By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
The ladies of the North Valley Care Home are propped in wheelchairs and La-Z-Boy-style recliners, blankly watching the Todayshow's summer concert series on a recent Friday morning. The volume on the big-screen TV is set for the hearing-impaired, but even so, the women nod off as hip-hop queen Mary J. Blige struts and croons.
With its row of comfy chairs and colorful fish tank, the den is perfect for the slipper-clad ladies, who aren't going much of anyplace today, or any day. They are grounded by Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia and neurological disabilities clearly unable to provide for themselves in even the tiniest ways. They are bathed, fed, and helped to sit and stand, constantly needing to be reminded of what day it is and where they are.
Down the hall from the television, across from the handicapped-accessible bathroom where the women get assistance relieving themselves, is Paul Hewitson's bedroom. He is the only male in this houseful of demented, mindless women.
Hewitson needs no reminder about where he is. It's all he thinks about.
At 67, Hewitson appears to be at least 20 years junior to many of his housemates. Lanky with a headful of straw-colored hair, he looks a little bit like John Wayne.
Each morning, he smoothes the peach blanket over his twin bed, grooms and dresses himself, and reads the newspaper. Instead of bedroom slippers, he wears running shoes.
When he talks on the phone, Hewitson apologizes for his scratchy throat. "You have to excuse my voice, because I don't talk much here," he says.
This morning, he is watching the Phoenix government cable channel on his small television set, which isn't easy with the sounds of Mary J. Blige blaring through the wall. He eats his meal s at the dining table with the ladies, but otherwise, Hewitson figures, he spends about 90 percent of his time in this tiny, neat room, which holds all of his earthly possessions: a desk, an armchair, some mismatched dressers and bookcases. A small window looks out onto the side of the house next door.
A little more than two years ago, Paul Hewitson was very ill. His wife died suddenly of cancer. A lifetime of drinking caught up with him. Doctors said he couldn't care for himself, and his daughter convinced the courts to give her custody of her father.
Against his wishes and the protestations of government advocates, Hewitson's daughter exiled him to a group home with constant supervision, then sold his house and almost all of his possessions. Years later, he is sober, his health improved, but his daughter continues to control his fate, and Hewitson's court-appointed attorney spends more time talking and listening to daughter than father.
The daughter, Steacey Roy, did not return calls for comment for this story. She lives in Canada, and Hewitson says he hasn't seen her in months. In letters to the court over the past two and a half years, she has repeatedly expressed concern for her father's health and safety. In the court record, she's remained adamant that her father requires constant supervision.
Technically, Hewitson can come and go as he pleases, but with $2 in his wallet, where would he go, he asks. The owners of the North Valley Care Home watch him carefully when he steps out onto the front walk, and his daughter has forbidden visits from the one friend who has tried to take Hewitson out for a meal at his favorite restaurant, Red Lobster. When the friend showed up to take Hewitson to a court hearing several months ago, the police were called. The friend hasn't been back since.
And so Hewitson spends his time in his room, rereading his books or rewatching his videos. But mostly he spends his days angry.
He is angry with his daughter for forcing him to live here, angry with his attorney and with the courts for not intervening. Angry that he never got his day in court to tell the judge why he should have some control over his life.
Perched on the edge of his bed, Hewitson pulls a sheet from a white tablet and reads from his notes, written earlier this morning. He raises his voice to be heard over the television as the Today show ends and Kelly Ripa takes over. His notes are like poetry.
"I exist in the future without freedom or things to remind me of good and bad times.
"Just what it might be like in 10 20 30 years.
"Senility, wetting yourself, can't dress or clean. Sit and stare. Mumbling, hardly hearing, having things, even horses, crawling all over you. Don't know anyone hardly. Shake. Can't walk....
"It's not pleasant living to see what will be worth death."
Paul Hewitson spent his career facing death.
He estimates that he worked on more than 6,000 autopsies over several decades, first as a technician for the Maricopa County Medical Examiner and later at Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix. Forgetting names and faces was a survival tactic.
"In that business, you don't remember a thing," Hewitson says. "You just forget the circumstances afterward, so you can shut things out of your mind."
He thinks that's why his memory is a little faulty today. That, and maybe all the formaldehyde.
Hewitson's first marriage resulted in three daughters and a divorce in 1969. He met his second wife, Phyllis, at Good Sam. She ran the medical records department.
Phyllis couldn't have children, Hewitson says. So they had cats and dogs and a boat and trailer at Apache Lake, where they loved to fish. His other passion was gardening. A framed photo collage of his homegrown honeydew and Swiss chard now hangs over Hewitson's bed.
