 

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Thursday, November 5, 2020

Former Limestone County judge pleads guilty to theft and ethics charges

Douglas Patterson
A former Limestone County judge pleaded guilty on Friday to theft and ethics charges.

Douglas Patterson resigned from his position in July. He pleaded guilty to the intentional use of official position or office for personal gain, financial exploitation of the elderly first degree and theft of property third degree.

Patterson agreed to pay a restitution of more than $70,000. In his plea agreement, he admitted to "violating his oath of office and Alabama law by stealing $47,800 from the Limestone County Juvenile Court Services Fund which was designated to support the children of Limestone County," said Attorney General Steve Marshall in a statement Friday afternoon.

Patterson was initially charged in 2019. Until his resignation in July of this year, he received $5,404.42 twice a month from the State of Alabama while being suspended from working as a judge.

On Oct. 28, Attorney Chuck Warren filed a motion to withdraw as counsel for Patterson.

Patterson pleaded guilty during a hearing Friday morning at the Limestone County Courthouse. His sentencing is set for Dec. 8 at 1:30 p.m.

You can read more from the attorney general's statement on Friday below: 

"Attorney General Steve Marshall announced the conviction Friday of Douglas Lee Patterson, a former district court judge in the 39th Judicial Circuit in Limestone County, on three felony charges: use of official position or office for personal gain, financial exploitation of the elderly in the first degree, and theft of property in the third degree."

"On October 30, Patterson pleaded guilty in the Limestone County Circuit Court to the above three felonies before specially appointed Judge Steven E. Haddock. Judge Haddock set sentencing for December 8 at 1:30 p.m. The ethics charge and the financial exploitation charge are Class B felonies punishable by up to 20 years of imprisonment and a $30,000 fine. The theft charge is punishable by up to five years of imprisonment and a $7,500 fine.

"As part of Patterson’s plea agreement, he admitted to violating his oath of office and Alabama law by stealing $47,800 from the Limestone County Juvenile Court Services Fund which was designated to support the children of Limestone County. As Limestone County’s juvenile court judge, Patterson could and did impose supervision fees in certain juvenile cases, which he later stole and used for his own personal benefit. By the time Patterson’s actions were discovered, he had emptied the juvenile account.

"Patterson also admitted in court that, while serving as a private attorney, he financially exploited Charles Lee Hardy, for whom he served as a court-appointed conservator. Hardy, who died in December 2015, was a disabled military veteran living in a nursing home. Patterson disregarded his obligation to protect Hardy’s finances and instead plundered his account by taking Hardy’s money and spending it on himself. By the time Hardy died, Patterson had emptied his account and left his family nothing to inherit from the account.

"Finally, Patterson admitted that he stole from another conservatorship client, Rudolph Allen, while in private practice. In this case, Patterson stole $601 from Allen three years after he died in July 2015. Patterson spent the money on himself rather than turn it over to Allen’s family."

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Elder Abuse and Ageism During COVID-19

by Mansoor Malik, MD , Haroon Burhanullah, MD , Constantine G. Lyketsos, MD

The pandemic hit everyone hard, but what implications and consequences has it had for the older generations?


Older adults have been hit hard by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Mortality data from Oxford COVID-19 Evidence Service indicates a risk of mortality of 3.6% for people in their 60s, which increases to 8.0% and 14.8% for people in their 70s and over 80s.1 An age-related mortality study from China showed that patients of COVID-19 above aged 55 years had 3 times increased mortality. Older individuals are much more likely to develop COVID-19 related complications.2 The increased mortality reflects the underlying biological, social, and psychological vulnerabilities faced by the older population. Elderly individuals are also disproportionately affected by social distancing policies and other restrictions to stop the spread of the virus, resulting in increased loneliness, social isolation, and loss of freedom and support networks.3

Over the course of the pandemic, we have seen considerable media coverage about the risk of COVID-19 to older people. Unfortunately, much of this discourse has negatively fueled an already existing ageist sentiment. Ageism, which some define as stereotyping, prejudice, or discrimination toward people on the basis of age, is a serious international concern with important health implications.4 Multiple studies have indicated that ageism toward older adults is highly prevalent across countries and continues to grow with global population aging.5 Negative attitudes toward older adults pose significant risks to the health and well-being of older individuals, such as higher mortality risk, poor functional health, slower recovery from illness, and poor mental health.6

