Heartbreaking: Woman Shipped 80 Year Old Father to Denver With His Dog And No One to Care For Him But United

I’ve written about the best shows to watch on a plane. One that I’ve enjoyed since compiling that list is Animal Kingdom, the story of a dysfunctional family of criminals led by Janine “Smurf” Cody (Ellen Barkin).

They launder money from their heists through real estate, buying money orders with cash and depositing those as rent on apartment buildings. Many readers will know about the challenges liquidating money orders.

Several tenants pay below market rent, with the family reporting much higher rent in order to legitimize their hauls. The operation comes under scrutiny, and in season 3 episode 5 the family realizes that one of their tenants is a liability. She’s not going to be able to report the ‘correct’ amount she pays in rent if asked by the police because she suffers from some form of dementia.

So two members of the family brought the old woman and her cat to a bench — somewhere, nowhere near her home — and took her ID along with the cat’s collar. And they left her there.

Apparently this sort of thing happens in real life too, though not usually to cover up a crime. (HT: @airlinewriter)

A woman who works in senior home care put her 80 year old father on a flight to Denver. He has alzheimer’s. He landed not knowing who he was or where he was headed. His daughter was “done with” caring for him.

A United Airlines supervisor called police after finding Jerry confused and alone with only a small dog near an exit door outside the ticket counter.

…“He was very confused about general details of his life to include where he was at, where he was coming from, who he was coming to visit and his family members’ names,” one Denver police officer noted in a report after he spoke with Jerry.

What do you do when you find yourself at a United gate in Denver?

Police were able to identify the woman who had checked him in for his flight. When they reached his daughter she told them to send him to a homeless shelter.

The day before she sent him to Denver she texted her father’s estranged wife, telling her to care for him. She refused, but did offer to care for the dog. He wound up in the hospital.

People used to have children as old age insurance, so they’d be cared for when they could no longer work. In wealthier societies children are more of a consumption good.

At the same time people live longer and one of the major challenges we face as a society is caring for people as they age. It’s the largest driver of health care costs, and we’re unwilling to confront this. Unstated in most debates over health care is that ‘cost control’ either means ‘paying caregivers less’ or ‘providing less care’ usually less end of life care.

We hope not to be burdens on our children. Many people would choose not to let themselves reach the point where they don’t know who they are and can’t function independently. But we try to extend lives, and the burdens on families and on society for costs, are significant.

So we wind up with people sent to the airport, where the best we can hope for is a compassionate United Airlines employee to see that they’re taken care of.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @Gary, Cost control for healthcare is a complicated subject but people living longer is not the “largest driver of health care costs.” Is there a citation for that? The US has the highest costs for health care in the world, very true. However US life expectancy is not the greatest in the world, far from it. In fact US life expectancy has declined for the last two years yet health care costs continue to rise much faster than inflation.

    When I looked at this topic several years ago, things like rising obesity rates, smoking and other life style choices, overuse of expensive technology, under use of information technology, and lack of access to preventative care are some of the primary drivers of out of control healthcare costs. Also, one premature baby can require millions of dollars of care initially and repeated operations over the years. (Of course we should do that.) People don’t acknowledge those costs because they are covered by insurance or bankruptcy. Acute care is much more expensive than the basic care provided in nursing homes. Often when the old have acute problems expensive aggressive treatment that would be provided to younger people is not recommended because the old cannot tolerate it or the benefit is minimal.

    My experience with Alzheimer’s and dementia is that while these diseases can be emotionally devastating for a family the costs are not astronomical. What makes these costs seem huge is that often the costs of long term care are not covered by insurance.

    Many in the US think our healthcare system is second to none just because it is the most expensive. Wrong. In terms of measures like infant mortality and life expectancy, the US falls behind most developed countries and even some undeveloped ones. End of life care can be a financial (no insurance) and emotional burden on families but it is not a significant driver of overall healthcare costs.

  2. To wade into the whole health care debate, a very large proportion of the money spent is during the last few months of life. If we, as a society, spend, say a third of the lifetime cost during this period, not only are we wasting huge amounts of money for exceedingly little return, but we’re doing our society a vast disservice. Of course, the flip side is having your kids say to you not to let grandma die.

  3. What does this mean…”Many people would choose not to let themselves reach the point where they don’t know who they are and can’t function independently..” You seem to be arguing in favor of suicide so as not to be a “burden” on family or society. Seriously? I hope I’m misreading this.

