NO JUSTICE FOR JAMES MARK RIPPEE!
by Catherine J. Rippee-Hanson
Our brother, James Mark Rippee, has been hospitalized for 187 days now, after being struck by a vehicle in Vacaville, California for the second time in a 4-month period. He is 100% blind, (has no eyes) physically disabled, with an old TBI whereby he lost a third of his frontal lobes, has Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective Bipolar brain disorder - depending on the various evaluations and opinions of doctors, and definite Anosognosia. (Lack of Insight to his brain TBI and serious mental illness) The first time he was struck by a vehicle was in September of 2019 which resulted in a life-threatening brain abscess and brain surgery.
The second time was February 12th, 2020 when he was struck and his body flew 5 feet into the air and crashed down on the driver's windshield resulting in massive critical injuries, after Solano County public officials ignored our pleas to help him and denied any help through social services or the mental health department. He needed several surgeries and months in the hospital with follow-up care in a post-acute care center in Napa, California. Our family warned county officials repeatedly over the last few years that this would happen. Even Solano County Supervisors and Vacaville Police Officers admitted being aware that he was seen falling into traffic on the streets.
Since being an inpatient in a long-term post-acute care facility in Napa county he has been well cared for and under the law, the social worker at that particular facility has worked towards initiating what Solano county should have done long ago. For months, we have held our breath - waiting to see if her strenuous efforts would be realized. She contacted the Public Guardian's office in Napa county, who happened to know of Mark's story. He agreed that Mark needed to be evaluated for "Lack of Capacity." After that occurred, all the proper paperwork including a "Declaration of Lack of Capacity" was forwarded and filed back to Solano county - the county where Mark is officially a resident, albeit a homeless one for the last 13 years.
Nobody from the driver's insurance company has contacted Mark that we know of concerning the liability compensation for bodily injury or his hospital & medical bills. It has been 6 months and 4 days since the accident. We have the Vacaville Traffic Incident Report where the police officer stated incorrectly that Mark was "partially blind" and listed him as being mostly at fault for the accident because he was not in a crosswalk.
We attempted to correct this assumption on their part about his blindness with medical records from the ophthalmologist at the Napa Post-Acute care center who did a comprehensive eye exam on Mark. In fact, he examined Mark on April 1st, 2020 while doing his rounds at the facility. He came out of Mark's room in shock and thought that his co-workers were pulling an April Fool's joke on him... Mark has no eyes to speak of except for one bit of a shriveled up globe that is disconnected from the optic nerve that was severed back in 1987. It is completely non-functional. It was noted on the medical record that Mark has no eyesight at all nor even light perception. It was stated clearly on the medical report that he had NLP (No Light Perception) A person cannot be more blind than our brother.
We passed this information on to the Vacaville Police Department in writing, thinking that the report would be corrected to reflect the truth about his blindness. But, we received back in writing from the officer who wrote the report that she would not change the facts as they were stated in the report because she had "observed" Mark for years on the streets and saw him getting around. She stated that she would only change the report after contacting the doctors at Kaiser Hospital ICU where Mark was taken initially to ask the doctors if this was true. She ignored our letter stating that Mark had been transferred to Napa Acute Care Center in Napa, California. We never heard anything back after that... and nothing was changed. The medical report signed by the doctor was ignored. No justice for Mark.
We have waited months without being able to visit Mark at the facility due to COVID-19 restrictions on visitors while the social worker did her best to get Solano County to take action on the Declaration and initiate the LPS Conservatorship process that we have aimed towards in our efforts to keep him alive and healthy... and off the streets of Vacaville. We were told that everything had been done to start the process, but the social worker was waiting for Solano County Adult Protective Services (who have long been aware of Mark's history) to show up at the facility to "interview" Mark.
(James Mark Rippee looking so much better after being off the streets and getting daily care, food, and medication for his serious brain illness for the last 6 months)
After several delays on the part of Solano County APS, someone finally showed up on July 23rd, 2020 to interview and assess Mark's condition. By then... his physical condition had improved, he was clean, well-fed, and had gained weight, but more importantly for the process of LPS Conservatorship - he had been medicated with antipsychotics for 6 months. In his medical records which he gave my twin sister, Linda, permission to get, it clearly stated that he had a serious mental/brain illness and had shown many signs of psychosis during his stay. The many times that our family was able to speak with him over the phone never included a single time that he was completely lucid, which is not surprising given that almost 3 decades after first showing symptoms of psychosis - he was never medicated. The longer a person goes without medication when needed for SMI/SBD - the less likely the medication regimen will be fully successful. That has always been my fear... that it was too late for any prospects of "recovery" in Mark's case.