Negative attitudes toward this population are particularly prevalent on social media. A Twitter analysis of 18,128 tweets between March 12 and March 21, 2020, showed that about one‐quarter of all tweets could be considered ageist, either because they included jokes or ridicule aimed at older adults or because their content downplayed the relevance of COVID‐19 and/or implied their lives were less valuable.7 Ageist attitudes are nothing new. A previous study of Facebook posts indicated that 74% excoriated older individuals, 27% infantilized them, and 37% advocated banning them from public activities, such as shopping.8 Various social media discourses have surfaced about prejudiced representation and denigration of older people in society. For example, COVID-19 has been characterized with the hashtag #BoomerRemover, which has been trending on social media platforms, often accompanied with ageist disparaging and devaluing memes.9

Public discourse during the pandemic has increasingly portrayed those over the age of 70 as helpless, frail, and unable to contribute to society. These views are being spread by social media, the press, and public announcements by government officials throughout the world. There has been considerable media coverage and online discussions about potential for rationing of care of elderly people as they are more expendable than persons in other age groups. Some of the coverage seems to suggest that the deaths of older people somehow are not as important as the younger population.10

There have been numerous examples of flagrant discrimination against older individuals during COVID-19. Earlier in its course, COVID-19 was believed primarily to affect elderly people. Many young people did not follow adequate precautions, and strong public health warnings were not issued. Even after COVID-19 outbreaks in many nursing homes, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines did not identify residents in long-term care as a high priority for testing.11 Treatment resources and personal protective equipment have been consistently directed toward the younger population.12 In a press briefing in March, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus took unnamed nations to task for failing to treat the death of older adults as a “serious issue” and exhibiting signs of “moral decay.”13

One of the disturbing social consequences of COVID-19 includes a significant increase in the number of elder abuse cases, paralleling the rise of ageism. The CDC defines elder abuse as an “intentional act or failure to act by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust that causes or creates a serious risk of harm to an older adult.”14 Elder abuse was a huge public health problem globally even before COVID-19. It is estimated that in the United States, approximately 1 in 10 individuals over the age of 60 suffers physical, verbal or sexual abuse, or financial exploitation.15

Elder abuse is significantly underreported. Only 1 in 24 cases may be reported.16 In almost 60% of elder abuse and neglect incidents, the perpetrator is a family member.17 Social isolation is a significant risk for elder abuse. Other risk factors include cognitive impairment, physical frailty, and dependence on others for care. Nursing home residents are also particularly vulnerable to elder abuse.18 All of these risk factors have been compounded by COVID-19.

To reiterate, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a massive increase in the reports of elder abuse. Reports range from incidents of family violence, neglect, and financial scams. The Federal Trade Commission and the American Bar Association as well various state departments have issued warnings to the public.19 In Europe, there have been distressing reports of older people abandoned in care homes in Spain.20 In Italy, where 23% of the population is aged 65 years or older, some hospitals have used chronological age-based cutoffs to ration ventilators.20

Systemic issues

Mortality data from the Oxford COVID-19 Evidence Service indicates a risk of mortality of 3.6% for people in their 60s, which increases to 8.0% and 14.8% for people in their 70s and 80s.

Not only do pervasive ageist attitudes and stereotypes contribute to negative health outcomes, but ageism among health care professionals can also result in discriminatory practices that place older people at risk.21 Studies have found widespread negative attitudes toward older people and old age among physicians, medical students, and nurses.22 Such attitudes can lead to practical consequences for older patients. For example, assumptions regarding functional and cognitive decline can lead to more limited provision of medical information, withholding certain treatment options, and exclusion from clinical trials.23 Ageist attitudes have also been found among mental health practitioners and trainees (such as assuming that depression symptoms are normal among elderly adults), which in turn may restrict access to treatments and contribute to functional decline.24

Unfortunately, many well-intentioned efforts to combat the effects of COVID-19 have also resulted in marginalization of elderly adults. For example, recent shift towards telemedicine excludes roughly half of the adults over age 65 in the United States who lack access to broadband services.

Concluding thoughts

Elder abuse and ageism are extremely hard problems to combat. There are no clear ways to reduce ageism and change attitudes toward aging. Combined interventions with education and intergenerational contact seem to show the largest effects on attitudes.21

Adult Protection Services (APS) run by local or state health departments are usually responsible for investigating cases of elder abuse. However, few financial resources, insufficient access to information needed to resolve elder abuse cases, inadequate administrative systems, and lack of cross‐training with other disciplines in the aging field serving clients with mental health disabilities—these have hindered the role of APS workers in intervening in abusive situations.25

Two important federal laws address the issue of elder abuse: the Older Americans Act (OAA) and the Elder Justice Act (EJA). However, lack of funding and relaxed enforcement have diluted their effectiveness. The EJA has received less than 10% of the funding that was authorized, especially with respect to achieving its main goal of dedicated funding for APS.25 Denial of elder abuse and lack of funding continues to be a significant problem in the enforcement of existing laws. Urgent policy changes are needed to strengthen the protections for the elderly during COVID-19.

