WNYC Covers Belle Harbor Manor Story About LOOTING (With Photos and Audio)

(Special thanks to WNYC’s Fred Mogul for speaking to residents about their return home, and for the wonderful reporting and piece!)

The “looting” at the facility was the type that took a lot of meticulous snooping and sifting; I was there with Fred Mogul when residents discovered they were victimized.  Envelopes inside of envelopes emptied of cash and vital documents, then neatly returned to their original positions.  Not a messy rifling through of drawers and such, which makes me think it was someone who had a LOT of time to sift though every locked cabinet and drawer.

Listen to the story by clicking this link (written transcript below):
News story audio: WNYC’s Fred Mogul Speaks to Belle Harbor Residents On Their Return Home, 2/16/13

Fred Mogul/WNYC

Adult home residents are relatively independent, but they typically have physical disabilities or mental illness.

Fred Mogul/WNYC
(My note: Here I am in my favorite coat talking to Karen Turnbull as residents step off the bus and return home for the first time in 107 days.)

 

Fred Mogul/WNYC

Bob Rosenberg was among several residents pleased to be back — but nervous about possible losses to looters and cleanup workers.

Fred Mogul/WNYC

Jagdesh Trivedi believes his Green Card and Social Security card were stolen, along with more than $200 and two pairs of shoes. (My note: Two pairs of brand new Timberland boots, that is.)

Fred Mogul/WNYC

Howard Kucine unwinds after a tense return. He says many things are missing from his room. (My note: Howie is amazing and a US Navy Veteran.)
News Staff: Fred Mogul (Cropped)

Fred Mogul, Reporter, WNYC News
Fred Mogul has been covering healthcare and medicine for WNYC since 2002.

FULL STORY FROM WNYC.ORG
Exiles Return: Months after Sandy, Adult Home Residents Go Back to the Rockaways

Residents of Belle Harbor Manor return home for the first time since Sandy. (Fred Mogul)

TRANSCRIPT: More than three months after Sandy forced them to evacuate, the residents of Belle Harbor Manor in the Rockaways returned to their home on Thursday. It’s the last of 22 evacuated adult residences to get its occupants back home (though three other residences remain closed indefinitely, as do three nursing homes, according to the state Health Department). And while the Belle Harbor Manor residents appreciated the shiny new linoleum floors and freshly painted walls, they also found some unwelcome surprises.

After festive welcome-home dinner, the residents, who suffer from a variety of mental illnesses and physical disabilities but are generally independent, were allowed to go to their rooms. Complaints about missing possessions quickly began filtering into the hallways.

“I opened the door and I saw this lock is broken,” said resident Jagdesh Trivedi.  “Shoes are gone — two boxes of shoes — sunglasses are missing, and my Green Card and Social Security card are missing.”

A spokesman for Belle Harbor, Jonathan Greenspun, from the Mercury public relations and lobbying firm, said that all allegations of theft will be investigated, and residents will be compensated if they can prove possessions or cash are actually missing. But he also said that looting was widely reported throughout the Rockaways after Sandy, and that the operators of the home had worked tirelessly to repair facilities, so they could bring the residents back.

To listen to the full story, click the blue link above.

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The Best Valentine

On Valentine’s Day, “Miriam” gets a hand and a smile exiting the bus that brought her home after living in shelter for over three months.

Having a moniker like “Kiki Valentine” makes every February 14th especially poignant since it’s the day that best represents – despite its deeply-based roots in what I like to call “Catholic gore” – love and all that it means. This year, I have the gift of reflecting on the wedding ceremonies I wrote and officiated, the bringing together of two lives in a sense and ceremony of traditional love. I’m so glad I have had those experiences. What can I say? I love love.

Another great personal love story is the sordid tale of a population of just over 100 elderly and disabled Hurricane Sandy evacuees from Belle Harbor Manor in Far Rockaway, Queens whom I met while volunteering at the Park Slope Armory’s temporary medical shelter last October. The first overnight I volunteered, I planned on being there for four hours but instead I stayed until eight the following morning. I just couldn’t leave if I knew I could help a few more people; most volunteers would leave each night after midnight, leaving a true skeleton crew to assist, walking the rows, flashlight in hand, to see if anyone was awake and had any needs. In the days that followed, I spent hours in the dark sorting, organizing and distributing clothing donations. That was a really great way to connect with people, they would come up to the fenced-in area, tell me what they needed, and I was, basically, a “personal shopper” for them, since I knew best what colors and sizes were available. I cut the fingernails of patients (because the nurses weren’t allowed to). In fact, out of all of the supplies and medical support in the shelter, there were no nail clippers anywhere. During the Nor’Easter following Sandy, I set out in the snowstorm to find some. The man whose nails I cut that night, Eddie, is a resident of Belle Harbor Manor and it turned out we have a mutual friend in common from the ‘old neighborhood”, Red Hook.

