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Disappeared: A tale of falling through the cracks

caines | 2/28/2013, 4:30 a.m.

Willie Lee Newman, 59, was being treated for schizophrenia and residing in a state-approved assisted living facility [ALF] in Allapattah [Our Lady of Fatima, 2905 NW 10th Ave.] when he complained of stomach pains. The manager of the home, Sivia Medina, according to Newmans family, called his physician and was instructed to send him to the hospital. He was taken by ambulance to the University of Miami Hospital to the emergency room. That was on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012. What happened next has caused Newmans two sisters, Geraldine Murray, 60 and Everlena Brown 55, to seek help from the City of Miami Police Department, the Agency for Healthcare Administration [located in Tallahassee] and the Rev. Eric Readon, the familys minister and pastor of New Beginning MBC in Miami Gardens. Why? Because since that day in November, Newman has not been seen. And despite the church posting a $1,000 reward and searching high and low, no one seems to know where Newman is or if he is even alive.

Familys fears and frustration grow

Whenever he had to go to the hospital in the past, he was always sent to the psychiatric ward that didnt happen this time but it should have, Murray said. I called him the next day [at the ALF] which was Thanksgiving Day thats when I learned he was in the hospital. But when I called the hospital, they told me hed been dismissed. Ms. Medina didnt even know. Newmans younger sister, Everlena, says her brother was used to finding his way around in the neighborhood but worries that he probably got lost after leaving the unfamiliar hospital grounds. He loved going to the store for the other residents and could maneuver his way in places that he had been before, Brown said. But of course he was suddenly in a strange place. We are his only family and he cannot take care of himself. We have both tried to have him live with us but it was just too much. Newman was diagnosed as schizophrenic over 20 years ago according to his sisters. Hes been in several facilities, besides living with each of his two siblings. But do disappearances or other less severe mishaps occur at the hundreds of ALFs located throughout the State of Florida? Judith Robinson, 84, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness says the system is broken. Ive been involved in this industry for over 50 years and have said for many years that abuse and fraud occur too frequently in our states ALFs, she said. The bottom line is there is no real oversight no accountability. We need a system that works for people suffering from mental illness. At present, our state manages these residences from Tallahassee. But they should be managed regionally. Mental patients getting lost is nothing new.

Almost impossible to get answers

When we called the Agency for Healthcare Administration, we were able to speak with their spokesperson, Shelisha Coleman. Unfortunately and due to the law, she was only able to answer one or two of our questions. She was unable to even speak about Newmans case if as she said a case exists at all. We license all ALFs for the State of Florida but any reports filed on behalf of a resident are considered confidential, she said. When there are documented problems with any of the facilities, we must report that information on our website and indicate how the problem was resolved. Our Lady of Fatima, where Newman last resided, had just one adverse incident report listed on the website and it had been subsequently resolved. It should be noted that we did attempt to speak with the manager at Newmans home, hoping that she would be able to shed some light on Newmans life or potential whereabouts. Medina, however, does not speak English. Through an interpreter, who is also a resident, she told us, He [Newman] does not live here. We were then asked to leave. What we were unable to determine was whether she meant Newman has not been back since his disappearance or if she was denying he ever lived there. We have posted a reward and really hope that someone will come forward with some information of course were praying that Brother Newman is still alive, Readon said. A missing persons report was filed by Medina four days after he left the hospital, according to City of Miami Police Detective Maykel Baluja. But it should be noted that due to the law, Newmans family could not file the report. The report had to be filed by the ALF. Baluja says the four-day delay did not help him in his initial efforts to locate Newman. We got off to a late start in four days he could have gone anywhere, Baluja said. Weve posted flyers, gone over the entire area and even checked to see if he has attempted to access any of his services like having his prescription refilled theres just no trace of him. We know he was last seen wearing a black skull cap, red plaid shirt and a grey jacket. And a reward has been posted as well. But at this point, were at a dead end. Contact Miami Police Missing Persons Dept. at 305-603-6305 and refer to case # 121125-340818. You may also contact Readon at 305-638-3594. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com