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Case X: Romeo is Dead

 

Chapter 1: Coitus Interruptus

 

Magdalena Torres was satisfied.  It was late in the afternoon and she sat in her easy chair in the sun looking out the large window of her casita.  Perhaps it was the large Manhattan she was sipping.  More likely, it was the post-coital glow from an afternoon of vigorous sex with Cesar Ramirez.

Things were much improved since his involvement in the death of Carmine Felicio (Case III, November, 2014) and the accusations of Dolores Waverly.  Although Magdalena permitted Cesar to see other women, he was, for all intent and purpose, on-call to her whenever she desired his services.  And, she had insisted that Cesar stop chasing that Anglo woman, JoAnne what’s-her-name.   Yes, Magdalena Torres was certainly satisfied with her life at La Vida Aureo.

Her late afternoon reverie was interrupted by a knock on her door. She rose slowly from her chair and was pleased to see Matthew Dudley standing on her patio.

Remembering his previous encounter with Mrs. Torres (Case II, October, 2014), he spoke with some apprehension. “Mrs. Torres, I was on my way back to the main building, but wanted to confirm that I will be here at 9 o’clock tomorrow morning to repair that leaking faucet in your bathroom.”

“Well, Señor Handyman, I will be expecting you.  And, please don’t forget to bring all of your tools with you,” she grinned and took another sip of her drink.   “If you’re going to the main building, perhaps you would walk with me.  It is almost time for dinner and I prefer to not walk alone.  I do not care for the way that so many men here look at me with lecherous eyes.”

Dudley thought to himself that it was the men who should be afraid of Mrs. Torres’ lechery, but said, “I would be glad to accompany you to the Dining Room.”

They had only walked a short distance from Mrs. Torres’ casita when Dudley spotted something on the ground, partially hidden among some decorative bushes along the walkway.  As he moved cautiously forward and knelt for a closer look, Torres pushed past him.

She immediately recognized the highly-polished black boots with extensive silver ornamentation and elevated heels; they had spent much of the afternoon under her bed.  As she moved closer, she saw a man in tight trousers and a colorful silk shirt lying face-down in the grass with a large knife protruding from his back.  “Mi Dios; it is Cesar”, she screamed and stumbled to one side.

Dudley quickly confirmed that the body lying in the grass was indeed Cesar Ramirez; the characteristic outfit was unmistakable.  He quickly dialed 911 and moved to comfort Mrs. Torres.

Lt. Frank Garcia arrived in a few minutes with Tom Bowers, an Assistant Medical Technician.  Dudley greeted Garcia as they approached the body.  “I was walking toward the Main Building with Mrs. Torres when we discovered the body, Lieutenant.  We haven’t touched anything and Mrs. Torres has returned to her casita which is just back this walkway a bit.  Of course, I did not disturb the body, but I’m certain it is Cesar Ramirez.”

“Not the same Ramirez I questioned in regard to that previous case when the woman was found dead in the stairwell?”

“Yes, Lieutenant, it is the same man.”

“Well, I guess I’ll have plenty of potential suspects to interview then!  Please just tell me, Doc, that this isn’t another one of those Kardashian-type Reality Dramas!  Anyway, Tom and I need to get to work.  I assume you need to tell Isabella about this latest incident?  I’ll meet you in her office as soon as I get Tom started here.”

“Thanks, Lieutenant.  I’ll be in Isabella’s office when you are free.”

Lt. Garcia and Tom Bowers began examining the body and surrounding area.  Tom looked up and said, “It looks pretty straight-forward, Lieutenant.  The only thing I see is this large knife in his back. There don’t seem to be any other injuries, but I’ll know more when we get a chance to perform a more complete examination.”

The two men looked around the scene and didn’t see any other evidence that could relate to the crime.  “I’ll trust you to get the body back to the Morgue, Tom. I’m going to stop in the Director’s office and see what else I can learn about our victim.  Let me know when your report is ready.  Thanks.”

Garcia found Matthew Dudley sitting in Isabella Duncan’s office just off of the main Lobby.  He knew Isabella was a highly professional woman and not easily upset, but she seemed visibly shaken by this most recent situation.  “I know this is a difficult time, Isabella, so I’ll try to be brief.  Based on my past experience with Mr. Ramirez, I’m afraid I’ll need to interview quite a few Residents.  I will try to be as unobtrusive as possible and not disturb any more folks than absolutely necessary.   What can either of you tell me about Mr. Ramirez’ most recent “activities”?”

