Saturday, February 13, 2016

‘Promise you’ll never put me in a nursing home’

Sarah Harris & husband, Ernie
Whenever Sarah Harris and her husband, Ernie, drove past a nursing home, he would say the same thing: That’s where you’re going to put me. That’s where I’m going to be sent.

“I would say, ‘No, I don’t think that’s going to happen,’ ” said Harris, of Fairfax, Va.

Her husband had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at 53. She was 10 years younger and believed she could care for him until the end.

“I knew that he did not like nursing homes,” she said. “His dad lived in a retirement community, and he really did not like facilities.”

His fears, and her assurances, mirror conversations that are playing out increasingly between husbands and wives, children and parents, and others as the population of older Americans swells. By 2050, the number of people 85 and older is projected to triple.

Promise you won’t put me away. It is hard to say no to that request. But it often is even harder to honor it.

For many, the idea of being sent to a facility implies abandonment. Older Americans remember the poorhouse , where the old and infirm were hidden away to die. But many younger people also are repelled by the idea.

There’s now a wider spectrum of facilities catering to different levels of need, but even the best ones can feel institutional. Daily life is often rigidly regulated, robbing residents of autonomy, and the familiar faces and spaces of a person’s life are gone.

Like many caregivers, Harris was concerned that being in an institution would hasten her husband’s decline. People in her position engage in a constant calculus: How long can you hold a job, take care of a declining loved one and stay healthy before something cracks? Where is the line between self-abnegation and self-preservation? How do you balance the best interests of the sick person and those of other family members?

A couple of generations ago, families were more likely to care for their parents at home — but people didn’t live as long. Thanks to modern medicine, even those with devastating illnesses such as Alzheimer’s can live many years past their diagnoses. But caring for them at home becomes increasingly difficult as cognition and self-care skills worsen. Safety, of the patients and of other family members, can also become a factor.

But even if the spouse or parent gets to the point of not being able to remember the promise — Promise you won’t put me away — the caregiver remembers.

“Oftentimes, people feel duty-bound to do what they said they would do,” said Ruth Drew, director of family and information services at the Alzheimer’s Association’s national office. “They have no idea what they’re signing up for. They haven’t thought about what it’s like to take care of someone who’s a foot taller than you and needs to be lifted to be bathed or put to bed.” 

To Bill Thomas, a geriatrician who is working to change American attitudes about old age, the promise is a red herring. “It’s actually the only thing we know how to do because we don’t have the actual language to say what we’re really asking: ‘Promise me you’ll protect my dignity, promise you’ll protect my privacy, promise to make sure I don’t live in pain.’

“Ironically, the promise has led to significant amounts of abuse and neglect, because there’s a limit to what people can do.”

It wouldn’t be necessary, he points out, if people demanded more from the nation’s nursing homes.

“The nursing home industry has, ironically, benefited tremendously from the low expectations people have,” Thomas said. “They have successfully persuaded people that you’ve got no other choice — it’s got to be cold and sterile and rigid.”

Caregiving can take a severe financial toll, and studies have shown higher rates of depression, physical illnesses and mortality among family caregivers. And yet the impulse to keep a loved one at home is powerful.

Shari Sullivan, 55, swore to care for both her husband, who had Alzheimer’s, and her mother, who is 85 and lives with her.

“My vows were, ‘For richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health,’ ” said Sullivan, an accountant who lives in Woodbridge, Va. “The vows don’t stop just because he got sick.” Also, she believed that living apart from their young daughter would have accelerated his decline. “It would have just crushed him.”

With other family members helping, she was able to manage for five years. Then a fall sent her husband to the hospital; he died six weeks later from complications. Her mother still lives with her, with home health care covered by long-term care insurance.

“She said, ‘If I ever got Alzheimer’s, I want you to put me in a nursing home.’ And you know what? I still would not put her in a nursing home,” Sullivan said. “There’s no why or why not. . . . She may need me, but I need her more.”

However, Sullivan has forbidden her daughter from doing the same. “I don’t want caregiving to become her life.”