The Adult Protective social worker did his report on Mark in short order and relayed to the social worker at the facility that he would not recommend Mark for any conservatorship and to prepare him for discharge. The social worker objected vehemently stating that she could not "morally condone" releasing Mark back to the streets knowing that he could not care for himself - now with even more physical disability from the most recent accident. She shared records and assessments from the facility with APS. She made the case as well as she could... and we were told that APS acquiesced and said he would submit the application along with the "declaration of lack of capacity" through Solano county.
After waiting for weeks again... we have now been told that according to the social worker at the post-acute care center - Solano County Adult Protective Services has determined once again that Mark is "Not Conservable," and that he has the capacity of making his own decisions, therefore... his discharge back to the streets is inevitable – and soon.
(We are sorry, Mom... we tried)
We have done everything that we can think of to bring about awareness of Mark's plight to survive for years now. We have investigated our rights as a family. We have made his story and the abject failure of Solano County well known both on social media and through the news media including T.V. news, local newspapers, syndicated news such as CalMatters, and more. We have been interviewed for blogs by award-winning authors a dozen times. We have written pieces of Mark’s story for other blogs. We have joined every group online for serious mental/brain illness topics that we could find. I manage our own group on social media just for Mark of Vacaville with almost 3,000 supporters. Our "village" came together and have helped us keep Mark clothed and fed on the streets. I created my own blog here dedicated just to the different aspects of Mark's story.
We network with hundreds of other advocates. I wrote a petition in 2018 in support of CA AB1971 which would have changed the law in California regarding the definition of "Gravely Disabled" and the inclusion of a lack of ability to care for oneself under medical criteria, which garnered almost 83,000 signatures. Our family has testified at the state capitol in Sacramento for many proposed bills for legislation. We have written position papers on proposed legislation many times. We have testified and spoken at over a dozen Solano County Board of Supervisor's meetings.
We have sent hundreds of e-mails to the county board of supervisors and Solano county social services. We have e-mailed thousands of times to Assembly members, Representatives, and Senators from both sides of the aisle. We have sent letters and e-mails to the White House and the President. We participated in the formulation of the 2020 Grassroots 5-part Federal Agenda Plan for Mental Illness/Healthcare Reform and the subsequent delivery of the said plan to every single candidate for the upcoming presidential election during the primary debates. We sent questions to be asked of all the candidates during the democratic debates as well.
We have been struggling with our County of Solano officials and agencies for many years to find the right services and help for our brother while officials have refused and left him homeless on the streets for the last 13 years... knowing that he was vulnerable to being struck by a vehicle in traffic. Family members have no right to make decisions for Mark because he is an adult regardless that he has no understanding of his serious mental illness. Under the law AB 1152 in California - being hospitalized as a homeless person - they are supposed to have a detailed plan for a "safe discharge."
We have initiated e-mail campaigns of protest along with our supporters, aimed at Kaiser Permanente Hospital where Mark was released back to the streets the first time being hospitalized with a life-threatening injury. We have written numerous Letters to the Editor locally and comments to articles where they have tried to use photos of Mark, erroneously, on the streets as an example of the homeless who do not want help. We have asked others, and some wrote as well to many politicians about the tragedy that occurred with demands for improvements to LPS law, to protect this from happening again. But it did. And now, the county of Solano once again is willing to release him back to the streets.
What is it going to take before justice for Mark prevails? His death?
I have said it before and I still have nightmares now of him being ignored... nobody helping us to save the day, no matter how loud we scream... I see his almost lifeless and tattered body struck over and over as his body flies through the air and crashes down like a limp rag doll, his face slamming into the windshield breaking it... the blood... the broken bones... the head trauma... and still blind, unaware of what has happened to him - again. Still living in his delusions of what his life will be when he is discharged. The thing that we fear most. He will not be any safer than he was when he was struck by a car back in September or when he was struck by the second car in February.
When we wake up each morning, we strive to be the kind of people we want to be...taking care of our family and seeking the answers for Mark daily. It's hard to go on and keep pushing forward even when we feel like we' have failed when the reality is that it is not us who have failed. It is even harder to receive criticism and to be challenged by others, and still move forward one step at a time...one strategy at a time... without being defensive. It should not be this hard.
We have lived with family discord, loss, disappointment, frustration, fear, anxiety, physical ailments, judgment, bullying, and people pointing fingers at us - when the law is what ties our hands - and becomes an easy out for all the officials. We have seen him suffer repeated beatings and seen citizens of his hometown bring him food. We have seen the humiliation and the kindness of stranger's reactions to him... and experienced the daily unknown, fear, and foreboding.