Isabella Duncan gathered her thoughts and emotions before she spoke calmly. “Actually, Lieutenant, things had been relatively quiet since that unfortunate situation with Ms. Felicio.  Mr. Ramirez has pretty much behaved himself and not bothered any other female Residents.  At least, there haven’t been any complaints or rumors that have reached my desk.  Nonetheless, I presume you will want to talk to the same women who were involved before.  I suggest you also interview Mrs. Magdalena Torres.  It is my understanding that Mr. Ramirez was spending most of his time with her and that she kept a pretty tight leash on his “extracurricular activities”.   As it turns out, that situation benefited everyone; it kept two of our more aggressively romantic Residents occupied and basically out of circulation.”

“It was actually Mrs. Torres who initially recognized Mr. Ramirez’ body,” added Dudley. “She and I were walking down the path together when she first spotted his boots sticking out of the shrubbery.  I thought it would be OK if she went back to her casita rather than hang around the crime scene.  I’m sure she will be willing to talk to you.”

“Thanks, Doc.  Yeah, it was probably best to let her return to her place.  It would have only added to the confusion and distracted us from looking around. But, she is probably the first person I need to interview.  I assume that the other women who were involved with him before are still here at La Vida Aureo.  In addition to them, can you think of anyone else I should talk to?”

“Not off-hand, Lieutenant,” suggested Isabella.  “As I said, Mr. Ramirez had pretty much left other women alone and really never had too much to do with any of the male Residents.  If I think of anyone, I’ll be sure to let you know.”

“Thanks Isabella; and you too, Doc.  I’m going to swing by the Kitchen to pay my respects to Señora Angostura and then get back to the Station. I’ll begin my interviews tomorrow morning, if that’s convenient. I’ll certainly keep you posted as to anything we learn from the autopsy as well as the results of my interviews.”

“I know you will try to get this resolved as quickly as possible, Lieutenant.  Thank you.”

“You have my word, Isabella.”

Lt. Frank Garcia made his way to the Main Dining Room in search of Paloma Angostura.  Señora Angostura was the cook for La Vida Aureo and the woman who had essentially raised Garcia and successfully guided him through a difficult youth.  Garcia always made a point of stopping by to pay his respects.  He also knew that Señora Angostura was a valuable source of information about all the happenings at La Vida Aureo through what she referred to as her Sopapilla Network.  Many of the women who were part of La Vida Aureo’s staff would meet in the small room adjacent to the Main Dining Room each afternoon to wait for their ride home.  Angostura would provide a fresh batch of sopapillas and coffee and lemonade for the group. She could then sit quietly and listen as the women discussed the events of the day, which typically revealed the inner goings-on at the facility.  Garcia knew that there wasn’t much that happened that Señora Angostura wasn’t aware of or could readily find out.  This information was often invaluable to him as he sought to understand the motives and behaviors of some of the Residents.

Paloma greeted Garcia as he walked into the kitchen from the Dining Room.  “Francisco, mi hijoComo esta?  Your eyes tell me that you are here with sad news.  I just heard about Señor Ramirez and it is most unfortunate.”

Madre, I know Señor Ramirez was not among your favorite people, but it is indeed a tragedy that he was murdered.   Mrs. Duncan told me that he had been on his “good behavior” recently, but I wanted to also ask you about him.”

“That is true.  I have not seen him strutting about the Dining Room bothering the women for several months.  I believe he spends much of his time with Señora Torres.”

“That is reassuring.  What about that group of women that met in here each day; the group that included Ms. Felicio?”

“Oh, they still come here almost every day, the three.  I’ve noticed that they get along much better since Señora Felicio’s death. They now actually play cards or dominoes and often invite a fourth person to join in.  And the conversation is more respectful than before, but I don’t think they are very open with each other.”

“Have you noticed Mr. Ramirez around any of them?  Do you think that any of them would want to harm him in any way?”

“No.  He does not stop to talk with them whenever he is in here. Señora Waverly was very angry with him some time ago, as you know, but even she seems to ignore him.  I believe she spends time with a man who is not a Resident. “

“Thank you very much, Madre.  I think it would still be wise to talk to the three of them just in case they have any information that would help me find out who murdered Mr. Ramirez.”

