Monday, September 25, 2017

Who guards the guardians? State auditor says agency fails to oversee firms

State Auditor Tim Keller’s office on Thursday issued an “emergency risk” advisory for the state Office of Guardianship based on an initial review that showed the agency has failed to properly oversee more than 20 private companies that are paid by the state to provide guardian services for vulnerable, indigent New Mexicans.

The Guardianship Office, which has about 900 clients, is responsible for monitoring and enforcing state contracts with private firms appointed by the courts to make the legal and other decisions for people deemed incapacitated through disability.

Keller’s office launched an audit of contract guardianship firms at the request of state District Judge Shannon Bacon of Albuquerque after one of the Office of Guardianship’s contractors, Ayudando Guardians, and two company executives were indicted in July on federal charges related to the alleged embezzlement of up to $4 million in client funds.

“The OSA’s (Office of State Auditor) initial fact-finding revealed a widespread failure of the Office of Guardianship to oversee contract guardians,” Keller said in a letter Thursday to officials with the state Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, which oversees the Guardianship Office.

“In short, although the courts and our citizens rely on the Office of Guardianship to protect against fraud and abuse by contract guardians, the Office has few systems in place or resources to discharge that duty,” the letter said.

For example, the office monitored only two of 21 guardianship contracts last fiscal year, the letter said. The office didn’t address complaints about contract guardians and didn’t have formal approved policies for contract guardians for the last fiscal year.

Required periodic reporting by contract guardians was irregular, and the office failed to follow up with those companies that hadn’t reported.

“Without these basic systems in place, the Office could not have been monitoring the accuracy of billing or identifying early signs of the types of fraud and abuse that led to the Ayudando indictments,” the letter said.

Since the indictment, the U.S. Marshals Service has closed the Albuquerque-based Ayudando Guardians. Ayudando was paid more than $650,000 a year under its state contract but also had private-pay clients and disbursed federal veterans’ and Social Security benefits to other clients.

The letter said that the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council “suggests that a severe lack of resources and capabilities are contributing to the problems at the Office of Guardianship. Monitoring efforts have been hampered by a lack of adequate staffing, expertise and travel budget.”

John Block III, executive director of the disabilities council, didn’t return a Journal request for an interview Thursday.

But in August, Block told the Journal the Office of Guardianship had two compliance officers to monitor the cases of about 900 clients. To be eligible, clients cannot earn more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

An estimated 100 people were on a waiting list for guardianship services, Block said.

With a $6.4 million annual budget, Block told the Journal, “We do the best we can to stretch the funding as much as we can.”

Aside from the Guardianship Office, the only other oversight of the 900 state guardianship clients is through the courts, which require a confidential annual report from each guardian.

The state’s guardian and conservator system has been under study by a state Supreme Court commission that is set to unveil its initial recommendations for reform at a meeting today.

During a May commission meeting, then-Ayudando Chief Financial Officer Sharon Moore testified that her agency is subject to regular audits by the Office of Guardianship.

But Block later told the Journal the audits aren’t financial, but are technical reviews to ensure proper documentation of client information.

Moore and Ayudando President Susan Harris are accused of siphoning client funds to finance a lavish lifestyle for themselves and their families. They have pleaded not guilty.

Keller’s letter to Block, which was forwarded to the state Attorney General, legislative leaders and the state Department of Finance and Administration, was obtained by the Journal.

The letter recommended that the Guardianship Office “immediately be subject to more thorough oversight and management. This may necessitate bringing in staff on loan from other agencies or a contracted firm to assist with the Office of Guardianship’s day-to-day work and to address the backlog of unresolved complaints and irregular reporting.”

It may also require additional funding on an emergency basis or through a budget transfer, Keller wrote.

He also recommended that, in advance of the legislative session that starts in January, the Legislature and Gov. Susana Martinez consider “possible enhancement, revision or restructuring” of the office and its responsibilities, including evaluating whether the planning council is the appropriate agency to oversee the Guardianship Office. Up until 2003, the Guardianship Office was overseen by the Attorney General’s Office.

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Who guards the guardians? State auditor says agency fails to oversee firms

Katrina Nursing Home Owners Acquitted

Salvador and Mabel Mangano
The owners of a nursing home where 35 patients died after Hurricane Katrina were acquitted Friday of negligent homicide and cruelty charges for not evacuating the facility as the storm approached.

