Lois DeWolf asked for little. The Battle Creek woman in her nineties took great pleasure in simple things like riding city buses around town and spending the day people-watching at the mall.
That all came to an end when her poorly maintained home was condemned and Adult Protective Services (APS) petiioned the court to appoint a professional guardianship company as temporary guardianship/conservatorship.
The guardianship company took control of DeWolf's finances, and she was placed into a nursing home.
DeWolf's nightmare really began in the nursing facility. According to friends, unfounded presumptions were made about her health, and for months she was denied visits from her friends, members of her church, and other well-wishers. Even though she did not have dementia, DeWolf was made to wear a "wander guard"-a leg bracelet designed to keep tabs on those who suffer from Alzheimer*s disease. The once-independent, mobile senior was now confined and in misery.
Bradley Vauter, a concerned and compassionate member of the Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors, alerted attorney Kelly Quardokus of DeWolf's plight. She agreed to represent DeWolf pro bono.
"Kelly was an answer to prayer," said Joan Klopfenstein, one of DeWolf's closest friends. "She stepped in and within one day the tether was off. Lois was allowed to have friends visit, the following Sunday she was allowed to go to church, and friends could take her shopping and out to eat."
Quardokus chalked her success up to experience and knowledge of how to work within the long-term care system to benefit elderly clients. "I was just so grateful to help her," Quardokus said.
*She was so independent, and I felt that she should go on living that way.*
Quardokus believed DeWolf would benefit from collaboration with other advocacy agencies. Before she approached APS and the nursing home about DeWolf, Quardokus enlisted the support of K. Jonker, the local ombudsman from the Michigan Office of Long-Term Care. With Jonker's help, Quardokus was able to persuade APS to drop the guardianship/conservatorship in exchange for a patient advocate and durable power of attorney, which gave DeWolf more choices and control of her life.
Now living semi-independently, a grateful DeWolf echoed her lawyer's sentiment. Her message to lawyers who are not providing pro bono services is: "Please help. You are really needed." Lawyers concerned about the lack of fi nancial compensation for pro bono services should consider the observations of DeWolf's friend, Joan Klopfenstein: "Through her efforts, Kelly was able to restore Lois's dignity. Who can put a price tag on that?"
Pro Bono Month: An Opportunity to Recognize ProBono Lawyers and Their Clients