During the course of November, I bought so many pairs of mens and womens underwear I lost count. I spent overnights armed with latex gloves and a flashlight sorting donations and taking blind people to the bathroom in the dark, amazed that my usually fragile sense of smell had somehow strengthened to be able to keep on going. Only one night did someone’s “accident” cause me to uncontrollably gag, and that was when I was reminded of how amazing nurses are. I learned about the magnificent glory of “chucks”, which are basically giant blue absorbent pads placed onto wheelchairs in the event adult diapers leaked. There were a lot of pathogens involved with volunteering, and odors – especially when the shelter was operating at full capacity with 500 patients. Since the Armory is a gymnasium, all of the cots were arranged within the indoor track, so my slapstick wheeling of patients along the track allowed for some comic relief. Later I moved, in the rain, with residents from shelter to shelter, transporting them with Zipcars, in times of need, and staying with them past visiting hours if they asked me to. I fed them, clothed them, secretly brought them donuts and coffee and have spent countless hours on the phone with the OEM, Department of Health and FEMA on their behalf,sometimes speaking high school Spanish, or attempting, as I needed so desperately at times, to channel the ability to speak Chinese to help them file their claims (it didn’t happen). I made a lot of calls to friends in very high (and very low) places to lend a hand, and as a result small amenities like a daily newspaper delivery ended up changing a lot of people’s lives. Throughout, I have been forced to consider the way that we, as Americans – and as New Yorkers – treat our aging population. And during my journey what I discovered incensed me.

ICL Milestone at Creedmor Psychiatric Campus, Queens, NY

ICL Milestone at Creedmor Psychiatric Campus, Queens, NY. Looks spooky, because it is spooky.

After the first three weeks, when 350 other residents were discharged from the Armory, I knew that I was making an invisible commitment to make sure they were “okay”. Little did I know they would need a lot more help then I or anyone could ever imagine. After the first six weeks, they had lived in three separate shelters which, each time, meant that several garbage bags full of belongings (donations obtained from myself and others) would be lost. Seven weeks after the storm they were still sleeping on “Army cots”, and a ramshackle team of volunteers, advocates, and caring humans did all they could, called everyone they knew might be able to help, and change eventually started to occur. A check from the Attorney General was signed, beds were delivered (just in time for a quasi-outbreak of bedbugs).

On the heels of the shooting back home in Sandy Hook and a truly cheerless holiday, on Christmas Day I decided to advocate full time for Belle Harbor Manor’s residents, and, for the past 106 days of our lives, I have been part of one of the greatest love stories I have ever known. Full of hope, optimism, and scandal – as any good love story is – in the end, after all of the dead ends that I somehow bulldozed through, after getting lost in Queens in the dark and the drives home in tears calling anyone I could think of who might help (thank you Allen Salkin), I have to laugh about the fact that I was not once but twice kicked out of the psychiatric hospital residents were sheltered in.

The first day residents were transferred to the Creedmor Psychiatric Campus, I was told that I had to be credentialed and complete a background check in order to be on the property, of which I attempted to initiate while stalling on the phone with ICL Senior management. I didn’t want to lose access to them in this institution. It was more ike a prison than a hospital, and it felt like there was much dark energy throughout. The VP of Bologna eventually told me, with security standing over me trying to get me out, that she couldn’t do anything about the site administrator’s decision. Leaving there that day, I asked the receptionist for a pen, to which she began reaching for each pen on the counter to move it from my reach. Sadistic, sociopathic. I didn’t want to imagine how these residents would be treated. For the first time in my life I uttered the words, “You don’t know who you’re fucking with” and think I lived up to it.

I also somehow narrowly escaped the risk of contracting both bed bugs and scabies, two events which sent other volunteers directly to the pharmacist and into an alarmed spin that included some medication, a lotion, that you slather on and sleep in. The point of this rather unpoetic stream of consciousness is that these residents, in all of their shining diversity, have made me reevaluate who I am as a person and what my purpose as a human in this life at this time really means. They have encouraged me to think outside the box, ignore stereotypes, exercise patience, to not fear mental illness, to overcome a weak sense of smell, to continue to stand up for what is right, to keep on asking questions, to be a better cold caller, to overcome insurmountable obstacles (any dealings with politicians excluded) and challenges, to connect with other like-minded people who also really care about others, and to develop a sense of strength I had long forgotten that the seed of was within me. All of this motivation and impetus wasn’t always direct or painless, and it certainly was not planned. After the overwhelming experience of being in the Park Slope Armory that first night, I kept going back. I could not leave these suffering strangers. Besides, I didn’t have electricity or heat at home, we had an eight-foot storm surge. People – especially my family – have asked why I had gotten myself so involved, and I didn’t have an answer; I simply followed my heart.

It was anguishing to know that this aging and disabled population, most with no family or support, were left to suffer and be the pawns in a struggle between the City of New York and the State of New York’s Department of Health, and that they were paying upwards of $1900 in rent each month to live on the campus of a remote psychiatric hospital in Queens. I often found myself wondering,”If not for us, who will help them?” Certainly not the long list of “burned out” professional case workers I encountered, fighting their own fights against what was right (humanism) vs. what they were being told to do (red tape). There was anger and strife throughout, for the residents, for the volunteers, for the staff, for the journalists. And yet from all of this, compassion, friendship and love were born. To me, the strange but beautiful part of the story is that of all the shelters residents found themselves in, if given the choice to return to the setting the Armory provided, every single one of them says they would rather be there than, shockingly, back home at Belle Harbor Manor.

There are so many people I wish to thank, and I will attempt to do so in the event they are, like me, set up with Google Alerts for themselves. In the meantime, I plan on writing more about this. The harsh reality is that my relationship to these people isn’t over once they return home. They still have needs. Many are the victims of looting. Their belongings and cash, thought to be safely locked, needing replacement. Social security cards, passports, green cards, and more. I am set to look at the long-term disaster relief and planning required for others like them. I will again need to make those calls and send email to others who might be able to help me be of better service to others. For now, however, I will sleep tonight, relieved for the first time in 107 days. This what love looks like to me this Valentine’s Day. Home. I have tears in my eyes just thinking about how many people have touched my life since this storm washed away all of my fear. Thank you.

