Ex-Fort Bragg caregiver to be tried for elder abuse in ‘mummy’ case

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FORT BRAGG — A former caregiver arrested after the mummified remains of her client were found hidden among piles of debris in a senior housing apartment they shared has been ordered to stand trial for elder abuse.

Lori Diane Fiorentino, 56, is charged in connection with the death of Arlene Potts, 66, at the Duncan Place apartment complex in Fort Bragg, where Potts’ emaciated, decaying body was found clad in nothing but layers of feces-laden diapers on Dec. 14, according to testimony by Fort Bragg Police Officer Joseph Breyer.

Fiorentino faces a maximum of four years in jail if convicted of the charge at trial.

An autopsy found severe muscle atrophy, emaciation and ulcerated lesions on Potts’ body, but was inconclusive on cause of death, limiting the charging opportunities, said Deputy District Attorney Kevin Davenport.

He said he believes “Arlene Potts was neglected to death.”

Fiorentino’s public defender, Frank McGowan, said there were a number of people and agencies that could have intervened to help Potts but did not. He said hospital officials in San Francisco in 2013 suspected she suffered from schizophrenia and county adult protective service officials knew she could not care for herself. But neither took steps to place Potts under a conservatorship or place her under mental health care. What the adult protective services agency did do was approve the hiring of a live-in caregiver: Fiorentino.

“Everyone passed the buck here,” McGowan said.

He said Fiorentino had no authority to force Potts, who reportedly went from being outgoing and friendly to increasingly reclusive after a 2013 car accident, to let her provide adequate care. He also noted that caregivers typically are paid low wages and are undertrained.

“A patient has a right to refuse care, even if it results in death,” McGowan said.

Judge Eric Labowitz appeared skeptical, noting a caregiver is responsible for not allowing a client’s condition to deteriorate. But he said McGowan’s argument is better proffered at another time.

It’s unclear how long Potts had been dead when police, spurred by complaints about the bad smell, entered her apartment in mid-December. It’s believed she had been dead at least a month but it had been almost a year since anyone who knew Potts, besides Fiorentino, could recall seeing her, according to court testimony.

Breyer said when he entered the apartment he could not immediately see Potts’ shriveled body on the couch, which was obscured by eight or nine shopping carts filled with various materials. He had to stand on a shopping cart to see the body, he said.

Packets of coffee grounds had been hung on the living room walls and a substance believed to be baking soda had been scattered throughout the apartment on floors and furniture to mask the odor, Breyer said. Fiorentino apparently continued living in the master bedroom of the apartment after Potts’ death.

At least one neighbor had contacted the county’s Adult Protective Services months before Potts’ body was found, concerned about the stench of urine in the hallway.

During an interview Monday at her apartment, neighbor Christine Stone said she also made multiple requests to the apartment’s management to check on Potts, whom she’d not seen since moving across the hall in July. She never saw anyone enter or leave the apartment, but said the smell of neglect was obvious.

She wishes she had done more, even going to police herself instead of relying on adult protective services and the apartment manager.

“I feel intense responsibility for the unnecessary death,” Stone said.

Two sisters who are caregivers for several other residents of the apartment complex and who attended the hearing were visibly shaken by the circumstances of Potts’ death.

“How can you run a senior building and not check on your seniors?” asked Michelle Uribe.

Apartment manager Cindy Ancona declined to comment when contacted Monday at the apartment complex.

Reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 707-462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com.

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