If it wasn't for Her There would be No You

root - Posted on 19 June 2002

A low-income family in Oakland lose their home, their equity and now even their own Grandmama (Pt 2)

by Isabel Estrada/ PNN Youth in the Media Intern

Scott Sloan and I have been traveling 2 1/2 hours by bus from his house on 55th street to the Excell nursing home on High and Virginia streets in Oakland. Scott Sloan is used to this ride because he does it twice a week to visit his mother Mrs. Beatrice Sloan at Excell nursing home. My camera is in my pocket. I’m ready to take pictures but I’m a little hesitant because I have a feeling the hospital is in on the scandal that the Sloan family has been dealing with for the last year including an eviction from their own family home, lead poisoning, inhabitable living conditions and much more. There must be some reason why Mary-Lou Griffin, Mrs. Sloan’s public guardian didn’t want a San Francisco Chronicle photographer to come out to the nursing home with us.

Excell is a monument to dingy whiteness with accents of pale blue. The building is small and it recedes from the street as though trying to escape from the sun.

There are a few elderly people wheeling themselves around, looking blankly ahead. When we walk into Mrs. Sloan’s room, there are four beds, one in every corner. In each there is a tiny woman barely visible under the pale blue blankets. I make a mental note to remember to tell my unborn children that I’ll beat them with my cane if they ever try to put me into a nursing home.

Though Mrs. Sloan can barely speak, when her son asks her if she wants to go home she nods affirmatively and squeezes out a small "yes." Then when he continues to ask her she gets a sad, distant look on her lined face, she knows that she’s not going to be going home. At least if Mary-Lou Griffin gets her way. Scott Sloan says that though Mrs. Sloan cannot speak, he knows that she is happier at home. At home she can watch T.V. and be visited by her over thirty great grandchildren who kiss her, hug her, try to make her eat, play with her hair, talk to her and love her for being the original source of their young lives. Scott Sloan has made it clear to all her great-grandkids, "if it wasn’t for her [Mrs. Sloan] there wouldn’t be no you." He says, "they know how to treat her." In the nursing home she has only white walls, pale blankets and feeding tubes to comfort her.

Scott Sloan, who says he will "be 66 in August, if this don’t kill me," turns into a little kid around his mother, caressing her head and asking, "what’s up mama, huh? Whatcha doing?" in an uncharacteristically soft voice. He tells me of how his mother, who is now skin and bones, weighed 190 lbs. in her prime, "she was a big woman." The admiration makes Scott Sloan stand a little taller. She knew the importance of family. She didn’t just limit herself to caring for her children. She was her whole family’s mama. When she found out that one of her nephews was living on the street she immediately swooped him into her house, clothed him and fed him. No matter her own situation, she wouldn’t stand to see any of her family suffering.

When I ask the male nurse whose attending to Mrs. Sloan and the three other women in the room about what care she’s getting here that she couldn’t get at home, he says that the only thing she needs is 24 hour care. His duties he says are to crush up her pills and give them to her, keep her feeding tube supplied when she needs to be fed, change her diaper and care for her wounds. I assume she also needs to be bathed. Scott Sloan’s response is: "we can do the same thing at home, all the nieces I got, shoot." Mrs. Sloan could receive all this care at home, as she was before Mary-Lou Griffin stepped in as her conservator, but she could also receive the love and respect of her family who all know, "if it wasn’t for her there wouldn’t be no you."

So why isn’t Mrs. Sloan at home? Because according to Scott Sloan, two months ago Mary-Lou Griffin said "She will not be back home. She’s going to a rest home, I will see to that." And why is it that Public Guardian Mary-Lou Griffin –a woman with short dark her, hard lines etched into her face and an upturned nose- who works for the Alameda County Social Services has the right to keep Mrs. Sloan away from her family?