“If your name is Kiki then I’m changing my name to ‘Voodoo'”, she said. And from then it was clear that despite our differences, we would be friends. Today was our goodbye to shelter #3, Creedmor (although she did like the free use of computers, stating, “There is so much information on the Internet! I need to get a computer of my own!”

To my left, Tom Fortune, who, while at the Armory on my overnight rounds, never asked me for anything. I went on this wild portable radio shopping obsession because I felt it was critical that while in shelter, people should be able listen to the news, or most importantly, to music, to feel connected with what we would later refer to as “the outside”. When I brought the radio to him, he in his wheelchair on the four lane track amongst a population of 500, he said “Give it to someone who needs it.” I replied, “But I got this for you.” Here we are 106 days later and he says, “Of course we’ll stay in touch. I’ll call you every time my radio runs out of batteries.” To my right, the sweet and caring Donna Rubin.

After the donation sorting and organizing at The Armory (an enormous undertaking every night), the library at Milestone Residence at Creedmor Psychiatric Hospital is transformed into a donation center. Now, the shelves are bare and belonging, transported in black garbage bags similar to those the residents were living out of, have returned “home”.

When I received this card and opened it, I felt that the hours of sacrifice and hard work were somehow able to culminate into this one simple and unexpected thank you. Just touching to the 1,000,000th degree.

THANK YOU (in no order and I am hoping I haven’t forgotten any/many):

The residents and staff of Belle Harbor Manor
RI-1 DMAT
Ali Hodin-Baier, Aging in New York Fund
Amy Parsons, The American Red Cross (and now, a friend)
Jake from the Washington Conservation Corps
Caron Atlas http://www.artsanddemocracy.org
AmeriCorps team members
The Amory volunteers
The Kings Hotel volunteers
The Creedmor volunteers
Casey Shea
Nicholas Verburgt (Express Men’s sock donations)
Maria Provenzano and the CenterLight staff at Kings Hotel
Amy Glosser, CERT & online volunteer infrastructure developer
Meryl Blackman
Justin the FEMA inspector
David Caruso, The Associated Press
Doug Kuntz (do gooder, photographer, rabble rouser)
Brett Cotter http://www.stressbegone.org
Laura Black, NYC OEM
JK Canepa, CIAD
Geoff Lieberman, CIAD
Amanda Bickerstaff, UWS Loves
Suzanne Windland, SNAP & all that she has done and continues to do!
Christina Komploris, NY Post/WSJ donations
Richard Shults Jr., NY Post/WSJ donations
Andy McCallihan, NY Post/WSJ donations
Jill Cornell, donations and all of her work in the Rockaways
JC Hopkins, volunteer and transportation!
Pam Koner, mobile phones for residents
Jerry Probst, FEMA inspector and encouraging, awesome soul
Felice Steele, The American Red Cross (and also a diligent do-gooder!)
Maureen Italiano, ICL Milestone staffer who challenged me
Larissa, ICL Milestone staffer who really cares about people
Brad Lander, City Councilman & Staff
Joseph Ger Ph.D, BCBA-D
Brad Harrelson, The American Red Cross, Texas (helped connect family members)
Nannearl Blackshear, Brooklyn Borough President’s Office
Lynda Lowe, FEMA
Peggy Mott, FEMA
Krystal Reyes
Oswald Ramsammy, NY Times donations
Justin Silverman, connections to newspaper donations
Christine Kessler (helped us find a lost resident)
Marina Tsamplina, NY Helps NY
Megan Byrn
Parker Tracey and Dave Escovitz at Char No. 4 who covered shifts for me so I could help
AND TO EVERYONE who donated!
Dave Ankers
Dennis and Jeni Espantman
Lael @ FIND Home Furnishings, Brooklyn
Duben Canales & Jasmine Heikura
Keara Driscoll
Maria Esther Hammck
William Groner
Kristina Kroger
Selma Kalousek
Beezlebabe Siren
Margaret Welch
Karen Cowdell
Annie Chambliss
Jay Christensen
Simon Durkin
Farzin Lofti-Jam

NY Homes For Elderly Under Scrutiny After Sandy

Belle Harbor Manor residents line up to receive their monthly allowance despite allegations that they are paying rent while living in shelter on the campus of a psychiatric facility in Queens. Photo: Kristine Rakowsky

Belle Harbor Manor residents line up to receive their monthly allowance despite allegations that they are paying rent while living in shelter on the campus of a psychiatric facility in Queens. Photo: Kristine Rakowsky

NY Homes For Elderly Under Scrutiny After Sandy

by The Associated Press

January 04, 2013 5:20 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — A nursing home and an assisted living facility are under scrutiny by state officials and an advocacy group after The Associated Press disclosed that hundreds of elderly and disabled people forced to evacuate by Superstorm Sandy were still sleeping on cots in cramped and sometimes oppressive conditions almost two months later.

New York’s attorney general sent two investigators to the Bishop Henry B. Hucles Episcopal Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Brooklyn last week after the AP reported that the home was swollen to nearly double its 240-bed licensed capacity with evacuees from the storm-damaged Rockaway Care Center on the Queens seashore.

