For at least a month, police say, Dawn Kulbeik’s elderly mother lay in bed suffering from pneumonia, dehydration, malnutrition and bed sores that were bone deep. Two days before Kulbeik finally called 911 for help, the 87-year-old woman had lost consciousness and stopped communicating.
Doris Ferrian died a couple of weeks later last October, of natural causes. Law enforcement authorities and social service agencies have spent significant time since then reviewing the case, leading ultimately to felony and gross misdemeanor neglect charges filed Monday against Kulbeik.
The Anoka County case is one of the first charged under a Minnesota law passed last year making it a felony if a caregiver intentionally deprives a vulnerable adult of necessary food, clothing and medical care and knows it could result in substantially or great bodily harm. The action closed a gap that frustrated county attorneys when such cases would result in little or no jail time or minimal fines.
The Hennepin County attorney’s office, which pushed for the change at the Legislature, has yet to charge anybody with it.
“How does the system handle somebody responsible for the care of a parent, who fails to make good decisions and may not understand the full nature of the care that is necessary?” asked Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo.
Kulbeik, 54, is developmentally challenged, according to authorities.
She and other relatives couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.
The gross misdemeanor charge Kulbeik faces is of intentionally neglecting a vulnerable adult. The only contact police have had with her was the day she called 911.
Ferrian was unconscious with a rapid pulse and breathing when paramedics arrived at Kulbeik’s apartment in Coon Rapids on Oct. 8, 2012, according to the criminal complaint filed Monday. She was septic because of the advanced stages of the bed sores. A social worker who saw her at Unity Hospital in Fridley made a maltreatment report with Anoka County, the complaint said.
At the Coon Rapids apartment, Ferrian’s granddaughter, the granddaughter’s husband and their child slept in one bedroom. Kulbeik and Ferrian occupied the other bedroom.
Kulbeik told police she had been the primary caregiver for a year before her mother’s death.
A month before she called 911, Kulbeik noticed that her mother hadn’t been walking much and that her appetite had decreased, according to the criminal complaint.
She knew that there was a problem with Ferrian’s decline and that it was getting to be too much for her to handle, the document said.
Kulbeik was unable to explain to police why she didn’t seek medical attention for her mother’s bed sores, according to the papers.
When police searched the apartment, they found biological fluids on Ferrian’s bedding that had seeped into the mattress, through the box spring and onto the floor.
Charges weren’t filed for a year because neglect cases are often difficult to investigate and several agencies reviewed the case, said Palumbo. The Anoka County Sheriff’s Office didn’t forward its case to the county attorney until March.
Kulbeik has been charged by summons and hasn’t made an initial court appearance.
SAFE Elders initiative
In June, Palumbo helped launch a statewide initiative to confront elder abuse with an arsenal of resources to educate people about the problem.
With nearly $50,000 in donations, the organization Minnesota SAFE Elders created a tool kit that includes such things as a video and free training materials, an app for first responders, and a “prosecutor’s trial notebook,” a collection of abuse cases that attorneys can use as a reference when developing their own cases.
While the Kulbeik case wasn’t a result of the SAFE Elders initiative, it highlights the issues the group is trying to address in the community, said Palumbo.
“The injuries to the victim were extremely severe,” he said. “We are obviously holding the defendant accountable for her failure to provide aid.”