When last we met, the Old Man—Dr. Michael Gregory, 73, who has had seven strokes as well as other major medical problems—had been dumped in a motel by Steven Armendarez, a social worker at the Syracuse Veterans Administration Hospital. Dr. Gregory only had enough money for about three days, and had to walk to the nearest (and excessively expensive) restaurant, which quickly resulted in constant back pain.
Dr. Gregory called me last Wednesday night to tell me he was at the motel, and I immediately went ballistic.
The VA bill of rights—as posted on the hallway wall near Dr. Gregory’s hospital room—said the patient or his chosen representative had the right to know about . . . [stuff]. I was Dr. Gregory’s chosen representative. Armendarez knew that because Dr. Gregory told him in my presence. I told Armendarez that I wanted to be present and involved in anything regarding discharge planning. In complete violation of the patient’s rights, Armendarez had gotten Dr. Gregory removed from the hospital and dumped in a motel he couldn’t afford without any conversation with me.
After talking to Dr. Gregory, I immediately called Armendarez and left a message saying something like he was a miserable, slimy coward and I would make him regret what he’d done. This is called “an excited utterance”: “Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, an excited utterance is a hearsay exception . . . made by a person in response to a startling or shocking event or condition.” (Wikipedia) I was rather proud of myself for not using any obscenities.
At three o’clock in the morning I woke up with Dr. Gregory on my mind and wrote “We Need Your Help,” which I posted on this blog as well as on Facebook. http://annecwoodlen.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/we-need-your-help/ I also sent the link to everybody on my contact list, which is significant not for its size but for its content: doctors, lawyers, CEOs, people in the business of public communications, men and women elected to high office by the majority of the citizens—folks like that. People with power; people who make decisions. Thereafter, hundreds of people read the blog. Suggestions for Dr. Gregory and support for me started coming in.
Thursday morning, I started working the phones. I called a local case management agency, wherein the first person I talked to wouldn’t tell me his name—just kept repeating that I had to call David Carr, the go-to guy for homeless vets at the hospital. What the no-name dork’s boss told me was that all the big money is in the Homeless Veterans program, so everybody who was a veteran gets sent to that program. Dr. Gregory is also a homeless college professor, but no other program will pick him up: refer to Homeless Veterans because that’s where the money is.
An outside social worker and I left phone messages for lots of people at the VA: homeless workers, social workers, administrators—the chaplain. Not one person at the VA returned a single one of our calls.
However, I did get one phone call from the VA: the police sergeant. He was calling in regard to an apparent threat that I had left on the social worker’s voice mail. This, then, is the Syracuse Veterans Administration hospital: protect the employees and to hell with the patients. I crisply informed the police sergeant that the threat is this: I am going to file a complaint against Steven Armendarez’ license and do everything in my power to see that he never again is employed as a social worker.
Then I called Armendarez to tell him the same thing. I wouldn’t want him to live in fear that I might sneak up behind him, hop out of my wheelchair, wrap my catheter tubing around his neck and bring his defenseless body to the ground. A friend once said of me, “You don’t have to worry about Anne stabbing you in the back: she’ll stab you in the chest and you’ll see it coming.” So I call Armendarez, who immediately says he can’t talk to me and I have to talk to his supervisor, and then hangs up without my reassurance that I pose no physical threat. I’ve already talked to his supervisor and she’s one of the people who hasn’t returned my phone messages. I’m not going to waste time with that, so I go on to calling local congressional offices.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office phone is answered by a machine. I leave a message but don’t get a call-back till the next afternoon.
Senator Charles Schumer’s office phone is answered by a young woman who says she doesn’t know what to do; she’ll have to call the New York City office. When she calls back, she says I’ll have to get a privacy release signed. She’ll mail it to me, I’ll have to get Dr. Gregory to sign it, then we’ll have to mail it back—. Sweetie, I’m thinking, while I’m still trying to figure out how to get out of my wheelchair and get a ride to the motel seven miles away, Dr. Gregory will be out on the street for failure to pay. We don’t have time for this bureaucracy; we need help now.
Representative Ann Marie Buerkle’s office phone is answered by Christie, who says, “Oh, you want to talk to Earl. He’s at a meeting but will be back in about an hour.” Earl Fortenot is the veteran and military liaison in Congresswoman Buerkle’s office.
So now we need to return to the process to follow if you a veteran who is homeless. According to Hope, the social worker who met Mike and me two weeks ago in the VA Hospital Emergency Room, you start with a call to the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans and then everything will work out and you’ll be fine. http://www.va.gov/homeless/nationalcallcenter.asp
(But I’m too sick and tired to continue reporting right now.)