“I think that is wise, Francisco.  Please be careful as you go about your duties.  Know that you are always in my prayers. Adios

Dudley had remained in Isabella Duncan’s office after Lt. Garcia left.  “This is a most unfortunate situation, Isabella.  Even though Ramirez had been pretty much on his good behavior of late, I can’t help but think that there were still some Residents who resented him.  Even with that, I find it hard to believe that anyone here was angry enough to want to kill him.  Lt. Garcia didn’t mention it while he was here, but it looked like a rather violent attack to me.  Whoever did this exhibited a significant amount of anger or frustration.  If it’s OK with you, I think I’ll do a bit of investigating on my own.  Maybe someone on the Staff is aware of something that could have precipitated this crime.”

“You’re assuming that it was another Resident who murdered Ramirez?”

“I guess there’s always the possibility that someone from the Outside came in and killed him.  It could be a jealous husband or boyfriend from some affair in Ramirez’ past.  Hopefully a Resident or Staff member would have noticed any outsiders walking around looking for Ramirez.  I would assume that any such person would have to come here several times to be able to plan such an ambush.  There are just too many possibilities in this particular situation, but I feel obligated to help Lt. Garcia as much as possible.”

“That’s fine, Doc, but remember you have a responsibility to ALL of the Residents. And, it would be a shame to neglect the Community Assist Team as they rely on you a great deal.   Ramirez is dead and there is nothing you can do about that fact.  It is really Garcia’s job to find his killer, not yours.”

“I understand completely, Isabella.”

 

Chapter 3: Garcia’s Initial Investigation

 

As promised, Lt. Frank Garcia arrived at La Vida Aureo the next morning to begin his initial investigation into the murder of Cesar Ramirez.  He went to the Main Dining Room where he assumed he could find the Residents he wanted to interview.  Paloma Angostura greeted Lt. Garcia warmly, as always, and told him that Señora Torres had not come to the Dining Room this morning for breakfast.

“I guess I am not too surprised,” replied Garcia. “I assume she is still considerably upset by yesterday’s events.  I’ll go to her casita; perhaps she’ll be more comfortable to talk there.”

Magdalena Torres answered her door promptly and asked Lt. Garcia to come in.  She directed him to a chair in her living room.

“Señora Torres, my name is Frank Garcia and I’m with the Albuquerque Major Crimes Unit.  I’m in charge of the investigation concerning Señor Ramirez’s death, which we are treating as a homicide.    Do you have any questions before we begin?”

“No, Lieutenant.  That is fine.  I’ll answer your questions as best I can.”

“Thank you, Señora Torres. I understand that you are the one who actually discovered Señor Ramirez’s body.  Would you please tell me approximately when that was and whether you were alone when you found him?”

“I nearly tripped over his feet on my way to the Main Dining Room for dinner late yesterday afternoon, at about 5:30.  He was lying in some bushes and his boots were visible from the walkway.  I was walking with that nice Handyman, Mr. Dudley, at the time.”

“I see.  And, had you been walking with Mr. Dudley for very long?”

“No. He had come here to my casita a short while earlier to confirm an appointment to do some plumbing repairs and I asked him to walk to the Dining Room with me.  I get uncomfortable walking alone and having so many men stare at me.”

“And, before you discovered Señor Ramirez’s body, when was the last time you saw him?”

“He was visiting me here yesterday afternoon.”

“The entire afternoon?  May I ask what you were doing during that time?”

“Well, we weren’t playing canasta!”

“Oh, I see. Sorry. While he was here, did he give any indication that he was concerned that someone might want to do him harm?”

“Not really.  Look, Cesar wasn’t really involved with very many people here, at least not of late.  And, I don’t believe he was afraid of anyone in particular.  But, mark my words, Lieutenant, there are some muy loco women here and I know some of them don’t particularly care for him.  I can think of several who are not above wanting to hurt him, but none have the courage or strength for murder.”

“Nevertheless, I would like to decide that for myself. Would you be willing to give me the names of these women?”

“You should talk to the Waverly woman and particularly that Anglo puta, JoAnne Elliott.  Cesar’s friend Jorge Sandoval might know of others; I don’t.”

