Jailed caretaker -- what becomes of the caretakee?
March 24, 2008 9:13 AM   Subscribe

My grandmother’s nephew has been arrested. What will become of his mother? (Ever so much more inside)

My dad’s cousin – let’s call him Sal – is my great-aunt’s caretaker. Sal took her out of a nursing home a few months ago to come live with him, a move I thought was strange at the time, as she is 95, blind, suffers from dementia, and is completely bedridden. My grandma is a sprightly 90, and after she couldn’t get any answer at Sal’s house for over a week, she called his friend, who broke the news that Sal is in jail, charged with a pretty astonishingly large-scale non-violent crime.

We calmed down a little bit after I called the police and established that his mother is not sitting alone and helpless in an empty house. She has been placed into a local hospital while he sits in jail in lieu of bail that I don’t think anyone is going to pay. We were able to call her room at the hospital, where a kindly neighbor was looking in on her – she has no idea what is going on, and due to the dementia probably couldn’t articulate it even if she was aware.

My grandmother and I are a couple states away. My great-aunt has a nephew and a niece (my dad and his cousin) who are even further away, and neither of whom are particularly inclined or able to lend any thought to assistance. My grandmother is not able to bankroll much of anything here, but is naturally concerned for her sister. We are unable to find out anything about my great-aunt’s condition, or about any plans to move her, as the hospital tells us that we do not have “the code” needed to get any information about her.

You are probably not a lawyer, you’re obviously not my lawyer – I don’t even know if we need to find a lawyer. Since we just found out about this on Saturday we haven't had a chance to call anyone yet. We just want to figure out if there’s anything we can do to do right by my great-aunt.

I have a feeling that we have to sit tight and let the state hammer things out and wait for Sal (or Sal’s lawyer) to contact us. My feisty, angry grandma hates this answer.
posted by kittyb to Law & Government (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Call the neighbor and ask her to keep you informed regarding your great aunt's care.

If she's been to visit, then she has a decent insight into your great aunt's condition. That a neighbor has had contact with your great aunt is comforting. If Sal hadn't been taking reasonably good care of his mother he wouldn't let the neighbors in to see her. That a neighbor knows your great aunt and went to check on her at the hospital seems to be a good thing.

Calling the neighbor won't get you around the issues of access to her medical condition. The hospital may be able to give you the name of her temporary guardian or conservator. If not, then you can start calling the local agencies that protect the elderly or disabled.
posted by 26.2 at 10:10 AM on March 24, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, 26.2.

The neighbor is an 80-year-old woman -- Jane -- who'd actually never met my great-aunt before the day Sal was arrested a week ago. The investigators knocked on her door that morning and asked her if she'd mind sitting with my great-aunt while they arranged for an ambulance. She doesn't know Sal all too well either -- other than that he was a nice neighbor, friendly when they'd run into each other at the mailbox, etc. I am SO grateful that she has the time, kindness and energy to look out for my great-aunt though. Jane told me that she visits everyday, and as far as I am concerned she is destined for sainthood.

My grandmother called the hospital a little while ago and chatted with Jane again, who said that my great-aunt is "knocked out" and "they are not feeding her," which to my (cynical, cranky) grandma's mind means: they are starving her to death because they need the bed. I'm sure that's not quite the case. Jane was able to get the phone number for my great-aunt's doctor and our next step is going to be seeing if he is able to tell us anything.
posted by kittyb at 10:25 AM on March 24, 2008

I think someone is going to have to take a trip. Sometimes there's no substitute for being in person. Be sure to take documentation proving the relationship, or at least documentation that persuades. Photographs of your great aunt with whoever goes would be very good.
posted by Class Goat at 10:30 AM on March 24, 2008

Best answer: Jane is, indeed, accumulating major karma points. Good on her for being such a help to your aunt and family.

As far as your aunt is concerned, do you know if she has a power of attorney, care directive or any of that stuff? Her sister, your grandmother, might be her next of kin in lieu of Sal.

Your State office on aging should have an ombudsman available. That person might be able to be of some assistance.

Good luck!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:33 AM on March 24, 2008

Best answer: First of all, you might want to tell us what state your great aunt is in in case someone can give you some specific agencies to talk to. Eventually you will want to find out your great aunts legal, medical, and financial status and it's probably not going to be easy.