The jury took about four hours to acquit Sal and Mabel Mangano, the husband-and-wife owners of St. Rita's Nursing Home in St. Bernard Parish, just outside of New Orleans.

"I can't tell you how good this feels, how good those people are," Mabel Mangano said outside the courthouse in St. Francisville, the town about 112 northwest of New Orleans where the trial was moved. "This has been a very rough road."

They had faced 35 counts of negligent homicide and 24 counts of cruelty to the elderly or infirm after the patients drowned — some in their beds — when the monster hurricane swept through the area in 2005.

Judge Jerome Winsberg asked the defendants to stand when the verdicts were read. When Mabel Mangano did so, she buried her face in her husband's shoulder.

Afterward, the Manganos sat back down and hugged each other. Their daughter, Tammy White, sobbed quietly.

"I'm very gratified that the two-year ordeal they've been through is finally over," defense attorney John Reed said.

The victims' family and friends — all wearing black, some with buttons with a picture of the person who died at St. Rita's — sat stoically. None cried.

Assistant Attorney General Burton Guidry read a statement from his boss, Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti: "I feel for the victims of this tragedy, and my heart goes out to them. I hope they will be able to put this behind them."

Yolanda Hubert's 72-year-old mother, Zerelda Delatte, died when the home flooded; her aunt, Gilda Raklen, 90, survived. Hubert said she traveled from Texas to attend the trial.

"The jury may not have found them guilty, but our savior says they are. When they face our maker, they'll have to answer then," she said. "They still have never said they were sorry. They haven't said 'I'm sorry I let your mother drown like a rat.' They're guilty as hell," she said.

The prosecution maintained that the Manganos should have heeded warnings and evacuated before the massive storm roared ashore. Failing to do so led directly to the patients' death and suffering, prosecutor Paul Knight had argued.

The defense argued that the Manganos had safely sheltered in their brick facility for 20 years, and that if the levees had not broken, the home would have been safe.

The trial lasted three weeks. The prosecution put on 40 witnesses, including Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who testified that she left the decision on mandatory evacuations to local officials. St. Bernard Parish never called a mandatory evacuation.

The defense featured five people and took just three days. Neither defendant testified.

The defense was prohibited from using testimony or documents showing that the majority of nursing homes in the path of the storm

36 of 57 — did not evacuate, or that there were deaths at other homes, including 22 at a New Orleans nursing home.

The prosecution, however, did show that three other nursing homes in St. Bernard evacuated.

More than 30 lawsuits have been filed against the Manganos by patients injured at the nursing home and the families of people who died there.

The couple were the only people in Louisiana to face criminal charges stemming directly from Hurricane Katrina, and jurors said that played a key role in their decision.

"We talked about that," said juror Kim Maxwell, 46. "There were a lot of mistakes made, and it should have been a lot of people answering for it. So why just these two people?"

Said juror Michael Cavalier, 39: "The state was responsible for the safety of nursing home residents. They didn't do what they should have. They didn't make the decisions they should have. So when the Manganos made their decision, why should they try to crucify them for it? That isn't right."

Dane Ciolino, a professor at Loyola University's College of Law in New Orleans, said the verdict was not surprising, "given the state was trying to characterize as gross negligence something that tens of thousands of others in south Louisiana did."

"To say what they did was grossly different than what others did, it really raised the question of, 'Why were the Manganos singled out?"' he said.

The only other criminal charges connected to Katrina deaths are against six former or current New Orleans police officers who face murder or attempted murder counts from a shooting after the storm. But the case is not tied to flooding or a direct impact of Katrina.

At one time, Foti's office said investigations into scores of patient deaths at nursing homes and hospitals during and after Katrina were likely to lead to more arrests. Six hospitals and 13 nursing homes in Louisiana were investigated. At least 140 patients died in the storm and its aftermath.

No fewer than 34 people died at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans after the hurricane, but three women arrested by the attorney general's office will not stand trial. A grand jury refused to indict Dr. Anna Pou. Charges against nurses Lori Budo and Cheri Landry were dropped.

Twenty-two people died at Lafon Nursing Home, run by nuns of the Holy Family order in eastern New Orleans. Residents were moved to the second floor as flooding began, but the home lost electricity. Rescuers did not arrive at Lafon until days later amid a heat wave that had gripped the city.