Lt. Garcia had not met Jorge Sandoval although his name had come up during the investigation of Carmine Felicio’s death; he was Ramirez’s initial alibi.  Garcia would ask Dudley to take him to meet Sandoval.  For the time being, he had no more questions for Señora Torres.  “Thank you, Señora, for your time. I have no more questions at this time.  Once again, I am sorry for your loss.  I know Señor Ramirez meant a lot to you.”

“Just find this person who did this horrible thing, and quickly.”

 

Dudley was in the Main Dining Room reviewing his ToDo list for the day.  He had talked to Señora Angostura about Ramirez’s murder and they had discussed potential suspects.  Like Lt. Garcia, Dudley asked Paloma about the so-called Queer Quartet of women who had been the focus of so much of Ramirez’s attention.  Paloma told Dudley that Ramirez hadn’t bothered them much lately and, in fact, had pretty much stopped his daily stroll through the Dining Room.  And, Dudley was personally aware that Ramirez had stayed away from JoAnne Elliott.  It was Dudley’s opinion that, despite the potential for several women to be angry with Ramirez, his murder looked more like the work of a man.  That led him back to the thought of a jealous husband or boyfriend and possibly someone who was not a Resident.  He had shared this opinion with Paloma and she agreed that the murderer was probably not a woman, but wasn’t convinced that an Outsider was involved.  “I believe that I would have been told if there was a strange man wandering about the grounds”, she said.

Knowing the extent and efficiency of Paloma’s Sopapilla Network, Dudley was forced to seriously question that particular theory. He remained troubled, however, about Isabella’s less-than-subtle comment that solving this crime was Lt. Garcia’s responsibility, not his.  Regardless of how unlikely it was, if the killer was indeed a Resident, Dudley believed he was in a better position to unmask him than Lt. Garcia.

Dudley realized that it was time to stop speculating and attend to his responsibilities.  As he rose to leave, he noticed Minot Atkinson near the elevators talking with Mary Thomas. Both women were laughing and as the elevator doors opened, Mary Thomas reached up and hugged Minot Atkinson.  Minot turned toward the Dining Room and greeted Dudley warmly.

“It is good to see you, too, Miss Atkinson.  I saw you with Mrs. Thomas a moment ago and was unaware that you knew her.”

“Oh, Mr. Dudley, our initial meeting was quite an accident.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have stuck my nose in her business the way I did, but I think everything turned out really well, particularly for her.”

“I’m pleased to hear that.  In my previous experience with Mrs. Thomas, she was a very troubled person.  But, from what I just witnessed, she seems to be much happier.”

“Allow me to share a confidence with you. About a month ago, I was here in the Lobby and I noticed Mrs. Thomas wheeling herself toward the elevators. I went over to press the UP button for her and noticed a book in her lap that was some sort of Self-Help clap-trap. I guess it is just my nature and I struck up a conversation with her about what she was seeking in that particular text.  As we talked, she opened up a bit and my sixth sense told me that there might be a simple solution to her anger and frustration.  Without embarrassing you with the details, I suggested she call a friend of mine who works at the Women’s Self-Serve Resource Center in town.

That must have worked.  I got a text message from my friend Emily saying that she had talked with Mrs. Thomas at length and made some suggestions to deal with her frustration and pent-up emotions.  I’m pretty sure that Mrs. Thomas now has other ways to release her anxieties than that bottle of whiskey she used to rely on.”

“There’s no need to tell me any more than that, Minot.  I’m just glad that Mrs. Thomas is happy and I agree that almost any solution is better than the bottle.  Thank you for being so considerate.  I’ll catch up with the Team in the next few days.  Have a pleasant rest of the day.”

Dudley turned toward an Exit when he noticed Lt. Garcia heading in his direction.

”Say, Doc.  Can you direct me to a Jorge Sandoval?  I remember that he was one of Ramirez’s few male friends and I’d like to talk to him.   Mrs. Torres seemed to think that he could shed some light on the situation.  It was her opinion that it was an angry woman who murdered Ramirez, but, based on what I saw of the scene, I don’t think that’s very likely. Anyway, maybe Sandoval has some less biased information.”

A thought occurred to Dudley.  He would take Garcia up to Sandoval’s apartment on the third floor which would give him an excuse to call on Mary Thomas.  Even though he agreed that the killer was most likely a man, he had to satisfy his curiosity about the past women in Ramirez’s life to eliminate that possibility.  In his mind, a jealous boyfriend or past lover was still a possibility, however remote.

