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C & G Newspapers
By Jennie Miller, C & G Staff Writer
July 18, 2008
SOUTHFIELD - Five months after Vunies High, 92, the sister of boxing great Joe Louis, died from hypothermia after wandering outside a senior living complex at night, her family is suing the facility.
High was a resident of the Heatherwood, an independent living center located at 22800 Civic Center Drive in Southfield, since 2002. She suffered from early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. She was last seen at 8 p.m. Feb. 18, and her frozen body was discovered at 10 a.m. the following morning, wearing only her pajamas, 30 yards from the front door.
Attorney Richard Bernstein filed the lawsuit on behalf of High’s son, Sidney High of Detroit, who was appointed the personal representative of his mother’s estate. The family is seeking more than $75,000 in damages.
The Heatherwood is owned by Capitol Senior Living Properties, which is based in Dallas and operates 64 senior living communities in 23 states with 9,400 residents, according to the complaint filed with the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division.
Bernstein claims that while The Heatherwood is an unlicensed independent living facility, it operates as a licensed assisted living facility, but without the state and federal regulations as mandated by law that come with the latter.
Bernstein claims that Heatherwood employees assured the High family that they would provide 24-hour-a-day staffing and an emergency call system for High, and the family was charged accordingly. The Heatherwood was negligent in providing those services, according to the complaint.
“The family thought she was getting the best of care possible, and they were paying for the best of possible care, with all these added programs and services, especially a security component, where they were assured and guaranteed that someone was going to look in on her and make sure she was OK,” explained Bernstein. “This is a very loving and involved family. They took an incredibly active role as it came to her care and treatment.
They were very concerned and very deliberate in terms of making sure they had the best care. … What was the end result? She walked out the front door of the facility in her pajamas. She was found 30 yards away from the front door of the facility, with her face frozen to the cement. She was out there all night. The whole thing is a sham. It’s outrageous.”
Bernstein said there is a vast difference between an assisted living facility and an independent living facility, and claimed that The Heatherwood was taking advantage of its residents and their families.
“It is our claim that they are … blurring the line deliberately and intentionally,” Bernstein said.
Representatives from The Heatherwood did not return a phone call seeking comment.
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