sonoma county (california) separates elderly gay couple, sells their home

This is a terrible, heartbreaking story of bigotry and discrimination. None of it (except perhaps the household accident) ever had to happen.

When I posted this link on Facebook on Monday morning, none of my contacts (including folks in California) had seen it or heard about it yet. By now groups have formed and real-life action is being taken. But it's very frightening to think that this can happen in one's own backyard, in a country built under the words "all men are created equal".
Clay and his partner of 20 years, Harold, lived in California. Clay and Harold made diligent efforts to protect their legal rights, and had their legal paperwork in place--wills, powers of attorney, and medical directives, all naming each other. Harold was 88 years old and in frail medical condition, but still living at home with Clay, 77, who was in good health.

One evening, Harold fell down the front steps of their home and was taken to the hospital. Based on their medical directives alone, Clay should have been consulted in Harold's care from the first moment. Tragically, county and health care workers instead refused to allow Clay to see Harold in the hospital. The county then ultimately went one step further by isolating the couple from each other, placing the men in separate nursing homes.

Ignoring Clay's significant role in Harold's life, the county continued to treat Harold like he had no family and went to court seeking the power to make financial decisions on his behalf. Outrageously, the county represented to the judge that Clay was merely Harold's "roommate." The court denied their efforts, but did grant the county limited access to one of Harold's bank accounts to pay for his care.

What happened next is even more chilling.

Without authority, without determining the value of Clay and Harold's possessions accumulated over the course of their 20 years together or making any effort to determine which items belonged to whom, the county took everything Harold and Clay owned and auctioned off all of their belongings. Adding further insult to grave injury, the county removed Clay from his home and confined him to a nursing home against his will. The county workers then terminated Clay and Harold's lease and surrendered the home they had shared for many years to the landlord.

Three months after he was hospitalized, Harold died in the nursing home. Because of the county's actions, Clay missed the final months he should have had with his partner of 20 years. Compounding this tragedy, Clay has literally nothing left of the home he had shared with Harold or the life he was living up until the day that Harold fell, because he has been unable to recover any of his property. The only memento Clay has is a photo album that Harold painstakingly put together for Clay during the last three months of his life.

With the help of a dedicated and persistent court-appointed attorney, Anne Dennis of Santa Rosa, Clay was finally released from the nursing home. Ms. Dennis, along with Stephen O'Neill and Margaret Flynn of Tarkington, O'Neill, Barrack & Chong, now represent Clay in a lawsuit against the county, the auction company, and the nursing home, with technical assistance from NCLR. A trial date has been set for July 16, 2010 in the Superior Court for the County of Sonoma.

Read more about NCLR's Elder Law Project.

Facebook group: Support Clay Greene and Marriage Equality


impudent strumpet said...

The question this all raises that isn't getting any attention because everything else in the story is more shocking: they put Clay in a nursing home against his will and sold all his possessions because they considered him and Harold to be roommates, not spouses.

Even if they had been just roommates, why would the fact of your roommate dying give the county the right to put you in a nursing home against your will and auction off all your possessions???

L-girl said...

Even if they had been just roommates, why would the fact of your roommate dying give the county the right to put you in a nursing home against your will and auction off all your possessions???

Because in the US, you are not eligible for the govt to pay for long-term care if you own a home or have any net worth at all. You are expected to use all your savings and sell your home and put all that money towards the cost of the nursing home. Then when you are officially in poverty, the state will pay the costs.

Many people put their assets under their children's names in order to avoid this. But that has to be done well ahead of the need for long-term care in order for it to work. Consequently, many people end up unable to keep their homes and leave them to their children and grandchildren.

L-girl said...

I should mention that I don't know if this is the case in every state, but I think it probably is. New York, New Jersey and California do it, and my guess is most or all states do, too.

Canada Calling said...

It is the case in Nevada as well, as my parents had to this to get home health care for my mother.

Anonymous said...

. . . in a country built under the words "all men are created equal".

You must not have gotten the memo. That only applies to white, Christian (read: Evangelical Protestant), heterosexual men. Just like in Bible times, everybody else is quite literally fair game.

impudent strumpet said...

I'm sorry, I still don't understand. Are you saying that Harold had to liquidate his everything to be able to afford care? Because if the state thought they were roommates instead of spouses, wouldn't that give them a good reason NOT to go after Clay's property? If you're spouses, your property is joint (I think?), but if you're roommates it's clearly not. Why wouldn't being considered roommates make Clay allowed to continue living in his home with his own possessions?

And how on earth do they arrive at "And therefore we must put Clay in a nursing home against his will"?

(I feel so disrespectful calling these gentlemen by first names, but I couldn't follow the plot otherwise)

L-girl said...

I don't know where the state got the so-called "authority" to put them in nursing homes against their wills. My guess is it has to do with needing a home attendant.

The state will pay for a nursing home but not a personal attendant. This is something people with disabilities have been fighting for for decades. There are young people and young adults living in nursing homes because the state will pay for that but not home care. Huge horrible issue.

I don't know if that's at play here. I don't know the details of the case.

I also wonder if some skeevy deal was going on between the repo/auction company and the nursing home owner and some low-life bureaucrat on the take. Stranger things have happened. (Not unlike the teens who were incarcerated by the Pennsylvania judge, shown in Michael Moore's latest movie.)

So there's a lot I don't know and can't answer.

But this I know. If two people are married or recognized as domestic partners, and one needs long-term residential care, the state cannot demand that their house and possessions be sold to pay for it, because the other partner is still living in the house.

But if someone lives alone and needs long-term care and can't afford it, the state medicare will not kick in until the person is destitute. They are forced to sell their house and turn over the proceeds to the nursing home before the state will begin to pay.

If the other person in question is deemed a roommate, not a spouse or partner, they would have to find another place to live so the house could be sold. And if they couldn't live alone, a nursing home might be where they'd end up.

There are a lot of questions here. Maybe eventually we'll read the whole story.