As of Christmas, many of those patients were still sleeping, field-hospital style, on rows of cots squeezed into community rooms, a rehabilitation gym and the nursing home’s tiny chapel.

The state’s Office of Long Term Care Ombudsman also dispatched a representative to check on conditions. State Health Department officials were independently investigating how one patient walked out of the facility unnoticed on a cold Friday night, only to turn up at a hospital two days later.

Separately, a legal aid group, MFY Legal Services, is questioning why disabled and elderly residents of Belle Harbor Manor, an adult care home in Queens, were still being asked to sign over most of their monthly Social Security checks to the facility to cover room and board even though they have been flooded out of their rooms since Halloween.

After the storm, those residents were sent to an emergency shelter, then to an overcrowded hotel, and finally to a halfway house for the mentally ill. During that time, many residents have continued to pay rent to Belle Harbor Manor.

“We haven’t had any services in the last three months. But he has been getting our rent. What I want to know is, ‘Where is this money going?'” asked resident Alex Woods, 57. “After what we went through, he should be paying us.”

MFY senior lawyer Shelly Weizman said it isn’t clear whether residents are legally obligated to keep paying when they have effectively been evicted by the storm.

At Belle Harbor and many other adult care homes in New York, residents sign an agreement when they first arrive that obligates them to turn over their Social Security checks to the facility, which uses most of the money to cover housing and care. Administrators return a small portion to the residents in the form of an allowance.

Now, Weizman said, “they are paying, but they aren’t getting the services. It is a confusing situation.”

Residents got their latest benefit checks on Jan. 3. A few did decide to withhold their January rent payment, which for many residents was around $1,200, Weizman said.

The phone rang unanswered Friday in the administrative office at Belle Harbor Manor, as it has since the storm. The president of the nonprofit company that controls the home, Samuel Aschkenazi, declined to talk with the AP and referred questions to another board member, who didn’t return messages or answer his telephone. The home’s accountant also did not return calls.

A spokeswoman for Episcopal Health Services, which owns the Bishop Hucles nursing home, said administrators expect the state will give the Rockaway Care Center approval to reopen in about a week, clearing the way for patients to return.

In the meantime, the number of evacuees staying at Bishop Hucles has dropped from 187 to 136, said the spokeswoman, Penny Chin. She said that the state Health Department had been aware from the start that the nursing home had taken on so many extra patients, and had approved the situation.

More than 6,200 people were evacuated from 47 nursing and adult care homes because of the Oct. 29 storm, according to state health officials. At least hundreds are still displaced, living in different nursing homes or other temporary facilities.

Several of the Belle Harbor evacuees, who are a mix of the elderly and people with mild psychiatric disorders, told the AP that they have found the staff at the halfway house kindly, but the setting isolating and overly restrictive. They cannot have visitors in their rooms. Most haven’t been able to retrieve their belongings from Belle Harbor.

It was unclear when residents might return to Belle Harbor, which is undergoing a gut renovation and replacing heating, electrical and fire suppression systems ruined in the flood. New York City’s Buildings Department inspected it Friday and concluded that the work was about halfway done.

“They had been telling people they were going home in a week,” said Kristine Rakowsky, a volunteer who has been serving as an advocate for the residents, visiting them daily and trying to help them with needs such as fresh clothing and medical supplies. “Now there is no end in sight.”

Media Placement of the Year: AP Brings Plight of Elderly to Global Wire

December 27th, 2012

ASSOCIATED PRESS, NEW YORK – Hundreds of elderly and disabled New Yorkers who were hurriedly evacuated from seaside nursing homes and assisted living residences after Superstorm Sandy are still in a grim limbo two months later, sleeping on cots in temporary quarters without such comforts as private bathrooms or even regular changes of clothes.

Their plight can be seen at places like the Bishop Henry B. Hucles Episcopal Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Brooklyn, which was full before the refugees arrived and is now swollen to nearly double its licensed capacity.

For eight weeks, close to 190 patients forced out of the flooded Rockaway Care Center in Queens have been shoehorned into every available space at the 240-bed Bishop Hucles.

Most still didn’t have beds last week. Instead, they bunked on rows of narrow, increasingly filthy Red Cross cots in rooms previously used for physical therapy or community activities. More than a dozen slept nightly in the nursing home’s tiny chapel.

Amid the overcrowding, a 69-year-old patient left the home unnoticed at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 14, slipping past security measures intended to keep residents with dementia from wandering off. The facility didn’t alert police until 5:18 a.m. She wandered for two days before turning up unhurt at a hospital in another part of Brooklyn, police said.

“It feels like a MASH unit here right now,” said a staff member who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “People are working incredibly hard. The circumstance could not be more dire, and people are getting the best possible care we can manage.”

In Queens, many of the roughly 160 residents evacuated from the Belle Harbor Manor assisted living facility were recently moved from a hotel to a halfway house on the grounds of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, a partly abandoned mental hospital.

Many Belle Harbor residents have been diagnosed with mild psychiatric disorders, but several complained that at the halfway house, called the Milestone Residence, they have been mixed in with more severely ill patients who were living there already.

Those in the halfway house cannot have visitors in their rooms. Residents have complained about things being stolen and people banging on their doors late at night.

“It was nothing but a shock when we found out we were coming here,” said Belle Harbor resident Alex Woods, 57. He said that the staff has been kindly, but that adjusting to an institutional lifestyle has been tough.