Dudley was pleased when Jorge Sandoval opened the door to his apartment to notice that his large-screen TV was filled with a soccer match.  Dudley introduced Lt. Garcia and turned to leave.  “Señor Doc, it is much better to watch the football on my TV now, don’t you agree,” said Sandoval with a large grin.

“Señor Sandoval”, began Garcia, I have a few questions about your friend Cesar Ramirez.”

“Certainly, Lieutenant, anything I can do to help you catch this person who did this terrible thing to my good friend Cesar.”

“Thank you, Señor Sandoval.  We did not talk when Señor Ramirez was involved in the situation surrounding the unfortunate death of Ms. Felicio, but I understand that you were aware of all of his relationships with various women here at La Vida Aureo.  I am led to believe that he had given up most of those activities and was loyal, if I can use that word, to Señora Torres.  Is that correct?”

“Oh, yes.  Cesar discovered that Señora Torres could be quite satisfying, if you see my meaning.   Even though he still flirted with other women on occasion, he spent most of his time with Señora Torres.”

“Did she not object?  I find it somewhat hard to believe that a woman like her would not be jealous.”

“She is quite a remarkable person.  I once heard her tell Cesar that she didn’t care where he got his appetite as long as he came to her for what she called the “main course!”

“Oh, er, I see.  Anyway, given Señor Ramirez’s numerous past affairs, is it possible that there could be a jealous husband, former husband or boyfriend that wanted to do him harm?”

“I guess that is always possible, but Cesar was no fool.  He may have flirted with many, many women, but he was very careful and particular about who he actually spent real time with.  You must understand, Lieutenant, it was much more about the appearance of his activities than the reality.  He loved his reputation and did everything he could to build himself up, particularly in the eyes of women. For Cesar, it was always the show that mattered! ”

“Gracias, Señor Sandoval, for your time.  If you think of anything that could help, please call me.  Here is my card.”

 

Dudley had walked a short distance down the hall and knocked on the door to Mary Thomas’ apartment.   “Mrs. Thomas, I hope I am not disturbing you.  I was on this floor and just wanted to stop in to see how you were doing.  I don’t mean to intrude, or if this is an inconvenient time …”

“Oh, no, please come in Mr. Dudley.  I’m doing much better.  Thank you for asking.”

“I just happened to notice that you were talking to Miss Atkinson downstairs.  She is part of our Community Assist Program and has been doing some wonderful things as part of that new effort. She mentioned that she thought you were doing better.”

“Community Assist?  That’s funny; although what she did for me was more of a personal assist.  Based on her help, I’m doing much, much better.  As long as Amazon delivers my monthly supply of batteries, I’ll be JUST FINE!”

“Oh! If you have a few minutes, I’d like to ask you some questions about the ladies you sit with almost every day, Miss Waverly and Miss Caballo.  I’m sure you heard about Mr. Ramirez’s death and I know he had some involvement with at least Miss Waverly in the past.  I’m just curious about any recent involvements, if you don’t mind.”

“Not at all.  Basically, none of us have had any involvement with Mr. Ramirez since that unfortunate accident.  Dolores was the one actually involved with him, but she dumped him almost immediately.  Since then, she found a very nice gentlemen at the church she’s been attending someplace in town.  To hear her tell the story, this gentleman has helped her discover and experience The Rapture.  Personally, I don’t know if that’s a religious thing or not, but Dolores seems very happy and that’s all that matters to me.”

“The situation with Estelle-Elena is a bit more complicated.  You may recall that she was always the one who made openly suggestive remarks to every man who happened by and bragged about the long string of lovers she’d had since her Quinceañera and Prom.  The truth of the matter is that she was raped on both occasions and hasn’t been with a man since.  Her overt behavior was just her way of hiding some very deep and painful feelings from her past.  You may have also heard rumors about her carryings-on with some of the young girls on the Staff.  Well, Estelle has found a true soul-mate with a woman on the Staff, a mature woman who had tolerated a very abusive husband for many years. Evidently she and Estelle were talking one afternoon and realized that they had much in common and they grew closer from that point.  I don’t know the exact nature of their relationship, but Estelle is content and has given up her act as a femme fatale.”

Dudley sat quietly for several minutes; he had not expected such a detailed description of the personal lives of these women; he was only asking about Cesar Ramirez.  “So, I guess it’s safe to assume that none of you has had much involvement with Mr. Ramirez”?