Foti investigated the deaths at Memorial Medical Center, St. Rita's and LaFon. The results of the LaFon investigation were turned over to the New Orleans district attorney a year ago, but no action has been taken. A spokesman for Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan said the case remains under investigation.

Full Article & Source:
Katrina Nursing Home Owners Acquitted

Guardianship reform advocates turn up the heat with town hall, protest

Palm Beach Circuit Judge Martin Colin announced he would not run for re-election
Despite legislative and policy strides, advocates for guardianship reform says little has changed in the courtroom: Incapacitated seniors and their families are still being taken advantage of by lawyers and court-appointed professionals while judges turn a blind eye.

So in an effort to bring further attention to the issue, an advocacy group that brought about some of those changes plans a town hall on Tuesday in West Palm Beach, followed by a protest in St. Petersburg on Thursday.

“It’s an attitudinal shift we are looking for in the judges,” said Sam Sugar, co-founder of American Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, who organized all three events. “Somehow these judges shifted position — from implementing laws designed to help vulnerable people and their families to a position of exploiting them instead.”

Sugar’s grassroots group spearheaded new laws in Tallahassee aimed at protecting incapacitated seniors and their assets when they are put into court-ordered guardianships for their own protection. Florida, as around the nation, has seen a number of professional guardians and their lawyers bilk the elderly and their life savings rather than protect them.

In Palm Beach County, the chief judge last year handed down reforms after The Palm Beach Post reported on conflict of interest, favoritism and complaints concerning former Circuit Judge Martin Colin and his wife, Elizabeth “Betsy” Savitt, who works as a professional guardian.

And Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga has a task force looking into the issue.

Still, Sugar hears of abuse by guardians, their bulldog attorneys and the judges who kowtow to them on a nearly daily basis. He says Palm Beach County remains a hot spot for some of the most egregious cases.

“Right now all we see is window dressing to take the heat off. There are no substantive changes except to move around the offending judges like chess pieces,” Sugar said, referring to how a Palm Beach County judge who was a friend of Savitt’s and repeatedly ruled in her favor was moved out of the Probate & Guardianship Division.

The events come after a federal jury awarded $16.4 million against the lawyers of professional guardians to a multi-millionaire ward for breaching their fiduciary duty and running up “unnecessary and excessive fees.” The case emanated out of Colin’s courtroom where the judge lavished praised upon the lawyers, who are appealing the verdict.

On Tuesday in West Palm Beach, Sugar will give a lecture to inform seniors and families about how to protect themselves from unethical guardians and their attorneys, followed by a town hall. On Thursday, he will lead a protest march in St. Petersburg that culminates at a meeting of the Pinellas Guardianship Association.

“We are going to have a very raucous crowd because a lot of victims are coming,” Sugar said of the town hall in West Palm Beach.

“This is directed toward the general public to educate, to talk about the risks families face simply by the virtue of their address in Palm Beach County and how the probate courts operate,” he said.

Then on Thursday in St. Petersburg, the group will march to the Yacht Club where professional guardians are meeting to put pressure on the association to rid itself of what the group believes are bad actors depleting the life savings of incapacitated seniors.

“We want to demand that Pinellas Guardianship Association start protecting people,” he said.

Guardianship town hall
Where: Embassy Suites, 1601 Belvedere Road, West Palm Beach

When: Tuesday 5 p.m. lecture, 6:15 panel

Who: Sam Sugar and panel, including state Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Delray Beach; attorney Greg Coleman, past president of the Florida Bar; and Anthony Palmieri, deputy inspector general and chief guardianship investigator for Palm Beach County's Clerk & Comptroller. The Palm Beach Post’s John Pacenti will also be on the panel to speak about work on The Post’s series, Guardianships: A Broken Trust.

Full Article & Source:
Guardianship reform advocates turn up the heat with town hall, protest

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Largest Assisted Living Chain In U.S. Sued For Poor Care Of Elderly

Twenty residents of an assisted living complex in Palm Springs, Calif., missed their medications in a single day because no medical technician was on duty. A woman in a Paso Robles home for seniors pushed her emergency call button after falling in her room and waited 22 hours on the floor with broken bones until staff members responded.

A class-action lawsuit filed last month in a federal district court in Northern California details those incidents and other similar ones, which allegedly occurred in facilities owned by Brookdale Senior Living, the nation’s largest assisted living provider.