From an early age, Hewitson drank. Never at work, he insists.
"I did my drinking at night, and sometimes in the morning. I can't deny that," he says.
His driver's license was suspended for years, due to repeated drunken-driving arrests, and Hewitson admits his alcohol problem grew worse in the last decade. In later years, he suffered from depression and possibly some bouts of alcohol-related dementia, according to court documents.
In 1999, Phyllis was diagnosed with lung cancer. Six months later, she was dead.
Hewitson had so much trouble dealing with his wife's illness that she spent her last days in Nebraska, with family.
After her death, Hewitson hit bottom literally and figuratively. Drunk one day in March 2000, he tripped on his cowboy boot while coming down the stairs of his home and smacked the kitchen doorway, fracturing his shoulder.
He hadn't kept in close touch with his children over the years. They had moved to Canada with their mother, Marilyn, shortly after the divorce. But Steacey Roy, Hewitson's eldest daughter, had moved to Phoenix a couple years earlier with her husband and children. Roy and her family lived with the Hewitsons for a short time, her father recalls, and then the relationship began to deteriorate. Eventually, Roy moved out.
But Roy and Hewitson kept in contact. After Phyllis died, she was the only family he had. Roy took charge while her father was in the hospital. He agreed to give her power of attorney over his finances, so she could pay his bills while he was ill.
She didn't stop there. Hewitson didn't know it, but his future was already being decided in a courtroom.
These reports were the basis for Roy's petition for temporary guardianship of her father. She filed the papers in Maricopa County Superior Court while he was still in the hospital.
The first indication that Hewitson's life was about to change came in the form of a hospital visit from a man named Martin LaPrade. LaPrade introduced himself as Hewitson's attorney.
Hewitson was confused. He hadn't arranged to hire a lawyer.
"I didn't have any reason for an attorney. I fell down in my own home," Hewitson says.
Nonetheless, there he was. LaPrade was friendly and helpful, Hewitson recalls, and he remembers the lawyer's advice well. He says LaPrade told him that Roy didn't need to have power of attorney over his finances, that the bank could take care of Hewitson's bills.
And then, Hewitson says, LaPrade warned him against letting Roy become his legal guardian. He says LaPrade told him he wouldn't even grant custody to his own wife.
LaPrade says he doesn't remember such an exchange. In fact, in a recent interview, he told New Times he doesn't remember much about the client, to whom he hasn't spoken in months.
Soon, Roy was attempting to get permanent custody. And LaPrade was supporting her effort.
Hewitson spent a month in an alcohol rehab program in Chandler after he left the hospital. While Hewitson was in the rehab center, he received a visit from a clinical psychologist who performed a neurological examination.
The psychologist wrote that Hewitson had limited insight and that she thought his promises to stay sober sounded rehearsed. She noted that he had trouble concentrating and other cognitive difficulties, but added that it takes at least four months of sobriety to regain losses from chronic drinking. Hewitson had been sober only two months at the time. She did agree with the guardianship, but not with Roy's idea of putting Hewitson in a home with severely demented people.
"Regarding residential placement, the options the daughter has explored . . . frankly sound geared to a proven recidivist and/or very demented population," the psychologist wrote. "He is nowhere near that level cognitively or socially, and secured dementia settings, or secured geriatric homes, strike me as overly restrictive."
A few days after Hewitson came home in May 2000, Roy called and told him she wanted custody. He told her no. Then LaPrade called.
The lawyer agreed with Roy, which puzzled Hewitson, since he says LaPrade had warned him against allowing Roy to have custody.
But LaPrade now said he should do it, and Hewitson wanted to trust his lawyer. He wanted to be in charge of his own destiny as well. He said he wanted to go to court. He remembers that LaPrade told him it was just a formality, not to bother.
LaPrade insists that Hewitson was present for the hearing. His client says he wasn't, and the court record confirms Hewitson's version. Roy told the court that her father had been drinking. Hewitson contends that he hadn't, that Roy set him up by planting bottles in the house.
Hewitson never got a chance to tell his story to the court.
Maricopa County Superior Court Commissioner Edward Bassett made Roy the permanent guardian for her father and agreed that she could send him to a supervised group home where his freedom would be greatly restricted.
But the commissioner did seem concerned that Hewitson was not present for the hearing. He ordered that Hewitson be reevaluated in six months to determine if he was able to live in a less-restrictive setting. And he made it clear in court documents that he expected Hewitson to be present in court when the reevaluation was discussed.