“It’s an infringement on your freedoms,” he said, adding that he constantly felt “on edge.”

Moments later, an administrator interrupted Woods’ interview with The Associated Press and ejected a reporter from the grounds. She said residents could not meet with a reporter there without permission from the organization that manages the facility.

More than 6,200 residents and patients were evacuated from 47 nursing and adult care homes as a result of the Oct. 29 storm, according to New York state’s Health Department.

Two thirds of those patients left after Sandy had already struck, meaning many were hustled out of flooded, muck-filled buildings in such a hurry that they were unable to bring belongings or clothing. Some left without identification.

At least six nursing homes and six adult care homes in New York City and Long Island remained closed as of Friday because of storm damage, according to state health officials. Seven other nursing homes had accepted some patients back, but not all.

The Health Department was unable to provide the AP with a total number of people still displaced, but said it had sent 500 adult home residents to four temporary facilities, including the Milestone Residence.

“These operators, in concert with the state Department of Health, ensured and continue to ensure that residents’ safety and care needs continue to be met,” department spokesman Bill Schwarz said in an email.

He said the state had recently provided money to buy beds for the displaced Belle Harbor residents.

A shipment of beds also arrived at Bishop Hucles last week. The nursing home is owned by Episcopal Health Services Inc. but is being sold to an ownership group that includes the operator of the Rockaway Care Center.

Episcopal Health spokeswoman Penny Chin said staff members from Rockaway Care had followed their patients to Bishop Hucles, and administrators believe there are enough personnel to care for patients safely.

“Is it ideal? Well, no,” she said. She said patients should be able to return to the Rockaway Care Center in a matter of weeks.

Chin said she was aware that a patient had wandered off, but did not know the details.

Asked whether any effort had been made to transfer patients in a less-crowded facility, Chin said she wasn’t sure, but noted that medical centers throughout the city are bulging.

St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, the health system’s flagship facility, had itself taken on 200 evacuated nursing home patients after the storm _ an outsized number for a hospital with 257 beds.

Rockaway Care’s administrator, Michael Melnicke, who owns several nursing homes in New York City, did not respond to messages.

New York state’s long-term care ombudsman, Mark Miller, said his office was attempting to get inspectors out to facilities dealing with evacuees.

He said his office already had some concerns about how the evacuations were handled. Initially, he said, operators of some facilities were unreachable, leaving the families of displaced residents in the dark about where relatives had been taken.

It was unclear when residents might be able to return to Belle Harbor Manor, which flooded with several feet of water.

Few if any residents have been able to fetch their possessions since they were rushed out without notice the day after the flood. Some are still spending most days in the clothes they had on when they left, and have to rely on donations from volunteers for changes of socks and underwear. Others have been unable to receive mail.

Rabbi Samuel Aschkenazi, president of the nonprofit company that runs Belle Harbor Manor, told an AP reporter he had been ill and didn’t know what was happening to evacuated residents. He referred questions to another board member, who did not return a phone message.

Belle Harbor Manor resident Miriam Eisenstein-Drachler, a retired teacher in her early 90s, said that after spending three weeks in an emergency shelter inside a former armory, residents were sent to a hotel in Brooklyn’s crime-plagued East New York section, where they were advised not to go outside because of safety concerns.

After weeks of sleeping three to a room, they were informed they would be moving again, to the grounds of the mental hospital.

“The people here are kind. But there is a tone of strictness,” said Eisenstein-Drachler, who holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University. “I consider myself a mentally healthy person. What am I doing here?”

Constance Brown, a spokeswoman for the Institute for Community Living, the organization that manages Milestone, said that before the storm, the company had been shutting down Milestone and transferring its residents to apartments as part of a shift away from institutional living.

But Brown defended the site as a temporary home for the evacuees, saying they should be back in their former home by mid-January.

“CL Milestone and Belle Harbor Adult Home have residents with similar diagnosis, therefore it is not an inappropriate placement as staff is familiar and trained to deal with this population,” she said in an email.

Geoff Lieberman, executive director of the Coalition of Institutionalized Aged and Disabled, an advocacy group, said finding facilities to accept displaced people in a disaster is a challenge.

“There is no one adult home that has anywhere near the capacity that you really need to safely and comfortably accept 100 or 200 other residents,” he said.

Lieberman said some have wound up in better settings than others. Residents of the Park Inn Home, a 181-bed residence in Rockaway Park, were transferred to a retreat house in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, on a site overlooking the Hudson River.

“It’s beautiful,” he said. “People are still sleeping in cots. And that’s been hard for everybody. But the food has been good, and I think aside from the fact that they don’t have a bed to sleep on, they have been comfortable.”

– David Caruso

Christmas In Connecticut: Tragedy In Our Backyard (Photos and video)

Going home for the holidays this year meant facing the reality of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and that it happened in my sleepy, sweet, and small community. These photos are to demonstrate the outpouring of love the world over, as well as to commemorate the memorial which, as of today, December 26th, will be removed. Through rain, cold and eventually, snow – tents were eventually erected to protect the densely packed flowers, stuffed animals and trees – mourners, family, friends, and supporters flocked in droves to contribute a small piece of support to those affected and pay their respects to the innocent souls taken.