I'm guessing Sal was doing a little embezzling , investing the money, then hoping to return it before anyone noticed. Things probably didn't work as planned on the last go round, so he decided to dip into his mother's savings/pension and "look after" her at home to make up the difference. Now that the jig is up, he may want the responsibility for her to go away, may be forced to give up her guardianship, or may want to hold onto control of her estate to finance his defense, parole, etc.

I think my first step would be to contact the nursing home he took her out of, preferable in person, but you may want to call ahead. They probably can't give you any medical information, but they may be able to get you on the legal track regarding Sal's legal status. Does he have power of attorney? Does someone else? Does your grandmother? There may be another party as well, an old neighbor or church member. Did she have a living will? When your great aunt was admitted to the nursing home there were probably some emergency contacts listed, and your grandmother may have been one. This information may help her out at a later date. They may even tell you the back story on why she was removed. Maybe Sal was footing the bill for her care and couldn't afford to anymore. Or they may even be in a position to take her back.

I guess the next step would be to contact Sal or his lawyer directly and find out what the situation is. I would approach this as what can we do to help at this point. For all we know, Sal might have the best interest of his mother in his heart but have few options. At any rate, the local hospital is not a long tern care facility and has got to be more expensive than a nursing home. Eventually someone is going to be billed and that is likely to be Sal which will give him an incentive to find a long or medium term alternative.

After that, there may be state agencies that can get involved if Sal is "incapacitated." or you may have to sue. A similar situation happened with my great aunt, and in the end her guardianship was taken away from her son and given to my uncle and a few of her church members. Probably the best thing that could happen for you is if Sal was willing to share guardianship with your grandmother. If it gets to the point where you need to take legal action against Sal for your great aunt's sake, it's probably not going to turn out well for anyone.

Just because Sal took her out of the nursing home doesn't mean he wasn't taking care of her at home. She may have even been better off at home, or that might have been her wishes.

On preview, just because she's not being fed doesn't mean she isn't being taken care of. She may have internal issues you are not aware of or may be fed through an IV. I agree someone needs to take a trip, probably you accompanying your grandmother. The sad eyes of a 90 year old woman can cut through a lot of red tape.

Let us know if you get any new information.
posted by Yorrick at 11:20 AM on March 24, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone.

More information. I talked to two wonderful people at the hospital – one of them said “Boy, are we glad YOU called – we’ve been trying to find a family member for days now.” My great-aunt’s condition was not great to begin with, but has declined and they’re looking for direction from Sal about her wishes, a living will, DNR orders, anything. I directed them to the jail where he is being held and they were going to make contact there. My grandmother may have a copy of her Florida living will, which might be better than nothing.

Without going too far into the gory details – Sal has power of attorney. There’s a lot of bad blood, secrecy, ancient feuds and other assorted dusty melodramas at play here, which is why a great-niece has had to get involved at all. This is in New Jersey. My grandmother and I are in Maryland and while I don’t think she could handle the trip… if she’s angry enough, anything’s possible.

She and her sister have had some awesome brawls over the years, but she loves her and more than anything wants her to have some dignity. Heaven help whatever or whoever stands in her way.
posted by kittyb at 11:48 AM on March 24, 2008

Response by poster: My personal episode of Law and Order in the Twilight Zone just gets weirder. Sal himself called me earlier, asking me to help petition the court on his behalf so he might be able to see my great-aunt before she passes. I made the calls but since he doesn't have a lawyer (and his request for a public defender was rejected) or anyone to bail him out, he may be out of luck. I'm hoping for both their sakes that they get that ironed out.

The hospital was finally able to talk to him about her condition, and get the direction they needed to be sure that she is cared for in the way that she would want. They are at a point where they are just keeping her comfortable, and I'm sure it's putting it lightly to say that this situation has made his predicament even harder to bear.

Thanks again for all the helpful responses. And my (calmer, less shouty) grandma thanks you all too. We're both obviously way out of our depth and hearing good, rational advice has been seriously sanity-saving. I love AskMeFi.
posted by kittyb at 1:46 PM on March 24, 2008

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