My 80-year-old dad, an Air Force veteran with Alzheimer’s, needs to get out of jail, now

| 07 Apr 2021 | 02:58

To the Editor:

My family and I are in an uphill battle with the Pike County Correctional Facility (PCCF), the Pennsylvania government, the Veteran’s Administration (VA) Assisted Living, and health care providers to get my father out of jail and moved to a medical care facility ever since his egregious lockup on Jan. 8.

He is 80 and has a compromised immune system and has not received a Covid vaccine – unacceptable. Also, he has he not been in quarantine the entire time he has been in jail. It is my understanding that the Pennsylvania Department of Health has not released any Covid vaccines to Pennsylvania county correctional facilities.This is an outrage, especially because two inmates died from Covid in the Pike County Correctional Facility in the spring of 2020. There were a large number of inmates who were, at that time, released from the jail for their health and safety.

We are demanding immediate relief for my father, John H. Curwood, to be released into an assisted living facility, preferably in the VA system, as soon as possible. This is a matter of his health, and I believe his illnesses are worsening because he’s in the PCCF without the medical care and support he needs to survive at his age and mental health status. I’m sharing this overview of the events that contributed to Dad going to jail, and about the unhealthy, unfair, and neglectful treatment my father, an octogenarian and Air National Guard veteran, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia along with other health issues.

My dad is a decent, loving, family man and has no prior criminal history. In my letter to the governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general’s office, I told them my father is “wasting the last precious days of his life in jail.” I read articles here in The Pike County Courier and in other news sources about the PCCF that bring me even more concern about the grave situation my father is being forced, unjustly, to live in. He has a public defender attorney who he also hired privately, who will not return my calls or respond to my letters. My father has expressed his disappointment to the availability of his attorney as well.

Dad called us, his family, on March 24. He was happy to tell my sister in New York and me in Florida that he was being released on parole that same day. Much to my surprise, our family received a call from attorney Robert Bernathy early Thursday morning, March 25, regarding recent updates of Dad’s status. I spoke with my aunt, who made a diligent effort to relay the information from the call. The actual plan for my father is unclear, but it’s my understanding they may be planning to move him to another building within the PCCF. As we have done several times before, my elderly uncle asked Bernathy to provide the history of what exactly is going to happen to his brother. Nobody in our family has received any written correspondence from Bernathy to date.

In my letter to the Pennsylvania government officials, I let them know about family issues between Dad and his wife and stepdaughter, who were granted Protection From Abuse (PFA) orders in the Pike County Court of Common Pleas. I believe his failing cognitive state due to Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and clinical depression resulted in him violating the Nov. 9 PFA order in early January, and he has been in jail, without any idea about his sentencing, ever since.

My dad sounds confused and scared when we speak by phone. At times his letters are unclear. This is evidence that his illnesses are affecting him. We continue to maneuver through the frustrating slow and inefficient system to get my dad moved to a veterans’ assisted living facility. Meanwhile, he remains locked up. This is an outrage. We know there are medical facilities where Dad could be placed, outside of the jail, even if he needs to serve his time there. I feel like his lawyer, and PCCF officials want to keep him there in the jail. A few times my dad told me that he’s heard they make a lot of money by keeping guys locked up. He often says his inmate friends, as he refers to them, are young guys or that they are giving him advice. He was also surprised that many of them have been in for a long time and not yet been sentenced.

’I’m still here’

On the evening of March 25, Dad called me, and he said, “I was told to call Bernathy. I called him early yesterday morning. He was very happy and said he had good news. He said ‘John, I got you paroled.’” Dad said, “It’s kind of confusing. They asked me to call Bernathy. Bob told me yesterday that I was paroled. This is very disappointing and very confusing, and I’m still in here. He (Bernathy) said he had a deal with the DA (district attorney) and got me parole for a year and a half.”

He asked me to call Bernathy and let him know he needs to speak to him right away. I immediately called both the public defender’s office and Bernathy’s private office and left a message at the private office, but the public defender’s office did not allow any messages to be recorded.

Our family is doing everything we possibly can to get him moved from the jail and into an assisted living facility through the Veteran’s Administration (VA). The first time we heard from a social worker at the jail was March 11. I believe this to be only in response to my calling around asking for help.

Although we all, including my dad, asked Bernathy to review the already filled-out power of attorney (POA) legal documents to provide POA for medical and financial purposes to my sister June Heffernan and me, he has to date not done this for my dad. Nobody in our family who are caring for him now has a POA.

