When Barbara Carey moved back to College Park to care for her 88-year-old mother last March, she was well aware that Helen Carey did not want to spend her final days in a nursing home.
Court records confirm that in 2006, Helen Carey had signed a living will and durable powers of attorney specifying that she remain in her home — under her daughter’s care — until her death, with a family trust covering any necessary nursing or housekeeping expenses.
After examining Helen Carey on May 18, 2011, Dr. Peter Rabins, professor of psychiatry and behavior sciences at Johns Hopkins, stated in a report to the Prince George’s County Circuit Court that she was “an alert elderly woman … with no evidence of depression. She can remain in her home if the resources are available.”
Less than a week later, however, Judge Sherrie Krauser ignored her own medical expert and ordered Helen Carey transferred from the Lanham hospital where she had gone for observation after suffering chest pains to an Adelphi nursing home.
Attorney Jeanne Aelion, a temporary guardian appointed by Krauser, allowed her daughter only a one-hour supervised visit per week.
In a July 1, 2011, email, Helen Carey’s court-appointed attorney, W. David Allen, told Barbara Carey: “I am informed that after consulting with Dr. Peter Rabins, Helen Carey is being given Zoloft, an antidepressant. I believe this is prescribed to address her apathy.” Another email, dated Aug. 1, stated that Dr. Rabins “agreed with the use of Zoloft.”
But Barbara Carey, a physical therapist in Fairfax, knew that Zoloft (sertraline) was contraindicated for the treatment of depression in Alzheimer’s patients because Dr. Rabins himself had co-authored several articles making this very point.
She also knew her mother did not tolerate Zoloft, and that her thyroid problem mimicked symptoms of depression. On Aug. 31, she asked the court to order a second medical opinion. Her petition was denied.
Barbara Carey told The Washington Examiner that after being prevented from seeing her mother at all for two weeks, she was shocked at her condition on Sept. 15. “She was clearly still on medication. Her heart was racing. She could hardly walk.”
According to court documents obtained by The Washington Examiner, a tense standoff between the daughter and the guardian occurred that day: “My mother is in medical distress. Her pulse was over 200. The guardian was right there. I told her, ‘She is in tachycardia. She needs medical help.’ ”
Five days later, while Barbara Carey was still desperately trying to get the governor’s office and the Maryland Department of Aging to intervene, Helen Carey died of cardiac arrest.
Despite Allen’s emails and Barbara Carey’s own observations, a subsequent investigation by the department found no record that Helen Carey had ever been taking any psychotropic drugs. Both Dr. Rabins and attorney Allen refused to comment when asked to explain this apparent discrepancy.
“If the investigation is correct,” Barbara Carey told The Washington Examiner, “it indicates either an error or altered records.” Medication errors should be of interest to state regulators, and altering medical records is a crime, but the state of Maryland apparently isn’t interested either way.
Department of Aging Secretary Gloria Lawlah, a former state senator from Prince George’s, told Barbara Carey that county officials “acted appropriately and responsibly while serving as the guardian of the person of your mother.” The state also declined to conduct an administrative review.
Meanwhile, Judge Krauser approved fees totaling $17,684 for Aelion and $22,312 for Allen out of Helen Carey’s estate this month. Barbara Carey is appealing.
Barbara F. Hollingsworth is The Examiner’s local opinion editor.