The Pilot News

Letter to the Editor


I became involved with X in March 2020 when this person requested help with groceries during the pandemic. I never entered the house but would leave grocery bags on the porch and phoned X that they were there.

Fast-forward to fall of 2022. For three weeks, X had been struggling with an issue I inferred was an infected wound. X refused to see a doctor or go to the ER. During those three weeks I let those I thought could help (X’s doctor, agencies, etc.) know of X’s situation: apparently no involved family, only a space heater to keep warm, one light bulb, unwell, unsafe. But having no familial relationsh­ip or legal involvemen­t in this senior citizen’s care, I didn’t have any sway—or any business—in trying to make real changes to their living situation.

The pain was finally bad enough to force X to agree to go to the ER last fall, and X was admitted to the hospital. I was relieved, as profession­als would now be involved.

At X’s request, I went to the house to feed the pets a day or so later. Finding the front door had blown open and not wanting to approach the house alone, I phoned the police, who responded promptly. Two officers walked through the house. When they came out, they wiped their feet on the grass. “Unfit for human habitation,” said one. “Even unfit for animal habitation.” I was appalled at my first glimpse of the interior—garbage strewn everywhere. I took one step in and photograph­ed what I could from that vantage point.

The excellent case manager at the hospital was in touch with the police and made a report to Adult Protective Services. APS spoke to me and was apprised of the filthy conditions. Their suggestion: “Maybe you and some women from your church could go clean the house.” I explained that this was a nonstarter as the house needed profession­al, hazmat cleaning, not some well-intentione­d helpers. I stressed this wasn’t a matter of clutter—not even hoarding—or a sink needing to be wiped out, but stinking, unsanitary garbage that belongs in a dump, not in a home. I asked if there might be county or state funding for a cleaning of this type (no).

Surely, surely we can do better than to stand by while a senior in Marshall County, clearly incapable of self-care, can live inside a giant Glad bag. Why X never slipped on debris or fell (to my knowledge) is beyond me. One’s imaginatio­n reels at what else might be living in that house besides the pets.

Unfortunat­ely, even the profession­als’ hands were tied by whatever regulation­s allowed this distastefu­l situation to continue. Certainly no one advocates barring someone from their home for ambiguous or frivolous reasons. But this situation seemed clearcut.

X did return home after the autumn hospital stay and for a time followed up with medical care. Then stopped. The medical problem recurred recently, and X once again landed in the hospital. This time, the profession­als there were adamant: X must agree to go to rehab, not back home, or they’d get the court involved to declare incompeten­cy.

I cannot say enough for the kind and capable case manager and the nurses during both of X’s hospital stays. At a nurse’s suggestion I called the humane society to remove the pets. They found one pet dead. The representa­tive also found a stove burner on and the space heater running in the bathroom. These appliances had been on for five days.

The answer to the ancient question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is an unqualifie­d yes. And indeed “It takes a village.” But in this case the “village’s” system could not effect change, either to the house or to find X another living situation. I am hopeful that this time something is happening and things won’t go on as usual following X’s hospital/rehab stint. X insisted on returning to that house last fall. Something is wrong with the system that couldn’t prevent it.

- Pamela J. Pugh

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