Table 1. Consider these forms of elder abuse, their manifestations, and their appropriate response methods.

Dr Malik is a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University SOM. Dr Burhanullah is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins University SOM. Dr Lyketsos is the Elizabeth Plank Althouse Professor and Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry, Bayview Campus, Johns Hopkins University SOM.


1. Oxford COVID-19 Evidence Service (2020). Global COVID-19 case fatality rates. Accessed September 25, 2020. 

2. Liu K, Chen Y, Lin R, Han K. Clinical features of COVID-19 in elderly patients: A comparison with young and middle-aged patients. J Infect. 2020;80(6):14-18.

3. Wu Z, McGoogan JM. Characteristics of and important lessons from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak in China: summary of a report of 72 314 cases from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. JAMA. 2020;323(13):1239-1242. Accessed September 18, 2020.

4. Butler RN. Ageism. In: Maddox GL, ed. The encyclopedia of aging. Vol. 1: A–L. New York, Springer Publishing; 2000:38–9.

5. North MS, Fiske ST. Modern attitudes toward older adults in the aging world: a cross-cultural meta-analysis. Psychol Bull. 2015;141(5):993–1021.

6. Chang ES, Kannoth S, Levy S, Wang SY, Lee JE, Levy BR. Global reach of ageism on older persons’ health: A systematic review. PLoS ONE. 2020;15(1):e0220857. Accessed September 18, 2020.

7. Jimenez‐Sotomayor MR, Gomez‐Moreno C, Soto‐Perez‐de‐Celis E. Coronavirus, Ageism, and Twitter: An Evaluation of Tweets about Older Adults and COVID‐19. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2020;68(8):1661-1665.

8. Levy BR, Chung PH, Bedford T, Navrazhina K. Facebook as a site for negative age stereotypes. Gerontologist. 2014;54(2):172‐176.

9. Ayalon L. There is nothing new under the sun: ageism and intergenerational tension in the age of the COVID-19 outbreak. Int Psychogeriatr. 2020;1‐4. Published online April 14, 2020.

10. Ayalon L, Chasteen A, Diehl M, et al. Aging in Times of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Avoiding Ageism and Fostering Intergenerational Solidarity. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2020. Published online April 16, 2020.

11. Overview of Testing for SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). CDC. Updated September 18, 2020. Accessed September 25, 2020.

12. Mahr J. Short staffing. PPE shortages. Few inspections. Why calls are growing for Illinois nursing home regulators to step up efforts on COVID-19. Chicago Tribune. May 13, 2020. Accessed September 18, 2020.

13. Carbonaro G. ‘Every life matters’: WHO chief warns against COVID-19 age discrimination. CGTN. March 11, 2020. Accessed September 18, 2020.

14. Elder Abuse. CDC. Accessed September 18, 2020.

15. Acierno R, Hernandez MA, Amstadter AB, et al. Prevalence and correlates of emotional, physical, sexual, and financial abuse and potential neglect in the United States: the National Elder Mistreatment Study. Am J Public Health.2010;100(2):292-297.

16. Lifespan of Greater Rochester Inc, Weill Cornell Medical Center of Cornell University, New York City Department for the Aging. Under the Radar: New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study. May 2011. Accessed September 18, 2020.

17. Amstadter AB, Cisler JM, McCauley JL, Hernandez MA, Muzzy W, Acierno R. Do incident and perpetrator characteristics of elder mistreatment differ by gender of the victim? Results from the National Elder Mistreatment Study. J Elder Abuse Negl. 2011;23(1):43-57.

18. Armitage R, Nellums LB. COVID-19 and the consequences of isolating the elderly. Lancet Public Health. 2020;5(5).

19. Tressler C. Coronavirus: Scammers follow the headlines. Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information. February 10, 2020. Accessed September 18, 2020.

20. Minder R, Peltier E. A deluged system leaves some elderly to die, rocking Spain’s self-image. NY Times. Updated March 29, 2020. Accessed September 18, 2020.

21. Burnes D, Sheppard C, Henderson CR Jr, et al. Interventions to Reduce Ageism Against Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Am J Public Health. 2019;109(8):e1‐e9. Accessed September 18, 2020.

22. Chrisler JC, Barney A, Palatino B. Ageism can be hazardous to women’s health: ageism, sexism, and stereotypes of older women in the healthcare system. J Soc Issues. 2016;72(1):86–104.

