Saturday, November 29, 2008

Death Prompts Investigation

A young woman spent her last weeks of life emaciated and with bed sores, and now her family and lawmakers are holding the State of New Jersey responsible for her death. The developmentally disabled woman was being cared for in a group home overseen by the state.

When Tara O'Leary was 26 she was developmentally disabled but healthy. But when she died three years later, she was hospitalized, just 48 pounds and in unspeakable pain. The case is now prompting a full review of similar group homes.

The problems began when the woman's father died in 2005 and her stepmother took over as guardian. The problem was, she wasn't a legal guardian, yet was allowed to act like one, denying the family access to O'Leary, or letting them know the location of the group home where she was being cared for.

The family said O'Leary's case worker told them all the right things: "Oh, Tara's needs are being met fully." "She couldn't be in a more loving environment." "This family loves her and cares for her as she was her own."

But inside the home, O'Leary was withering away, and was finally rushed to the hospital where things went from bad to worse. The 29-year-old died on November 10. The case worker has been suspended and the group home has been shut down.

With more than 1,200 developmentally disabled adults in New Jersey, lawmakers want to know who's caring for them, and if they are okay.

Full Article and Source:
N.J. Family Alleges Abuse At Home For Disabled

See also:
Death of 48-pound disabled woman prompts NJ probe

New Jersey officials investigate state-licensed caretaker after death of 28-year-old woman

Authorities investigating death of Hunterdon County woman

Death of 48-pound disabled woman cues NJ probe

Death of 43-Pound Disabled Woman Prompts Probe (Video)

Legal Aid Facing Cutbacks

Single mothers, low-income immigrants, and senior citizens are some of the types of clients who legal aid groups serve with litigation obstacles.

Advocates say that the demand for free legal services increases in economic downturns.

But hundreds of legal aid organizations nationwide are facing losing a significant amount of their operating money, which comes in part from interest on money that lawyers hold in trust for their clients. All 50 states have some form of a law that earmarks such money for legal services for the poor. Nationally, it added up to about $370 million last year. Advocates say that figure could drop by as much as 50 percent in 2009, victim of both the economic meltdown and low interest rates.

Susan Erlichman, president of national association of IOALTA programs (interest on lawyers trust accounts): "We've never had this type of decline."

In Ohio, revenue from IOLTA is expected to drop 50 percent this year to $11 million from $22 million in 2007. Projections for 2009 look even grimmer with incoming revenue dropping to $4 million. In Washington state, revenue for grants is expected to drop from $9 million in 2008 to $6 million next year. Texas originally projected $28 million for 2007, but interest rate cuts dropped the figure to $20 million.

Legal aid firms also face decreases in government and private grants. In Seattle, King County further cut a grant for the NWIRP that paid for their domestic violence program.

Erlichman: "some legal aid firms have already begun cutting workers, and case files are piling up."

Full Article and Source:
Economic woes threaten legal aid nationwide

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Need for Improved Adult Guardianship Data

Two factors weigh heavily on the future of the ability of state courts to properly respond to the problems associated with the guardianship process . . . first, the aging of America . . . second, the current lack of basic reliable court data . . .

The US Senate’s Special Committee on Aging recently noted that the current guardianship system is not fulfilling its promise, and called for the development of new models of guardianship for the elderly.

"The starting point of any major reform is an accurate picture of the reality the policy intends to reform; in this case, that means at a minimum that states are able to count the number of incoming and outgoing adult guardianships in their courts. Unfortunately, the current caseload data on these cases is woefully deficient."

In this issue of Caseload Highlights, The National Center for State Courts reviews the current state of guardianship data and describes some new approaches to more effective case management based on improved data.

Examining the Work of the State Courts - Caseload Highlights - The Need for Improved Adult Guardianship Data - Volume 15, Number 2 November 2008

Sheila Gast - Case Files

After FOX 9 reported on conservator Sheila Gast, more people wrote in urging them to continue to investigate her for the financial and emotional heartaches they say she's caused families.

Sheila Gast Sherburne Co. Case File

Sheila Gast Hennepin Co. Case File

Sheila Gast Hennepin Co. Case File page 2

Files Source:
Investigators: The Power of One: Starting To Crack

See also:
Investigators: The Power of One

Investigators: The Power of One: A Call For Change

Husband Retains Guardianship

The husband and sister of a woman in a persistent vegetative state agreed that the husband is Heather Lavers' guardian, heading off a potential dispute like that involving the late Terri Schiavo.

