New Hanover County's Department of Social Services serves as the court-appointed guardian for 66 elderly and disabled people to ensure their health, safety and well being.
On July 1 that number could swell to at least 81, or by 22.7 percent, if a court-ordered plan by the state Department of Health and Human Services is approved by the General Assembly.
Under a draft guardianship proposal, county departments of social services in North Carolina would be tasked with providing or contracting for guardianship for people with mental health issues, developmental disabilities and substance abuse issues.
The guardianship cases previously were handled by state mental health agencies such as the Southeastern Center for Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services in Wilmington.
In a statement about the reasoning behind the switch from mental health to DSS for guardianship, DHHS Assistant Secretary Beth Melcher said, "… the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid have determined there would be a conflict of interest if these agencies continued to serve as public guardians while also managing the financial aspects of their clients' care."
Currently there are 1,691 people across North Carolina who receive guardianship services through the public mental health system. The average annual cost to provide guardianship to each of those people was $2,543.
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General Assembly to Consider Guardianship Proposal