The complaint alleges that inadequate staffing, poor worker training and rising fees are part of a “callous and profit-driven approach” that has had “devastating” consequences for Californians living in Brookdale assisted living homes. Residents, it claims, “are left without assistance for hours after falling, they are given the wrong medications, they are denied clean clothing, showers, and nutritious food, and they are left in their own waste for long periods of time.”

Relatives of the seniors involved in the lawsuit declined to comment. The California Assisted Living Association, an industry group, also declined to comment.

Brookdale spokeswoman Heather Hunter said in an email that the lawsuit is “without merit” and the company will defend itself “vigorously.”

Tennessee-based Brookdale, which operates 1,121 facilities serving about 100,000 patients in 47 states, has encountered similar complaints elsewhere in the country. A class-action lawsuit filed earlier this year in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., alleges that the company does not adequately staff its assisted living facilities and is not providing the care it promises residents.

The plaintiff in that lawsuit, Gloria Runton, claimed the Brookdale home where she lives had assured her she would get personal care services based on an assessment of her individual needs, but that as those needs grew over time, the level of her care did not increase. At the same time, Brookdale nearly tripled her fees, she alleges.

The California lawsuit, believed to be the first class-action claim against an assisted living company under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), was filed on behalf of four people currently residing in assisted living homes that Brookdale operates in the state. If the judge certifies the case as a class-action suit, the outcome could affect all residents of Brookdale assisted living facilities in California.

The lawsuit cites not only the federal disabilities law but also several California statutes, including ones that protect against unfair business practices and financial abuse of elders.

Because the goal is to win the case, good lawyers often file a number of claims, said Stephen Rosenbaum, a lecturer at the University of California-Berkeley’s law school and a directing attorney for California Rural Legal Assistance, which is not involved in the lawsuit. “Whether the ADA is the strongest claim is unclear from a strategic standpoint,” he said.

Rosenbaum said case law has not established exactly how the federal disability law applies to assisted living facilities. It is “ironic” that the attorneys in this case are using the disability law to sue Brookdale, given that the company by definition serves people with some kind of disability, he said.

The California lawsuit alleges that some of Brookdale’s facilities don’t meet federal and state accessibility standards. Some of their bathrooms can’t accommodate wheelchairs, and the company doesn’t have an evacuation or emergency plan for disabled residents, the suit claims. Of the four plaintiffs named in the complaint, three require wheelchairs.

If the case is certified as a class-action lawsuit under the ADA, that would be “big news,” said William Goren, a Decatur, Ga.-based attorney and consultant who helps clients comply with the law. That’s because of the nature of the law itself, he said.

The ADA is designed to address the disabled as individuals whose disabilities can be accommodated in different ways, Goren said. But a class-action lawsuit requires the “class” of plaintiffs to show that they’ve been injured in the same way.

“It’s very, very unusual that you could go in and get a class-action certified under the ADA,” Goren said. “It can happen, but not often.”

In California, Brookdale Senior Living runs 89 homes and serves up to 5,000 patients, offering various combinations of independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing.

In 2014, the company acquired another large assisted living provider, Emeritus, which expanded its presence in California. But the $2.8 billion deal left publicly traded Brookdale with significant staff turnover, declining occupancy and a shaky stock price. A Chinese real estate conglomerate’s recent bid to buy the company reportedly has stalled, creating more uncertainty for Brookdale and the people living in its senior homes.

Residents of Brookdale’s assisted living facilities don’t require the kind of specialized medical care provided in skilled nursing facilities, but they may need help bathing, using the toilet, taking medications, eating or walking. Some residents need walkers or wheelchairs, while others have mild cognitive impairments or dementia. Seniors who require less care and can cook their own meals often choose independent living homes, which Brookdale also operates.

Like many assisted living companies, Brookdale typically charges monthly room and board fees, plus separate charges for additional care, such as help with medications. Its average monthly rate for assisted living, including rent, food and some personal care services, is about $4,000, according to the company’s website.

Both the California and Florida lawsuits claim that to keep its occupancy levels up, Brookdale accepted assisted living residents who might have required higher levels of care, then failed to provide enough staff to meet their needs.