23. Briggs R, Robinson S, O’Neill D. Ageism and clinical research. Ir Med J. 2012;105(9):311–312.

24. Bodner E, Palgi Y, Wyman MF. Ageism in mental health assessment and treatment of older adults. In: Ayalon L, Tesch-Römer C, eds. International Perspectives on Aging. Cham, Switzerland, Springer Nature; 2018;19:241–262.

25. Blancato B. It’s time to make the Elder Justice Act more effective. Forbes. August 14, 2019. Accessed September 18, 2020.

26. Lachs MS, Pillemer KA. Elder Abuse. N Engl J Med. 2015;373(20):1947-1956.

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Nurse stole morphine pills from nursing home patient, feds charge

By Matt Miller

A former nurse at a nursing home in Cumberland County is facing federal charges that she stole 16 morphine pills from one of her patients.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Harrisburg filed that theft in connection with health care charge Wednesday against Michelle Keys, a licensed practical nurse.

Federal investigators claim in the U.S. Middle District Court complaint that Keys stole the morphine sulfate pills prescribed to the patient in August 2019. Morphine sulfate is prescribed to relieve pain.

Keys took the pills for her own use, investigators contend.

Court records show Keys already has a tentative agreement to plead guilty. She has no deal concerning sentencing, however. Her plea agreement would not become final unless it is approved by Judge Christopher C. Conner.

Filings state that the maximum penalty for the crime is 1 year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Penalties at Play: Millions of dollars flow to nursing homes from fines they have paid for poor care

(InvestigateTV) - States are sitting on millions of dollars that could provide testing, PPE, and staff to nursing homes battling the aggressive coronavirus pandemic.

But the federal government has been unwilling to unlock most of the $400 million stockpiled in states' Civil Money Penalty funds.

Advocates, families of residents and the national association that represents nursing homes say now is the time for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to direct those funds to combatting a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

The money dispensed as grants “to support activities that benefit nursing home residents and that protect or improve their quality of care or quality of life,” according to CMS.

But an InvestigateTV analysis of grants awarded in 2019 show that some of the funded projects do not address the most serious issues facing nursing homes: curbing infection-related problems, residents' falls and accidents, and abuse and neglect.

Rather, CMS last year approved grants to nursing homes to buy an antique popcorn machine, create song playlists for residents and build gardens.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Brian Lee, executive director of Families for Better Care, which advocates for nursing home residents. “This is the time these funds should be unlocked.”

The American Health Care Association, which represents nearly every nursing home in the country, agrees.

The group said it plans on using InvestigateTV’s analysis to persuade CMS to change course.

“In our view, the funds should be utilized to improve patient care,” said Mark Parkinson, ACHA’s president and chief executive officer. “We could make a big difference with this.”

Every year millions of dollars flow to nursing homes from the fund that is built from fines collected from long-term care facilities that have put the health and safety of residents in jeopardy.

The federal government collects the fines then allocates them to states to use as grants to nonprofit groups, universities and the nursing homes.

In 2019, CMS approved more than $89.5 million in funding to nearly 300 entities, according to an InvestigateTV analysis of its 2019 State CMP Reinvestment Projects report. Some of the projects have been receiving grant funds for two, three or four years.

Nearly three dozen of the 2019 grants were awarded to individual nursing homes that themselves had paid into the CMP fund in the past three years because of serious violations that put residents in harm’s way.

Today, in the midst of a pandemic, nursing homes are struggling to keep the coronavirus at bay. COVID-19 has claimed nearly 60,00 nursing home residents.

Thousands of nursing homes report that they have staff shortages. Hundreds say they don’t have enough personal protective equipment such as masks and gowns or the ability to test residents.

The estimated $400 million of CMP money in state coffers could help shore up problems exposed by COVID-19 – lack testing and PPE, advocates for nursing home resident say. CMS policy does not allow the fund to be used to pay for staffing.

But CMS is allowing nursing homes to tap into their state fund for a maximum of $6,000 to buy iPads and to purchase materials to make protective visitation barriers.

In January, the state of South Carolina had enough money in its fund to award nearly $87,000 to every nursing home in the state. West Virginia could have doled out more than $81,000. Even Texas, which has the most nursing homes in the country, had enough to give more than $20,000 to each facility.

“There’s no better use and no better time to use CMP funds,” said Cissy Sanders whose mother resides in an Austin, Texas nursing home that has been ravaged by COVID-19.

