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Shelter: We were misled into taking 96-year-old

BRADENTON — Local Salvation Army officials acknowledged Tuesday that they made arrangements with a North Carolina woman to accept her 96-year-old aunt for a temporary stay at the shelter but contend the niece misled them into doing it.

The Bradenton shelter broke policy when it took in Ruth A. Smith earlier this month, the agency said in a statement issued Tuesday. But Salvation Army officials said they did so only after Smith’s niece, Beverly Edwards of Arden, N.C., implied that Smith was going to be placed in a local nursing home or assisted-living facility within days.

That wasn’t the case May 17, when Edwards left Smith at the shelter before heading to a family vacation at Walt Disney World, authorities said.

The incident, which Smith’s court-appointed emergency guardian has called a case of “granny dumping,” since has sparked a criminal investigation and worldwide media coverage. Smith now is in an unidentified local nursing home after a brief hospital stay.

Edwards has disputed officials’ version of events, contending she made prior arrangements to leave her aunt at the shelter on 14th Street West.

Salvation Army officials had previously declined to publicly comment on Edwards’ claims. Army Maj. Robert Pfeiffer said Tuesday that Edwards contacted the Cornerstone Family Lodge and “gave the impression” that Smith would be placed in a facility within a few days. The shelter normally would not have accepted Smith but made an exception in her case because of the circumstances, Pfeiffer said in the statement e-mailed to the Bradenton Herald.

“Given this information, our staff was very concerned that a 96-year-old was facing homelessness and in this unusual circumstance we departed from policy in that we do not normally accept elderly people awaiting placement in a nursing home or assisted living facility,” it said. “However in this particular case we felt the women was in need of our assistance and help.”

But when Edwards brought Smith to the shelter, employees learned that no placement had been arranged. Edwards also left insufficient information about Smith, including little information on her medical history, Salvation Army officials said.

Edwards denies that, saying she left index cards with several contact names and numbers. Among them was a Bradenton assisted-living facility that Edwards said had conditionally accepted Smith if she filled out a “Medicaid diversion form” — an application to the state’s Medicaid diversion program, which helps pay for qualified applicants’ room and board at assisted-living facilities.

“All she had to do was fill out the form,” Edwards said Tuesday.

Officials of the facility, Summerville at Bradenton, deny that. They also dispute Edward’s assertion that a Summerville employee had promised to help find a facility for Smith.

Instead, shelter employees called the Florida Department of Children and Families, which is investigating. The Bradenton Police Department also has opened a criminal investigation.

Pfeiffer defended the Army’s handling of the incident. “The Salvation Army staff did everything appropriate to ensure the safety and well being of Ruth Smith,” he said.

Smith’s court-appointed guardian agreed.

“They made the right call taking her in,” said M. Ashley Butler of Aging Safely Inc. “Ruth is safe and happy.”

Smith spent three nights in Manatee Memorial Hospital for observation and testing before being placed in a nursing home Friday, Butler said.

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