The consequences of leaving residents unsupervised can be severe. In one case, a wheelchair-bound resident of the Brookdale assisted living facility in Elk Grove, Calif., rolled herself out an open door and fell off a curb, breaking her neck, according to an investigation by the California Department of Social Services, which regulates assisted living facilities. The April 2 incident merited a civil penalty, still to be determined, according to the agency’s investigator. That episode was not mentioned in the lawsuit.

Tony Chicotel, a staff attorney at California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, which is not involved in the suit, said inadequate staffing is a problem at many assisted living facilities.

Assisted living salespeople tell seniors they can meet all their current and future needs, Chicotel said. “But … the facility will only staff based on revenue they’re getting … at least at the big facilities.” The bottom line, he said, is that residents “don’t get the care they need.”

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Largest Assisted Living Chain In U.S. Sued For Poor Care Of Elderly

Legislature to consider bill to allow removal of mentally incapacitated elected officials

Gary Ott
SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would allow the removal of mentally incapacitated elected officials and address troubling situations such as what happened with former Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott will have a new chance to become law next year.

But it's quite different from proposed legislation that failed to pass in the Utah Legislature earlier this year. And it would only apply to six counties — that is, if they choose to adopt it.

The bill has not yet been publicly filed, but its sponsor, Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, described it as setting the "highest bar possible" to remove an elected official with a permanent mental incapacity in order to gather as much support possible from those who fear it could be used as a political weapon.

Though situations like what happened with Ott — whose health became the subject of more than a year and a half of public questioning and controversy following a Deseret News investigation — are rare, Thatcher said the issue is too important to ignore.

Thatcher has said he once knew Ott as a mentor as a friend, before his health began declining.

"Sometimes doing nothing is the best possible thing you can do," he said. "This is not one of those cases."

Thatcher urged lawmakers to support the bill so it could be considered by the House and Senate in January, giving it the highest possible chance of passing so counties have a way to address such situations.

Salt Lake County leaders were able to work with Ott's family to craft the recorder's resignation effective Aug. 1, which was approved by a judge. But that came after more than a year of grappling with how to address the situation, while Ott continued to collect about $190,000 in taxpayer-paid salary and benefits.

"At the end of the day, this is what I care about," Thatcher said. "I care that (Ott's) condition was hidden from the public. I care that Salt Lake County came to us and specifically said, 'Please give us a tool to address this in the future and make sure nothing like this ever happens again.' This is the best option I could come up with."

The Legislature's Political Subdivisions Interim Committee voted Wednesday to pass a draft of Thatcher's bill so it can be considered during the 2018 Legislature.

The bill alters a previous proposal from Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, that would have implemented a three-tiered process to remove an elected official — requiring a voter petition, a unanimous vote from the applicable governing body, and a court proceeding where a judge could order a medical evaluation of the public officer in question.

Thatcher's bill would not include a voter petition — which lawmakers previously feared could be used to attack a person's political career — but would require a unanimous vote of the elected body (excluding the elected official in question) and would only be applicable to counties that have at least five elected officials on their council or commission.

"A unanimous vote is much more compelling than a unanimous vote of two," Thatcher said, noting that many counties in Utah have only three commissioners.

That would leave only six counties — Salt Lake, Summit, Grand, Cache, Morgan and Wasatch — where the new law would apply, but only if those counties choose to adopt the measure, he said.

A unanimous vote would then only refer the question of the elected official's removal to a judge, who would then decide whether to order a competency evaluation. That competency evaluation would be carried out by a medical professional who would then report one of only three findings to protect the individual's privacy: "competent, competent with reasonable accommodations, or not competent," Thatcher said.

He also noted that if the judge orders a competency evaluation, the county would be required to pay for it. If the judge doesn't order a competency evaluation, the county would then pay the elected official's legal fees.

The court could also rule whether the council "acted in bad faith" when voting to refer the matter to court, Thatcher said.

"So the county has an incentive not to use it unless for reasons as obvious and as egregious as in Salt Lake County (with Ott)," he said.

If the competency review finds the person incompetent, the legislative body could then vote whether to remove the person from office.

"I know it's complicated," Thatcher said, "but we've tried to keep it as simple as possible while still making sure there is absolutely no window through which this process can be abused."

Though Thatcher urged the interim committee for unanimous support, Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, voted against it — not because she didn't support it, she said, but so it's not rushed through.

