An elderly couple was found dead early morning Wednesday, Aug. 7, in their home near Ferndale. The couple who officials believe died by murder-suicide left notes expressing concerns that they could not afford to pay for their medical expenses.
The couple were identified as Brian Jones, 77, and Patricia Whitney-Jones, 76, by the Whatcom County Medical Examiner. Jones told the dispatcher that he had prepared a note for law enforcement with information and instructions.
“The dispatcher attempted to keep the caller on the line without success,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement. “The man disconnected the call after saying ‘We will be in the front bedroom.'”
When deputies arrived, a crisis negotiator attempted to contact the couple by phone and with a megaphone for about an hour to no avail. Deputies then deployed a robot mounted camera and found Brian Jones lying next to Patricia Whitney-Jones. Both were dead from apparent gunshot wounds.
The sheriff’s office said several notes were left at the home citing Patricia Whitney-Jones’ severe ongoing medical problems, as well as concerns that the couple could not afford to pay for health care.
Information for their next of kin was also left in a note, officials said. Two dogs who were found at the home were turned over to the Humane Society.
Sherrie Schulteis, who lives on the right side of the eight-house street, said she and Brian frequently talked to one another and watched out for each other’s homes, but that she never knew how much he and his wife were struggling. She said the rest of the neighbors on the street are “dumbfounded” by their deaths.
“[Brian and I] were always waving and talking about our yards or our flowers,” Schulteis said. “It’s a little tiny community where we all know each other, but we don’t really know each other.”
“It is very tragic that one of our senior citizens would find himself in such desperate circumstances where he felt murder and suicide were the only option,” Sheriff Bill Elfo said in a statement. “Help is always available with a call to 9-1-1.”
The Cost of Health Care
Spending on health care for the elderly in the US has been increasing for decades (1). In 2014, seniors accounted for nearly 15% of the population but approximately 34% of all health care expenditures, according to the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Personal health care spending for people ages 65 and older was nearly $20,000 per person in 2014, more than five times higher than spending per child — $3,749 — and nearly three times as much as adults ages 19 to 64.
Out-of-pocket spending for people ages 65 and older was also higher than other age groups at $2,925 per person in 2014 with people ages 85 and older paying $5,925 per person, according to the health care agency.
Medical debt is a uniquely American phenomenon, a burden that would be unfathomable in many other developed countries. According to a survey published the American Journal of Public Health, nearly 60 percent of people who have filed for bankruptcy said a medical expense “very much” or “somewhat” contributed to their bankruptcy (2).
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org. You can also text TALK to 741741 for free, anonymous 24/7 crisis support in the US from the Crisis Text Line.