The man without a number

elderly care

Among those involved in caring for Wesley Woods Hospital’s longest-staying patient in history (294 days) were physician Frank Brown and social worker Linda Gough.

After about the 40th time the amiable old man appeared in court, the judge threw up his hands.

Joe Roberts would hang around a grocery store, asking customers for $10 so he could buy some fried chicken. Police had little choice but to arrest him for panhandling. Judges then sent him to jail where at least he would be warm, fed, and off the street. Once released, he reappeared at the store, and the cycle began again.

This time, concerned that Joe was developing dementia, the judge ordered that he be taken to Wesley Woods Hospital. There, attending physician Frank Brown told Joe, “No, you can’t leave just yet, but there is fried chicken.” It was clear, given his moderate dementia, that Joe could no longer live on the streets.

But who was he? A social worker went to the address where he said he lived with an aunt. No house had been there for years. Social workers searched every database imaginable. They could find no record of a Joe Roberts matching this man’s description having ever attended school, married, received a salary, or served in the military. Without a social security number, he was ineligible for benefits. Without benefits, no assisted living facility would take him.

As the months rolled on, Joe was happy. The staff bought him clothes, a radio, and Christmas presents. They cut his hair, listened to his elaborate confabulations, and made sure he got seconds when chicken was on the menu. Eventually, a social security number turned up. When he left for a nursing home with his new Medicaid card, the staff gave him a party. Among his presents were 10 new dollar bills from Brown.

The $400,000 cost for Joe’s 294-day stay, the longest of any in the hospitals’ history, will never be reimbursed. Still, say Brown and staff members, it was hard to let him go.


Many of the 30,000 patients seen at Wesley Woods Center each year (those who are elderly and/or need extensive wound care, rehab, or respiratory care) require services that are under- or un-reimbursed. During fiscal year 2010-2011, expenses at Wesley Woods exceeded revenue by $5.6 million. But patients needed the services Wesley Woods provided, and the facility had the skill and compassion to make sure they got them.



Emory Facilities at Wesley Woods Center

  • Wesley Woods Hospital, a 100-bed facility with inpatient geriatric care and hospice service
  • Wesley Woods Clinic, providing outpatient primary care for geriatric patients
  • Budd Terrace, a 250-bed skilled nursing care facility
  • Wesley Woods Towers, a 201-unit residential retirement and personal care facility

Emory Healthcare also manages Wesley Woods Senior Living retirement facilities located throughout north Georgia.


Table of Contents

Community Benefits Report Cover 2011