"We still have questions in the air about this," Kwan said, echoing a concern raised by Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, about whether an incompetence ruling from a judge might impact an elected official's political future if he or she eventually recovers from the condition.

"Is this like the death penalty for this person's political career?" Hall questioned.

Thatcher said lawmakers could consider "a million hypotheticals, but at the end of the day, my concern isn't a hypothetical."

"Well, we write statutes off of hypotheticals all the time," Hall said.

"Actually, I wrote this for a friend," Thatcher rebuked.

Because the vote on the bill wasn't unanimous, it will first be considered in a Senate committee during the 2018 legislative session. That panel will then decide whether to send the bill to the full Senate for further debate.

Full Article & Source:
Legislature to consider bill to allow removal of mentally incapacitated elected officials

UK: Judge Rules Doctors Can Starve Disabled Patients to Death Without a Court Order

A judge has ruled that Court permission will not be needed to remove food and fluids from severely brain damaged patients, a move which has caused concern among opponents of euthanasia.

Legal safeguard
Unlike other forms of medical care, the decision to withdraw food and fluids from patients in a “permanent vegetative state” (the term “unresponsive wakefulness syndrome” is now generally preferred) has until now been referred to the Court of Protection, even if doctors and relatives are in agreement.

Landmark ruling
Now, the decision by Mr Justice Jackson means those cases will no longer have to come to court. He made his ruling in a case concerning a 50-year-old woman who suffered from a degenerative illness for 14 years. The patient, known in court as M, had Huntington’s disease and was bed-ridden in hospital and fed by a tube. The Court heard that she had shown no sign of awareness for 18 months.

Mr Justice Jackson agreed with her family and doctors that withdrawing nutrition from her would be in her best interests. The tube was removed and she died in August. Mr Justice Jackson said in his view the case should not have come to court.

Passive euthanasia
The ruling was welcomed by pro-euthanasia group Dignity in Dying. Chief Executive Sarah Wootton said the ruling was “a helpful step towards a clearer, more person-centred view of end-of-life care”.

“When all parties – family, the hospital and treating doctors – are agreed on what someone would have wanted for their care, it seems absurd to require a costly court process to confirm this.”

Dangerous precedent
However, the news has been greeted with great concern by patients rights groups. Dr Peter Saunders of the Care Not Killing Alliance said: “This court decision sets a dangerous precedent and should be appealed. Taking these decisions away from the court of protection removes an important layer of legislative scrutiny and accountability and effectively weakens the law.

“It will now be more likely that severely brain damaged patients will be starved or dehydrated to death in their supposed best interests and that these decisions will be more influenced by those who have ideological or financial vested interests in this course of action.”

The official solicitor, appointed by the state to act for such patients, is likely to appeal against the ruling.

Recently, a British doctor wrote on his findings that many patients in a “vegetative” state, are in fact aware and can be communicated with.

LifeNews Note: Courtesy of SPUC. The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children is a leading pro-life organization in the United Kingdom.

Full Article & Source:
Judge Rules Doctors Can Starve Disabled Patients to Death Without a Court Order

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Mental Hospital Being Investigated After Abuse Allegations Surface

Image Courtesy of Hans Eiskonen
Thirty-one staff members at Connecticut’s only maximum-security psychiatric hospital, Whiting Forensic Division hospital in Middletown, have been suspended and nine have been arrested in connection with abuse allegations.  More arrests are expected to be made shortly as the facility continues to be investigated, according to police.  Whiting is part of Connecticut Valley Hospital, which is maintained by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.  There are 106 beds at the facility in the maximum-security area and an additional 141 beds in “enhanced security”.

“It’s really incomprehensible that this could happen in this day and age,” said Senator Heather Somers, a Republican. “It’s like something out of a Stephen King novel. I think it’s very important that we, as legislators, get to the bottom of this. If you are put in the state’s care, you should be cared for. You shouldn’t be tormented.”
Whiting Forensic Division hospital
Image Courtesy of NBC Connecticut
Alleged incidents include placing a diaper over a patient’s head, throwing food at him, placing a mop on his head and pouring water over him, adding salt in his coffee, and kicking him.  And, current and former staff members and patients’ relatives are coming forward with many other accounts.

