Updated July 24, 4:00 p.m.
When Mary Jane Duffy left the Snow Valley Nursing Home on Oct. 16, 2009, she feared for her safety.
Suffering from dementia and increasingly immobile, Duffy had been telling state case workers and health care administrators that she wanted to live in a nursing home – away from her husband, Joseph Duffy, a man who allegedly abused her continually for years.
The previous month, Mary Jane had won an order of protection against her husband, prohibiting him from having any contact with her and giving her control of her pension and disability benefits.
Since at least 2003, an investigator from the Office of the Inspector General of the Illinois Department of Human Services had documented that alleged abuse, which included Joseph Duffy locking his wife in their Brookfield condominium without access to a telephone, evidence of beating and verbally abusing her, refusing to have her placed in a care facility because it would mean losing access to her income, handcuffing her to her wheelchair, taking away her walker and leaving her every night for extended periods of time “while he was out with a special friend.”
In what appears to be a giant hole in the safety net that might have spared Mary Jane Duffy from suffering a painfully slow death, the Illinois Department of Human Services determined that she was no longer eligible for services that could have kept her away from her husband.
In a report from the Office of the Inspector General of the Illinois Department of Human Services, dated Aug. 14, 2009 – filed less than two weeks after Duffy had been transferred to the British Home in Brookfield after spending two weeks in the hospital recovering from injuries suffered in a fall, caused in part by her husband allegedly taking away her walker – investigator Armindo Ayala determined that she was no longer eligible for services by the state’s Adults with Disabilities Abuse Intervention Program.
“Based on the facts here, we conclude the following: [Mary Jane Duffy] was ineligible for the Abuse of Adults with Disabilities Intervention Program because she had been placed in a nursing home,” Ayala wrote.
On Sept. 8, 2009, Mary Jane Duffy was transferred to Snow Valley Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Lisle. But on Oct. 16, 2009, Joseph Duffy and another unidentified man reportedly walked into the nursing home and demanded her release.
According to Brookfield police, who interviewed staff at the nursing home following Mary Jane’s death on Sept. 1, 2011, Joseph Duffy “began waving around some papers, stating he had power of attorney over Mary, and he was going to take her home.”
He was able to do so, despite reports that Mary Jane told others repeatedly that she didn’t want to go home and despite several documented instances of alleged abuse and neglect on file with the state since 2003.
Joseph Duffy was allowed to remove his wife from the nursing home despite an emergency order of protection against him, taken out on behalf of Mary Jane Duffy by an administrator at the British Home on Sept. 3, 2009.
The administrator sought the order of protection, according to a Brookfield police report, after Mary Jane told the administrator that she was afraid of her husband, that he didn’t take care of her and that he handcuffed her to her bed.
Cook County Judge Daniel Miranda signed the emergency order of protection on Sept. 3, 2009, and the order was served to Joseph Duffy at his home the following day by Brookfield police, court records show.
The order prohibited him from seeing his wife and from entering the British Home property. It also granted exclusive possession of Mary Jane Duffy’s Social Security and pension checks to Mary Jane.
“Stop bothering me, don’t get in my way of happiness and stop taking my money, my SSI,” Mary Jane stated in the application for the order of protection.
A follow-up hearing date was scheduled at the Maybrook courthouse for Sept. 24, 2009. But by that time, Duffy had been transferred to Snow Valley Nursing Home in Lisle. She didn’t appear in court on Sept. 24, and the order of protection was terminated.
So from October 2009 until August 2011, Duffy’s primary caregiver was the man she feared – her husband.
While the Department of Human Services provided a caregiver from its Division of Rehabilitation Services, which services adults with disabilities under the age of 60, there appears to have been no more action taken on behalf of Mary Jane Duffy until Aug. 21, 2011.
On that day, someone lodged an anonymous complaint with LaGrange-based Aging Care Connections that Mary Jane was being neglected and that she needed medical care.
The previous day, a hospice worker had visited the Duffys’ condominium in the 8800 block of 45th Place in Brookfield. According to a Brookfield police report, that worker asked to take Mary Jane Duffy to a hospital, but Mr. Duffy refused.
Louise Starmann, the director of Aging Care Connections, said her agency spent the next 24 hours trying to determine how to get Mary Jane removed from her home. It was the agency’s first contact with the Duffys, said Starmann, because Aging Care Connections does not serve people under the age of 60. Mary Jane Duffy turned 60 in June 2011.
On Aug. 23, Aging Care Connections phoned Brookfield police, asking that an officer accompany one of their case workers to the Duffys’ condominium. Once inside, they reported finding Mary Jane curled up in a fetal position, covered with serious bedsores and completely unresponsive.
Despite screaming at police and the case worker, Joseph Duffy eventually relented and allowed his wife to be transported to Holy Cross Hospital, where she died nine days later. The Cook County Medical Examiner ruled her death a homicide as the result of neglect.