“Most people don’t know there is a need within their own community for someone to step in and be that decision-maker,” said Tracey Ballagh, of the Lynchburg Department of Human Services.
When an individual no longer can make informed decisions that keep them safe, courts in Virginia can appoint a guardian to make decisions about that person’s health, diet, residence and social activity. Conservators deal with their finances. Right now, there are more than 300 individuals in Lynchburg and the surrounding counties who have guardians.
“It’s a very big responsibility,” said Becky Neilans, adult service supervisor for Lynchburg Department of Human Services, who said she understands why some may be hesitant to step forward. The appointment is a long-term commitment — clients currently in the program range in age from 18 to 95 — and relationship is one only the courts can sever.
“They could outlive you and that’s a lot of years that you’re going to be the decision-maker for that individual,” Neilans said, adding guardians are unpaid volunteers.
Fran Briley, a public guardian for two individuals in Lynchburg, has cared for as many as three at one time. While it can be heartbreaking at times, she enjoys it.
“The work that is involved is really small compared to the good that is being done,” said Briley, who now helps a man in his 80s and a middle-aged man with a mental disability and cerebral palsy. Like most of those in Virginia’s guardianship system, neither had family willing or able to be their surrogate decision-maker.
Briley’s clients are two of the 70 in Lynchburgwho have court-appointed guardians.
Bedford County has 106 clients under guardianship, while Amherst County has 105 and Campbell County, 37.
“Most don’t have family and that’s how we end up in a bind,” said Robin Zimmerman, adult services supervisor for Bedford County Department of Social Services. (Continue Reading)
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Volunteers needed for little-known guardian program