Mommy Dearest

The fight between socialite Judi Wolf and her brother has turned into the mother of all family feuds.

When John heard about Letty's accident, he rushed to Rose hospital. Marvin and Judi were already there, and Judi was telling a doctor what should be done for her mother.

"I said, 'Don't you think Mother should be making her own choices?'" John recalls. "And she said, 'Not when she's been diagnosed with textbook dementia.'

"I said, 'So, what--you've got a Ph.D. or M.D.?' But she just smiled and walked away."

It was at that point, John says, that the doctor told him Judi had already taken her mother to several doctors over the preceding two years to have her evaluated for dementia.

Dementia is a normal by-product of aging--although there can be other causes, such as alcohol use--that is marked by a subject's mental deterioration; dementia often continues to worsen through the aging process. It is one of the most frequent reasons given by petitioners asking for a court-appointed guardian. But the diagnosis is highly subjective, and the condition can vary in degree of incapacity from someone who keeps misplacing her car keys to someone who is unable to care for herself.

In the hospital, Dr. Deb Halterman was assigned to Letty's care; John says his mother complained frequently about her bedside manner. "She'd come in and pat my mother's hand and say, 'There, there,' like she was a child," he says. "It was condescending, and my mother was definitely not used to being treated that way."

John was also concerned because Halterman seemed to be communicating only with the Wolfs. Then one day he got a call from his mother. She was being sent for rehabilitation to Shalom Park, an expensive "assisted living" center near Cherry Creek Reservoir that was far from her home. She didn't want to go.

Calling around, John found Manor Care, a rehab center that was much less expensive and only two blocks from Letty's home. His mother liked the sound of that, he says. But when he told the doctor, she said it "wasn't in the plan."

The night before Letty was to be transferred, one of John's nephews called from the hospital. Letty was refusing to go to Shalom Park. His nephew asked John to calm his mother down.

John demanded to talk to Penny Timmen, a hospital social worker, who agreed to give Letty a couple more days to consider her options, he says.

But the next day, when John arrived to visit Letty, he found an ambulance van waiting to take her to Shalom Park. She was in her room, screaming that she didn't want to go. John told Timmen he was going to call the police.

"She said, 'Are you threatening me?' And I said, 'Take it however you want,'" he recalls. Timmen went to get another social worker, only to have her colleague side with John and Letty.

In the meantime, Judi, who was already at Shalom Park, had called and wanted to know what the delay was. Judi told their mother that if she went somewhere else, "Blue Cross won't pay," John says.

But Letty was adamant. In the end, she went to Manor Park and "fired" Dr. Halterman, as she noted in her book. At Manor Park, Letty was assigned a new doctor, Dr. John Westfall, whose clinic is affiliated with the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. But Judi kept trying to convince her to switch doctors again, John says. At one point the rehab center sent Letty back to Rose for a test. While she was there, John received a call from a nurse, who said Judi had called Rose and told officials there that her mother had "fired" Westfall and rehired Halterman.

John raced to Rose and confronted his sister. He spotted Letty's medical records and asked his mother for permission to read them. In her notation about the plan to send Letty to Shalom Park, Dr. Halterman had written that she'd met "with the family" and Letty.

"She never met with me or my mother," John says angrily.
There was also a "transfer notification" that read: "I understand that I am being transferred from RMC Transitional Care Unit to...Shalom Park." The notification was signed not by Letty, but by "Judi Wolf--Daughter" and social worker Timmen.

John was outraged that Judi was making decisions for their mother when Letty was fully capable of making them for herself--and had the right to do so. He again threatened to call the police. "Judi threw on her mink coat and left," he recalls. (Timmen declined to comment, saying her role was "confidential." Through a spokeswoman, Halterman said that Letty hadn't been her patient for a year, then declined further comment.)

After 24 days at Manor Care, Letty finally went home. She still needed 24-hour care: She couldn't get around well, and if she fell again and cut herself, she would be in danger of bleeding to death because of Cumaden, a blood thinner that Dr. Westfall had prescribed to prevent blood clots in her hip area. To help with her daily needs, Letty had picked a certified nurse's aide with whom she got along well; the aide alternated time at the house with John. A nurse and therapist who worked for First Choice, an in-home health-care provider whose bills were paid by Medicare, also visited regularly.

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