Sunday, April 29, 2018
Marlene Quaroni - Florida Catholic
DAVIE | Broward County was home to two national tragedies in the past eight months: One took place in a Hollywood Hills nursing home and the other in a Parkland high school.
“It is becoming unsafe in Broward County to be a senior or a kid,” said Rev. David Range, pastor of Miramar United Methodist Church. He was speaking to more than 1,200 members of BOLD Justice — Broward Organized Leaders Doing Justice — gathered at St. David Catholic Church for the group’s 11th annual Nehemiah Assembly, April 23.
The organization, founded in 2007, consists of 21 religious congregations representing more than 20,000 people. Their goal is to address community problems in Broward County. BOLD Justice asks for commitments from county officials and brings witnesses to testify about community problems. Nehemiah action gets its name from an ancient governor of Judea who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and created religious and social reforms.
“Just as of old, our people are suffering,” said Rev. Range. “Children are being needlessly arrested for minor offenses; we must increase civil citations. We hear stories of our loved ones being neglected and abused in nursing homes. In February, another national tragedy occurred in Broward County when 17 people died in a mass shooting at a Broward High School.”
Official after official said there was nothing they could do locally to improve nursing homes; only Tallahassee has that authority. But BOLD Justice representatives responded that they can’t wait for Tallahassee. The problems need to be resolved in Broward. The county has to take steps to keep seniors and children safe.
“We are here for action tonight,” Rev. Range said. “It is important for our officials to know that we are united in our efforts tonight.”
He asked participants to applaud for a “yes” answer and remain silent for a “no” answer. “Deafening silence is much louder to a no answer.”
“Last year, after Hurricane Irma struck, 14 senior citizens lost their lives at a Hollywood Hills Nursing Home when they were without air-conditioning for several days,” said Rev. Range. In response, the Florida legislature passed a bill that requires nursing homes to have back-up generators. But generators won’t fix the entire problem, he said, noting issues such as bedsores, making sure residents get the proper medications, and ensuring they receive high quality care and are treated with dignity.
Lisa Montalchi of Trinity Lutheran Church testified to the substandard treatment seniors receive in many nursing homes.
“Last year, just before Christmas, I got a call from a family whose parent had been recently released from a nursing home because his insurance had run out,” Montalchi said. He had been in and out of nursing homes in the past year and had a leg amputated because of poor circulation. She and her husband spent the next two weeks staying overnight with him and his wife.
“One night, he said to us, I have something really serious to ask you. Tears welled up in his eyes. Please, please, please stay with me and my wife and take care of us. I’ll give you my home. I don’t want to go back,” Montalchi said.
She and her husband prayed about it but the couple’s family wasn’t on board. So he was sent to another nursing home.
“We visited regularly,” Montalchi said. “They moved him around to different rooms without telling anyone.”
One day, they couldn’t find him. When they asked, the staff replied, “Who?” adding they had no one by that name there. When they finally found him, his remaining leg was wrapped in a bandage and he told them it hurt badly. The staff said he would be seeing a doctor in a few days. The doctor immediately scheduled an amputation of his foot.
“That was criminal. This stuff should not happen. That’s why I say, BOLD, Justice! Seniors count,” Montalchi said.
Arleigha Byer, 15, testified about school safety as she stood at the podium with her mother, Rev. Andrea Byer-Thomas, pastor of Village United Methodist Church. The teenager talked about the loss of her friend, Gina Montalto, 14, killed at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Feb. 14.
“We were in the same Girl Scout leadership troop together,” said Byer as she wiped tears from her eyes. “Nikolas Cruz took the life of my friend. She was kind and loved to help those around her and I miss her so much.”
Participants received a resounding yes to each of the commitments they asked for from the public officials in attendance.
Assistant State Attorney Maria Schneider pledged that her office would lead the way in forming a multiagency unit to conduct monthly unannounced inspections of nursing homes and adult living facilities throughout Broward County. The pledge drew a shout of “BOLD, Justice!” from the audience.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said that he and some Marjorie Stoneman Douglas parents had gone to Indiana, where they visited the safest school in the United States. He said it would take $250 million to reinforce Broward schools.
Both Israel and Schneider said they were committed to protecting students. Officials missed the red flags at every level in the Parkland school shooting, Israel said, proposing one solution.
“If we find that a subject is a threat, we can go before a judge and get a protection order,” he said. “The subject can be Baker-acted and sent to a mental facility for 72 hours. We can confiscate their guns and prohibit them from having firearms.”
Israel vowed to double Crisis Intervention Training funding until all Broward County officers have learned to deal with the mentally ill.
Miramar Police Chief Dexter Williams and Schneider said that they would lead the way for youths who have committed minor, non-violent crimes to receive civil citations instead of an arrest record. Instead of detention they should be sent to diversion programs.
Pastor Noel Rose, of Eliathah Seventh Day Adventist Church, said that the sheriff’s office and state attorney’s office had committed to BOLD Justice’s requests. “We will hold their feet to the fire,” he said.
Representatives of six Catholic churches took part in the assembly: Little Flower, Hollywood; St. Bonaventure, Davie; St. Clement, Fort Lauderdale; St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Pompano Beach; St. Stephen, Miramar; and St. Maurice/Resurrection, Dania Beach.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who gave the opening prayer, called the assembly a wonderful gathering, a call to action.
“Life here on earth is a highway to heaven,” he said. “We must be concerned about the obstacles on the highway. The highway is filled with potholes of poverty, prejudice, hatred and injustice. You are about doing good things. I ask you to walk humbly with the Lord.”