Since this newspaper published "The Kindness of Strangers: Inside Florida's Elder Guardianship System" in early December, I've been overwhelmed by calls and emails asking for help, or intervention, or just a sympathetic ear.
I'm working my way through the backlog, while trying to farm out cases to journalists in other parts of the state and the nation. It's slow going, because these issues are complicated, and teasing out the truth takes more time than a lot of reporters have these days.
And this week's community forum on the topic, co-sponsored by the Herald-Tribune and Sarasota County Libraries, brought forth even more wrenching testimonials from individuals feeling frustrated by a system that was designed to protect adults no longer able to fend for themselves.
Their stories are sad. But maybe even sadder are the many instances where it turns out that the elder guardianship system is doing its job properly. These are the scenarios where strangers have no choice except to step in and make decisions that families and friends simply cannot.
Take the articulate woman who telephoned me regularly from a Sarasota assisted-living facility, saying she had been incarcerated against her will. She had moved here to be closer to her son, and her daughter in Arizona had placed her under guardianship. Her professional guardian allowed only very limited contact with the Sarasota son.
After speaking with both of them and reading some court filings, it did seem that this woman did not need to be locked away, and might be better off moving in with her Sarasota son and his wife, who said they were willing to care for her. But then I learned that this son had served time in federal prison for securities fraud.
I contacted another son, who lived out of town and was caught in his siblings’ crossfire.
"Regarding the public guardianship, it's expensive," he told me. "But when the family is dysfunctional, what choice do we really have? I attempted not to go this route by hiring a care manager. I really believe it would have worked out for some time, had my efforts been embraced by those that had her ear."
Then there was the charming gentleman from Colombia, who told me that when he was a patient at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, an elder law attorney had come into his room and pressured him to buy an annuity. Next thing he knew, he was under guardianship, his house was sold, and he was placed in an expensive facility that was draining his life savings.
I did some checking, and found that he had been taken by sheriff's deputies to Sarasota Memorial's behavioral health unit in November 2013. It was the second time that month they had been called to the home by neighbors, reports said, and they found him "hallucinating that there were people in his car and in his house and he needed help getting them out."
It was not until April the following year that the Department of Children and Families petitioned to place him under guardianship. This followed an incident where deputies reportedly found him in a Target parking lot, claiming that Hispanics had kidnapped him and driven him around all day.
After I asked him about these reports, the poor soul stopped calling me.
Our forum Thursday concentrated on legislative efforts to improve the necessary evil of elder guardianship, to try to make sure it is implemented only in cases like these, where other attempts to help have failed.
|Bruce Robinson, MD|
Hearing and reading all these sad stories has convinced me that the best hedge against having to depend on the kindness of strangers is to try to live your life according to an updated version of the Golden Rule:
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Make sure they clearly understand what you would have them do.
And get it in writing.
Full Article & Source:
The takeaway lesson on elder guardianship