Spokane WA. Oct. 25, 2007
A 91-year-old woman is in the hospital after state workers and paramedics found her Friday with open sores on a mattress in 2 inches of maggots and feces. Police arrested her grandson for criminal mistreatment.
Springs from the decaying mattress were embedded in Elsie Gettman’s body, and paramedics had to wear hazardous materials gear to treat her at the home at 808 E. Euclid Ave.
Gettman’s grandson, 28-year-old Michael R. Bourassa, at first refused to allow paramedics to enter the home, but other family members persuaded him to allow them inside, said Spokane police Detective Kirk Kimberly.
Bourassa has been arrested and booked into Spokane County Jail on charges of criminal mistreatment. He was his grandmother’s primary caregiver although, according to a search warrant for the home, Bourassa’s mother, Theresa Topp, shared power of attorney.
Topp lives in Lewiston, so she visited infrequently.
“Bourassa had been keeping family members out for some time,” said Kimberly, who investigates the victimization of elderly and disabled adults. The state Division of Elder Services also is investigating.
“Family members were tired of being put off, so they asked Elder Services to get involved,” Kimberly said.
What they found when Bourassa let them inside was what one paramedic at the scene called the worst thing he has ever seen. Garbage was piled around the home and Gettman was trapped in the filthy bedding with just a blanket covering her. Her flesh was decaying on her body.
“The paramedics were near tears,” said Detective Stacey Carr.
To remove Gettman from the mattress, paramedics had to extract a bedspring embedded in her back all the way to the bone.
Family members weren’t surprised by the living conditions, Kimberly said, adding that they knew Bourassa was living in a messy home, but were unaware of Gettman’s condition.
Carr went to the hospital to investigate after a nurse there called police. Carr said she could hear Gettman moaning inside her hospital room.
“You could hear her screaming,” Carr said.
Police detectives later sent to the scene said they could smell urine and feces more than 40 feet outside the home.
Inside they found cat feces and piles of debris covering the floor, with just a few pathways to access rooms, Kimberly said. The bathtub was filled with different items and there was no food in the house.
SpokAnimal was called to the scene to confiscate the cats.
Helping the elderly can be more difficult than helping abused children, Kimberly said. That’s because children have more legal protections than adults and it’s easier to prosecute their abusers.
Children can give officers a statement that can be used in court. Adults, including aged adults with childlike minds, must give depositions that can be difficult to take.
Kimberly said that keeping an elderly person away from family and friends is a clear warning sign that something might be wrong. “Once someone notices that, the red flags should go up.”
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