Elder Abuse Symposium Honors Victim of Nursing Home Neglect

Posted on Jul 21, 2008

Joyce Landauer would rather be visiting her father than attending a yearly seminar in his honor. But with no choice, she shows up and answers questions about her father's ugly death five years ago in a suburban Philadelphia nursing home. A nurse's aide was convicted of homicide in the death of William Neff and is serving a 12-30-year prison sentence, according to The Intelligencer in Bucks County, Pa.


Five years ago, Neff was a resident at the now closed Alterra Clare Bridge assisted-living home in Lower Makefield, Pa. Suffering from Alzheimer's, Neff soiled his bed one day, prompting 34-year-old Heidi Tenzer to lose her temper and stomp on his body after she yanked the man out of his bed to change the sheets. The nurse's aide's assault caused four broken ribs and a punctured lung, according to the autopsy.

However, no one at the facility witnessed the attack. For seven days, Neff writhed in agony, unable to speak due to his dementia. He died one week later in the same bed..

But someone else noticed the injury and called police. As Neff's body was being prepared in the funeral home, the funeral director noticed a shoe mark on Neff's back.

When Bucks County detectives investigated at Alterra Clare Bridge, officials there refused to cooperate. Altera's corporate lawyers forbid Tenzer to speak and did not allow the rest of its staff to talk to police. A Bucks County district attorney took the case to a grand jury and three years later, Tenzer was brought to trial. The single mother who worked double shifts was convicted of third-degree murder in 2003.

The grand jury then urged legislators to fix the assisted living system. The Intelligencer reported that, at the time, assisted living facilities were regulated in a shoddy manner. In 2008, a new law was passed in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, requiring assisted living home employees to report cases of neglect and abuse. Another state law mandates the Internet posting of facilities' licenses and disciplinary action against each home.

While laws and regulations make it easier to punish those who break them, Bucks County District Attorney David Zellis said he wants fewer elder abuse cases in court.

Landauer said her father's murder and the trial was the "worst time in her life." But she she's proud that people are still talking about him and using his story to help others, the Intelligencer reported.

She says her dad would have been proud of the annual William J. Neff Sr. Symposium on the Prevention of Crimes Against Older Adults and the crowd it draws.

"I have met so many people through the symposium -- people who really seem to care about the elderly," Landauer said. "Education is paramount. This grew out of a bad thing, but became such a good thing."