Civil Money Penalty Funds

InvestigateTV requested the 2020 Civil Money Penalty State Plan from every state. 22 declined to share their plans with us. Of the 28 that did, we have looked at their funding totals and potential funding a long-term care facility could apply for. States that supplied their records are noted in green.


Source: U.S. Census Bureau’s cartographic boundary shapefiles, 2016 edition • Illustration: Emma Ruby, InvestigateTV

Grants don’t address the biggest problems facing nursing homes

Brian Lee became a critic of the CMP program about 15 years ago during his tenure as Florida’s state ombudsman, which serves as a government watchdog over nursing homes and advocates for residents.

He noticed that a nursing home that had been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars received a $27,000 grant to buy a bread-making machine, to build a snack stand and to train staff on how to stock the shelves.

He visited the nursing home to see exactly how the money was spent.

“I expected the aroma of fresh-baked break to greet me when I walked in the door. I got the exact opposite,” he said. “I was immediately bowled over by the smell of urine and feces.”

He has since regarded the CMP fund as nothing more than a “slush fund” for nursing homes.

“This is money that was collected because people suffered, (were) abused, neglected and even died,” he said. “This is kind of blood money.”

Of the 294 projects given the green light last year, more than a third were aimed at “training,” according to InvestigateTV’s analysis of the grants.

The federal government approved nearly $35 million in CMP spending for these initiatives. Some of the projects were designed to help nursing homes come into compliance with CMS requirements such as a $2 million grant in Kentucky where all nursing homes in the state were to learn new emergency preparedness procedures.

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Sentencing set for nursing assistant in VA hospital killings

The Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, W.Va., is seen on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (Source: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A former nursing assistant who has pleaded guilty to intentionally killing seven people with fatal doses of insulin at a West Virginia veterans hospital is scheduled to be sentenced in February.

News outlets report that a judge has scheduled Reta Mays' sentencing for Feb. 18 and Feb. 19 in Clarksburg. Mays pleaded guilty earlier this year to intentionally killing seven patients with wrongful insulin injections.

Mays faces up to life in prison for each of seven counts of second-degree murder. Mays admitted at a plea hearing to purposely killing the veterans, injecting them with unprescribed insulin while she worked overnight shifts between 2017 and 2018.
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Tennessee doctors agree to pay $340K in Medicare fraud case

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Two Tennessee doctors and their associated clinics have agreed to pay $341,690 to resolve claims that they defrauded Medicare, according to a Friday news release from the U.S. Justice Department.

In a federal lawsuit filed in Memphis, the United States accused Dr. Shoaib Qureshi, Dr. Imran Mirza and their clinics of billing Medicare for services rendered by nurse practitioners at the higher reimbursement rate for physician services.

At times when the billing occurred, the physicians were out of the office or even out of the country, the lawsuit alleged. It claimed the improper billing took place from 2015-2018.

The settlement resolves allegations filed in a lawsuit by Michael Grace under a provision of the False Claims Act that permits private individuals to sue on behalf of the government and to share in any recovery. As part of this settlement, Grace will receive $58,087.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2020

It has the highest death rate of any nursing home in the US. Families want to know why

As numbers climbed at a facility for veterans in New Jersey, the rights of grieving family members fell away


by Ann Neumann
By noon on 16 September, more than 100 people had gathered at the end of the long drive that leads to the Menlo Park Veterans’ Memorial Home in New Jersey. Eighteen-inch letters – red, white, and blue – spelling “THANK YOU HEROES” were pushed into the sod beneath a semi-permanent sign that reads “Now accepting job applications” and “SERVING THOSE WHO SERVED”.

Staff members – mostly Black, mostly female – stood to the right of a podium. To the left stood family members holding framed photos of their loved ones, former residents of Menlo Park who had died over the past several hellish months, either in the facility or in a nearby hospital.

Gary White, the no-nonsense, cigar-chewing commandant of the local Marine Corps League – an 80-year-old federal organization and advocacy group for marine veterans – organized the event. White told the crowd that Menlo Park’s residents had, as service members, “given America a blank check payable up to and including their lives”, but that during the pandemic, “veterans died who never should have”. A week before the protest, White had received calls and emails from family members who were shocked by their loved one’s deaths, who had never even been told their father or grandfather was sick. “They asked me to do something,” he said.

Left to right: Nancy Pike holds a photograph of her father Alois Franko; Susan Vella holds a photograph of her father Frank Vella; and Keith Prendergrast holds a photograph of his father William Prendergrast. Photograph: Victor J Blue/The Guardian

By late May, there were only 177 residents at Menlo Park, down from 300 in early March. A recent Wall Street Journal investigation shows that many of the dead were never tested for Covid-19, their official cause of death recorded as pneumonia or sepsis. Though the facility’s management maintains that the official death count from Covid-19 is 62, the investigation concluded that 101 residents had died of Covid-19 at Menlo Park since March, the highest single death rate of any nursing home in the country.

