The October 24-27, 2013 Consumer Voice conference in Washington, DC brought advocates and experts from across the county to discuss long-term care facilities. Prevention of elder abuse was a leading topic.
A panel discussed Engaging Family in Advocacy. This Examiner had the privilege of leading a discussion titled Toward a National Model for Advocacy.
The discussion emphasized the need for families of victims to collaborate with other families and with independent advocates. Case studies from California emphasized the frustrations of families attempting to advocate independently for an abused or neglected loved one. However, coalitions that focused multiple families and advocates toward a common goal were more effective.
Wildwood Canyon Villa in San Bernardino County was the first facility discussed. Citations from Department of Social Services (DSS) establish that Wildwood Canyon Villa unlawfully confined and isolated a resident for fifteen months. Police reports establish that Executive Director Lynnette Alvarado refused to allow family to visit. Alvarado stated that corporate instructions were to have visitors arrested for trespassing.
Court records show that family eventually obtained a restraining order against the unlawful and abusive isolation at Wildwood. That effort required sixteen court hearings over fifteen months. It cost family $70K to require Wildwood to follow the law and allow their loved one to have visitors.
Villa Fontana in Santa Clara County was the next facility discussed. Court records and reports from DSS established that Villa Fontana unlawfully confined and isolated Gisela Riordan for over two years. Villa Fontana unlawfully confined and isolated Lillie Scalia for a year.
Families advocating alone were not able to end the unlawful and abusive isolation of their loved ones. Advocates from across the country joined efforts to require Villa Fontana to follow the law.
ABC7 I-Team from San Francisco investigated the abuse. Villa Fontana called the police to remove investigative reporters attempting to visit residents. The story aired in November 2012.
The abusive Deputy Public Guardian who ordered the unlawful isolation “retired” in December 2012. Lee Pullen, Director of Santa Clara County’s Department of Aging, left county employment a few months later. In 2013, Villa Fontana residents are allowed to have visitors.
Senior Paradise in Monterey County is under investigation for unlawful confinement and isolation of Margarita Zelada for the past seven months. On October 20, 2013, advocates found facility doors locked in violation of licensing regulations. No one was allowed in or out of the building. Administrator Margaret Camara said Deputy Public Guardian Jennifer Empasis instructed the facility to call police if anyone asked to visit Margarita.
The days that followed brought an example of collective advocacy in action. Advocates from across the country wrote open letters concerning the abuse that was ordered by the Public Guardian and executed by Senior Paradise. Advocates asked that Margarita be allowed to have visitors, especially visitation with her daughter.
On October 31, 2013, Margarita was allowed a one-hour visit with her daughter. Margarita clung to her daughter, sobbing and asking why she was in prison. She pleaded for her liberty, and she pleaded for her isolation to end.
Advocates are asking the Public Guardian to end their unwarranted and abusive conservatorship of Margarita Zelada. Advocates ask that Margarita be allowed to return to the home she owns in San Francisco. They ask that Margarita’s $1.5M estate be returned to her control.
Elder rights activists around the country are watching to see if the model of collective advocacy will succeed in rescuing Margarita from the abusive Public Guardian.