By: Rusty Ray
(Editor’s note: Since we first aired this story on a live broadcast in January 2011, we learned that Mrs. Arlene English passed away on April 8 at the age of 89. New details about English’s quality of health care, provided by her son, Neil Roe, have been included in this article.)
In what he called a “letter to the world,” a Florida son painfully described systemic flaws and abuses, inflicted on his elderly mother, in the state’s health care system that have compelled him to speak out as an advocate for her.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a 2010 report about guardianship abuse allegations
“We the people control this country — if we flex that control,” Roe said in an exclusive interview with Big 3 News earlier this year. “But if we stand on the side and watch the parade go by and never raise our voice and never say anything about it, then we basically are asking for what they are doing to us.”
Roe’s story, which is one of hundreds in the United States according to a year-old government report on alleged guardianship and health care abuses, started about eleven years ago when he began making occasional road trips to stay with his aging mother. When the frequency of the trips increased, Roe — who lived more than an hour away — suggested his mother move in with him, but she resisted.
In 2007, English broke her hip, a medical event that began the most dramatic changes in her history of illnesses.
“In the hospital, after she had her hip repaired, she got what is called physical therapy,” Roe said. “In Florida, physical therapy consists of someone coming into your room, getting you up out of bed after the surgery, walking you to the door and then walking you back to bed. Never any further than that.”
English had several documents drawn up in 2002 — including a will, a power of attorney and a health care surrogate – which described her intentions of how she wanted to live and leave life. In fact, Roe said his mother’s last will and testament included language that went beyond the normal bounds so that English’s wishes could not be misinterpreted.
A Florida court placed English in a nursing home facility, which her son said was against her will, outside of Tampa. Roe said his mother lost her ability to speak two years ago and the court system used that factor to say that was legally brain dead. The court hired three consultants who were called in to confirm this.
“They called in three different hired consultants to the county to go in, shake her hand, take a look at her, and walk out of the room and say, ‘Yeah, we agree, she’s brain dead.’”
“They not only murdered her, they attempted to cover it up…”
Through a mistake of the nursing home, Roe’s mother was taken back to the hospital for health care which allowed him to get a second opinion of her condition. English’s primary ailment was Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), which stops the mind’s ability to control the muscles in the body, a condition similar to Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“Over the years, had the physical therapy people that she came in contact with continued to work all of the muscles in her body, she would not be at the stage she is at right now.”
Roe said the muscles can re-teach the brain, in a different section, how to do what they used to do if proper therapy is given to a patient.
“What I”m trying to accomplish is to get my mother back home,” Roe said. “If I can’t get her back home, I would at least like to get her someplace where I can visit with her on a daily basis.”
Roe said the facility that cared for his mother tried to have him arrested on New Year’s Eve day in 2010 for disturbing the peace. However, the facility manager on duty that night couldn’t get other staff to back her up and the investigating sheriff couldn’t find witnesses to her claim.
The sheriff advised Roe that the next time an incident was reported, the facility manager would most likely have a witness to support her story.
“This was because of the conflicts that took place at that particular nursing home, and the photographs that I sent to you, showing the mistreatment she was getting at that facility.”
The alleged abuse to English included a broken nose, black eye, improper seating in a wheelchair, injuries and bruising on her arms and redness around her mouth and eyes.
A magistrate ordered that Roe was no longer in charge of English’s health care and appointed a guardian to oversee her medical affairs. The magistrate also ordered the guardian be paid for five months back pay for services that weren’t provided, at a rate of $1,500 per month, which came out of English’s financial assets.
“They robbed my mother’s social security, they took everything that was in her bank account, and even though Medicare has court-ordered that I”m to be paid a subsistency out of my mother’s social security, I have yet to get the first penny of that from this guardian. And that’s about $290 per month to take care of the things I have to take care of around her home.”
On April 18, 2011, Roe’s mother passed away from what the medical examiner attributed to natural causes. Roe, however, points to a toxicology report from an independent lab that showed English’s blood morphine level was .082 to 1, per litre of blood, which Roe said is twice the legal dosage and suggests his mother may have been given fatal levels.
English was only in the first stages of pneumonia, Roe said, and she was responding to antibiotic treatments.
“She was doing fine,” her son said. “She had a little bit of coughing that she did, but she was really fine.”
Roe left instructions for the hospice nurse to call him immediately if his mother’s condition worsened.
At 11:30 p.m., English passed away and instead of contacting her son, the facility called a Pinellas County crematorium, which arrived about an hour and a half later. Roe said neither the nursing home, the staff nurse, hospice nor his mother’s court-appointed guardian called him when she died.
“They swore up one side and down the other they did (call me),” Roe said. “Not only did the nursing home swear they called me, but the hospice nurse has refused to call me back every single time I put in a call to him. He’s told his supervisors he does not wish to talk to me. Now that’s suspicious.”
Florida law governs the cremation process
A health care facility or guardian is given a lower priority of authority to make such decisions if the next of kin — such as a spouse, son or daughter — is unavailable, as long as they are not aware of any objections to the cremation by someone with higher authority.
“My phone has absolutely no record of any calls from any of them,” Roe said. “Sixteen hours later, because they made the assumption that the crematorium would have cremated the body, they sent a sheriff’s officer to the house to notify me in person.”
Roe was contacted by the crematorium because they did not have a signed consent form from him or other next of kin.
“They didn’t cremate her,” Roe said. “But the medical examiner’s office refused to do an autopsy.”
According to local regulations in effect at the time, the county medical examiner refused the autopsy because the death took place in a nursing home.
Roe then tried to get an autopsy for his mother’s body using a provision under Florida law whereby a county sheriff’s office can order one for a suspicious death, but the county medical examiner still refused.
It was over two months later, just five minutes before Roe resigned himself to calling the crematorium and authorizing them to proceed with the cremation, that he was informed by the medical examiner that they decided to do an autopsy.
“From my viewpoint, when my mom died, it was just shortly after the final strike by the prosecutors office failed,” Roe said of efforts to have him evicted from his mother’s house and to sell off her assets to pay for her medical care. “They had a hands-down win against me to throw me out of the house that my mother’s will would be giving me.”
“Without due process under law, they were able to take my mother away from me…”
Due to a technicality, a second attempt was made to have him evicted and his attorney advised him to plan on moving. He wrote his own court motion and included supporting evidence about the whole matter, which Roe said convinced the judge what was going on.
“Two months later when (the judge) hasn’t ruled, mysteriously my mom comes up dead,” Roe said. “Reason being? They don’t need her anymore. If they can’t suck any more blood out of her, they don’t need her around. Again, my opinion. I don’t know it for truth — I suspect.”
Roe has tried to get the attention of local media to investigate his allegations but so far has come up short.
“For any news reporter, this would be a Pulitzer Prize story,” Roe said. “But they both told me they’re not interested.”
Roe said the fundamental matter in his case, and similar cases around the country, is the lack of due process in family courts for the victims.
“Family court encompasses two of the worst aspects of the court system,” Roe said. “Child support and elder care and abuse. That’s the one thing they don’t want you to have any rights or rules about. That’s without due process.
“Without due process under law, they were able to take my mother away from me, without having any reason.”