Fed-up Missouri caregivers walk away from disabled client, leaving mother, sheriff’s deputy scrambling | Health

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Looking for a solution

St. Francois County sheriff’s Deputy Bruce Momot tries to work out a dispute between Calle Melkersman, of the nonprofit Sunnyhill, and Donna McCluskey, whose son is incapacitated.

ST. FRANCOIS COUNTY — As a noon deadline approached Thursday, and sheriff’s deputies stood in the gravel driveway, Jason Uhlmansiek, 32, swung back and forth in an outdoor swing as his grim reality was being discussed.

“We gave them 30 days’ notice on June 14,” said Calle Melkersman, director of waivers at Sunnyhill, a nonprofit organization that works with the Missouri Department of Mental Health to provide protective oversight for people with developmental disabilities.

Sunnyhill had been Uhlmansiek’s service provider for nine years. But for some reason on Thursday, they were pulling out of his home here at Lake Timberline. Efforts to find a replacement over the past month were unsuccessful.

“So there’s no other place for him to go?” asked St. Francois County sheriff’s Deputy Bruce Momot.

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“She’s the legal guardian,” Melkersman said.

“He hasn’t lived with me for 22 years,” said Donna McCluskey.

McCluskey said she’s unable to care for him. She said he’s incapacitated, has the temperament of a 5-year-old in a man’s body. As part of an independent supported living contract through the state, she said Uhlmansiek is supposed to have two men with him at his home at all times. Three when he goes to the hospital or dentist.

“He did nothing wrong to deserve this,” said McCluskey, who adopted Uhlmansiek from a Romanian orphanage when he was 18 months old.

She pleaded with Deputy Momot to do more to keep Sunnyhill from abandoning care on Thursday, saying the firm received government funding. Momot told her to file a complaint for that.

“Right now, that’s not going to do any good,” Momot said.

“I know, that’s why I called you,” McCluskey said.

“He acted pretty violent when I pulled up,” Momot said.

Waiting games

Jason Uhlmansiek, 32, swings at his Lake Timberline home in St. Francois County on Thursday, July 14, 2022. 

They talked some more about calls that had been made to mental health providers that couldn’t do anything fast enough to keep Uhlmansiek in his home on this day.

McCluskey walked away, to a picnic table where her son’s many medications were being sorted for transfer. But transfer to whom? And how? There was concern that an ambulance would alarm Uhlmansiek.

Momot spoke to Melkersman.

“This is not my problem either,” Momot said. “I am a deputy sheriff. I don’t deal with mental health. I deal with criminal law. What you agreed on in the contract is between you guys.”

Momot thought it through some more.

“I can’t have somebody running loose out here,” he said. “He needs his own facility to go to. Sticks us in a bind. There’s financing in the city, not in the rural areas.”

At that point, a reporter asked Melkersman why Sunnyhill couldn’t stay put until a successful transition could take place for Uhlmansiek in his home. Melkersman declined to comment. She walked over to the swing to visit with Donny Mitchell, Sunnyhill’s chief operating officer, who was part of a team calming Uhlmansiek. Mitchell referred questions to attorney Derrick Good.

“There are things in this story that could help everybody understand some of the challenges for him and service providers,” Good told the Post-Dispatch by telephone. But due to privacy concerns, he wouldn’t elaborate.

A DMH spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Vincent Heitholt, an attorney for Missouri Protection & Advocacy Services, told the Post-Dispatch by email that Sunnyhill’s “abandonment” of its client “is a form of neglect.” He said the case is indicative of many other people with disabilities who can’t get appropriate residential treatment in the state. He said they are waiting in hospitals, nursing homes and less safe places.

“Because of the current staffing crisis, 30 days is not sufficient time to arrange for replacement services when a provider chooses to back out of its contract,” he said. “Further, because of the lack of provider options, DMH seems reluctant to hold any providers accountable … parents of consumers are reluctant to advocate for their children’s rights out of fear that a provider will retaliate by terminating services that the children desperately need.”

It’s unclear what motivated Sunnyhill to discontinue service with Uhlmansiek. Heitholt said the firm wouldn’t negotiate an extension even though there wasn’t a replacement plan. Heitholt said there have been several disputes over the maintenance of the property.

McCluskey said Uhlmansiek and his 31-year-old sister own the home. Also disabled, she was transferred to a nursing home on Wednesday. Uhlmansiek is lower functioning. In 2004, he was awarded $950,000 in a settlement with the state stemming from abusive care at Marshall Habilitation Center. He was among eight boys believed to have been victims of a wide range of abuse, including being slammed against floors and made to attack each other.

“They failed him once,” McCluskey said. “They failed him again.”

Instead of leaving it up to an ambulance crew to sort out on Thursday, Sunnyhill ended up taking Uhlmansiek by van from his home to Parkland Health Center in Farmington. Momot, the deputy, said he couldn’t stay at the hospital long, but it was the best case scenario for the time being.

“They are going to find a safe place for him,” he said.

Posted at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 14.


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