ComCare Didn't Care

State probe finds that agency's "failure to comply" with regulations contributed to veteran's death

"So we're to believe that the boarding home was the middleman, playing doctor and banker to Donald day by day? I'd like to see one canceled check with Donald's signature on it. Who do they think they are kidding?"

During a hearing recess, Donald's sister Mary Howard asked his attorney, Connie Leon, if AVSC would be compelled to explain why it paid thousands of dollars to boarding homes while Donald was in jail or mental hospitals.

Leon explained she had been unable to get Donald's jail records because, she claimed, the "jail computer" only goes back for six months. But New Times easily uncovered the dates of Donald's incarceration at the county jail and at government psychiatric wards for eight years preceding his death.

Leon then conducted a tepid cross-examination of Cooper, failing to question the AVSC official on numerous impeachable areas. For example, Leon barely touched on the key question of Donald's whereabouts from the summer of 1995 to early 1996.

During her direct examination, Cooper had testified that Donald lived at Burkeshire from August until November 1995. Then, she said, he moved directly to the Crystal Lodge, a supervisory care home where he would stay until January 1996.

In response to a question from Colosi, Cooper said AVSC paid Crystal Lodge $950 for Donald's November 1995 room and board.

"Would you expect if Donald left at any time [during the month], that AVSC would pay for the full month?" Colosi asked. "If a client is there for one day, no," Cooper replied. "If he wasn't there for the majority of November, we would ask for a refund."

However, records show Donald spent at least 20 days of that month in custody--and AVSC never asked for a refund.

In December 1995, Cooper testified, Donald moved back and forth from Burkeshire to Crystal Lodge at no charge to his account.

But court, police, jail and county hospital records--records that inexplicably weren't presented for consideration during the hearing--refute Cooper's account.

At a December 6, 1995, hearing attended by Ellison's attorney, Connie Leon, a judge ruled that Donald was persistently and acutely disabled and was to undergo inpatient treatment.

Far from getting free lodging at the Burkeshire and Crystal Lodge, as Cooper averred, Donald spent the rest of December and the first week of January 1996 at the Arizona State Hospital.

Cooper then testified that Donald had moved to La Fontenelle care home, where, she claimed, he stayed for about two months before he was committed to the Arizona State Hospital. (He actually was committed to Maricopa Medical Center.)

Colosi asked her if AVSC had reinvestigated Donald's whereabouts during this time or any other time.

"There was no need to further investigate," Cooper replied, claiming the agency always had been in constant contact with Donald.

But records indicate that from January 7 until July 24--the date of his fateful release from the county psych ward--Donald was in custody for all but eight days, during which time he resided at La Fontenelle.

AVSC's own records show it paid La Fontenelle $528 for three weeks of room and board in January, then $650 for February. AVSC got no refunds from La Fontenelle for the more than six weeks that Donald did not stay there.

Cooper testified La Fontenelle was "holding its place" for Donald, in the event he was released from custody. But a La Fontenelle official says that's not how he recalls it.

"[AVSC] told us to hold Donald's bed until the court matters were decided," says George Potvin, La Fontenelle's assistant administrator. "At the end of February, we elected to terminate his space. Quite honestly, we've been very leery of the way AVSC handles the funds. It's not exactly by the book. We could have just continued to collect, of course, but we called them and said, 'It's been long enough.'"

Mary Howard left the courtroom immediately after the hearing, without waiting to talk to Connie Leon. (Leon did not return several New Times calls requesting comment about her apparent lack of prehearing preparation.)

"This was a phony deal," Howard said tersely. "AVSC would go for weeks not knowing where Donald was. He hated them and they couldn't have cared less about him. But what can you expect from a system that would have allowed all this to happen in the first place?"

Colosi took the matter under advisement, noting that he would base his decision solely on the testimony given at the hearing.

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