At the protest, families and staff cited a gross lack of communication about what was happening inside the facility, a senseless ban of mask-wearing in the early weeks of the pandemic, and a continued effort to cover up the total number of deaths at Menlo Park, as the cause of their attendance. “Negligence is Murder,” read one sign, held by a grieving family member, “Where was their PPE?” Outraged by the mass deaths, at least 35 families and 22 employees have retained lawyers.

The protest was brief, but one family member, White told me, said it was the only memorial they’d had for their grandfather. As people in the crowd wiped their eyes and began to wander back to their cars, staff members gathered around Shirley Suddoth-Lewis, the president of their local union who has worked at Menlo Park since 1984, as she handed out white balloons. When they released them into the air they said in unison the name of their colleague, Monemise Romelus. She had contracted Covid-19 before she was given access to PPE and died in May.

They want accountability. They want transparency. They want justice. But in April, New Jersey passed an immunity law intended to protect nursing home owners from responsibility for Covid-19 deaths, a law that nursing home operators hope will stand in the way of what the bereaved most desire. Despite the fact that nationally more than 50,000 nursing home residents and 750 staff members have died so far from Covid-19, at least 26 states have passed some form of immunity law that shields long-term care facilities and healthcare providers from Covid-19-related civil negligence lawsuits. A recent article in ABA Journal, a publication of the American Bar Association, states: “Those measures generally bar claims for standard negligence, only allowing claims for harder-to-prove gross negligence, willful misconduct or fraud.”

Immunity laws are often passed by state and federal governments in the event of a crisis. But the decision to protect the nursing home industry, betrays legislators’ – and perhaps society’s – erroneous assumption that elders’ deaths were inevitable, that their lives were worth little or too frail to be saved. Clinicians and advocates alike have countered that proper infection control, long a systemic problem in nursing home care, could have largely mitigated the number of deaths.

Tanya Montuore cries as her husband Robert Montuore comforts her. Photograph: Victor J Blue/The Guardian

“This is simple,” Robert Montuore told me, “if they had just followed standard protocol.” His wife, Tanya stood next to him, holding a photo of her father, former marine Howard H Cognac Sr, who died at Menlo Park in April.

“Pop” lived with the Montuores and their daughter, Samantha, for 12 years after the death of his wife, Celeste. But when he began to use a mobility chair, the Montuores moved him into room 511 on Eagle wing at Menlo Park in February. The Montuores spoke with him daily, with Tanya joining her father for lunch at Buddy’s, the restaurant in Menlo Park’s “town hall”, almost every day. The last lunch she had with him was on 11 March; the following day the facility notified the Montuores that Menlo Park was closed to visitors. As staff and family gathered for the protest, the Montuores told me about the horror of the next four weeks, as they struggled to get Pop on the phone or to receive reliable updates from Menlo Park staff.

According to a letter the Montuores wrote to their local senator, assemblywoman and Gary White (who shared it with me, with permission) Pop called them a last time a little after 8pm on 5 April, “hysterical” because management had taken away his mobility chair and put him in a bed without a call button. “His final words were, ‘I’m not going to make it out alive,’” the Montuores wrote. “That was the last conversation we had with him.” Two days later they were told that Cognac was having trouble breathing and had an elevated heart rate, two signs of Covid-19 infection. They begged for a test. “No fever, no test,” they were told repeatedly by staff over the next few days. At one point, a staff member used her personal phone to help Pop speak to his family. Then on 11 April the facility’s nurse practitioner called to tell them that Pop was failing; when they asked if he had Covid, she said no, heart failure.

On the 16th, they called again for an update on Pop’s status. An hour later the nurse practitioner called back to tell them that he was dead.

A few days before the protest, the Montuores found out that Pop’s roommate, Daniel Bartus, had died of Covid-19 on 5 April. At the protest, Gary White called Tanya Montuore up to the microphone to speak. “They were devalued as human beings,” she said of the Menlo Park residents, “and there were countless unnecessary deaths, of my dad and so many others. Why?” She paused to wipe tears from her face. The next day the Montuores sent me two last telephone messages they received from Cognac, found after his death as they put together information for a case against Menlo Park for their lawyer. “Hi T,” Cognac says, explaining that he can’t use the phone very much because his wing is on lockdown. And then his voice breaks. “I’m worried, Honey” he says, and in a whisper, “I think I have one of the [symptoms]. I love you, Honey. If anything happens … ” A sob. “I miss you so much.”

