Yesterday the Veterans Administration Hospital discharged Dr. Michael Gregory, who has no home. Dr. Gregory, 73, has had seven strokes. He has an ostomy, diabetes, high blood pressure, MRSA, and cancer on his ear. He has reason to be concerned that the cancer may involve his throat or brain. He has cataracts, no glasses, and cannot see to fill out any paperwork.
Social worker Steven Armendarez discharged Dr. Gregory to the cheapest motel Armendarez could find. It costs $40 a night, payable up front. Dr. Gregory has $200. The motel does not have a restaurant. The nearest restaurant is Ruby Tuesday’s. To reach the nearest affordable restaurant, Dr. Gregory will have to walk across the Thruway entrance and a six-lane highway.
Dr. Gregory was discharged with “one or two weeks” worth of medicine. He was given a follow-up appointment in about a week. Dr. Gregory does not know exactly when the appointment is, or what it’s for. His money for the motel will run out before then. His next Social Security check will not be issued until April 3.
Armendarez sent Dr. Gregory to the motel via DAV (Disabled American Veterans) transportation. The five cartons containing all of Dr. Gregory’s worldly possessions are in storage at my apartment building five blocks from the VA Hospital. Armendarez did not have DAV stop and pick up Dr. Gregory’s belongings. With him, Dr. Gregory has one bag containing his ostomy supplies, a grey sweat suit, and little else. I don’t know if he has clean underwear.
One week ago, when a taxi dropped Dr. Gregory on the sidewalk in front of my building, we developed a plan whereby he would go to Crouse Irving Hospital. When someone else called 911 for an ambulance, Rural Metro was sent. The paramedics decided to take Dr. Gregory to the VA Hospital. Every time I tried to ask Dr. Gregory if he wanted to go there, the paramedics would loudly override him so he couldn’t answer. When I persisted in trying to ask Dr. Gregory what his wishes were, the paramedics threatened to have me arrested.
Rural Metro, without consideration of Dr. Gregory’s wishes, made the decision to take him to the VA. When I got to the VA Emergency Room and the paramedics saw me, they went into the nursing station and got the nurse to call the federal police who staff the VA. Three men wearing badges on black uniforms, with guns on their hips, surrounded me while the paramedics moved Dr. Gregory away. I did not see him again for two days.
The men with guns filed a police report on me. Let it be noted than I am 65 years old, five-foot-one, travel by power wheelchair and am a major threat to the establishment because my mind works.
In the ER, I met with a social worker who found me to be appropriate in all ways. The police told me that I had ten minutes to leave, even as the social worker and I were trying to exchange information. She told me that President Obama has made care of the homeless veteran a major priority, and that there is a National Call Center for Homeless Veterans that would be contacted.
As an advocate, my primary concerns are threefold: (1) that Dr. Gregory makes his own choices; (2) that Dr. Gregory receives competent medical evaluation, and (3) that Dr. Gregory has safe shelter.
That was last Thursday. On Friday, after Dr. Gregory was admitted to Unit 5 East, he told a social worker that he had a cousin living in a suburb of Syracuse, and that he would like the cousin to be contacted. There was no follow-up.
On Monday, I was with Dr. Gregory when a new social worker, Steven Armendarez arrived. Armendarez never before had seen Dr. Gregory but Armendarez told Dr. Gregory that he was being discharged in a few hours. Where, I asked? Armendarez said “to the Rescue Mission.” Dr. Gregory, while very intelligent, is not assertive and appears to be experiencing significant mental deficit as a result of the strokes he’s had. When asked if he’d ever seen a psychiatrist, Dr. Gregory replied, “Well, I had drinks with one once.” I laughed and told him that didn’t count in a medical review.
There is no indication that he has any mental illness. Dr. Gregory is old, sick and needs a home. My advocacy efforts resulted in Armendarez telling us that Dr. Gregory had to call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans. We did. The Call Center told Dr. Gregory to call David Carr, the go-to guy at the VA Hospital. A message was left for Carr and Armendarez assured us that Carr would see Dr. Gregory within twenty-four hours.
When I returned on Tuesday, the first thing Armendarez did was challenge my advocacy for Dr. Gregory. Armendarez wanted me out of the picture. Then Armendarez said, first, that the Rescue Mission would not accept Dr. Gregory because of the ostomy. Then he said that Carr would not be seeing Dr. Gregory. No reason or explanation was given. Armendarez said that his boss and Carr’s boss would decide what to do about Dr. Gregory. Neither of these bosses had ever laid eyes on Dr. Gregory, but they were going to decide his future. Armendarez refused to give me the names of his and Carr’s bosses.
Dr. Gregory reported that a doctor had examined his cancerous ear but had not left him with any information about his condition. Dr. Gregory said a resident had wanted to order an MRI of his brain and a scan of his throat but the attending physician said no. Dr. Gregory also reported that he has been scheduled to see an eye doctor—in a month. Meanwhile, he cannot see to fill out the application for HUD-subsidized independent housing.
I met with an assistant administrator of the hospital and she said she would look into things. When I left her office, one of the policemen from the ER got on the elevator with me. I smiled at him; he wouldn’t look at me. He followed me down the hallway on the fifth floor. When I came out of Dr. Gregory’s room, the policeman was at the nursing station. As I went toward the elevator, the policeman went into Dr. Gregory’s room. I am being followed.
Dr. Gregory had stated clearly, in the presence of Armendarez, that he wanted me to act as his advocate. He also said that he wanted me to be present when anybody met with him about discharge and housing. I repeatedly tried to schedule meeting time with Armendarez. He wouldn’t do it.
Today, Wednesday, when I got to the hospital, Dr. Gregory and I talked about his family. He told me that he has four cousins in the area and would like the social worker to contact them. I wrote down their names; Dr. Gregory did not have any addresses. Then, at 11:15, he told me that he was supposed to have an 11:00 a.m. appointment to be interviewed for Assisted Living. Dr. Gregory has been in Assisted Living and does not want to return to it, and Armendarez has repeatedly told Dr. Gregory that he can’t afford it. Dr. Gregory is willing to go into Assisted Living temporarily while arrangements are made for long-term independent living. At no time was I informed of the interview or invited to be present.
I sought out Armendarez. He was rude and clearly hostile—and he said the interview was for a group home, not Assisted Living. He refused to meet with me. I went to his boss, the head of the Social Work Department. She was pleasant and said she had heard positive things about me from the ER social worker. In a few short minutes, I apprised her of the problems. She denied being “the boss” who Armendarez said was meeting with Carr’s boss. I informed her of the police presence and then had to leave for an important personal appointment.
Around four o’clock this afternoon, I called Armendarez to request a scheduled meeting with him and Dr. Gregory tomorrow. Armendarez asked if I was at home, then said he would call me right back and hung up. He did not call back at all.
Around eight o’clock this evening, Dr. Gregory called me from the motel to tell me that Armendarez had discharged him around three o’clock. (Armendarez is a miserable, slimy coward who didn’t even have the balls to tell me what he’d done. I will be filing a complaint against his license.) I do not know if the assistant director and the department head with whom I spoke know what Armendarez did. I do not know if he was acting independently or on the orders of his superiors. I do not know if it is hospital policy to defy a presidential order, not to mention human decency.
Dr. Gregory has enough money for two or three days then he will be put out on the street again. This man is old, poor and sick. Who will help him?
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any information you have that will help this fine old man.