“We have had NO involvement with him and, frankly I was glad when he gave up coming into the Dining Room each day and acting like “God’s Gift to Women!”

“Thank you for your time, Mrs. Thomas and I’m glad to learn that Miss Atkinson was able to help you in some way.”

“No problem, Mr. Dudley and when you see Miss Atkinson, please thank her again for me.  Please tell her that she opened a totally new world for me and that I can take care of all my needs by myself!”

 

Dudley met Lt. Garcia as both men went downstairs toward the Main Lobby. “I trust your interview with Mr. Sandoval was productive, Lieutenant.”

“Well, he was cooperative, but I didn’t really learn anything new.  His comments were pretty consistent with those from Mrs. Torres.  Apparently, Ramirez had been on his best behavior for quite some time and neither could think of anyone that would want to harm him, much less kill him. So, at this point, I don’t have any potential suspects and I don’t even have a motive. All I have is the knife from Ramirez’s back that we recovered at the crime scene. I’ve got to admit, Doc, I’m pretty stumped with this one.”

“I guess it is possible that someone from outside this community could have killed him, but that doesn’t seem very likely.  I know you’ve talked to Señora Angostura and you’re aware that she has eyes and ears everywhere, so to speak. She claims that there haven’t been any suspicious characters lurking about the grounds in recent weeks.  But, from what I observed, that knife was not an ordinary knife, certainly not the kind you see every day.”

“I agree, it looked pretty unusual, like some sort of ceremonial piece or heirloom or something like that. Maybe Dr. Hernandez or the forensic guys have found something that would at least give me a place to start.

“I certainly hope so. Look, Lieutenant, Isabella told me to keep my nose out of this, but I’ve already talked to a few Residents and haven’t learned anything that would help.  I’ll keep trying, though.”

“I appreciate it, Doc.  And, I promise not to mention anything to Isabella; your secret is safe with me.  Well, I’m headed back downtown. ”

With that, the two men shook hands and went their separate ways.  Dudley had some important repairs to address and really needed to catch up with Beth Ford and the Community Assist Team. He remained troubled by Mrs. Thomas’s comment that Miss Caballo was involved, perhaps even romantically, with a member of the Staff. He knew he would have to discuss this with Señora Angostura at the first opportunity.

Chapter 8: The La Vida Aureo Community Assist Program

The discussion with Paloma about the things she had learned through her sopapilla network caused some specific thoughts to begin forming in Dudley’s mind. Many of the staff continued to meet at the end of the day in the small dining/conference room. In fact, a few more people were stopping in as the nature of their discussion had spread throughout La Vida Aureo.   Paloma continued to provide snacks to the group and sat quietly in the corner listening to the conversation. Dudley would stop to visit with Paloma every few days after reading the Wall Street Journal to learn what new information had emerged. “You know,” he said one day, “our own staff would be an ideal place to test any ideas we come up with. They are certainly experiencing many of these same issues and undoubtedly would very candid input and feedback. They have the somewhat unique perspective of dealing with the diverse issues of aging both at work and at home.”

“That is an excellent idea, Señor Doc. I am certain that they would not hesitate to tell you exactly how they feel.”

“That sounds a bit intimidating. Perhaps you could sit in the room with me.”

“You are too modest, but I would be happy to attend. It might also be a good idea for Isabella to hear their comments first-hand.”

“If you don’t think the staff would be afraid to talk openly in from of her.”

“Trust me. That will not be a problem.”

“Paloma, there is one more area I want to explore before I get back to Isabella and that is franchises. I’ve noticed advertisements in many magazines for franchise opportunities in the general area of home health care. I don’t know if that is an appropriate option for La Vida Aureo, but it certainly seems to be gaining popularity. I may even try to do some investigation on the Internet! One of my buddies was teasing me about my new smart phone and he told me I could surf the Web with my phone. I better check that out or I will not hear the end of it.”

“Well, haven’t you become a modern man?”

After he had done considerably more reading, Matthew Dudley thought he had developed a reasonable approach to addressing Isabella’s challenge. He had even done a preliminary cost analysis of various alternatives. There were still several specific aspects of his proposed approach that he had not resolved in his own mind. One of his basic assumptions was that the primary goal of any new program for La Vida Aureo to undertake was to keep people in their homes as long as possible and out of facilities like La Vida Aureo. He wanted to be certain that this approach had merit and realized that sharing it with Paloma’s so-called sopapilla network would provide his the feedback he knew was necessary.

