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Archive for Saturday, August 9, 2003

Caseworker says he knew of risk for neglect, but son rejected help

August 9, 2003

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A social worker thought an 84-year-old Lawrence man was at "potential risk" of neglect a year before he died of pneumonia and complications of bedsores. But the social worker didn't follow through because the man's caregivers -- including his son, who's now charged with murdering his father by neglect -- said they wanted to care for him at home.

"I can't necessarily force my resolution or solution onto a family," state Adult Protective Services caseworker Myron Dunavan testified Friday at a preliminary hearing for the son, Timothy D. Harrell. "I might have wished for something else ... but the family had an acceptable plan."

Harrell, 44, is charged with second-degree murder and mistreating a dependent adult in connection with the Nov. 20, 2002, death of his father, Henry F. Harrell. Timothy Harrell's wife, Berdella I. Harrell, pleaded no contest Tuesday to mistreating a dependent adult, a misdemeanor.

Dunavan said he first became aware of the Harrells on Sept. 17, 2001. His office received a report alleging that Henry Harrell's caregivers were neglecting him after the elder Harrell wandered away and showed up at the Franklin County Sheriff's Office in Ottawa.

Dunavan set up a face-to-face interview with Henry, Timothy and Berdella Harrell on Oct. 16, 2001, after which he found Henry Harrell was disoriented and appeared to be incapable of taking care of himself. He said Timothy Harrell seemed to be concerned about his father, but he also noted the son seemed to have limited mental ability.

Those factors led Dunavan to find that the neglect allegation was "unconfirmed with potential risk," he testified.

Dunavan drafted a plan for the Harrells: They would follow through with medical appointments and take steps to get Henry Harrell approved for admittance to a nursing home, and Dunavan would examine the issue of granting a legal guardian who could make medical and financial decisions about the elder Harrell.

However, when he telephoned the Harrells in early December to follow up on the plan, they told him that Berdella, a certified nurse's assistant, would be staying home 24 hours a day to take care of Henry. They said they didn't want to take part in Dunavan's plan, and in February 2002 Dunavan's office closed the case, he testified.

"I was concerned," Dunavan said. "Not concerned enough to pursue forcing a guardian-conservatorship."

Dunavan said state law forced him to choose the less restrictive option whenever possible.

The next time Dunavan encountered the Harrells was Nov. 13, 2002, after Henry Harrell was admitted to Lawrence Memorial Hospital and an employee reported his condition to Adult Protective Services. By that time, Henry Harrell was malnourished and dehydrated and had deep, infected bed sores on his hips and tailbone, according to physician Gregg Stueve's testimony Friday.

Dunavan testified that when he spoke with Timothy Harrell at the hospital, he learned that the elder Harrell had stopped eating three to four weeks earlier and stopped drinking 10 days earlier.

Timothy Harrell told him he'd tried to take care of his father until the end, taking steps including using an over-the counter ointment on his father's sores, Dunavan testified. But Dunavan said he sensed Timothy Harrell knew that what he'd been doing wasn't enough.

This time, Dunavan found that both Berdella and Timothy Harrell were "confirmed perpetrators of neglect."

The preliminary hearing, which will determine whether there's enough evidence for Timothy Harrell to stand trial for murder, continues Tuesday.

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