Did SLO facility fail to protect elderly resident?

October 10, 2016
James Erickson

James Erickson


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.

The yellow pin marks the place James Erickson was found.

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.”

James Erickson was discovered behind the second wall.

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The police searched for him on Oct 5 until midnight and they never found him right behind the wall just steps away from the back door of the facility? Where the hell were they searching? Decent handheld FLIR devices are now well under $1,000 and would have enabled the police to find him very quickly. This poor guy spent 4 days lying face down on the ground – can you imagine passing 4 days on the ground helpless and assuming you were left to die? He is lucky to be alive!

Some of these places have no business being. I had the misfortune of residing in an “assisted living” facility for a time. During that period they messed up my medication, refused to treat my diabetes, gave me bedbugs and, I do not kid, refused to call 911 when I had a stroke. They offered me cookies and orange juice instead. Another resident finally called for help and the stroke turned out to be minor and I recovered. When I had to go to a nursing facility to recover from an unrelated medical procedure, I refused to return to the assisted living facility. This place is called “Beverly Hills Gardens”. I lucked out and life got better. Many are not so fortunate.

The facilities vary a lot. My 93-year-old friend lives at Garden Creek, and it is wonderful. The staff treat the residents like family, the care is really good, and even the food is decent.

Elderly, the sick and mentally disabled are a for profit enterprise. Pay someone 10 dollars an hour to do the job of someone who deserves 50 dollars an hour, what do you expect.

Karen, thank you for caring enough to investigate this case.

“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.”

Truly? Was “walking on a ledge outside the back of the facility” a behavior typical for Mr. Erickson? Probably not. One of those “several residents” should have notified authorities immediately and INSISTED that someone check on Mr. Erickson’s welfare? How long was he behind the wall, face down? Seems like know one really knows or cares. Mr. Erickson matters! All lives matter!

*Seems like no one really knows or cares.

It is my understanding from the 1990s that Las Brisas was a retirement living place, serving meals to residents who live in their own apartments. Even vacationers from Arizona used to rent there in the summer. This man probably should have been in the alzheimer’s home on Laurel Lane, or a convalescent hospital.

There is nothing in this article to indicate that this man had Alzheimer’s or needed a convalescent hospital. Don’t assume that just because someone is “older” means that his mental capacity is at risk or that he needs constant care. We have become a society of where discounting the capabilities and experience of our older generations is becoming the norm and institutionalizing the elderly is common practice – what a valuable asset we are ignoring.

That’s for sure. I have a good friend who lives in assisted living in SLO. She is 93, sharp as a tack, and smarter and more up on what’s going on that most people half her age. Most of her friends are the same age, and also very sharp. Their bodies may be wearing out, but their minds are still working just fine.