  4. Heartbreaking, but of all the destinations not the wisest choice. If you wanna be rid of someone, Pyongyang, Riyadh or even the Saudi embassy in Istanbul might be more effective 😉

  5. I feel nothing but repugnance for his daughter. Shame on her. I wish for her the same treatment from her own children when she gets old. It’s beyond disgusting!

  6. We cared for my dad in our home for the last 5 months of his life. Without going into details, it was hard, real hard, but so rewarding. I would do it again but I realize everyone will not devote their time to their elderly parents. What this woman did was akin to child abandonment. Shame on her and she should face charges. She could have taken her dad to a nursing home. She could have done a million things besides what she did – just like people who abandon children. Luckily for her dad, as sd as his diseases are, he will probably not remember what his daughter did to him.

  7. One of the biggest issues I see is the ridiculous outrageous prices care home charge monthly, and they may not even be needing 100% care, I don’t see many seniors being able to pay over $3000 a month, does anyone living by themselves in a normal senior income situation afford that if they can care for themselves completely. And what about just wanting an apartment in a senior facility. One just like a normal apartment, but no on the floor toilet, no tub, etc common sense changes for seniors, and they can care for themselves and drive, etc. just want/need to have a staff around, and not be so alone because there maybe no one else. That can still be 800 or more a month for something like a 500 sq feet, it is ridiculous. This country needs to step up and take care of everyone better like other countries that do so much more.

  8. @John, I’m not going to bother finding notations, but a simple Google search will show we DO spend most health care dollars on end of life care– especially the last 2 weeks, often with comatose patients. It’s truly a disgrace.
    Your other points, related to the comparison of us to other countries is dead on (no pun intended).
    +1 Christian.
    @Mark. I’d seriously consider suicide and I think many would. My greatest fear is wanting to end my life and having lost the ability to do so.

  9. @MBH, That is a good point. Spending on end of life (EOL) care is often expensive and might be where most healthcare dollars are spent but that stat applies to everyone no matter what their age at death. It should also need no citation to support the contention that someone who is 41 will get a greater amount of and more intensive (expensive) EOL care than someone who is 101. Merely living longer does not increase the amount spent at EOL. It might even lower it. Having spent a fair amount of time in nursing and assisted living homes with two parents and other relatives, my observation is that the vast majority of those patients get little if any intensive or extraordinary EOL medical care.

    If I’m reading Gary’s post correctly (he offers no clarifying statements), he seems almost to be saying that we would all be better off if old people (and by logical extension others) who are unable to lead productive, independent, and satisfying lives just died:

    “At the same time people live longer and one of the major challenges we face as a society is caring for people as they age. It’s the largest driver of health care costs, and we’re unwilling to confront this. Unstated in most debates over health care is that ‘cost control’ either means ‘paying caregivers less’ or ‘providing less care’ usually less end of life care.”

    It is true that the elderly population is increasing, and older people consume more healthcare than younger ones. But an ageing population is not the reason medical costs in this country inflate by double digits almost every year. Some of the factors responsible for that I covered in my first comment. Those are the factors this country needs to confront. Furthermore, because the causes of skyrocketing healthcare costs are complicated, the solutions are equally complex and are by no means limited to “paying caregivers less or providing less care.”

    The post continues:

    “We hope not to be burdens on our children. Many people would choose not to let themselves reach the point where they don’t know who they are and can’t function independently. But we try to extend lives, and the burdens on families and on society for costs, are significant.”

    There is much one could say about that statement, but I think extending lives is good even where independent functioning may not be possible. There are many types of illnesses and accidents that can with no warning leave people of any age in a condition where they are dependent on others. Like my mother, many who need assistance are still mentally very competent but view themselves as burdens. So they don’t commit suicide by an overt act, some die just because they loose the will to live.

    A big part of that feeling is the financial burden of long term care. Even after going through the hardship of qualifying for Medicaid, monthly costs for LTC can be several thousand dollars per month. It should be our goal as a society to reduce the rate of increase in healthcare costs (lowering these costs is a pipe dream), provide insurance that makes LTC reasonably affordable, and allow elderly who still have good mental function (or not) but have conditions that require basic medical care and assistance to avoid feeling as if they are financial burdens.

