Sunday, June 4, 2017

"An Outrageous Arrest that Maybe Kind of Wasn't:" by Tom Lyons, The Heart-Breaking Story of Maura Wood

Maura Wood, aka "Cookie"
You don't know what you don't know until you get a bigger picture! I am enlightened thanks to Tom Lyons and the Herald Tribune for investigating the story of Maura Wood,  a homeless, disabled Sarasota woman arrested for stealing a hospital wheelchair. 

I know Maura Wood as "Cookie." For the past two years or so,  I have bought McDonald's meals for her when she sits outside with her sign. One time, I asked her about sheltering at the Salvation Army. She told me that she has  seizures, so she needs a care-giver, and  her care-giver is a man. She said that the Salvation Army does not allow this arrangement. 

However, I did not know that , Maura had housing in the past and did not stay there, and the Homeless Outreach Team has reached out to her on many occasions.  

At the end of the day, it looks like treatment for mental illness , as Lyons concludes,  is a major issue and  in Florida, the services are inadequate and may not really take care of people like Maura. 

 So while progress has been made in Sarasota- not jailing the homeless and mentally ill for being without shelter and for petty violations of the law- there are still big holes in the system. 

The Maura Wood's story is heart-breaking, and raises the question what  do we do if help is being offered  and the individual is too sick to accept it?

Bridget Mary Meehan, ARCWP,

 See Tom Lyons article in Sarasota Herald Tribune

"I’ve talked to her and quoted her in the past, and I see her around in her wheelchair. She’s apparently a stroke victim, and has other medical issues, not all of them strictly physical. I see it as a marvel that she manages to stay alive while often living outdoors. She panhandles and accepts free meals and such, but by all accounts often refuses other sorts of help and services that are frequently offered to her. That includes, police say, refusing a home — an actual house that a caseworker delivered her to last summer.
The general explanation I get from some who have dealt with her is something like, well, that’s how she is.
But the news that she had been arrested and charged with grand theft set off alarm bells, mainly because of the item allegedly stolen: The wheelchair she was sitting in. I mean, Jeeez. Really?
The story, as I first understood it, was weird. She had been treated for something at Sarasota Memorial, and when wheeled out afterward, it was in a wheelchair that was hospital property and had a logo saying so.
I imagined her making a choice: Use the hospital’s chair until she could locate her own, which must have been left behind or misplaced when she was taken to the hospital, or else get out of that chair and start crawling down the sidewalk.
How could our public hospital staffers put her in that terrible position?
Well, they didn’t. Much as that would make for a great column, it seems it just didn’t happen that way.
As I have said, she is often hard to help. Best I can figure, Woods arranged her own premature departure from the hospital before proper arrangements could be made.
“Unfortunately, some people are anxious to leave the hospital — and have the right to do so — against medical advice, before that discharge process is complete,” Sarasota Memorial spokeswoman Kim Savage said.
She was speaking generally because federal confidentiality laws are absurdly extreme. Technically, she could not admit Wood was ever there.
“We have many wheelchairs on campus, set up at different areas, for our patients’ comfort and convenience,” she said.
So it seems that, instead of waiting while the staff worked out a way to transport her to some location of her choice, ideally some social service provider, and made sure that she had her wheelchair, Woods just up and left.
She was free to go, but not with expensive hospital property.
Wood can walk a little, by the way. So I’m not sure if she found a wheelchair that was sitting in a hallway or if she used one that had been provided during her stay. Either way, what she took was an upgrade over her usual ride.
She had wheeled off in a specialized model, well-equipped with battery and electric motor and normally used for very overweight people. It is valued at $3,000.
I still don’t know for sure where her own chair was. As I said, confidentiality laws keep hospital officials from saying anything about Wood.
When a police officer found Wood in Payne Park in a chair marked as hospital property, and called a hospital security staff officer to the scene, I wish things had gone differently. I’d see it as better if the guard’s response was something like, “Well, we just need to get that chair back at some point.”
Instead, that hospital security guard said the hospital wanted to press charges. And so, Wood was arrested.Sarasota Police Capt. Kevin Stiff is unapologetic about that. Stiff, who supervises the Homeless Outreach Team, says that felony arrest might have been the woman’s ticket to mental health care she may not want but apparently needs.
Though Wood has been arrested a lot on minor charges, the felony charge could have provided means for a judge to force her into a mental health program and make sure she complies with treatment, he said.
Ironically, that chance seems to be gone, thanks to a decision that was supposed to give her a break: The hospital asked that the charge be dropped. So Wood is out of jail.
Stiff says she might be worse off as a result.
He could be right, but that’s hard to say. Florida’s mental health system is so underfunded and limited and sometimes flat out dysfunctional that I won’t dare a guess about whether Wood is better off with or without it."

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