Bassett and his staff were on vacation and could not be reached for comment for this story. But Barbara Mundell, presiding judge for the Maricopa County Superior Court's mental health and probate division, says Bassett would be prohibited from discussing the case. She also declined comment.
Chick Arnold, a Phoenix attorney who specializes in mental health and probate issues, is not familiar with Paul Hewitson's case, but he deals with similar situations all the time. Arnold says that not everyone does go before the court in guardianship cases, but he adds that Hewitson should have been allowed to, if that was his wish.
"If the client says, I want to be there,' that's the end of the discussion. He should be there," Arnold says.
Hewitson was not there. A few days after the hearing, Roy showed up at his door.
And that was the last time Paul Hewitson saw his house. He didn't have time to pack.
Hewitson was sent to live at the Golden Days Adult Care Home in Phoenix.
Ronnie Brown, who runs the facility, recalls that Hewitson was not drinking when he came to live with her, but she does remember that he was quite ill. He was also angry at his daughter and grief-stricken over his wife's death.
Hewitson attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for a short time. He says he stopped going because Roy refused to take him. His sponsor confirms this and says he offered to give Hewitson rides to meetings, but Roy wouldn't allow it.
"She had him tied down pretty good," the sponsor says. (Roy claimed in court documents that her father refused to attend AA meetings.)
Even without AA, Brown says she saw remarkable improvement in Hewitson. By September of that year, he was pruning her roses, cooking and making his own bed. He never threatened to drive or drink.
After six months, Brown says, Hewitson really should have been given another neurological exam to chart his progress. But Brown didn't need a doctor to tell her what she could see.
"He was moving toward being able to take care of himself," she says.
Brown says she told Roy that her father was ready for a less-restrictive environment. There are plenty of facilities that offer private apartments with group dining quarters and someone to supervise medication, she says.
"She just moved him elsewhere," Brown says.
In November 2000, Hewitson recalls, Roy picked him up from Brown's home, telling him they were going shopping. Instead, she pulled up in front of the North Valley Care Home.
By this time, a government watchdog was involved. Steve Lacy and Dawn Savattone, ombudsmen for the Area Agency on Aging, the state office charged with advocating on behalf of elderly people in long-term care, sent several letters to the court, requesting assistance for Hewitson.
The Area Agency ombudsman serves almost 24,000 people in long-term care group homes and nursing homes. The Agency received more than 2,000 complaints last year. Some are resolved with a five-minute phone call. Other cases, like Hewitson's, take years.
Lacy and Savattone declined to discuss the specifics of Hewitson's case, but their letters spell out their concerns.
In November 2000, Savattone wrote to the court that Roy, Hewitson's legal guardian, "may have difficulty acting in his best interest, due to interpersonal relationship problems and an inability to be objective when making decisions on his behalf."
"This ward does not believe that his daughter should be his guardian/conservator. He feels powerless, angry and hopeless regarding any chance to regain any control over his life."
Savattone requested an impartial medical assessment, including a neurological examination. There never had been a follow-up exam, despite the court's direction. She also mentioned an upcoming hearing regarding the sale of Hewitson's home and possessions:
"Since this ward is only in his mid 60s, I believe it would be hasty to dispose of personal possessions that may be important to him later, when he may be living in a less restrictive alternative setting."
Two months later, Savattone asked the court to consider granting Hewitson a new attorney.
"Paul stated that his attorney does not help him in the manner that he feels he should. He stated that his attorney seems more interested in his daughter's needs then his," Savattone wrote.
The court noted receipt of both letters, but took no other action on the ombudsman's requests.
In January 2001, Commissioner Bassett approved the sale of the house. Hewitson testified and recalls telling the court that he agreed the house should be sold, that it was too big for him, but he asked that he be allowed to sort through his possessions himself.
Instead, Roy inventoried and sold the contents. Hewitson didn't even get to choose which videos to take, or which family photographs. He says he has no idea what happened to his wife's jewelry or his own wedding ring. He had recently purchased a computer, which he wanted to learn to use in the group home, but says Roy told him she needed it to take care of his business.
Roy kept both of Hewitson's vehicles, a 1993 Ford Aerostar and a 1985 Ford Bronco, explaining in court documents that she needed them to transport her father to doctors' appointments. Neither car is listed as an asset. Yet, according to Roy' s own accounting records, she has spent almost $8,000 of Hewitson's money on car repairs, gas and car washes.
And it's hard to imagine that she's given her father a ride anywhere lately, since Roy moved back to Canada last year.