Life here will never be the same, at least it doesn’t seem possible right now, but after the hundreds of reporters and satellite dishes have gone, now that the state flags have been returned to full staff, the memory of those lost will continue, off-camera. Every one of those lives were important; they mattered. I hope with time comes the necessary healing that the families and community need to stay strong.

Please find a final video of the memorial taken on a very snowy Christmas Eve at the bottom of this post, and please note that if you would like to use any of these photos, they are subject to copyright. However I am happy to provide written permission if you contact kikicares at gmail dot com.

Thank you.

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012
Edmond Town Hall, Newtown, CT

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Sunday, December 23rd, Sandy Hook, CT

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Monday, December 24th, 2012, Sandy Hook

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REST IN PEACE

Charlotte Bacon, 6

Daniel Barden, 7

Rachel Davino, 29

Olivia Engel, 6

Josephine Gay, 7

Ana M Marquez-Greene, 6

Dylan Hockley, 6

Dawn Hochsprung, 47

Madeline F. Hsu, 6

Catherine V. Hubbard, 6

Chase Kowalski, 7

Jesse Lewis, 6

James Mattioli, 6

Grace McDonnell, 7

Anne Marie Murphy, 52

Emilie Parker, 6

Jack Pinto, 6

Noah Pozner, 6

Caroline Previdi, 6

Jessica Rekos, 6

Avielle Richman, 6

Lauren Rousseau, 30

Mary Sherlach, 56

Victoria Soto, 27

Benjamin Wheeler, 6

Allison N Wyatt, 6

Elderly Evacuees From Rockaways Need Your Help

Hundreds of elderly Sandy evacuees in shelter at the Park Slope Armory. Photo: David Sobel, RI-1 DMAT

Following Hurricane Sandy, the residents of Bell Harbor Manor, a 162- patient assisted-living facility that was decimated by flooding and subsequent looting that occurred in the neighborhood of Far Rockaway, Queens, became refugees, unable to return home. They were moved into a temporary shelter at the Park Slope Armory where their care, primarily from volunteers supporting the American Red Cross, DMAT, the Department of Health and AmeriCorps and facilitated by Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander, aided their most immediate needs. In addition to scores of civilian volunteers converging on the Armory, which made an enormously positive and imperative impact on the then-500 evacuees and required logistical volunteers to create a volunteer sign up infrastructure to streamline efforts, wellness programs were initiated and included showing movies, musicians coming in for concerts and sing-alongs, writing workshops, arts and crafts, and service animals. The benefits of these efforts – in addition to seeing the friendly faces of volunteers who established relationships with evacuees – considerably eased the trauma of Sandy’s immediate aftermath. Three weeks after the storm and sleeping in a general population on cots in rows of 20 at the Armory, Belle Harbor Manor Residents were then moved to temporary housing at the Kings Hotel in East New York, a facility that was not designed to accommodate this type of resident where they still reside on cots, four residents to a room, and do not have bars on bathtubs, mirrors in bathrooms, closets or dressers to store black garbage bags full of donated clothing they obtained at the Armory (which is now all they possess), and only one elevator to shuttle nearly 200 residents among four floors, many of whom rely on wheelchairs and walkers.

Clothing donation center at the Armory where I spent overnights for three weeks.

These senior evacuees, all of whom have special medical or mental health needs, escaped in the dark of night during Hurricane Sandy without their wallets, pocketbooks, mobile phones, or any way to communicate with loved ones and care for basic needs on their own. In the first few weeks, they had been surviving through donations of essential items at the Armory and the kindness of strangers. In time, CenterLight Health System, one of the largest comprehensive, not-for-profit healthcare organizations in the country, began managing care of the residents – in addition to the City of New York’s Department of Health – and provided an immense amount of logistical support, not only for the evacuee residents but also for the volunteers who wanted to stay connected throughout their transition out of the Armory and into Kings Hotel.

Wellness programming, put in place by volunteers, provide evacuees with activities to raise spirits and engage them with human connection and a sense of caring and normalcy in an otherwise stressful situation.

Thanks to the flexibility and welcome of CenterLight and their Site Administrator Maria Provenzano, volunteer and wellness programs were immediately allowed to be put in place at Kings Hotel, reconnecting volunteers who had met residents at the Armory, assisting with meal distribution and caring visits, all of which greatly improved the spirit of evacuees who were relieved to see familiar faces and to know that, even though many do not have family of their own, they are cared for and loved. For this especially vulnerable population, the continued displacement from home, paired with relocation, has been shown to increase the risk of trauma to patients. Referred to in the industry as “transfer trauma” — stress that individuals with dementia experience when changing living environments — dislocation can have serious health effects including depression and anxiety. The presence of wellness programs and volunteers are proven help to relief some of these symptoms and provide the human connection that is so critical at this time. For the last two weeks getting volunteers (who are located much closer to the Armory in Park Slope) to visit Kings Hotel in East New York has been increasingly difficult, and many musicians – who themselves are struggling financially – cannot afford to take car services. To alleviate this, volunteers have been paying for transportation out-of-pocket.

Wellness activities, including arts, music and visits from Willow the service poodle, ease stress the stress and trauma of elderly residents displaced by the storm.

