An elderly patient who suffers from dementia has gone missing from Long Island College Hospital, police reported.
The embattled hospital has been the site of protests and demonstrations over the past few weeks, some involving the highly publicized arrests of city officials.
The hospital has been slated for closure by its owner and operator, SUNY Downstate, for months, but has evaded being shuttered thanks to various legal stop-gap measures. Recently, however, layoffs and patient transfers have begun in earnest, much to the chagrin of officials and community organizers who say the neighborhood cannot afford to lose the hospital's emergency care services.
Celso Heredia, 81, was reported missing on the same day pink slips were handed out to various employees at the hospital. A law enforcement source noted that some reports have suggested Heredia was lost in the melee caused by the seemingly abrupt and en masse layoffs, but that the timeline of his disappearance does not match that account.
The layoffs occurred around 3 p.m., the source said, and police were told that Heredia was last seen in Room 502 at that same time. At 3:30 p.m., hospital security was informed Heredia was missing, and they in turn notified the NYPD officers outside the hospital.
However, the source says Heredia was seen on surveillance video exiting the hospital through the front doors around 1:40 p.m. There's no record of him re-entering the building, on video or otherwise.
Heredia's story — or as much of it as is known — is equally puzzling and hazy.
He was found walking along the Brooklyn Queens Expressway a little over a month ago with $300 in his pocket. Detectives told the New York Times that Heredia was "obviously disoriented" but did not appear intoxicated. He believed it was 2005 and that he was in California, detectives said.
Heredia's name and age were found on papers in his pockets, as well as a bus ticket dated five days prior, with a sticky note that read, "Please help this person get on the correct bus to Atlantic City."
Addresses found on those papers in Florida and Mexico yielded no results: Local authorities visited the locations but no one recognized Heredia. At a home in Juarez, Mexico, people recalled the Heredia family, but said they had moved away, possibly to Los Angeles.
The Mexican Consulate reportedly had no record of Heredia ever entering the country.
According to PIX 11, the story got even weirder last week.
Last Thursday afternoon, someone reportedly bought a one-way, non-refundable Greyhound bus ticket to Fort Pierce, Fla., in Heredia's name.
Heredia's presumed last address, found by police in Heredia's papers, was in Fort Pierce, but the woman who has been living at that location for 10 years told police she does not know Heredia.
PIX 11 confirmed via a phone call with Heredia that he did not purchase the ticket, they reported.
The dementia-stricken octogenarian would have had to transfer in three different cities during the 27-hour bus ride.
That same Thursday, a doctor discharged Heredia at 11 p.m, PIX 11 reported. That doctor reportedly told them that the hospital had purchased the bus ticket and was in the process of securing Heredia a plane ticket.
Heredia was one of the patients featured by WPIX 11 in a special report on Monday profiling the LICH patients who would be affected by the hospital's closure. On Tuesday, they reportedly discovered that the Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit is looking into Heredia's case.
The following day, Heredia went missing — by hospital employee reports, at the same time as mass layoffs, but by police reports, possibly a good while earlier.
Personnel at Long Island College Hospital directed an inquiry for comment to SUNY Downstate Medical Center spokesman Robert Bellafiore, who told Metro, "Federal laws are very serious about preserving patient privacy, and so are we."
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