Fort Worth

Cleburne man fights to get back wife taken away by state agency

Donald Henry is as mad as he is dumbfounded.

The Cleburne man doesn’t understand why a state agency took his wife away from his care and won’t let her return to their home.

The Henrys have been married more than 67 years, and Henry said he has long been taking care of his wife, a cancer survivor who is in the early stages of dementia and who suffers from chronic pain.

But on Dec. 11, after an initial visit in November, a worker with Adult Protective Services filed an emergency protective order to remove Ethel Henry from his care. Since then, Henry said, his wife has been moved from one facility to another and is receiving less care now than when she was living at their apartment in Cleburne.

Henry, 85, said his wife is now at the Cityview Care Center, a skilled nursing center in southwest Fort Worth. Cityview Care Center administrators have not returned phone calls seeking comment, nor has the attorney appointed by the state to represent Ethel Henry.

Henry is allowed to visit his wife and said that she cries a lot while staring at the walls of her room.

Since that first protective order APS has filed two extensions, according to court records. Police delivered the latest order to the husband and wife late Tuesday, Henry said. A hearing regarding his wife’s removal is scheduled for March in Johnson County Court at Law No. 2.

Henry said he believes APS is abusing its power. He acknowledges that his treatment of the APS worker and other state employees has been less than cordial and that he has used language that could be considered threatening.

“These are the actions of a totalitarian, not a constitutional government,” Henry said. “These people are utilizing a power I am sure goes beyond the intent of the law.”

An official with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said she could not discuss the matter because APS cases are confidential.

But the Henry’s attorney, Daren Van Slyke, said a APS worker was concerned because Ethel Henry was seen as a potential fall risk who would not use her walker.

Friends have written letters on behalf of Henry, who wanted to present five of these testimonials to the court, but said the court considered them irrelevant. Friends, relatives and neighbors have also contacted various state officials asking for help but received little or no response.

One letter, written by a long-time neighbor, said the couple’s relationship is inspirational.

“I have never witnessed the devotion as what they share,” the letter states. “I feel that it is wrong for outsiders, whether it be the state or local agencies or anyone else for that matter to decide that it is better for them to be apart.”

The Henry’s grandson, Zachary Griffin, wrote that his grandfather’s behavior toward state agents has been harsh and seemingly inexcusable, but pleaded that they be considered as the words of a desperate man trying to hold onto the only person who brings meaning to his life.

“This isn’t abuse or neglect,” Griffin wrote. “This is simply two people dying at the end of their lives. Where does justice begin interfering with what all of us want to believe about how we will finish out this journey of life?”

‘I have not lost my thinking’

The original removal order, filed in Johnson County, stated there was insufficient time to obtain medical or other professional reports before taking Ethel Henry from her home and cited law from the Texas Human Resources Code.

The order also said that there is reasonable cause to believe that abuse or neglect presents an immediate threat to the life or safety of Ethel Henry and that she lacked the ability to consent to services.

Henry said that even though his wife suffers from the early stages of dementia, she was functional and able to live independently with his help.

“I have not lost my thinking; I just have trouble expressing myself,” Ethel Henry said.

The couple received a visit from an APS worker in November and after the worker looked around the apartment, she began to talk about removing his wife because of safety concerns, Henry said.

The APS worker asked who supervised his wife’s medication schedule and Henry replied that his wife managed her own medications. Henry said his wife was capable of taking her own medicine and had received some medical training in the past.

The APS worker talked more about removing his wife, saying she needed help taking her medications, Henry said.

Believing the APS worker was threatening to take his wife, Henry said he ordered the worker out of his house.

“I told her I would use the Castle Doctrine to protect my family,” Henry said.

Under the 2007 Texas law, often referred to as the Castle Doctrine, a person can legally use deadly force if someone unlawfully enters or attempts to use force to enter that person’s occupied home, vehicle or workplace.

The APS worker may have interpreted Henry’s suggestion that he would use the Castle Doctrine if she returned to his home as a threat to her safety, some of Henry’s friends have suggested.

‘A well-intentioned law’

Henry said that on Dec. 10, 2015, his wife began complaining of stomach pains and feeling faint, so he took her to Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Cleburne, where she stayed the night.

When he returned the next day to pick up his wife, Henry said hospital staff wanted to keep her another night. But Henry said his wife wanted to go home and the hospital staff began preparing her discharge paperwork.

As he parked his car at the hospital’s entrance to pick up his wife, Henry said he was met by Cleburne police.

“A woman from APS appeared with a court order to take my wife,” Henry said.

Cleburne police say police officers went to the hospital on Dec. 11 because Henry had threatened hospital and Adult Protective Services staff, according to Detective Kelly Summey, Cleburne police spokeswoman.

Henry said his wife was taken away by APS workers and five days passed before he was able to see her again.

APS can obtain permission from the court, known as an emergency order for protective services, to remove an elderly person from a life-threatening situation — regardless of whether that person wants to be removed.

The original order is good for 10 days and the agency can request two extensions of 30 days each, the law states. While the order is active, APS workers make decisions for the person who has been removed.

“It’s a well-intentioned law and I’m sure there are people who need the protection,” Henry said. “But this time it was misused.”

It is not easy for APS workers to remove a person from their home or restrict their independence, said Chrys Jones, a Fort Worth attorney specializing in elder law.

Attorneys, doctors and other professionals who might suspect abuse and neglect of an elderly person are obligated to report suspicions, the experts said.

“Medicines being handled improperly is a very serious thing,” Jones said. “The first priority will be her safety. If he’s not providing what she needs in a safe manner the agency has to do something. They just can’t close their eyes and act like nothing is going on.”

Henry, while he has suspicions, said he does not know who contacted APS.

‘Pray that it’s over’

Few people are prepared for the eventuality that they will need someone to make decisions for them, said Susanna Luk-Jones, director of programs and services for the Alzheimer’s Association of North Texas.

“It’s kind of taboo in our society to believe that we are not going to live forever,” Luk-Jones said. “You don’t want the state to step in. The best thing is to be proactive. You take out insurance in case something happens, hoping that nothing ever happens. The power of attorney is planning for someone you trust to carry out your wishes should you ever become incapacitated.”

Donald and Ethel were married when he was 16 and she was 15 and have been together ever since, Henry said. They were separated for five months right after they were married, while Henry was attending welding school in the military. Other than that, they have not been apart for more than a few hours, Henry said.

The reality is they want to be together, their grandson, Griffin said. He has agreed to apply for guardianship for his grandmother, which will allow him to make some decisions for her.

But if husband and wife want to stay together, it’s likely that Henry will have to agree to move from their apartment into an assisted living center approved by the state, Griffin said.

“He was in the military and he fought for those freedoms, and now they are taking those freedoms away,” Griffin said. “Now they are fighting for their independence. They want for them to give up their independence and they do not want to do that. I think one of the problems is that if she hurts herself or dies there is a liability question.”

Henry said he has given up their apartment and is scheduled to be out in mid-March.

He still has not received a satisfying explanation from APS as to why they came to his door that night, or why they are keeping his wife.

“I’m telling you, this whole thing was done to punish me,” Henry said. “I’m just so confused by the whole situation. I just pray that it’s over.”

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3

Need help?

Call the Alzheimer’s Association helpline, 800-272-3900 or visit www.alz.org/northcentraltexas

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