The Montuores are only one of dozens of Menlo Park families who are seeking legal accountability for the loss of their loved ones. They fear that state and non-profit defendants will successfully leverage immunity laws to escape legal repercussions; but knowing the pain and suffering of their loss, they can’t imagine the courts won’t also want to know why helpless elders were left to die. Several attorneys I spoke with believe that Menlo Park’s lawsuits are the first in a wave that will sweep the country.

Daria Lisco, left, and Liz Vigren, right, hold photographs of their father Charles VanderPyle. Photograph: Victor J Blue/The Guardian

State and federal long-term care advocates loudly opposed immunity laws and claim that the firestorm of Covid-19 that has ravaged long-term care facilities was only made possible by decades of poor management, gross understaffing, debilitating cost cutting, systemic Medicare and Medicaid fraud, poor infection control and the lack of meaningful federal or state oversight of residents’ care. “Legal liability has always functioned as a safeguard for nursing home residents by incentivizing nursing homes to provide quality care and comply with laws and regulations,” advocates wrote in a letter to the Senate judiciary committee on 11 May.

Nonetheless, in New York, a provision was included in the annual budget, passed in April, that provided broad immunity to long-term care facilities. Governor Andrew Cuomo has drawn criticism for organizing the transfer of elderly Covid-positive patients from overwhelmed hospitals to nursing facilities. In August, the law was amended and significantly narrowed, removing protections for non-Covid patients.

On 6 May, the Pennsylvania governor, Tom Wolf, passed an executive order granting immunity. Still, several lawsuits have already been filed in Pennsylvania, including one by the family of Elizabeth Wiley, a housekeeper who had worked at Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness in Pittsburgh for three decades and died of Covid-19 on 10 May.

Robert Sachs Jr, an attorney in Pennsylvania, where the nursing home deaths have made up between 60 and 70% of Covid-19 deaths so far, has learned from case inquiries, that many facilities “had the ability and the knowledge of what was coming to protect their populations and didn’t take any steps”. He added that the department of health “did an absolutely abysmal job” of helping facilities to prepare for the pandemic.

On 1 April, the New Jersey governor, Phil Murphy, enacted an executive order that granted broad immunity to nursing homes and healthcare providers and little more than a week later, he also signed a law. But there’s also a federal law, the Prep Act, a pandemic readiness plan passed in 2005 by the George W Bush administration in the wake of the avian influenza, that some facilities hope will provide them with immunity protections.

Yet, some attorneys, like Paul da Costa in New Jersey, who is representing dozens of Menlo Park staff and family members, believe that some claims may not be confined to the Prep Act laws (which address use of medical countermeasures) because they address absence of measures, namely the lack of proper infection control, and the now common accounts of management preventing mask and other PPE use.

In perhaps the first post-Covid decision of its kind, Estate of Maglioli v Andover Subacute Rehab, the courts have shown a willingness to see such cases go ahead. Plaintiffs asked the federal court to remand the case back to the state, against the defendants’ argument that the Prep Act prevented the case’s continuation. The court agreed with the plaintiffs, leaving the decision up to the state court.

Shari Davis cries as she holds a photo of her mother, Joan
Williams, who died at age 86 of Covid-19 at the New Jersey
Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park.
Photograph: Victor J Blue/The Guardian


Gary White, a members of the Marine Corps League Cpl. Kevin J.
Reinhard Detachment 189, speaks during the protest.
Photograph: Victor J Blue/The Guardian

 Glenn Osborne watched the protest from inside Menlo Park. “What a privilege that was to witness,” he told me by email. I’d met him in person the week before by taking advantage of Menlo Park’s new visitation program, “Operation Rocking Chair”, which allows residents and visitors to spend 15 minutes together, masked, outside, six feet apart. I saw a steady stream of grateful sons and daughters file through the registration pavilion (reservations must be made in advance) the day I visited Osborne. I was his first visitor in six months.

Osborne is a former marine with service-induced ALS. He speaks in a breathy, halting voice because the disease has restricted his breathing. Osborne, who is kind-faced, laser-focused and tireless, is the president of the resident’s association. If anything is on the minds of residents at the facility, they call on him. For that reason, staff members told me they worried about Osborne; he’d been writing letters to the facility’s administration and related agencies with various concerns for years. They feared management retaliation against him.

