Sheriff finds a better role to play this Christmastime

Sheriff's inmate work crew helps World War II WAC stay in her home

   Barnstable County Sheriff’s inmates Jonathan Fiebelkorn (left) and Nicholas Laffarello cut planks for ramp being built at home of Suzanne McKeown on Cohasset Street in Buzzards Bay.  The 83-year-old World War II veteran is in a wheelchair, so needs the ramp to gain access to her house.

Barnstable County Sheriff Jim Cummings will long remember Christmas '09.  It’s the year he went from Scrooge to Santa Claus. 

This seasonal drama began about a year ago when the Sheriff’s civil process office was contacted by lawyers for a Bourne nursing home.  Deputies were handed a disagreeable but legally unavoidable assignment. 

Twelve months later it had come an 83-year-old World War II veteran just days  from being forced out of that nursing home, even as her Buzzard’s Bay residence would be sold to pay for her extended stay there.  Evicted from one place.  Foreclosed on the other.  In the bone-chilling month of January.

“We’re extremely appreciative to the Sheriff and his men.  They’ve notonly helped Suzanne in this particular case.  They’ve enabled us tokeep other folks at home as well.  Getting people back into thecommunity is one of our major goals.  It’s that simple.  And thatimportant.” - Kristen Jung of CORD

But when Sheriff Cummings got wind of the gloomy Christmas present in store for Suzanne McKeown, he hit upon a better dénouement.

“I figured why not have the civil process deputies stand down,” he explained, “and instead get an inmate work crew over to the house to build her a ramp.  Ms. McKeown is confined to a wheel chair, so the real solution here was accessibility.  If we could get her back into her house, and out of the nursing facility, she’d stop running up that bill.  Then she’d be able to work out a plan to pay what she does owe – instead of having to sell her home.  A better solution for everyone.” 

Enter CORD, the Cape Organization for the Rights of the Disabled.  It got the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission to cut a check for $1,800 so CORD could pay for the wood and other ramp materials at Ms. McKeown’s house on Cohasset Street. 

Said CORD’s Kristen Jung: “We’re extremely appreciative to the Sheriff and his men.  They’ve not only helped Suzanne in this particular case.  They’ve enabled us to keep other folks at home as well.  Getting people back into the community is one of our major goals.  It’s that simple.  And that important.”

Ms. Jung says material provided by CORD combined with Sheriff’s Office labor has made at-home living accessible for two or three other clients “just in the two years I’ve been here.  And similar inmate projects helped other persons with disabilities before I arrived.”

Jung says the Sheriff’s five-man inmate crew and its supervising officer are doing everything they can to get the ramp built before year’s end – an ominous deadline for Ms. McKeown.  It’s the last day she can stay in the nursing home and her best hope to prevent the legal wheels from grinding ahead.                                            

The Sheriff’s Office estimates its three days of inmate labor at about $5,250; added to CORD’s $1,800 for materials that puts the final tally at $7,050.

John McKeown, Suzanne’s son, concurs with Ms. Jung on the alacrity the work crew has shown to the job at hand.  “They’ve been really great about getting it done, including in a 10 degree wind-child day.  I can’t thank these people enough.” 

“I can’t thank these people enough.” - Suzanne's son, John McKeown

Mr. McKeown has taken care of the crew’s lunch menu: sandwiches and soda from nearby Nick’s Pizza.

His mother’s ordeal, meanwhile, began 15 months ago when she fell and broke her neck.  She was med-flighted to a Boston hospital and spent six weeks in a coma.  “Truth be told, we didn’t know if she’d regain consciousness,” her son relates.

When she finally did come to and was able to call him, he chuckles, “Her only concern was that I get in there [to the hospital] with her checkbook.  She was worried about paying bills.”

McKeown says his mother was extremely active prior to her fall and remains “sharp as at tack mentally.”  He says the former Fort Riley, Kansas staff sergeant has had hundreds of friends inquire about her – many from Bourne but others as far away as Japan.

He said his mother’s wide circle of friends comes from a distinguished career in education.  She earned a doctorate in that subject as well as a master’s in occupational therapy (Tufts University in Medford).  This on the heels a World War II hitch in the Women’s Army Corps.  “She’s a well known personality in this town, that’s for sure,” her son concluded.

Sheriff Cummings says he’s as much honored as pleased to be able to help a member “of our Greatest Generation, and a WAC at that.”

As for playing a kindly Santa instead of a reluctant but duty-bound Scrooge?  That was an easy decision, according to the Sheriff.  “ ‘Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas’ beats ‘Bah, Humbug.’   Every time.”  

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