Somers said some of their allegations include staff abusing patients, disobeying doctors’ orders and forging of doctors’ signatures.  The nine arrested were charged with cruelty to persons and disorderly conduct.  The other 31 suspended either took part in the abuse or knew about it and failed to report it.  They face the possibility of being terminated from their positions and losing their licenses.

The abuse came to the forefront after the state Department of Public Health found one of the residents, a 62-year-old male, to have been kicked, jabbed, poked at and taunted by staff members over a significant period of time.  The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services asked that Whiting be investigated following a whistleblower complaint.  Some of the abuse was later found to have been recorded by surveillance cameras.
Mental Hospital Being Investigated After Abuse Allegations Surface
Image Courtesy of NBC Connecticut
The 62-year-old patient was committed to the hospital back in 1995 after being acquitted by reason of mental disease in the murder of his father, according to his court-appointed co-conservator, Karen Kangas. The man was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and autism spectrum disorder.  “He’s been traumatized,” Kangas said. “That’s not how we should be treated when we have cancer, and it should not be how we’re treated when we have mental illnesses. I just couldn’t imagine that this all went on.”

The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services said it would “do whatever is necessary to prevent future incidents” in a statement.  District 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, the Whiting’s workers’ labor union, released a statement of its own indicating patient abuse is unacceptable. The union is calling for new management, better training, and more staff as the hospital’s services continue to be investigated.

Brian Woolf, attorney for one of the staff members who was arrested, forensic head nurse Mark Cusson, said, “We have information from a variety of sources that this patient was an extremely difficult patient and some of the actions they took were justified.”  His client is shocked by his arrest and they plan to defend their position.

Full Article & Source:
Mental Hospital Being Investigated After Abuse Allegations Surface

Volunteer guardian for the elderly shares experiences

Sue Warren & Roger Harraman
MANSFIELD – “Pepsi?” asks 71-year-old Michael Beck when Roger Harraman walks in the room.

Harraman, who serves as Beck’s legal guardian, knows the Oak Grove Manor resident loves Pepsi, and even though he didn’t bring a bottle along this time, he promises he will for the next visit and instead presents Beck with several new T-shirts.

Harraman is one of 17 local volunteers through the Catholic Charities Diocese of Toledo’s Adult Advocacy Services program. They provide legal guardianship services for those 55 and older suffering from dementia or other illnesses that limit their decision-making capacity. They also keep an eye out for those with no appropriate family to make decisions for their medical care and estate.

Essentially, a volunteer guardian’s role is to advocate for this person’s care. They become the voice for people who may have trouble sharing what they want or need. The guardians have no say over financial matters and instead are asked to focus the well-being of the people they serve.

A previous Richland Source story details why the program is important and how people can get involved.

The reasons that these elders need representation vary, but Sue Warren of Catholic Charities says, “too often” it’s a result of elder abuse, which can be in the form of intentional or negligent acts by a caregiver or trusted individual that causes harm to a vulnerable elder. Warren also serves as a volunteer guardian for several individuals.

An estimated 1 in 10 older Americans experience abuse. Locally, the Richland County Adult Protective Services, which investigates abuse, neglect and exploitation of people 60 and over, made 245 referrals between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, but elder abuse often goes unreported.

Harraman advocates on behalf of three people through Catholic Charities: Michael Beck, Michael McMahon and Diane Pahlow. As far as he knows, they don’t have local family members to otherwise care for them.

“It’s rewarding, every visit. I probably get more out of it than they do,” he said. “I like getting to know them and joking around with them.”

Before meeting any of these individuals, Harraman represented another man who passed away about eight years ago. Harraman recalls that was a hard day, but the benefits of this job far outweigh the negatives. Though saddened, the retired educator decided to represent another elder, Beck, through the Catholic Charities’ program. That was more than seven years ago.

When Harraman came to visit him recently, Beck was watching “Gunsmoke.” But he seemed happy to take a break and chat. Beck informed Harraman that someone had promised him Pepsi and hadn’t brought it yet.

When Harraman later talked to the nursing home staff, he asked about Beck’s health, but he also mentioned the Pepsi situation and learned that the beverage would soon be delivered to Beck’s room.

Harraman began serving as legal guardian to Michael McMahon and Diane Pahlow this past summer when he heard that Catholic Charities knew of more people in need of representation. Harraman decided to take on the additional responsibility this past July.