I did manage to get my father registered to receive VA benefits by a patient administrator at the VA in Northport Long Island, N.Y. Dad lived on Long Island for most of his life, from the time he came to the United States with his family at age 7 from Paisley, Scotland. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen and at age 18 and joined the U.S. Air Force, where he served four years as an Air Policeman in Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

On Long Island my mom and dad raised the four of us, my two brothers, my sister and me. Dad has been a Pennsylvania resident for over 15 years. He often talks of his desire to return to Long Island for the rest of his life. We’ve discussed him living in one of the VA assisted living homes, and he wants to be on Long Island near his family and friends. My sister and I have been working since November to try to get him in a VA assisted living facility. I believe the incompetence of the local police in Milford, and the Pennsylvania State Police, a failing mental health system in Pennsylvania and New York, a lengthy waiting period to get Dad evaluated to get into an assisted living facility, and the registration process to receive VA benefits are contributing factors to him landing in jail.

My sister and I along with our families have been doing everything possible to care for Dad after he was removed from his home in Milford by the police in early November.

Dad is a family man and would often say how lucky he was to have two families who love him.

Depression and disorientation

After a conflict on Nov. 7 at his home in Milford, my dad was asked to leave his home by the police and to seek medical attention. He was told he could come back home in 24 hours.

After he left the house, he called his brother, my sister, and me. We all advised him to go to the Lehigh Valley Hospital to get a medical examination. The same day he was discharged on his own, and he drove himself to our vacation home in Abrightsville, Pa.

After a series of attempts that weekend to go home, Dad was made homeless Nov. 9, 2020. Again, we told him to go to our vacation home in Albrightsville, where he stayed with family there until Dec. 7. Dad became increasingly disoriented and fell into a deep depression. He loved his family in Milford and was heartbroken. Our family helped him to the best of our ability by contacting his doctors, getting him his medications, finding him a new psychologist and psychiatrist. We also helped him take an anger management course. He became increasingly upset about having to leave his home and family, whom he loved dearly.

On Jan. 5, after almost a month and a series of outbursts and family conflicts, admissions, and discharges from hospitals in Pennsylvania, including a psychiatric hospital for three days, and in New York, and countless hours of worry, concern and phone calls to him and to resources from his family, he went back to the motel in Milford near his home. He told me he just wanted to be in his hometown where everything was familiar to him. We knew he needed to be in an assisted living facility and that the care we were trying lovingly to provide for him wasn’t enough.

His cognitive state and pain and anger contributed to him slashing the tires of the vehicles that were in the driveway at his home in Milford. That same day, he went to the local Walmart, where he slashed the tires of a vehicle. I wholeheartedly believe Dad’s illnesses and the stress of his situation caused him to take these actions. In January, I spoke with a PCCF nurse to make sure he was receiving the medications he needed. According to the nurse she was giving him everything he needed.

My Dad told me several times that he’s not getting all the medications he normally takes. Often when talking to him I’d hear him clearing his throat, and that’s a clear indication that his GERD is causing him to be uncomfortable. There are two things that cause this – not getting the right medication or eating the wrong foods. This is an outrage because Dad could choke to death if this is not treated correctly. He doesn’t know how to take care of his medical needs on his own. In fact, due to his cognitive state, he often neglects to tell concerned parties who have a need to know.

On March 26, I received a call back from Perrin Landry, who informed me she was dad’s forensic case manager from the Carbon, Monroe, Pike Mental Health Developmental Services. According to Landry she opened him for services Jan. 21 through the jail.

I told her Dad has not received any services, and he doesn’t even have his eyeglasses from day one in PCCF. I told her I contacted the PCCF nurse and asked the Pike County Department of Aging about him getting an eye exam and glasses and was told they do not do eye exams until after the inmate is in for a year. Although Dad has readers, he has been unable to see well during the entire time he has been in jail.

Finally, his glasses were found. The glasses will be arriving at the jail on March 30, and Ms. Landry responded to my text on March 29 saying she would make sure the warden knows they are coming.

I also told her it was extremely upsetting and unacceptable that he has not received a Covid vaccine, and he was, at times, in a cell with up to two other inmates much younger than him.

Ms. Landry told me Dad has a pretrial conference with attorney Bernathy and the district attorney on April 5. I asked to listen in on the conference. She said she would find out if that is possible. During my 26-minute discussion with her, among other concerns, I told her we want our father out of jail immediately and into a VA hospital or assisted living facility in Pennsylvania. I was in tears at this point and said, I don’t want my father to be the sad ending of a “Dateline” story.


Joy F. McCann

Clearwater, Florida

My dad sounds confused and scared when we speak by phone. At times his letters are unclear. This is evidence that his illnesses are affecting him. We continue to maneuver through the frustrating slow and inefficient system to get my dad moved to a veterans’ assisted living facility. Meanwhile, he remains locked up. This is an outrage.