As Paloma had surmised, Dudley’s meeting with the staff was very successful. The discussion was lively and candid and ended only when most of the group had to meet their ride home. After everyone left, Paloma and Dudley sat in the small room sharing the last of the sopapillas and coffee and reviewing the past hour. “I want to thank you, Paloma, for the opportunity to talk with the group. There were many valuable comments and suggestions. I am once again impressed by the quality of our staff and their commitment to the residents of La Vida Aureo as well as to their own families. They are a most remarkable group.”

A few short weeks later, Dudley felt he was ready to have an initial discussion with Isabella about ways to serve an ever increasing population of elderly citizens with a growing diversity and complexity of issues. He was aware that the other condition Isabella had specified was that any new activity be totally consistent with La Vida Aureo’s philosophy and be complimentary with all existing services. He felt that he had given the matter a great deal of thought and the meeting with the sopapilla network had been invaluable. He felt prepared to share his thinking with Isabella and was confident that they would have a lively and productive discussion.   Nonetheless, he was a bit apprehensive since he had not made a formal presentation since retiring. He decided to try to set Isabella’s expectations at the outset.

Isabella invited Dudley into a small conference room next to her office which she had insisted on including during the initial facility planning phase. There was small round table and four comfortable chairs. There was a white board on one wall and an easel with paper in another corner. It was an ideal arrangement for just this kind of discussion.

“First of all, Isabella, let me thank you for including me in this process. It means a great deal to me to know that you value my input. This is obviously a very complex subject and one of my primary conclusions is that we should move with deliberation. These problems are not going away and will only increase as more people age. And, as you know, aging is not a single issue; it will continue to evolve and change over time. Therefore, we must remain highly flexible. Finally, we must accept that we cannot be everything to everyone. I believe that any success will be based on having the courage to say “No” to many individual opportunities. Hopefully, our visible participation will encourage other reputable organizations to provide any products and/or services that we choose not to.”

Dudley continued. “I’ve come to the conclusion that essentially all aspects of healthcare share one common problem. That problem is staff. Consider everything from home healthcare to nursing homes, even non-medical staff at hospitals. You know, Isabella, dealing with old people is hard work; they can be very, very difficult. I believe that it requires a special person with special skills to remain professional and caring under these difficult circumstances.   For the reading that I’ve done, there has been unprecedented growth in home healthcare and it has lead to serious staffing problems. Too many of the professional caregivers are poorly trained and terribly underpaid; some have questionable backgrounds, etc.   This creates too many opportunities for neglect and potential abuse. Compare that with the staffing policy here at La Vida Aureo. We, particularly you and the Supervisors, work very hard to find, train and retain competent staff. The situation is particularly acute in the Memory Care Unit, where resident behavior is an everyday challenge. This staffing issue appears to me to be compounded when you create a national franchise network for home healthcare. I just don’t see how you can maintain an appropriate level of quality control. Therefore, I’ve rejected that as an alternative for us.”

“Despite reading a great deal, I don’t fully understand the concept of reimbursement for medical services. We are fortunate here at La Vida Aureo that many of our residents are either private pay or have adequate insurance from a large and reputable company. Other organizations are less fortunate. I have a growing fear of old people being essentially warehoused in the near future. If the Government doesn’t get a grip on total healthcare spending, their only course of action is to reduce the amount they can, or are willing to, pay. That means that healthcare companies will have to manage their costs to remain profitable and that means reduced staffing levels. We have made significant advances in medical technology, but I don’t see how a computer can insert an IV, or change a dirty diaper, or even just hold someone’s hand.”

“I apologize, Isabella, for that brief rant, but when I consider what continues to make La Vida Aureo successful and why we have a significant waiting list, it all comes down to the quality of our people. Sure, we have fancy facilities and Paloma’s meals are consistently above restaurant quality, but we have really competent and caring people to support all of our residents.”

“My other major area of emphasis relates to needs; that is, what are the most significant needs of our aging population. Rather than give you a list of things like diapers, canes, etc., I want to suggest that what most seniors want more than anything is to retain their dignity, to remain in their own home for as long as possible and to have as much control over their lives as possible. I realize that this is simply not a realistic expectation for many seniors, like those with serious physical or mental limitations. But, these folks really need a more highly specialized form of healthcare.”