So far, Harraman has only made three visits with these two, but he’s already made an noticeable impression with McMahon.

“Do you remember me?” Harraman asked this Oak Grove resident in August.

“Yes,” McMahon answered.

On this occasion, Harraman sat on the edge of the bed, listening as the 66-year-old man told a few stories. McMahon explained that he always enjoyed bowling, golf and watching Indians games.

After Harraman visited Beck and before he visited McMahon, he talked to a staff member in what’s called a “care conference.”

This is a formal process that doesn’t occur on every visit, but it keeps a guardian updated with the details of the nursing home resident’s condition. Harraman hears about McMahon and Beck’s care plan, discussing in detail everything from what they’ve been eating to if they need therapy.

Harraman is alerted more regularly via phone calls about changes in medication, health complications and other time-sensitive topics. As a guardian, he needs to be available 24/7 to respond to inquiries when needed from nursing home or medical staff. This means that even in the middle of the night, Harraman might have to take a phone call about one of the people he represents.

Both McMahon and Beck live at Oak Grove Manor, but once he’s done there, he drives down the road to another nursing home to visit Diane Pahlow, 59.

She had been sleeping when Harraman previously visited, but she still vaguely remembers him. Awake on this occasion, she asks him more about himself and his role as her guardian. He assures her that he’ll make sure she’s taken care of correctly.

In turn, Pahlow shares a little about herself. She likes singing, dancing and listening to music, especially gospel. The Iowa native moved to Mansfield where her husband lived.

"But now, I don't have family in Ohio anymore," Pahlow said.

Harraman and other Catholic Charities volunteers are appointed to be legal guardians by the probate court. And if an elder needs someone to speak on their behalf, the guardians step in and look out for the elder's best interest.

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer guardian can learn more by calling 419-524-0733.

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Volunteer guardian for the elderly shares experiences

Bonnie Kraham: Guiding principles of an elder-law estate plan

There are many goals to consider in elder-law estate planning. They include transferring assets to beneficiaries on death with the least amount of costs, taxes and legal fees, while avoiding family conflicts and possible legal battles. Another possible concern is keeping assets in your own bloodline, protected from children’s divorces, lawsuits and creditors. Planning also allows people you choose to be in charge of your affairs if you’re incapacitated, avoids a costly guardianship proceeding that allows a judge to appoint a legal guardian for you, and protects assets from nursing home costs.

Trusts are often preferable to wills to avoid a court proceeding on death called probate, save time and money and reduce the chance of family conflict over the inheritance. Wills are used in probate court.

Basic principles guide the process of creating an elder-law estate plan.

First, understanding family dynamics is key. Standard questions reveal necessary information. How old are you? How is your health? How many children do you have? Are you married? If you are not married and have no children, are your parents alive, or do you have any siblings, nieces or nephews?

Who will receive the inheritance and how? Do you have disabled beneficiaries on government benefits? Are you disinheriting anyone? Do you want to leave outright distributions of assets to your beneficiaries, or do you want them to receive assets over time?

Second, a review of current estate-planning documents reveals whether your current goals are being met. Maybe your current plan is adequate, or maybe it needs to be tweaked, or maybe it would be better to start anew. Are you expecting to receive an inheritance that would change your goals or create estate tax issues? Do you have long-term care insurance, and if so, what are the details of your benefits? If you don’t have long-term care insurance, a Medicaid asset protection trust may be needed to protect assets from nursing home costs after five years.

Third comes a review of the assets. The asset list includes each asset you own, how each asset is titled and its value. Possible asset categories include real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, retirement funds, other investments, life insurance, annuities, business interests and anything else of value.

Fourth is the development of the elder-law estate plan. Who will make medical decisions for you in case of incapacity? Who will be your trustee, executor and power of attorney? Who will serve as backups in these different roles in case the first choices are unavailable? You choose people you trust who will make a smooth transition on disability or death.

Fifth, review the plan at least every three years to see if changes in the law or your life mean the plan needs adjusting. You want the plan to work not only when you create it but years later when you need it.

Bonnie Kraham is an attorney practicing elder law estate planning with Ettinger Law Firm, 75 Crystal Run Road in the Town of Wallkill. She can be reached at 845-692-8700, ext. 119 or This column is intended to provide general information, not legal advice.

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Bonnie Kraham: Guiding principles of an elder-law estate plan