When Franklin Youngblood was sorting through his mother’s belongings at a nursing home in January 2013, he found a photograph of a man wearing only underpants hovering over her.
He sued, alleging that East Neck Nursing and Rehabilitation Center on Long Island violated his mother’s dignity by allowing a stripper to entertain residents. The son, 57, is seeking damages for mental anguish that he says his then-84-year-old mother suffered.
The lawsuit, filed in New York’s Suffolk County court, contends that wheelchair-bound Bernice Youngblood could not make coherent decisions at the time of the event. She suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and advanced dementia and has had three strokes, according to the court filing.
The nursing home's attorney, Howard Fensterman, told the Los Angeles Times that Youngblood's daughter-in-law was right by her side during the dance and is seen in the photograph. The daughter-in-law brought her to the common area to participate in the voluntary event, Fensterman said.
"We’re questioning why Franklin Youngblood is suing the nursing home," Fensterman said. "Literally, he should have sued his wife."
The Youngbloods' attorney, John Ray, said the woman in the photo was a vendor for the nursing home and is now Franklin's ex-girlfriend. They were never married, the attorney said.
"She had no authority to approve or disapprove," Ray told the Los Angeles Times. "It has no bearing on the case."
A committee of 16 residents voted to invite the stripper, according to attorneys on both sides.
“It’s absolutely nonsense,” Ray said of that defense. “These people have various mental disabilities. The nursing management had a duty to protect the moral standing of its patients.”
But Fensterman says the nursing home empowers the committee to hold events that aren't harmful to anyone's health, and this fit within those boundaries.
"People have to remember [that] adults, just because they are aged, don’t forfeit their right to make decisions," Fensterman said. "That’s the fun entertainment they wanted."
Bernice Youngblood, now 86, goes in and out of lucidity, Ray said.
Court records show that Franklin Youngblood filed a similar lawsuit last spring, but a judge dismissed it in October because the son lacked standing. This time, the plaintiffs say, Youngblood transferred power of attorney to her son during a moment of coherence.
The stripper came in December 2012 or the first week of 2013, according to Ray.
He said nursing home workers could have committed a felony by subjecting patients to unwanted sexual contact without their consent. Ray said he has asked prosecutors to investigate.
The photograph Youngblood’s son found shows his mother sticking money into the stripper’s briefs. The lawsuit alleges that the situation left his mother “confused and bewildered,” and that the stripper demanded she touch him and give him money.
“This is not just a stripper,” Ray said in a telephone interview. “This fellow physically intimidated Bernice and demanded money from her. She felt disgraceful and terrible.”
Ray said the stripper’s race added to Youngblood's emotional distress because, as a black woman, she found it disgraceful to have a white man in her face.
The lawsuit also alleges that the nursing home raided the stash of money kept safe on behalf of residents to pay for the stripper. This was done without the patients’ consent, according to the suit.