We know all his fixed delusions because we have heard them so many times over the years. We have begged and demanded officials, doctors, and health and human service agencies for help. We know what it's like to be pushed away and to be kept away legally from doing what is best for him, even as we know so well that he cannot make the decisions necessary to keep himself safe, healthy, or even sheltered. He does not know he has a serious brain disorder. It is not denial. It is a brain condition known as anosognosia - which up to 50% of people with schizophrenia suffer from, but civil rights groups have turned it into a dirty word although it has been a known scientific fact for 100 years. A complete lack of insight into his own serious mental illness.
I read somewhere that "schizophrenia cannot be understood without understanding despair." Mark certainly knows despair... questioning even his own existence - howling and raging against the voices that torment him, even begging the question, "Who am I? Why am I like this?" As his older twin sisters, "despair" and "hope" are what we have wavered between in our balancing act - every minute of every day. There are no normal days... average days - defined in our lives as a day without a worry about Mark... only the constant, unrelenting uncertainty that has ingrained upon us both to jump every time the phone rings.
I cannot fathom how - if he has no understanding of his mental illness he can "choose" to get help? How can he make decisions about his living situation? How can he make sound choices? Why under current law is his inability to recognize his own mental illness not pertinent when he describes the voices that torment him as coming from a microwave radio-frequency being sent by the police who planted a chip in his brain to grow more cops? And that is how he receives the transmission of those voices? When he has stated that he has taped the voices, so he knows for sure that they are external... a mental disturbance as he puts it - not intrinsic but extrinsic as an indication of being of sound mind. Because he is unaware of the fact that he is seriously mentally ill he will always, always, always - say that he is not.
The position of heartlessness, discrimination, and lack of action to the point of negligence taken by our county and state regarding Mark's circumstances are more than our family can continue to bear. Our Mom who is almost 81 and almost deaf is taken care of by my twin sister, who has a serious heart condition. I am 100% disabled, a 4-time cancer survivor with 2 current blood cancers, and in a wheelchair living on a fixed income in a modest apartment. My time on this earth is probably limited. There are no other family members who will or can help.
No matter how many times people have asked, "Why can't he live with family and you take care of him?"... It would change nothing. We have no legal right to make Mark live anywhere. We have no legal right to make him get AOT. (Assisted Outpatient Treatment) In fact, our Mom filed an application with Solano County to get Mark help through Laura's Law last year and it was denied. We have no right to confine him to either of our homes if it were even feasible. We cannot make legal claims for him. (And believe me - we have tried.)
Two things could happen if he is released back to the streets especially during this COVID era... Being the youngest in our immediate family, one or all three of us - Mom, my twin sister, or I - could die leaving him alone without any assistance. Or he could be hit by yet a third vehicle or catch the coronavirus and die on the streets of Vacaville.
This is a prime example of mental health care in America. If a person is healthy enough and able to ask for help and participate in it, they stand a slight... very slight chance of making it. If they are really, really sick with a major brain disorder - they are screwed.
I've written another petition - this time to help James Mark Rippee and our family, as we will be testifying at the state Capitol again and will be sending the petition to the state Assembly, Senate, and Governor Gavin Newsom - and to other politicians including the White House to help facilitate proposed legislation on LPS Reform, IMD Exclusion, HIPAA reform for SMI, and better-supervised housing options for the seriously mentally ill with brain disorders.
While we have circulated the most recent petition after Mark was hit by the second car - we only have 2,570 signatures. Hardly enough to make an impact with the Governor in the state of California or any other politician who might be working on changing and adapting the current laws as they exist for families like ours.
Mark remains vulnerable as he will be returned to the streets again with mobility and brain health issues that will make him a danger to himself and others. As my sister said, "Our brother lost both his eyes, yet some are more blind than he is." I am more cynical than that... believing that the county of Solano has decided to stonewall our family in a stubborn stance to keep us from protecting our brother's life. If anyone is eligible for LPS conservatorship and supervised housing and treatment - It is James Mark Rippee.
Shame on Solano County and their public officials!
Shame on Solano County Board of Supervisors!
Shame on Solano County Health and Human services!
Shame on Solano County Adult Protective services!
Shame on Solano County Public Guardian's Office!
Shame on Kaiser Permanente Hospital!
James Mark Rippee’s impending and certain death on the streets of Vacaville in Solano County and the state of California will forever be their legacy!
Please help us reach Governor Newsom with Mark's story. If you have not signed the petition yet... please take 30 seconds to do so... Anyone anywhere can sign, and you can share the details and links about Mark's story are on the Petition.