On Monday, Belle Harbor Manor evacuees will again be moved, this time into a facility in Queens Village. Just as Kings Hotel is, the facility is staffed, but extra hands and hearts streamline events like meal times and help make it a relaxing and enjoyable part of their days away from home. We would like to allow volunteers to continue to visit Belle Harbor Manor residents, especially during their transport/transition week beginning Monday, which is very stressful for them. In order to do this, we need help raising money for car services to ferry carfuls of volunteers to and from the location per day from Brooklyn, where all of the volunteers are located. With the holidays approaching your donation is needed more than ever to lend a hand and heart to this forgotten community of wonderful, loving elders in need.

To understand the impact and importance volunteers have had on this population of evacuees, please read a letter (written during one of the writing workshops) posted to the NY Times City Desk from Belle Harbor Manor resident Miriam-Einstein-Drachler, available here.

PLEASE DONATE TO ASSIST IN GETTING VOLUNTEERS RIDES TO ASSIST WITH RESIDENT TRANSITION TO THE NEW FACILITY, WELLNESS PROGRAMS AND FOR CARING VISITS.

To facilitate this, I have created a donation page here.

Thank you, and happy holidays from Belle Harbor Manor and all of the volunteers who have been working with them for the last six weeks!

The Horrific Murder of a Child, Social Networking and a 32-Year-Old Cold Case

(UPDATES BELOW)

July 13th, 2011 – Brooklyn, NY – Last night after dinner I received a text message from Notify NYC, a service provided by the New York City Office of Emergency Management alerting that there was a missing child in Brooklyn. An Orthodox Jewish boy named Leiby Kletzky, initially reported to be nine, begged his mother to allow him to walk the seven blocks from his day camp to meet her at a doctor’s office and vanished. I emailed myself the link and immediately shared it on Facebook. I, like most, have a love/hate relationship with social networking but can’t deny its success rate regarding the expedient delivery of news and information. Example: I had found out about the death of Michael Jackson while ankle-deep in brackish and volunteering with the Red Hook Boaters when a tween intern picked up his phone and read it as someone’s status on AIM.

Leiby Kletzky was kidnapped walking to meet his mother and found dead two days later, in the early morning hours of July 13th, 2011.

But social networking did not bring a resolution to eight-year-old Leiby Kletzky’s disappearance, it was good old-fashioned detective work that quickly solved the case. Deftly carried out by the NYPD’s top ranking officials and with the help of surveillance cameras in the area where the child was last seen on Monday. Had those cameras not been there, the suspect, Levi Aron – who turns 35 today and has implicated himself in the crime – would likely have avoided capture. And once Aron was seen with the boy, who looked to be asking for directions, footage from other cameras in the area was reviewed and the suspect was seen exiting a nearby dentist office. After determining which of the five dentists whose offices were in the shared suite had a transaction with the suspect, and the vehicle was found and plates were identified, both the person who paid a bill with a credit card at the dentist and the owner of the 1990 gold Honda Accord were consistent – and pointed at Levi Aron, pictured below.

An unfortunate foible is that the family waited so long to call 911 after the child went missing, instead calling the Shomrim, a volunteer civilian patrol sanctioned by the NYPD’s Community Affairs. The Jewish community seems to have a historically mistrusting and fragile relationship with authorities in general, especially the NYPD. So this community had formed their own police to support the NYPD and provide additional safety. That the local authorities were not immediately notified and thus unable to appear on the scene to begin a thorough investigation until nearly three hours after the boy was taken, to me, is a waste of valuable time that may have changed the outcome. Sadly, we will never know. The Shomrim did provide the license plate number for police, which was essential in “connecting the dots” and finding Aron along with this surveillance where the boy is seen walking and another where the boy can be seen waiting seven minutes for Aron while he goes into the dentist office to pay the bill. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly seemed frustrated by the Shomrim handling the disappearance before the NYPD in his press conference earlier today, and perhaps in a bit of foreshadowing, added, “We have no record of this man being reported [as a pedophile].”

According to rumors swirling on social media and alternative news sites, Aron is also known to be in the center of past allegations of child molestation that the Orthodox community “covered up” and “never acted upon”. Listen to NYPD Commisioner Kelly’s entire news conference and Q&A here by clicking on the grey tab. Below, we see Kelly fielding questions from reporters including, “How often does a stranger kidnapping take place in the city?” to which Kelly answers, “Very, very, very rarely…this is obviously every parent’s nightmare.”

And for many New Yorkers, Leiby’s story sounds eerily similar to another child’s disappearance, that of six-year-old Etan Patz– the first to be put on a milk carton. On May 25, 1979 Etan left for school from his SoHo home two blocks away from the bus stop for the first time, never to return or be seen alive again. In the Patz case one suspect, Jose Antonio Ramos, was identified but never charged. Ramos has been incarcerated since 1990 in Pennsylvania for molesting two boys and is slated for release in November 2012. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office had reopened the investigation in May 2010, and perhaps the evolution of technology can somehow aid in a future conviction of that offender, who has taunted investigators since 1982 when he became a suspect yet left behind zero trace evidence and had eluded to destroying Etan’s body but has never completely confessed to the crime.

Missing child Etan Patz at the time of his disappearance in 1979 in New York City. He was legally declared dead in 2001.

The news of the throngs of community members who traveled from the Catskills, Monsey and other areas to search for little Leiby was touching but seems to have ultimately caused the kidnapper to panic. It was then Aron killed the child. The autopsy started at 9:30am on Wednesday and cause of death has not yet been published, and Aron, in a 450-word handwritten confession, later admitted to suffocating the boy with a towel and dismembering the child with a knife, then bringing half of his remains – in a garbage bag within a red suitcase – to a dumpster about two miles away from the attic apartment he lived in above his parents. The rest of the young victim, including the child’s feet, remained at the Aron’s home, in his freezer.

