Homeless for nearly two decades, lifelong Rogue Valley resident Roger Paul is proud of the fact he’s never “flown a sign,” asked for handouts or caused anyone — save for himself — any real harm.
But the clock is ticking for the former Crater High School basketball star and cross-country runner, who, after losing most of his toes to frostbite, is now dependent on a wheelchair. And as of Thursday, he will have nowhere to go.
He’d been living since late spring at the Medford-based Avamere at Three Fountains to recover from the amputation of his toes and other conditions. But Paul was discharged Monday and given a three-day stay at a local motel. The facility did not return calls from the Mail Tribune.
Debbie Saxbury, a longtime friend who graduated from Crater two years after Paul, stepped in to ask some questions.
“They discharged him with absolutely no place to go,” she said. “He can’t even walk. They’re supposed to have a discharge plan, but they didn’t have one. They said, since he was admitted as homeless, he could be released as homeless.
“It gives you the feeling they just needed the bed he was in. No matter how you look at this, it’s just not right.”
Paul, 64, fell into homelessness after years of alcoholism that caused the loss of his business and his home.
During last winter’s harsh cold, Paul found himself with major medical issues after a slew of previous hospital trips for foot pain.
“I was homeless for a long time, and you never take your shoes off, you know, because you don’t have a bed to sit down on and take ‘em off when you sleep,” he said. “So my feet hurt, just all the time. One day, sitting with a couple of guys bitching about my feet, I just couldn’t take the pain anymore.
“So here comes Mercy Flights. Most of the times before, they’d given me a prescription and sent me back on my way. This time, they took my shoes off and I had frostbite real, real bad.”
After being treated for amputation of his toes, neuropathy and cellulitis, Paul’s options and his benefits under Medicaid ran out.
On Monday, he was delivered via cab to America’s Best Value hotel, along Riverside, in a room at the back of the complex, two parking lot inclines from a public sidewalk nearly impossible to navigate by wheelchair.
“I made it down to the OK Market for some ramen noodles last night,” said Paul.
“It took quite a bit to get there. I had to go backwards to get uphill. The bigger wheels are on the back, so it’s safer.”
The former owner of Crater Comets basketball jersey No. 40, Paul ran cross-country and was active in his dad’s sandblasting business during high school.
His basketball aspirations were quashed when he was struck in a head-on collision not long after graduation. He went on to work at the business for two decades, despite a nagging drinking problem.
In his mid-40s, a decision to drive a few blocks to buy some beer, after he’d already been drinking, sealed his fate.
“I made good money — drank it as fast as I made it, though,” he admitted.
“I could’ve just walked the few blocks to go get more beer. But you know what they say about hindsight.”
Arrested for drunken driving, he lost his license and eventually lost his business and home, too. Though he prides himself on being a “survivor,” Paul’s tone was more fearful Tuesday.
“I’ve slept in the weeds for a long time, and I’ve been called in dead more times than I can count,” he said with a laugh.
“I’ve told people that if I had my legs working, I wouldn’t care. Send me back outside and I’ll figure out how to get by. But this stupid wheelchair makes it a lot harder.”
After he learned of Paul’s condition Monday evening, state long-term care ombudsman Fred Steele, whose agency serves as a watchdog over various state care agencies, called Paul’s situation egregious.
“I was shocked when I talked to the Medicaid case manager this morning. He was adamant that Roger was independent,” Steele said.
“This facility had a choice to work with him — and actually provide care, which they are in the business of doing — or to make this into a financial decision out of concern he wasn’t going to be able to pay his bill. I guess we know which option they chose.”
Steele said his office, which works with volunteers in various counties, is pushing for Paul’s return to the facility, although Paul said he worries about retaliation for sharing his story.
Steele said the facility should have afforded Paul an application and appeals process that would have delayed his discharge by at least three months. Once he turns 65 in March, Paul will be eligible for additional programs that could net him a place to live.
“I 100 percent believe this facility knew what they were doing when they were kicking Roger out onto the street. Having him dropped off for a three-day buffer in a hotel was a way of kind of whitewashing their responsibility,” Steele said.
“In our society, this should not have happened.”
Hopeful for a solution Tuesday, Paul became emotional when asked what he would do after Thursday’s 11 a.m. checkout time.
“Son of a bitch,” he said, his hand resting over his mouth.
“I guess I don’t really know what I’m gonna do.”
Reach Medford freelance writer Buffy Pollock at firstname.lastname@example.org.