Robert Lavers, who does not want any life support denied his wife, has moved from Florida with their three children, and will be the guardian for Heather Lavers. Her sister, Heidi Kaczala, withdrew her petition from Lucas County Probate Court. She agreed that the court should appoint Mr. Lavers guardian with certain conditions outlined during a hearing.

Among conditions being worked out:
* Mrs. Lavers will not be moved from Ohio without Ms. Kaczala’s consent
* Mr. Lavers must sign a release so that Ms. Kaczala and her mother, Patricia Kaczala, can discuss her care with providers
* Her mother must be notified any time Mr. Lavers gives consent about care

This is the second time this year a woman with Toledo ties has been the focus of a guardianship dispute similar to the nationally controversial case of the late Ms. Schiavo. Karen Weber, formerly of Toledo, died in Florida last month from natural causes before Okeechobee County Circuit Court could determine permanent guardianship.

Guardianship dispute involving former Toledo woman is averted

More information:
Husband Retains Guardianship Of Disabled Wife

Husband wins care rights for stricken wife in Ohio

See also:
Guardianship Battle Begins

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mrs. Astor Regrets

Brooke Astor died last year at age 105, a victim of pneumonia and Alzheimer's, but not before her once-elegant Park Avenue life had deteriorated into a family soap opera, spread across the front pages of New York's tabloids.

Astor's only son, Anthony Marshall is heading to court in January on a variety of charges stemming from how he handled his mother's affairs in her final years. Among the 18 indictments are grand larceny, conspiracy, forgery and criminal possession of stolen property.

It was Astor's grandson, Philip Marshall, a college professor in Rhode Island, who petitioned the courts in summer 2006 to remove his father as his grandmother's guardian, charging him with elder abuse.

Marshall claimed his grandmother, who became a multimillionaire after the death of her third husband, Vincent Astor, heir to John Jacob Astor's fortune, was forced to live out her days on a urine-stained sofa in a cold apartment, removed from her beloved dachshunds, her devoted butler and her closest friends.

The courts named Astor's best friend, Annette de la Renta, her guardian, replacing her son, and Astor finally was taken to her country estate to live out her last months with her staff and dogs.

The sordid tale then became a legal battle over a plundered $200 million estate that involved revised wills with millions designated for charity transferred to Anthony Marshall. Astor's beloved painting, Flags, Fifth Avenue, was sold by her son, who pocketed a $2 million commission, despite Astor's desire for it to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Meryl Gordon followed the family fight for two years.

Her new book, Mrs. Astor Regrets: The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach, is an even-handed and fascinating portrait of a wealthy family torn apart by money, jealousy and emotional distance.

'Mrs. Astor Regrets' captures socialite's deteriorated life

"In the end, Gordon tells a sad and moving story of elder abuse." - Publishers Weekly
Mrs. Astor Regrets
The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach
by Meryl Gordon

See also:
Too Sick for Court?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Disabled Voters

A woman wants to change a state law to require that mentally disabled voters be supervised when they cast a ballot.

Brenda Lyddon said she was upset when staff at a group home took her 26-year-old son, who is developmentally disabled, to vote on Election Day against her wishes.

Lyddon said she told the person in charge of the group home that her son was not to vote. "I am his mother and he was not allowed to vote." "He does not have the mental capacity to choose for himself."

Lyddon, who has guardianship over most of her son's legal decision, unsuccessfully challenged his ballot.

It was at least the second case in which a relative challenged a family member's ballot in this month's presidential election in Iowa.

In Council Bluffs, a woman challenged her elderly mother's absentee ballot, claiming her mother suffered from dementia and was coerced into casting the ballot by Democratic campaign workers who were going door-to-door asking potential voters if they wanted an absentee ballot. That challenge was also unsuccessful.

Linda Langenberg, deputy Iowa secretary of state, said it's the first time in her 32 years supervising elections that she's heard of someone challenging a family member's ballot.

Langenberg: "The Iowa code says the only way you can deny them their right to vote is to have them judged incompetent by a court of law."

Full Article and Source:
Woman seeks limits on mentally disabled voters

Mother wants to limit voting for disabled

Mother To Challenge Son's Absentee Vote

See also:
Voting Rights

Shedding the Guardian

Subsidized Guardianship

Junior speaks in front of U.S. representatives and senators about child welfare act

Rob Johnson was selected to speak by the North American Council on Adoptable Children at a reception in front of 147 House Representatives and 27 U.S. Senators because of his presentation skills and his personal experience with subsidized guardianship.

