By Linda Kincaid and Susan Williams
Eighty-year-old Gloria Bathgate found herself prisoner of a Johnston County, North Carolina guardianship just days after she arrived in the state. Gloria was falsely imprisoned and unlawfully isolated at Oakview Commons Assisted Living Center near Raleigh.
Gloria’s story is similar to the story of Hugh Johnson, victimized by a guardian in neighboring Wake County. Similar stories of guardian abuse in adjacent counties should raise concerns about oversight and accountability in the North Carolina guardianship system.
Gloria’s care at Oakview was dismal, just as Hugh’s care at Blue Ridge Nursing Home was dismal. Gloria had several falls in the first few days and many unexplained bruises. Denied any contact with her daughter, Gloria’s physical and mental condition declined rapidly.
2007 – October 2010
Gloria enjoyed an active and sometimes flamboyant social life before moving to Raleigh. A feisty and opinionated woman, Gloria was quick to express herself in colorful language peppered with expletives. Her daughter, Susan Williams, still chuckles about Gloria wearing miniskirts and high heels at 77.
October 24, 2010
Gloria moved to Raleigh with her daughter and family. Susan immediately called Johnston County Division of Social Services (DSS) to request Medicaid, a hospital bed, elder day programs, and transportation assistance for Gloria. DSS told Susan there could be a two-year wait before services were available. DSS added, “If you wanted all those services, you should have stayed in Pennsylvania.”
Shannon West from Johnston County DSS visited told Gloria she could receive services more quickly if she moved into an assisted living facility. Gloria objected to leaving her family, but West assured Gloria that she could sign out any time she wished. Gloria signed herself into Oakveiw Commons on the advice of her daughter and Shannon West.
November 2, 2010
Just a week after Gloria and her family moved to Raleigh, Shannon West petitioned Johnston County Court for guardianship of Gloria. West blamed Susan for not procuring a hospital bed or the other services that Susan had requested. West’s petition concealed Susan’s requests for those services, and it concealed that West prevented Gloria receiving those services.
Life at Oakview Commons was nightmare of neglect and abuse. Gloria experienced several falls in the first few days. She had unexplained bruises. Susan noted dried feces on Gloria’s buttocks and thighs. A male resident provided personal care for Gloria, because no staff was available to assist with toileting. Gloria begged Susan to take home.
Shannon West instructed police not to allow Gloria to leave Oakview Commons. Oakview ordered Susan off the property.
November 10, 2010
Not content with temporarily separating Gloria from family, West petitioned the court to deny Gloria any contact with her daughter. West told Susan, “I’m gonna get your Mamma, one way or another.”
December 13, 2010
Johnston County Court appointed Shannon West as Gloria’s guardian. For the next two years, Gloria suffered neglect and abuse at Oakview Commons. Although she was eventually allowed to receive visits from her loved ones, her care remained dismal. Like Hugh Johnson, Gloria begged to go home.
Susan’s tenacity in seeking help for her mother eventually led her to the Mayor’s office in Charleston, South Carolina. Janet Schumacher of the Mayor’s Office on Aging was the first government employee in two years to lend a sympathetic ear and take action to help. Bewildered as to why Gloria was under guardianship, the Office on Aging facilitated Gloria’s escape from Oakview Commons and Johnston County.
Schumacher connected Susan with individuals who arranged for Gloria’s transfer to a skilled nursing facility in South Carolina. Gloria arrived in terrible physical condition, debilitated and in severe need of medical care. But Gloria was finally free of the abusive facility and farther from Shannon West.
The nightmare continues, however. Shannon West and Johnston County DSS object to Susan filing complaints about the abuse and sharing Gloria’s story with the media. Almost daily, Johnston County DSS threatens Susan that they will again take her mother from her.
Hugh Johnson’s only escape from guardianship was death. He was so neglected and abused by guardian Cheryl Theriault of Raleigh-based Aging Family Services that he did not recover. Hugh’s daughter Ginny Johnson vows to tell his story so guardians are held accountable for abusing elders and destroying families.