Assemblymen Dov Hikind and Peter Abbate, along with the Shomrim and other religious and community leaders had put out a reward of $100,000 for information about the child’s disappearance. Hikind, who often speaks on behalf of the community, says that the boy’s death is “a tragedy today for everyone in New York.” Of course those commenting about it on Facebook are saddened, outraged and disgusted. Sentiments such as ” I am heartbroken by this news”, “unfathomable tragedy” and many questioning the idea of allowing an almost-nine-year-old to walk seven blocks alone are expressed. In a thread I was a part of, I said:

“A big part of me thinks that a kid should be able to go meet his mother without being coerced into a vehicle by a stranger. It’s a terrible fate for this boy, and I do not think blaming the parents is the right position to take. I have cared for many little ones in my life and think NYC is too dangerous and limiting for the natural curiosities that kids deserve to safely explore. The diversity and culture is important, but those natural aspects of development are scientifically more important to me. Those things shouldn’t only happen on a fenced-in playground or safe in their bedrooms. We haven’t evolved from that.”

Has the city we live in become so unsafe that we must guard ourselves and our children from so much as setting foot outside alone? Does this mean the “helicopter parents” are right in their absurd constant monitoring of and attention to their children? Is the “surveillance state” in which we live somehow justified since the videos were so important in apprehending the perpetrator? And could Leiby Kletzky’s murder have been prevented if his mother did not allow him to walk seven blocks to meet her, even though he was to turn nine this month? Considering the whispers of ignored allegations, how many community members knew of what Aron was capable of before this crime took place? If those people exist, they should be most ashamed today.

This isn’t the story of prostitutes using Craigslist and putting themselves in danger, or of terrorists embarking on a mission to destroy America by way of the Big Apple. This is an example that even within a safe and protected community, even much more than what we are accustomed to, a monster can lurk. And statistically, are the chances of this type of heinous murder happening so low that there is in fact no way to prevent or defend against this sort of crime, shy of never letting anyone you love out of your sight ever again? And perhaps this ghoulish act reinforces that the concept of community police is not effective in all cases, and that the Orthodox community needs to realize that they can’t totally secede from the society they exist within and around when they NYPD is clearly more equipped to handle these cases with special task forces.

And if Aron had not provided a full and detailed confession of the crime, at least in 2011 we have the power of forensics to determine the time frame surrounding the homicide. Unfortunately for Etan Putz, in 1979 cameras were not a large part of New York City’s streets, there were no witnesses to his abduction and his body was never recovered. Along with technology and law enforcement, that this similar tragedy shows the power of community support on a local level, which is a very important to me, is also a double-edged sword: as compassionate people we are inclined to do all we can to help find a child, but it is not impossible that had Aron not seen the missing posters and panicked, he may not have killed. No matter the reasons, even if the last time something this horrible took place was over three decades ago, it is indeed a sad day for New York City.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: ARM YOURSELF WITH KNOWLEDGE

Here is the list of registered New York State registered sex offenders, searchable by name, address OR zip code:
http://criminaljustice.state.ny.us/SomsSUBDirectory/search_index.jsp

Here is the national sex offender registry, also searchable by name, address or zip code:
http://www.familywatchdog.us/

And here are all of the children in New York State who are missing: http://www.criminaljustice.state.ny.us/missing/alpha1.htm

Watch the NYPD’s statement here:

UPDATE 7/20/11:
From Reuters:
“The New York City Medical Examiner’s office said that Kletzky was drugged with antipsychotic pills, a muscle relaxant, pain relievers and Tylenol before he was smothered.
Prosecutors have begun presenting evidence to a grand jury in state Supreme Court in Brooklyn but declined to speculate on when an indictment might be returned. Aron has pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping and first-degree murder and was held without bail and placed on suicide watch.”

From Gothamist.com:

“Levi Aron, the man who confessed to killing and dismembering 8-year-old Hasidic boy Leiby Kletzky last week, was handed down an eight-count indictmentincluding two counts of first-degree murder, three counts of second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree kidnapping and one count of second-degree kidnapping – by a grand jury today.”

UPDATE 7/15/11: ARON LEVI IS ARRAIGNED, DEFENSE CLAIMS HE ‘HEARS VOICES’ AND REQUESTS A ‘730 EXAM’ (PENAL CODE BELOW), JUDGE DEEMS HE SHOULD BE ON SUICIDE WATCH

§ 730.10 Fitness to proceed; definitions. As used in this article, the following terms have the following meanings:
1. “Incapacitated person” means a defendant who as a result of mental disease or defect lacks capacity to understand the proceedings against him or to assist in his own defense.
2. “Order of examination” means an order issued to an appropriate director by a criminal court wherein a criminal action is pending against a defendant, or by a family court pursuant to section 322.1 of the family court act wherein a juvenile delinquency proceeding is pending against a juvenile, directing that such person be examined for the purpose of determining if he is an incapacitated person.

UPDATE 7/14/11: NYPD RELEASES LEVI ARON’S CONFESSION, EDITED TO REMOVE PARTS OF AN EXTREMELY GRAPHIC NATURE (THE UNEDITED CONFESSION WILL LIKELY NEVER BE RELEASED BUT IF IT IS, I WILL POST)