A 60-year-old resident of Northeast Portland's Allen Fremont Plaza died while waiting for a medical response after pulling an emergency cord in her room, according to a recent lawsuit.
The complex at 221 NE Fremont St. is designed for low-income residents older than 55 and advertises that elderly or disabled tenants need only to pull one of three emergency cords in their rooms to activate an emergency response.
But the lawsuit filed last month in Multnomah County Circuit Court by Shonnett O'Neal alleges help never came when her mom, Deloris O'Neal, pulled the cord after suffering a heart attack on or before Sunday, Aug. 1, 2004. Instead, the suit alleges the cord turned on a light in the manager's empty office. The suit accuses the 64-unit Plaza of wrongful death and elder abuse and seeks $1.2 million plus reimbursement for legal fees.
Plaza manager Billie Brock tells WW she went to O'Neal's apartment that Sunday after neighbors told her that O'Neal hadn't been seen or heard from in several days. Brock wouldn't comment whether she'd seen a flashing light.
O'Neal's neighbor, 80-year-old Mary Legarde, tells WW that Brock "came to my door that Sunday morning and told me that she wanted me to go into Deloris' apartment with her," says Legarde. "It was like she was afraid to go in by herself."
There, Brock and Legarde found O'Neal dead, sitting in a chair next to one of the unit's three emergency pull cords. Until O'Neal's death, Brock says, "she was healthy and very active. Everywhere she went, she walked."
According to the suit, O'Neal never dialed 911 because she expected to receive medical assistance after pulling the cord. Consequently, O'Neal died of congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathy while waiting for help to arrive, the suit says.
Sean Hartfield, the attorney for Shonnett O'Neal, claims that the emergency call system had been deactivated sometime before Aug. 1, 2004 due to a series of false alarms.
"We definitely know that the cords were
disconnected. Other residents had this problem," says Hartfield.
Residents last week gave WW conflicting accounts of whether the cords were disconnected. Michael Givens, 58, says pulling one of the cords brings an ambulance. A 60-year-old resident who would not give her name says the system was turned off a year or two ago.
At first glance, Allen Fremont Plaza hardly seems neglected. The building appears well-maintained—its shrubbery meticulously groomed, its glass windows and doors gleaming.
The office, however, was dark during two recent weekday afternoon visits and the call box to let visitors inside the building was broken. A thin, graying woman waited outside the door for 10 minutes before giving up and leaving.
Allen Fremont Plaza and its owners, Oregon nonprofit General Baptist Convention of the Northwest, have yet to respond to the complaint, which alleges that the emergency call feature was "intentionally disabled" without informing O'Neal. The director of the General Baptist Convention, a religious nonprofit corporation based in Northeast Portland, did not return WW' s calls.