“I don’t currently have any cases in St. Johns County,” MaryLou McKeon, senior vice president for guardianship and client services at the Volusia County Council on Aging, told The Record on Friday.
That was much the same thing she told Circuit Judge Michael Traynor during a guardianship hearing in a St. Johns County courtroom in April.
Traynor spoke during that hearing with both McKeon, who appeared in person, and Florida Department of Elder of Affairs Office of Public & Professional Guardians Deputy Director Amelia Milton, who appeared by phone.
He started off the hearing by explaining that he had entered an order for the Volusia County COA to assist as a limited guardian for the ward in the case.
“And I understand they are supposed to usually offer to do that,” Traynor said. “However, my concern is that they are not offering to do things in St. Johns County and they have made it clear I think in the past they don’t do things in St. Johns County.”
The OPPG, according to its website, “appoints local public guardian offices as directed by statute to provide guardianship services to persons who do not have adequate income or assets to afford a private guardian and there is no willing family or friend to serve.”
While agencies in other parts of the state may differ, the Volusia County COA, McKeon said on Friday, is able to provide services only for senior citizens and those suffering from dementia.
The state OPPG website also says that the Volusia County agency is supposed to serve in that capacity for Volusia, Flagler, Putnam and St. Johns counties — the four counties of the 7th Circuit. What Traynor said he was trying to understand through that hearing was why they don’t seem to be providing any of those services in St. Johns and Putnam counties and what could be done to fix that.
“We are very aware of the limited resources so we do understand and sympathize with the lack of resources that might be available in that area,” Milton told Traynor. “It certainly is something that we are working really hard over here to address.”
“But unfortunately because our resources are so limited we don’t currently have the funding to support our public program for taking more cases in that area at this time.”
For the 2017-18 fiscal year, which ends June 30, the Volusia COA received about $87,000 in state funds. It received other funding too, but the bulk of its money for guardianship services — $126,000 of it — came from Volusia County itself for local cases.
Historically, that has been the case, McKeon explained. Until the state, around 2014, bumped up funding to expand the guardianship program to all 67 counties, all of the Volusia County COA funding for guardianship was local, for local cases.
When they did receive that first influx of state cash, McKeon said, it was made clear to the state that the money would only really allow them to expand into Flagler County.
She said Friday that she thinks her office is handling one Flagler case right now. It has handled others, she said, though the wards have passed away.
According to Roberts’ reading of funding reports, the state spent roughly $3 million in 2014 to fund what she called the “expansion program.”
“And I would have thought, the expansion program, that those funds would have been used for somebody to pick up the phone and call the one sitting judge in the probate division in St. Johns County and/or the attorneys that have been practicing in this area — and are well known in the communities by the judges and the community — to be practicing in this area,” Roberts said. “But we heard nothing.”
Had they called, Roberts said, she and others likely would have stepped forward to help, as they often do when they become aware of local cases.
“But nobody bothered to call,” she said. “Nobody bothered to say, ‘Oh by the way, we’ve been appointed to now represent all 67 counties. Or we’ve been now appointed to represent you St. Johns County, and you Putnam County and you Flagler County.’”
McKeon said Friday though that nobody has bothered to call her either and didn’t even know what the needs were in St. Johns or Putnam counties, though it would be something that she, and perhaps Milton, would be willing to work with local officials on to try and figure out.
Which is much what Traynor said he thought should have been done in the first place.
Milton, later in the hearing, pointed out that the state money “was not specifically allocated by county to serve specific amounts of cases but rather to assure that there is a public guardian in that area and to try and fund the public guardians to take on more cases with the limited dollars that they have.”
Instead, she said, the money was meant to fund the public guardian office to “administratively serve people at no cost” to the ward and the people that they serve. That means the money is meant to fund the building space, case managers and other administrative costs so that they can take on cases.
“I understand the limitations on personnel,” Traynor said in response. “But what I feel is important when you have that is that you use the administrative dollars that you get to work in each of the areas that you serve, to develop ... a volunteer network to fill the needs that you have, or alternate funding sources, if you can find them, among either governmental or non-profit organizations.”
“And I didn’t see that being done,” he added. “And that’s the issue that I do have with the whole process right now.”
Traynor said he wasn’t faulting anyone for not having enough money.
“But I do feel that it is our responsibility to people who are in need of guardians to try to develop a network or program that helps to meet those needs through other areas if we can’t do it through funding from the state,” he said. “And I don’t know that we’ve done that and I think that’s an issue.”
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‘Nobody bothered to call’: Local attorney, judge question lack of public guardianship service for county