Did SLO facility fail to protect elderly resident?
October 10, 2016
By KAREN VELIE
Questions have been raised about the speed of the response at a San Luis Obispo independent living facility after a 75-year-old man was found face down in the dirt behind the Las Brisas Retirement Community.
On Oct. 7, the San Luis Obispo Police department asked the public to be on the lookout for James Erickson. Erickson had last been seen Sept. 5 at about noon, according to the release.
But, multiple sources, including Erickson’s caregiver, contend he was last seen on the evening of Oct. 3 and that Las Brisas Retirement Community General Manager Dorothy Pope gave inaccurate information to the police about the last time he had been seen at the facility.
Erickson’s caregiver Cindy Melzer said she last saw Erickson at about 3 p.m. on Oct. 3. On Oct. 4, Diane Long, a friend who has power of attorney for Erickson, arrived to take him to an appointment, but she could not find him, Melzer said.
On Oct. 5, Melzer searched for Erickson before asking Pope to call the police, Melser said.
“He was nowhere to be found, Melzer said. “At about 3 (p.m.), when I could not find him, I knew something was wrong. I told Dorothy he had been missing since Monday (Oct. 3).
“Dorothy said, ‘So, what the hell do you want me to do about it?’ ” Meltzer said.
Melzer then asked Pope to call the police, Melzer said.
“I said he is not on vacation, he is missing,” Melzer said. “I walked out to my car and I actually called the police.”
After their arrival, Pope told the officers Erickson had last been seen on Oct. 5.
On Oct. 5, police officers searched for Erickson until about midnight. On Oct. 6, officers continued their investigation while Melzer searched for her client.
Nevertheless, no one interviewed other residents about the last time they had seen Erickson.
On Oct. 7, after learning of Erickson’s disappearance, several Las Brisas residents said they last saw Erickson walking on a ledge outside the back of the facility on Oct. 3.
Shortly afterwards, officers arrived back at the facility, Melzer and the officers searched the hillside where Erickson was last seen.
They found Erickson lying on the ground behind a short wall.
“He was barely alive,” Melzer said.” They found him in the dirt face down. He was almost completely unresponsive.”
Erickson suffered multiple fractures from an apparent fall and also from dehydration, Melzer said.
Emergency medical personnel transported Erickson to French Hospital Medical Center where he remains in the surgical, telemetry care unit. Erickson is currently listed in stable condition, though it is unclear if he will be able to continue to live independently.
“I couldn’t give up on him, I had to keep looking,” Melzer said. “I knew he needed help. I would go in early every day to look for him. If we could have found him sooner, his outlook would be better.”
After Erickson was discovered between 50 and 100 feet from the facility’s back door, Pope told officers that she might have been mistaken about the day he was last seen, Sergeant Brian Amoroso said.
Pope told a CCN reporter that the last time Erickson was seen was on Oct. 5. However, after being informed that others had said he was last seen on Oct. 3, Pope changed her accounting to Oct. 4.
Brian Faux, the spokesman of Las Bresis parent company Holiday Retirement, said that as an independent living facility they are not responsible for keeping track of their clients. Nevertheless, Faux said it is their policy to inform police if a client appears to be missing.
“I don’t know if she (Pope) got her days mixed up,” Faux said. “We don’t monitor our residents’ whereabouts.”