It all started in 1987 when Mrs. Beatrice Sloan, who had been diagnosed as Bipolar, stopped taking her medication (lithium), suffered from a breakdown and was interned at the hospital. Mrs. Sloan’s doctor recommended that her daughter Luella Williams become her temporary conservator until Mrs. Sloan had recovered. Ms. Williams cared for her mother after the breakdown but did not become her conservator until 1994. She was planning to end her conservatorship because Mrs. Sloan’s doctor said it was no longer needed, when she received a court order to present an account of the state of Mrs. Sloan’s assets. When she turned in the account the court said that it was not done professionally. So Luella Williams got the accounting done professionally and turned it in to her lawyer. But when Williams’ lawyer did not turn the new account in on time, the court took the conservatorship and gave it over to Alameda County.

The original conservator was a Mr. Ford, then came Sydney Martinez and finally Mary-Lou Griffin took over in October of 2001, right after Luella Williams passed away. Already in 1997 Alfred Fisher, who acts as the Estate Manager and Investigator for the Alameda County Social Services sold one of Mrs. Sloan’s 4 houses. No reason was given to Mrs. Sloan's children and they didn’t even see any For Sale signs up. I met Alfred Fisher; he is a thin African-American man with nervous eyes and a demeanor that seemed to sway like a tree under harsh winds. He gave me a bad feeling from the beginning and I was amazed to find that he is a preacher at a storefront church at 8901 MacArthur St. in Oakland.

Now Mary-Lou Griffin says that Mrs. Sloan either needs to be in a nursing home, which is $5,939 a month or she needs a 24-hour in-home nurse, which could cost 25,000 a month. Griffin says that the $5,939 cannot be paid for without selling Mrs. Sloans last two properties, one is where Scott Sloan has lived for 15 years and the other is housing Richshalda Williams, Mrs. Sloans granddaughter. So Griffin wants to evict Mrs. Sloans’ family from Mrs. Sloans houses so that she can sell it, and can pay for Mrs. Sloan to lie in a depressing, dingy white nursing home, without any T.V., until she passes away. But this is not just another example of bureaucratic injustice There’s something wrong with the whole picture.

Up until a few weeks ago, Richshalda Williams, Luella Williams’ daughter, received update calls twice a week from a nurse at Excell and was even informed by a woman who works at the home that Mrs. Sloan could leave the facility at any time. However when Richshalda Williams asked Mary-Lou Griffin when Mrs. Sloan would be back, Griffin got uptight and told her that Mrs. Sloan would not be going home and that Richshalda Williams better speak to the doctor. After that the doctor said that Mrs. Sloan could not go home, the nurse stopped calling Richshalda Williams and the women who had said Mrs. Sloan no longer needed to be in the facility had changed her story.

I just found out that Mary-Lou Griffin has now sent a letter to both Mr. Scott Sloan and Richshalda Williams letting them know that that their rent will be increased from under about $600 a month to $2000, effective May 1st. And this is despite the fact that Scott Sloan’s granddaughter has lead poisoning from the house and Alfred Fisher, who has known for a year that the house has dangerous amounts of lead, hasn’t made any repairs.

Scott Sloan had surgery for cancer of the brain in 1987. He can’t sleep because he stays up at night thinking of his mother in the nursing home and the fact that Alameda County is trying to sell his own mother’s house that he has been living in for 15 years. He recently suffered from a stroke because of what is happening to his family and to his mother, who used to be so big, who never took any shit from anybody. So while Scott Sloan, as a 65 year old disabled man, should be taking it easy he knows that his only option right now is to fight for his family.

I’m just glad when we leave the nursing home. The place smells of old sheets and dirty hair, and every once in a while an incoherent scream will jump out at you from behind the curtain in one of the rooms. Scott Sloan and I agree loudly and wholeheartedly that we’re never going to be put in any rest home. But apparently it’s not that easy. Mrs. Sloan is obviously unhappy in the rest home without the comfort of her family, and her family sure doesn’t want her there and yet there she lies because Alameda County thinks that some woman named Mary-Lou Griffin knows what’s best for her. Under those nightmarish pale blue blankets in that neon light, Mrs. Sloan squints as she looks around. Scott Sloan says that she’s looking for her grandbabies


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