    Many Americans accept the US model of employer-provided health insurance as being the natural or “right way” for people to get health insurance. In fact that system is just a quirk of history. We can thank WWII for it. With wage and price controls in place during the war, employers began to offer health insurance and other benefits to attract workers. There was very little cost to it then. Now those costs are huge and increasing rapidly. They are one of the factors that make American products noncompetitive in world markets.

    Sorry for the long comment but healthcare is complicated and important. That subject requires and deserves more than a sound bite. So now I’m waiting on someone to proclaim that commenting on this blog about anything other than travel is a federal offense. Sheesh.

  10. My wife and I along with our siblings have helped our a mother in law dying of cancer; a father in law with strokes and dementia, a mother with cancer and now dementia and a new 94 plus year old father who has had 3 bypasses and still walks 2-3 miles a day.

    There are lots of wonderful skill and assisted living/ memory care facilities that work with the families and their parents, regardless of income to provide safe, healthy and happy lives for the remaining years.

    THEY ARE YOUR PARENTS, they took care of you so you need to help take care of them. I have no kids, but have a support network for my future. I give thanks everyday for those who helped us with my in-laws and parents and who help others. I have seen the fear in my father in laws eyes like this poor and scared man, this breaks my heart. Thank God that God gave him his dog to be his friend. I hope a safe environment can be found to keep them together and he can find peace. I hope his ex wife and children find their just rewards or don’t need help later on.

  11. Alzheimer’s and other similar diseases are rough for the family to deal with. Patients become combative and don’t remember even their immediate families; I sympathize with those who are left to deal with long term health problems like these. At the same time, neglect and abandonment are not the right ways to go.

    I’ve watched my parents care for their aging parents. My maternal grandfather just passed away at 98 years old, his children paid to have a live-in caregiver with him during the week and then they stayed with him on weekends. He was able to pass away at home in comfort. My paternal great-aunt and great-uncle (brother and sister) had no children yet their 3 nieces/nephews stayed with them at their homes in similar manner. Yes it was incredibly taxing on all involved but it provided a lifelong bond between these siblings and their children (me). Now I look toward the time I need to do this for my parents. While I’m hesitant about the sacrifice it’ll require I’m excited to provide for them in their last days. The taught and showed me that I need to do this, hopefully my children will see and want to care for me in the next 40 years…

  12. I witnessed this behavior way to often at a major airport in the DC area…Cars would pull up an elder person got out with luggage and the car would speed away..Elder persons would rarely know where they were going and if someone would meet them at their destination…very sad

  13. I think it’s a sad situation. Many people want to come the US, yet they arebsupposedly such a “rich” country. We spend so much money on entertainment, like sports, our pets, and other non essential things but we can’t take care of our parents! Other countries that is considered “impoverished” yet they can take care of their elderly parents and even provide health care basically at no cost. I will not comment on the senseless act performed by the so- called daughter. I will say that the Bible says that in “the last days,” men would be lover of themselves…. haughty…disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having NO NATURAL AFFECTION… without love of goodness…from these turn away.” She and others are fulfilling this Scripture. For those that have a Spiritual need: Ephesians 6:1 states: “Children, be obedient to your parents in union with the Lord, for this is righteous. ” Honor your father and mother “is the first commandment with a promise: ” That it may go WELL with YOU and YOU may remain a LONG TIME on the earth.” Need I explain that? Granted, as a person who took care of a parent in my home for 3 years; along with 3 hard-headed teens, and a 6-year old, it definitely not easy, But you do what you have to do. If that means putting them in a nursing facility or whatever then, do so. It does not mean treating them with disrespect or treating them less than most people would treat their pets. Caring for your elderly parents should be planned and discussed long before it gets to the point where he or she can no longer fend for him or herself. Caring for the responsibilities of your parents as they age can be complex and emotional. There is no set or right solutions when it comes to providing senior care. Some do not have the resources or money to do so. In the case of Alzheimer’s patients, they need specialty care, but there are places that handle that.
    I now have the responsibility of my dad. He does not live with me, but in nursing center. I make sure that he is well taken care of, go with him on all his doctor’s visits, and have no problem calling the complaint line when the facility is not doing their job, he is bear me, so I call everyday and visit up to 4 days a week.Occasionally, I bring him a favorite meal.Whatever, a person decide in preparing for their parents as they age, the parent should be be treated with dignity and respect. Rest assured, you will experience the peace of mind if you honor your parents and willvreceive the blessings of our Grand Creator.

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