At the Mercy of Strangers

BROWNSVILLE - A man said nursing home administrators kept him away from his brother, took his brother’s Social Security money and later refused to release his brother’s belongings.

Ignacio Galindo said he wanted to see his brother Pedro. “He’s the only thing I got left,” he told CHANNEL 5 NEWS.

The two grew up in San Perlita. “He liked to play guitar, piano, organ, whatever,” Ignacio Galindo recalled.

Pedro Galindo is now frail and has severe complications from diabetes. A few years ago, he was in Medford Place, an assisted-living facility in Brownsville.

Ignacio Galindo said he thought a power of attorney document gave him control over his brother’s affairs. He took the document to Medford Place to move his brother to another facility.

“They threw me out,” he said. “No more coming in here.”

Ignacio Galindo said he went back every two weeks for three years just to try to see his brother. Each time, he was denied entry.

“It feels bad, because I want to see him. I want to talk to him,” said Galindo.

His brother’s health took a bad turn in December. He ended up in a local hospital and was later transferred to Spanish Meadows. That’s where he’s currently living.

But Pedro Galindo’s benefit cards, IDs and other personal belonging are still at Medford Place.

His family went to get them. His niece Sarita Cantu said, “They just told me and my uncle, ‘You need to get out of here or we're going to call the cops.’ I'm like, ‘Well, call the cops. That's what we want - the law here.’”

According to Cantu, staff at Medford Place told police they would bring his IDs and other items to Spanish Meadows. That still hasn’t happened.

“I mean if they did this to my uncle, who knows how many other patients or clients they're doing it to, and it's not right,” said Cantu.

Medford Place owner Gaines Burns did not want to talk on camera. He told CHANNEL 5 NEWS by phone that his company sent all Galindo's clothes and checks to Spanish Meadows.

He stated, "The implication that we would keep somebody against their will, or the will of the family, for several years is outrageous."

Burns said the Texas Department of Adult Protective Services told staff not to let Ignacio Galindo near his brother.

If that was true, it all changed in December. Video shows Ignacio Galindo and other family members visiting Pedro Galindo at Spanish Meadows.

A spokesman for Adult Protective Services said preventing family members from seeing residents would require a court order. The Cameron County Clerk's Office said there’s no such order on file with their office.

State investigators found more problems after Pedro Galindo left Medford Place. Someone continued to withdraw money from his benefits account.

“I wanted to know who was withdrawing this money,” said Galindo’s niece. “And where was this money withdrawn without his consent, because they said he was his own payee. How can he been his own payee? My uncle can't even move, walk or talk.”

The Department of Aging and Disability Services regulates assisted-living facilities. CHANNEL 5 NEWS started asking questions about this case in March. They sent us a report early this month. The names are redacted, but state officials confirm they are referring to Pedro Galindo.

Investigators found after he transferred to a new facility, Medford Place refused to allow his family to remove his belongings or transfer his trust fund balance to the new facility.

Someone at Medford Place also forged Pedro Galindo's signature on a document faxed to another facility. The report stated after he left in December, staff at Medford Place continued to withdraw funds from his financial account.

A staff member first said she thought Pedro Galindo would return to Medford Place. She then said the money was to "hold a bed" at the facility.

From January 2014 to January 2015, Medford Place charged Pedro Galindo $1,030 for room and board and another $85, which was supposedly refunded to him for personal use. However, the administrator could not produce any proof he ever received the $85.

The administrator at Medford Place also never asked Pedro Galindo for permission to use his benefits card. She continued to make withdrawals until the account balance was zero.

Finally, in April, Medford Place reimbursed Galindo $1,706.48.

Galindo's family said they think their experience should serve as a warning to families who may be trusting their loved ones to the care of businesses with an unhealthy focus on the bottom line.

State officials said they never received a complaint about the Galindo family not being allowed in to see him, so they could not comment on that.

The state health and human services commission's Office of the Inspector General also investigated the case. A report from May 15 recommended referring the case to the Texas Attorney General's Office due to “misapplication of funds.”

CHANNEL 5 NEWS checked into Medford Place's history with state inspectors. Records show three substantiated complaints in 2014 and two in 2013.

The facility was cited for seven violations in December and January. That includes two citations for failing to report abuse or neglect to the state.

So what if you’re caring for a loved one in a nursing home or assisted-living facility? A key document to have is medical power of attorney.

It’s a legal document with specific requirements. Texas officials say in addition to the patient and the person designated to have the power of attorney, the document must be signed by two witnesses.

Those witnesses cannot be related to the patient by blood or marriage. The witnesses cannot be the patient's attending physician or an employee of the attending physician.