My aide and I were returning from the drugstore and coming down Crouse Avenue around 4:45 p.m., Monday 30 July 2012, when we saw police cars and a gathering of people at the corner of Crouse and Madison. My aide continued on her way but I stopped; it was in my front yard.
There were two police cars, several policemen, and six or eight people wearing ID badges and/or medical uniforms; the subject of all this attention was an old black man pushing a walker.
The man was protesting, “I won’t go back! I won’t go back!” I asked a fat woman in a medical uniform what was going on. She said, “Nothing. You move along.” Her ID badge identified her as being from the Iroquois, which is a nursing home in Jamesville. Why was she throwing her weight around on a street in the City of Syracuse? I replied to the nurse something to the effect that there most certainly was something going on and she shouldn’t treat me like an idiot.
The old man gestured to me. I couldn’t get close enough to hear him but he seemed to be indicating my wheelchair. I thought he needed help.
Another badged woman spoke to me and I said, “I think this man may be my neighbor.”
She asked where I lived and I gestured to McCarthy Manor, right behind me. She said no, he didn’t live there.
By this time an ambulance and more policemen had arrived, and somebody had said that the old man with the walker was from Rosewood. Rosewood Heights Health Center is a nursing home one block away at the corner of Crouse and Harrison.
From the Post-Standard in April: “The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services added Rosewood to what it calls its list of 145 ‘special focus’ nursing homes last month. These are homes that have been repeatedly cited for serious deficiencies and persistent poor quality of care over the past three years. Fewer than 1 percent of the nation’s nursing homes are placed on this list.”
The old man was trying to escape from one of the worst nursing homes in the country and they wouldn’t let him. He was standing on the grass between the sidewalk and the curb. A police car was behind him. To his right and in front of him, he was blocked by six or eight men in black uniforms—police and ambulance. In front of him and to his left, he was blocked by another six or eight men and women in medical uniforms. He was surrounded and prevented from enacting his constitutional freedom—the right to walk away.
Whenever I tried to ask a question, the crowd from Rosewood defied me with “HIPAA, HIPAA, HIPAA.” The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was intended to protect the privacy of the patient, not to prevent advocacy on behalf of the patient. The old man was not declaring his right to privacy. The nursing home staff was trying to prevent a witness from knowing what was happening.
Can you imagine being elderly and disabled and wanting to escape the hell of a bad nursing home only to find yourself surrounded by a crowd of about fifteen uniformed men and woman, all determined to force you back? The man was physically trapped by police, who wouldn’t let him go on his way.
No way in hell was I going to leave him alone to face that mob.
Nurses were shouting things at him like “You can’t leave! Your apartment isn’t ready yet!” to which he shook his fist and said, “I got money!”
Two of the fat medical women had put themselves shoulder-to-shoulder in front of me so that, seated in my wheelchair, the old man and I couldn’t see each other. To the repeated demands from the police that I move on, I just kept saying, “I’m on a public sidewalk!”
I yelled to the old man, “You are not a prisoner at Rosewood! You have the right to leave!”
At which point two cops moved should-to-shoulder in front of me and ordered me to leave. Then one of the cops took hold of the controls on my wheelchair and forcibly moved me.
This is the equivalent of a cop grabbing an able-bodied person by the arms and shoving them. It is the equivalent of a cop pushing a citizen in a vehicle out of the driver’s seat and taking over. It was terrifying to me.
I have used a power wheelchair for nine years. Only one other time in those nine years has any person every commandeered control of my wheelchair. (He was a Medicaid transportation driver who consequently got his butt severely reamed by his boss.)
IN THE WORLD OF DISABLED PEOPLE, NO ONE—FOR MEDICAL, SOCIAL OR ANY OTHER REASON—TAKES OVER THE CONTROLS OF A POWER WHEELCHAIR.
Except a Syracuse policeman did. I warned the police that I take action and file complaints. When I stated that [in that day’s mail] I had gotten a letter from Chief Fowler, one of the cops laughed at me and said, yeah, he talked to Fowler every day, too. They continually jeered and ridiculed me.
I asked them to write down their names and badge numbers for me but they refused.
In response to my declaration that I was on a public sidewalk, one cop taunted me and said, “It’s the city’s sidewalk and I’m the city.” They threatened to take me and my wheelchair to jail.
Their comment to my last request for written names and badges numbers was “We’re Hepburn and Baldwin—just like the Hollywood stars.”
I wheeled away, leaving the old man alone against the mob of police and nursing home staff, because I am sick and the Syracuse police were endangering my health and safety.
I have some questions. A few of them are–
- Why were two or three police cars and about six policemen sent on a call that involved one old man with a walker?
- Why didn’t the ranking nursing home person (there was a middle-aged man wearing a dress shirt and slacks who seemed to be in charge) keep one or two people with him and send the rest back to work?
- Why were half a dozen nursing home staff allowed to remain and intimidate one patient who wanted to leave?
- Why didn’t the police clear the nonessential nursing home people out of the area?
- Why did they try to move me out?
- Do I have the right to sit on a public sidewalk?
- Do I have the right to offer assistance to a stranger?
- Do the police have the right to prevent a man, who has committed no crime, from walking away?
And what happened to the old man?