Shirley Suddoth-Lewis, who worked at Menlo Park for more than 30 years, knew from experience; she also feared retaliation from the CEO, Elizabeth Schiff-Heedles, who called an all-staff meeting on 16 March to announce there was no Covid in the building. “She told us, ‘We don’t want anyone to wear masks, the masks will scare the residents,’” Suddoth-Lewis said. “Everybody was in the lunchroom and you could tell people wanted to ask questions, but they were afraid because they might go after you.”

Let’s be candid, we know this is what we call our final mission

Glenn Osborne

But Osborne felt a strong sense of responsibility to his fellow residents and refused to be quiet. In a single-spaced, three-page letter to the department of health in August, Osborne addressed the toll that isolation has taken on the residents, leaving them to feel forgotten, disregarded, alone. He asked when outside time will resume, when residents, whose personal belongings were boxed up by the national guard during the height of the pandemic and stored in the basement, will be returned. And he asked questions regarding management’s actions in April and May. “Why did our CEO purposely prevent employees from wearing PPE?” he wrote.

Osborne told me residents try not to talk about the losses. “Many of the residents were longtime friends before they ever entered the facility. The people who lived at Menlo Park were vibrant, leading rich lives as artists, writers and storytellers,” Osborne said. “You know, this is our home, this was our life. And we knew what we’re here for. Let’s be candid, we know this is what we call our final mission.”

Shirley Suddoth-Lewis,
head of the local AFSCME
 union, worked at Menlo
 Park for more than
30 years. Photograph:
Victor J Blue/The Guardian
Like several others I spoke with, including Suddoth-Lewis, Osborne witnessed PPE being removed from staff members’ access. Osborne, Suddoth-Lewis, and others also questioned management’s decision to move patients around the facility. Covid-19 positive and Covid-suspicious residents were often moved downstairs, to the dementia ward. One resident of a shared room would be taken downstairs to quarantine while his or her roommate remained. Or patients would be returned to shared rooms when they came back from the hospital. These accounts – and the methodology behind them – bewildered Osborne and many staff members who were unable to ask questions but only follow orders. And if there was a plan to management’s mitigation efforts, the veterans and staff were never informed of it. “Transparency in communication in all areas of operations, especially those that pertain directly to us Veterans, is exceedingly rare,” Osborne wrote.

Perhaps the most chilling part of Osborne’s account is his suspicion that he will be retaliated against. “I know he’s going to be a target. I know it,” Suddoth-Lewis told me on the phone, “Because this administration is so brutal. I mean they have no remorse.” Management has remained opaque and unwilling to consider the input of residents in their care—or even the professional staff employed to provide it. “We continue to feel our lives are at risk and our patient’s rights and dignities are ignored,” Osborne wrote in the letter to the department of health.

During my “Operation Rocking Chair” visit a week before the protest, I left some snacks and toiletries for Osborne on the patio for him. For this, management punished Osborne with a citation. Should he receive a second citation, he will altogether lose the ability to see visitors.

For his dogged outspokenness and commitment to bringing residents’ concerns forward, attorney Da Costa has called Osborne a hero. To the staff of Menlo Park, Shirley Suddoth-Lewis is a hero too. She had planned to retire in December, but when she started thinking about a second wave of the pandemic, she retired early, a few weeks before the protest. She told me, “It was my anxiety from working there because certain things to me weren’t done as they should have been.”

In August, state senator Joseph Vitale, chairman of the senate health committee, hosted an online hearing. Gary White, Paul da Costa, and Glenn Osborne all testified about their experiences with Menlo Park. Vitale called for the resignation of the Menlo Park CEO, Elizabeth Schiff-Heedles (who did not return multiple requests for comment). But the spokesman for the New Jersey department of military and veterans affairs, Kryn Westhoven, publicly expressed support for Schiff-Heedles – and the CEOs of the other two veterans’ nursing homes in New Jersey, Paramus, where the official death count is at 81, and Vineland, where the count is three. A total of at least five thousand nursing home residents (veterans’ and civilian combined) have died in New Jersey.

Veterans and family members release balloons in honor of those they lost. For some, this was the only memorial they’d have for their loved ones. Photograph: Victor J Blue/The Guardian

For now it seems little has been done to address the actions of the Menlo Park administration during the height of the pandemic’s first wave – nor to prepare for the potential second wave. Suddoth-Lewis may have retired, but her responsibilities to her fellow union members are not over. As we spoke on the phone one afternoon, three of her great-grandchildren playing in the background, texts continued to come in, texts from staff members at Menlo Park. We said goodbye so she could check each one.

This story was supported by the journalism non-profit the Economic Hardship Reporting Project

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