Free at Last

Independence and a lobster tail for a man who had lost hope

On a recent Wednesday evening, Paul Hewitson dressed up in a neatly pressed gray suit and a western-cut white shirt, and headed out to dinner at his favorite restaurant, Red Lobster.

Many people take a meal of crab legs and coleslaw for granted, but until recently, such an event was impossible for Hewitson. The 67-year-old had to eat what was put in front of him at the locked nursing home where he lived with several women in their 80s and 90s, many suffering from severe dementia. Even if he could have gone out, he had only a few dollars in his wallet. He spent most of his days in a cramped bedroom, with the few possessions he has left.

Hewitson fell ill in early 2000, after his wife died and decades of drinking caught up to him. His daughter, Steacey Roy, became his guardian, and had him placed in the secure facility. From the start, he fought to get out ("Lost Hope," Amy Silverman, August 22).

Paul Hewitson in unhappier days
Amy Silverman
Paul Hewitson in unhappier days

Even though the ombudsman for the local Area Agency on Aging took up his cause -- and even after evaluations showed his condition to be greatly improved -- Hewitson's lawyer and daughter and the judge in the case appeared committed to keeping him in his unhappy situation.

At the same time, the ombudsman and Hewitson had growing concerns about where money from his estate was going.

Now, both issues are being addressed. Last summer, shortly after New Times began researching the story, Steacey Roy filed paperwork with the court indicating that she no longer wished to be her father's guardian, because she had moved to Canada. The Maricopa County Public Fiduciary was put in charge of his care in September.

Hewitson was removed from the North Valley Care Home. After two stops, he's landed at Madison Meadows, an assisted-living facility in central Phoenix. He has his own studio apartment with a refrigerator and stove, and French doors that open onto a small pond. Meals are served in a cafeteria and his medication is monitored.

But Hewitson is free to come and go as he pleases. He can take a shuttle to the grocery store and cook his own meals. He has his own private phone line. He's responsible for his laundry -- a challenge for a guy who had never washed clothes in his life.

Walking down the wide hallway at Madison Meadows, residents greet Hewitson by name. This place is better than the nursing home, he allows, but says what he really wants is his own apartment in his old neighborhood, near Paradise Valley Mall in northeast Phoenix. He can't drive; he figures he can find an apartment close to a bus line.

The residents here are way too old for him, Hewitson says. "There's no social activities there worth a darn," he says. He doesn't like bingo, or this place's version of bowling -- down the carpeted hallways, using a rubber ball. And he's not allowed to feed the birds that gather outside his apartment.

Hewitson wants to dance. He wants to lift weights. He wants to date women.

"I'm a social guy," he says.

He wants to start going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to find dates, but insists he can control his drinking on his own. At Thanksgiving he got into a fight with his former neighbor when the man came to visit and saw that Hewitson had wine in his apartment. The two no longer speak, Hewitson says.

Hewitson got a step closer to his goal of independent living this fall when a court investigator recommended that he be given total freedom by the public fiduciary -- allowed to live on his own, but with a social services agency visiting twice a week.

Instead, the court kept the fiduciary on as Hewitson's conservator. That gives Hewitson much more independence than he had previously, but it means that the county still has oversight of his finances. If Hewitson wants to move, he has to justify it to his conservator. So it still might happen, but things will move more slowly.

Hewitson says he's frustrated because he still hasn't gotten a full accounting of his assets. He might be more frustrated after he sees it. Hewitson's attorney, Martin LaPrade, originally approved the documentation Roy filed with the court, but later rescinded his approval and filed an objection in which he raised questions regarding Roy's accounting on various items including utilities, transportation, meals, administrative expenses and personal expenditures. LaPrade left out credit cards -- Roy spent more than $7,000 on credit card bills with no explanation of what the money went for.

In March 2000, Hewitson's estate was worth about $290,000. A little more than two years later, the figure was around $150,000. The group home where Hewitson lived cost only $38,000 a year.

Roger Coventry, a financial exploitation investigator for the public fiduciary, confirms that the matter is under investigation and says that Roy, who now lives in Canada, has been asked questions that she has not sufficiently answered. He says he plans to ask the court to order her to answer.

Although the investigation has not been completed and a dollar amount is not yet known, there will definitely be further action, says Dawn Savattone, ombudsman with the Area Agency on Aging, who is working closely with Coventry.

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