“My primary recommendation to you is that our goal for this new business should be to keep people out of places like this, out of the less desirable places and certainly out of state-run institutions. We can accomplish this by helping people lead healthier lives, by preventing serious accidents that occur in the home and by educating family members and other caregivers. What do you think?”

“Wow, Doc! Thank you, not only for the information, but the level of passion you brought to the subject. Sometimes, I get so deep into the routine of daily operations that I forget to sit back and look at the bigger picture. OK, so tell me how to keep people out of here. I can’t believe I actually asking that, but I know you’ll enlighten me”

“The key is education and the delivery vehicle is through the highly trained Specialists of the La Vida Aureo Community Assist Program. There are a great many elderly citizens who are part of a family, often an extended family. That is especially true here in Albuquerque, something we learned through Father Michael as well as Martina Trujillo. The younger members of the family are willing to be caregivers and typically feel a sense of responsibility for their parents. What they lack is basic information; things such as what should I expect; are these behaviors typical, etc.?

“I envision our Specialists to function like Project Managers more than social workers. They would serve as a focal point for the collection and dissemination of information. They could tell people where to go for specific information about a particular issue or refer them to another organization. Our Project Managers would work with other organizations to provide access to a broad range of products and services. Think about what we able to do to locate and distribute those diapers for Our Lady of the Valley parish. Is there an opportunity to develop similar partnership arrangements with Walgreen’s or CVS? Or, how many people are aware of programs like Meals on Wheels to deliver tasty and nourishing meals directly to the home. Another area would be to facilitate the creation of support groups among families dealing with similar issues.”

“I do not believe it would be prudent for us to start a new business to address the unique problems of aging; there are already a large amount of resources currently available and more starting each day. But we certainly could create is a unique service that helps caregivers in need to locate them.”

“Like a clearing house,” asked Isabella?

“Yes, but our people would take an active role in not only identifying potential resources, but also rating or qualifying them before they become part of our approved list, so to speak. I suspect the Internet could be a powerful tool for the dissemination of information. I could also see us developing actual printed check lists and information cards. For example, one such card could show specific steps to prevent common accidents in the home.”

“The critical factor for success for this endeavor goes back to the point I made initially. The key is staff. Our Project Managers would have to be highly capable individuals with the necessary skills to operate competently in many areas.”

“I follow you, Doc. Instead of trying to compete with other businesses in the field or, heaven forbid, building another large-scale facility like this one, La Vida Aureo hires and trains a small group of Information Specialists to function as coordinators, project managers, quarterbacks, etc. We could achieve a very high level of positive impact in the community with a relatively small staff. I love it.”

“I would ask you to do one thing before you reach a final decision,” suggested Dudley. “I want you to meet with what Paloma calls her sopapilla network and get their input to this potential approach.”

“Sopapilla network? I’ve never heard of that. Is it some kind of social group Paloma belongs to?” asked Isabella.

“Actually, it is our own staff. They typically gather in the afternoon while waiting for their ride home. Recently, the topic of discussion has been the various problems they are facing in their own families with aging parents and grandparents. I’ve met with them and, as you would expect, they have some very valuable insights and comments.”

“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Paloma had her finger on the pulse of this entire complex. That sounds like a marvelous idea, Doc. Would you please arrange for me to sit in with our folks as soon as possible?”

Over the next week, Isabella and Dudley met with the staff on several afternoons and refined the basic concept of the La Vida Aureo Community Assist Program based on what they heard. After everyone had left to go home, Isabella, Dudley and Paloma remained in the small room. “Paloma, I can’t thank you enough,” said Isabella. “I really don’t know where to begin; I truly appreciate all the things you do, large and small.”

“La Vida Aureo is my life too, Señora Isabella.”

Isabella and Dudley met each morning for the next several days to refine the proposal they would make to La Doña Jaramillo. “I want you to join me when I talk to Señora Jaramillo; you are really the person who put this all together. Besides, I know she wants to meet you, after all I’ve said about you.”

“I would be honored but somewhat intimidated, based on what you’ve said about her.”

The meeting with Señora Jaramillo and Father Michael went very well and both agreed that the Community Assist Program was a reasonable and practical approach to a complex set of problems. Isabella was encouraged to move forward and develop a detailed work plan to launch the Program as soon as possible.