The ombudsman informed the court of Roy's relocation. "Mr. Hewitson was not told of this move," Dawn Savattone wrote, "and he is very concerned about his future."
Dawn Savattone has continued to try to get Hewitson out of the North Valley home. She wrote to LaPrade, suggested alternative living situations and asked the court to step in.
The court did have a social worker review Hewitson's living conditions in February 2002. Then, two months ago, Bassett finally noted the recommendation to allow Hewitson to move, but he also pointed out that LaPrade had taken no action. Bassett said it was up to LaPrade to file a motion to get a full evaluation of Hewitson's situation.
LaPrade still has done nothing. His response to the suggestion his client should be relocated? "Go find the place. When you find it, let me know where it is."
The lawyer says the court file is a foot thick and that he doesn't know what's in it. He says it's been three months since he last spoke to his client on the phone and that he doesn't recall the last time he saw him, although he says he's been to the North Valley Care Home.
"I presume he's still at the same facility," he says. "I haven't been there lately. How old are the people?"
LaPrade readily admits that he spends a lot more time on the phone with Steacey Roy than with Paul Hewitson. He says Hewitson can't be reasoned with that all he wants is to return to his home, which has been sold.
LaPrade has been paid about $5,000 for his work in this case all from Hewitson's bank account.
LaPrade says it's Roy's responsibility to find her father a new place to live, and that there isn't a facility like the one Ronnie Brown described.
Brown disagrees. So does Dawn Savattone.
"There are many different kinds of assisted-living centers where a person can go down for meals, have assistance with medication, even have a small pet if they'd like," she says.
And all for less than Hewitson's current monthly housing bill of $2,000.
Last month, Steacey Roy filed papers with the court requesting that she be relieved of her duties as guardian. She wants her father put in the care of the public fiduciary. She's leaving him with a little less than half of his $291,000 estate.
The court could look at alternatives to assigning Hewitson to the public fiduciary, says Chick Arnold, the mental health/probate attorney. Arnold is part of a group called the "Alternatives to Guardianship Project," which meets regularly to discuss such concerns.
It's not unheard of for the court to review a ward's capabilities and revise a previous opinion, possibly even revoke a guardianship. In this case, if his lawyer made such a motion, the court could consider doing so for Hewitson, instead of assigning him to the public fiduciary.
"If [my client's status was] something less than fully incapacitated, I'd be running into court," Arnold says. "The role of that lawyer is to be the lawyer for [the client], and even if the lawyer doesn't believe that [the client] is making the right decision, that's not the lawyer's job."
The court might play a role, too. The court investigator should be following up to be sure that Hewitson's well-being is ensured, Arnold says.
But the last investigative report in Hewitson's file is dated April 2000. That's also the date of the original neurological exam. There never was a follow-up.
"The legal issues are easy here," Arnold says. "The problems are letting a guy like Paul have access to the system."
Hewitson needs access quickly. For better or worse, his living situation is about to change.
The owners of the North Valley Care Home have grown frustrated with him. He complains about the food and doesn't socialize. They say he refuses to take his medication. Hewitson admits that he sometimes hides the pills, but says the tranquilizers make him feel too drugged-up, and sometimes his throat hurts when he swallows large tablets. He says he had to beg for more than a year to get an appointment with a throat specialist, and that he never has been taken to get his teeth cleaned.
Violeta Fracas, the home's owner, says she has taken Hewitson out shopping at times, but that nothing makes him happy. He doesn't want to participate in the music or arts and crafts she arranges for the ladies.
Earlier this month, after New Times started asking questions about Hewitson's situation, Fracas gave Hewitson 30 days' notice. He must be out of her house by September 15.
"I don't force anybody to live in my home," Fracas says. "If they're not happy, I'm not happy either."
Sometimes Paul Hewitson is depressed, even suicidal.
"I feel like killing myself," he says one day on the phone. "It's unreal. It's like I don't exist." He calls the North Valley Care Home a "mental torture chamber."
Hewitson dreads mealtime.
"I get what they get," he says. Most of the time, it's chicken and spaghetti, food cut into small pieces. Eggs and toast for breakfast, soup for lunch.
He wishes someone would buy him a potpie.
One of his few pleasures is feeding scraps to two next-door dogs, over the fence. The neighbor gave his permission.
But Hewitson shakes his head, his eyes welling with tears. That's not enough, he says. He wants his own pet, his own place to live. Spending money.
"This is my present, to live my future," he says. "This isn't America to me. This isn't America. My life is just this home, shared with the old and senile."