Thursday, April 23, 2015

County Commission Probing "Frightening" Abuses in Guardianship System

Many questions but few concrete answers emerged today as Clark County commissioners probed what they called "frightening" and "appalling" abuses in the private guardian system intended to protect the elderly and infirm.

More than 8,000 people in Clark County are designated wards of court-appointed guardians, who oversee the care and finances of those who aren't mentally or physically fit to care for themselves. In the majority of those cases, the guardian is a family member or friend, District Court Chief Judge David Barker said today, but many are placed under the supervision of for-profit private guardians who charge fees for their services.

It's those private guardians who have come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks following a story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that detailed the case of one guardian accused of draining her ward’s estate of nearly half a million dollars.

Commission Chairman
Steve Sisolak
Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said he's received dozens of calls from residents concerning "unbelievable" stories of private guardians "manipulating the system to drain their (wards') assets."

Commissioners attempted to dig into the system during their meeting today, hearing reports from Barker and other staff about the lax licensing requirements for private guardians and the lack of oversight on the fees they charge to wards.

The guardianship system is run out of Family Court, with the entirety of the caseload being handled by a single hearing master and one Family Court judge.

A person is entered into the guardianship system following a petition by a family member, doctor or someone else in a position of responsibility for that person.

Sisolak said that once a person is deemed in need of a guardian, "it's virtually impossible to get out."

Elizabeth Indig
During public testimony, Las Vegas resident Elizabeth Indig shared the story of her 93-year-old mother who was put under the care of a private guardian in 2012. Indig said her mother was entered into the system without Indig's knowledge or consent and that she's been unable to reclaim legal responsibility for her mother since. During that time, Indig said the guardian charged excessive fees to her mother's estate while failing to pay bills like her homeowners association dues, leading to her mother's house being foreclosed upon and forcing her to move to a nursing home.

These concerns were echoed by Metro Police Lt. James Weiskopf, who said he's heard similar complaints during his time at the department's abuse and neglect detail.

Metro Police Lt. James Weiskopf
"The complaints we're hearing from our agency, the family members aren't even aware that this Family Court is occurring or that a private guardian has been appointed for the estate," Weiskopf said.

He said that when family members petition to take control back from the private guardian, they feel like their testimony is ignored by the court's hearing master.

"The next thing the family knows, the private guardian has total access to the finances of these wards. What the private guardians are doing is charging these fees for all the different services, that gets charged against the ward's estate," he said.

As the ward's estate is depleted, the private guardian goes to Family Court for permission to sell assets like cars, homes or other valuables to continue funding their services, according to complaints Weiskopf received.

"The goal is to create liquid assets so that way these private guardians can continue to charge their fees," he said. "That's the overall gist of the complaints we're getting ... that there's no oversight of these private guardians who are charging these ridiculous fees."

Weiskopf said Metro is limited in its ability to investigate these types of complaints because the court is responsible for oversight and there are limited regulations on what types of fees can be charged by private guardians.

Commissioners weren't presented any immediate solutions for solving the perceived problem in the private guardianship system, but they promised to continue looking into the issue in search of abuses and potential fixes.

Sisolak requested that a task force be formed to investigate the system and said the county's audit committee would look to review financial records submitted by guardians to the court.

Barker said one potential fix could be to take the guardianship system out of the hands of a single hearing master and judge and instead spread them around to multiple judges.

Another potential fix could be to add staff to the county's Public Guardian Office. That government office provides similar services as private guardians, but currently only has six employees handling about 300 cases, a fraction of the total number of guardianships in the county.

"If there is private guardian abuse out there, we should go after a couple right away. We don't have to wait for the overall analysis," Commissioner Larry Brown said. "If we can start going after some of the most flagrant abuses, I think we can start to build back the public trust as we ... improve the system."

County Commission Probing "Frightening" Abuses in Guardianship System

See Also:
Watch the video of the hearing.  Scroll to:  00:38:31 to 02:10:21 and then to 02:52.03


Nora said...

Love the Metro Lt. saying it just like it is.

Betty said...

I just finished watching the video of the hearing and I am so excited, I can't stand it. No longer can they turn away from this issue. Something's got to be done and quickly.

Vc345vc355 said...

Those of us who been fighting for commissioners to finally hear our voices it's taken 10yrs..