The News-Record by LORRAINE AHEARN - November 2, 2008
We all get old; we all get sick. Lifelong factory worker Dorothy “Dot” Williams planned for that. She saved, signed a will with durable power of attorney, set up a $300,000 annuity and took out home health insurance to avoid having to go to a nursing home. Yet that’s where she was Friday — in a cramped, semiprivate room at Evergreens, where she shares a bathroom with three others and was hoping to be moved to her own room. Williams, 78 and widowed, built circuit boards for Western Electric and Lucent for more than 30 years. But now she is a ward of the state, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and declared legally incompetent at the request of her estranged daughter, who had been removed from the mother’s will. And because her court-appointed guardian decided it was for the best, she has been placed in a nursing home despite paying for round-the-clock coverage for home health care. “I have never seen somebody get the treatment she’s gotten,” said her last home health aide, Melissa Tilley. “It’s sad to know she worked all of her life, and this is what happens.” Until recently, Williams had a neat, well-appointed room with a private bath, sun porch and closed-circuit camera for security at the home of her son, Randy Clark.
In 2007, Williams had given her son power of attorney, and he hired home health aides to take care of his mother 24 hours a day. Clark saw no problem in providing for his mother. “She’s been frugal all her life, never hurt anybody,” he said. “She always took care of me, and it was my turn to take care of her.” But things grew complicated once the court system got involved, after Williams was declared incompetent. Instead of her certified nursing assistants being paid through health insurance claims, according to accounting records filed at the courthouse in September, the certified nursing assistants and the son were reimbursed sporadically by personal check through a court-appointed estate guardian.
According to Williams’ last CNA, the paychecks became so unpredictable that Clark often paid out of pocket, and in several instances, the bank records show backlogs of multiple reimbursement checks from the guardian written on single dates. The court-appointed guardian of the estate, Greensboro attorney Wanda Daughtry, said she cannot discuss finances of clients, and in September petitioned to resign from the case at the request of Guilford County Clerk of Court David Churchill. Churchill said Friday that it would be more convenient to appoint a guardian in High Point to watch over the estate. But in the meantime, according to the letter of resignation filed with the court, guardian Daughtry blamed delays on lack of cooperation from Williams’ bank and holding company, slow payments from Social Security and missing tax documents.
The letter does offer a solution: “Sufficient funds have been identified to allow the placement of the ward in a care facility in High Point as requested and anticipated by this guardian since June 2008,” wrote Daughtry, who received a $5,830 commission. “Said placement is needed since the care providers found it increasingly difficulty (sic) to offer continuing quality care for the ward.” The son reluctantly acquiesced, having little legal standing. When Williams’ last CNA left on maternity leave, the son could not hire a replacement, unsure of when the worker would get paid. “It would have been a piece of cake,” Clark said of his mother’s wish to stay at home. “But if they’re not paying for your wages or your supplies, they’re basically starving you out. I have to be there basically 24/7.” The social worker assigned to Williams’ case by the county Department of Social Services could not be reached for comment, and calls to his supervisor were not returned. According to Churchill, the court clerk, DSS had to approve the nursing home placement. The only matter before Churchill now is whether Williams herself will have to pay the $14,830 in attorneys’ fees, including the services of a private detective, that her daughter incurred in getting Williams declared incompetent. The daughter, Dawn Johnson, could not be reached for comment Friday. Williams’ old friend, Mable Phillips, said Williams would not have wanted to live in a nursing home. She felt the problem grew out of a family dispute over money.
“It’s not right. She has property; she has money. She worked so hard to save for her children,” Phillips said. “Dot was always energetic, a go-getter. She was hilarious.” And isn’t it typical: We’ve recounted this whole story without hearing from “the ward” herself. Since last summer, when she sat for an interview and a photo on the sun porch at her son’s lakeside house, Williams has grown more confused. At the nursing home Friday, she no longer talked about trips to her favorite lunch counter, Carolina Diner, or to her hairdresser at Studio 13. She didn’t talk about the years at Western Electric, scrimping and saving, tearing paper towels in half before that was the thing to do, staying a few rows back on beach vacations, because it was cheaper. As the jukebox in the nursing-home lobby played oldies, Dot Williams’ eyes danced. But not with joy. “They treat me,” she said, “like I’m already dead.” Contact Lorraine Ahearn at 373-7334 or email@example.com