Holocaust survivor Ursula Nelson was planning to live out the rest of her life at her quiet apartment in Queens, N.Y. That changed one morning in late March 2011, when Nelson ended up badly bruised and beaten, with a fractured nose and an injured shoulder, in a New York hospital.
At age 89, Nelson had been the victim of elder abuse by her primary personal care aide. The attack was so traumatizing, according to Nelson’s lawyer, that she could no longer bear to return to her Queens apartment.
Now three years on and living in a nursing home, Nelson has filed a $1 million dollar lawsuit against Selfhelp Community Services, the agency that employed the aide. The complaint alleges that the attack occurred “solely by reason of negligence” on the part of Selfhelp, an agency founded in 1936 to assist waves of émigrés feeling Nazi persecution. Today, it remains the largest and one of the most respected services providers for Holocaust survivors.
Over the past few months, Nelson’s attorney Peter Baron has been building a case against the agency. In an interview with the Forward, Baron argued that the agency is directly responsible for his client’s current debilitated state, and if not for that vicious attack, she might still be living in her apartment rather than a nursing home today.
The aide, Yaihaddy Willian, was convicted of assault and sentenced to a year in prison.
Baron argues that there were more than enough red flags to have disqualified Willian for the position, including what he called her “extensive mental history.”
“You’re sending a person to work with an 89 year old elderly person — she could have been killed,” Baron said.
He said that there were a number of instances of past clients filing complaints against the aide and requesting that she be removed from their homes. These complaints, Baron said, should have set off warning signs.
Selfhelp, which terminated Willian’s contract immediately following the incident, would not comment on the case due to the pending lawsuit, but iterated their commitment to their clients.
As Baron tells it, Nelson entered her aide’s bedroom on March 23, 2011 and requested breakfast. Willian went into a violent fit and began hitting her client, causing her to fall to the floor.
Nelson was then left lying on the floor for 34 hours before Willian dropped her off at a hospital the following morning.
Baron says the attack has taken an emotional, physical and financial toll on Nelson. Beyond the physical injuries that have mostly healed, Baron said his client faces considerable emotional trauma.
Nelson, who does not have any family members, also had to pay her medical bills out of pocket and using Medicaid.
“She’s a tough lady,” Baron said. “She’s got a will to go on, but there’s no question this has had a profound effect on her emotional, physical life… this is not how she should end her life.”