Subsidized guardianship is when family members are compensated for caring for their relatives who would otherwise be in the foster care system.

While growing up, Johnson experienced the foster care system before moving in with his aunt, who became his legal guardian. Johnson said the foster system did more harm than good. His move into subsidized guardianship with his aunt turned things around.

Johnson thanked the attendees for the passing of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008. The bill deals with improving the situations in which foster children find themselves.

Johnson: "I saw that a lot of children in the foster system were going through so much stuff and the system wasn't working. By passing this bill, it will help other youth in foster care move to permanent families through subsidized guardianship, adoption or reunification."

The act passed the House on Sept. 17, 2008, and the Senate on Sept. 22. President Bush signed the act into law on Oct. 7.

Free Educational Series

Elder law covers the legal needs of the elderly and people who are planning ahead for their aging. In January, the Aging & Disability Resource Center of Central Wisconsin will begin another "Wellness Wednesday" series on financial and legal issues.

The series speaker is Janet Lattyak, attorney from Lattyak Elder Law in Schofield. This free series runs from 10:30 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays at the Resource Center, 1000 Lakeview Drive, Wausau. Reservations are preferred; call 261-6070.

The schedule is:

Jan. 21: Advance Directives -- Health Care; co-presented by Tim Moe, Aspirus social worker.

Feb. 18: Advance Directives -- Financial / Burial/ Funeral.

March 18: Medicaid Planning -- Legal Perspective.

April 22: Wills.

May 13: Probate. Note: No legal advice is provided.

In these challenging times, with economic hardships being faced by the aging population trying to live within limited incomes, this free educational series will be a great benefit to elders in the greater Wausau region.

ADRC series addresses legal concerns of elderly

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Strapped Services

As Budget Shortfalls Force Reductions in Home Care, Low-Income People May Face Nursing Homes, Advocates Say

Faced with widening budget shortfalls, several states are rolling back support services for the elderly and disabled.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, at least 15 states, including Alabama, Virginia and Massachusetts, are targeting such funding, mostly for programs that allow low-income shut-ins to receive personal care -- like cooking, cleaning and basic health services -- in their own homes.

Advocates say that the cutbacks are exacerbating the already long waiting lists for home-care support services in many states. That leaves the low-income elderly and disabled to dip into their meager incomes to hire their own help, reach out to family or charity, or seek more restrictive and expensive care in a nursing home.

In surveys, the elderly and disabled say they prefer to avoid nursing homes and receive less-restrictive care in their own communities.

Pruned Programs:
* With the economy slowing, cash-strapped states are cutting services for the elderly and disabled
* The cuts are making it harder for some vulnerable people to stay in their own homes
* Waiting lists for home and community-based services are lengthening
* Many states expect to make further cuts in the coming year, as budgets continue to tighten

JoAnn Lamphere, director of state government relations at AARP: "We are beginning to see serious cuts and we are expecting those cuts to get worse."

Full Article and Source:
States Cut Services for Elderly, Disabled

Foster Care System Report

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children released a report that says about 30 percent of the children in foster care in the state have no prospect of a permanent family.

The PPC’s report explains that federal law directs a child welfare agency to petition the court for the involuntary termination of parental rights if a child has been in foster care for 15 months out of a 22-month period, unless compelling reasons exist not to terminate parental rights.

As of March 2008, nearly 19 percent of the children in foster care in McKean County, which was 16 children, had been there 17 months or longer. Of that, eight children still had reunification with family as a case goal; one had, as a case goal, to live with relatives; four had long-term foster care; one had emancipation and two had guardianship as goals.


* The total number of children in foster care was 85, and the median length of stay for those children was 11 months

* One child who was released to adoption had spent 125 months — or 10.4 years — in foster care. That number is higher than those reported for any other county in the state

* Two children who went into guardianship spent a median of 63 months — 5.25 years — in foster care

* Two children who were released to an unnamed “other” had spent a median time of 27 months in foster care

* Thirty-six children left foster care to return home to their parents after just one month

* Four children went to other relatives after one month

* Five children “aged out” of the system

The report also spells out the number of children reunified with their families between April 1, 2006 and March 31, 2007 — and then re-entered foster care within 12 months. There were 86 reunifications and 35 re-entries in total.

Full Article and Source:
Agency releases report on children in foster care

See also:
Large Percentage of Foster Children in Limbo in PA

Foster system faulted for not placing kids