For Harris, a defining moment came three years after her husband’s diagnosis. She called home one day from her job as a preschool teacher to tell him his sandwich was in the refrigerator. He did not answer. The answering machine picked up, with her voice on it, confusing him. He later told her, “I could hear you, but I couldn’t find you.”

With two children at home, she realized she could no longer keep him there safely. But that didn’t make it any easier. Because it wasn’t just Ernie she’d made the promise to.

“I was making the promise to myself. I felt like I was letting myself down — I should be able to do this. It broke my heart. It was one of the worst days of my life, the day I put him in a nursing home.”

The feeling that one has failed to keep the promise adds to the stress of placing someone in a facility, said Gary Small, director of the Division of Geriatric Psychology at UCLA’s School of Medicine. 

“It’s always best to not make promises you can’t keep or qualify,” he said. “You could say, ‘Look, Mom, I know you want to stay in your home, and we’re going to do whatever we can to keep you there, but . . . there could be things that you don’t anticipate.’
Talking it through early while everyone is still healthy can help. So can doctors or support groups, which can affirm when a move to a facility would be in everyone’s best interest.

There are also those who won’t make the promise. A woman Drew worked with said her daughter would joke, Oh, Mama, don’t worry, I’ll find you a nice nursing home when the time comes. “Her daughter was kind of letting her know that was a boundary for her, that she wasn’t ready to stop her career and become a full-time caregiver.”

But such discussions can take ugly turns.

“I’ve even heard, ‘If you put me in a nursing home, you’ll be cut out of my will,’ ” said Leah Eskenazi, operations director at the Family Caregiver Alliance. “It becomes complicated when someone gets dementia because you can’t have a conversation with them.”

Others expressly reject making such a request.

Paul Hornback’s father and grandmother had had dementia, and he saw the toll caregiving can take.

So when Hornback, a mechanical engineer for the Defense Department, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2009, he and his wife visited memory care facilities near their home in Hodgenville, Ky., until he found a couple that he liked. 

“I wanted to see them first while I could still make a decision,” Hornback, 61, said. “Of course, I want to stay home as long as I can . . . but I’d want to leave my house and go to a unit if I am unsafe or harmful to other people.”

He has put together a box of items he would like to bring with him, including photographs of family and of his time in the military, and his Bible.

Reston, Va., resident Evelyn Brown, 64, and her husband Willie made a sort of reverse promise: After nearly 40 years of marriage, her husband told her that he would want to go to a facility if he became seriously ill. “Would you be strong enough to do that if it came down to I had some kind of disease and required that?” she recalled him asking.

“I said yes, I would be strong enough,” Brown said, and he made the same vow to her. A few years later, at 65, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

“The only thing he asked me to promise him was to not put him in a facility and walk away from him, and I have not done that,” she said. Two years after his diagnosis, she placed him in an assisted-living facility, where she visits him three to four times a week.

As agonizing as it was, Harris’s decision to put her husband in a facility helped her know he was safe and allowed her to take better care of her children. Her husband died 18 months later. She now runs a support group for family members of people with younger onset Alzheimer’s.

On the day they brought him to the assisted-living facility, “I left him, and he watched after us,” Harris said. “It was very sad.” And then, “he acclimated. Which was amazing.”

Full Article & Source:
‘Promise you’ll never put me in a nursing home’

Justice for Victims of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

Nursing home abuse in the United States has turned into an epidemic, leaving our elderly loved ones at risk of abuse and neglect each and every day. To understand the scope of the problem, the National Center on Elder Abuse conducted a study in which 44 percent of nursing home residents reported abuse with 95 percent reporting neglect of themselves or other residents within the past year. At Hupy and Abraham, we believe that everyone should be treated with dignity and those who have been victims of nursing home neglect or abuse should be able to recover for the preventable injuries they suffered.

Many people discover their loved one has been the victim of nursing home abuse or neglect when a resident suffers a preventable physical injury or dies as a result of negligence. However, nursing home abuse and neglect cases can be difficult to prove. Due to the advanced age or already poor health of a resident, proving that neglect was the cause of an injury or death can be complicated, but there are certain injuries that can indicate that neglect may have occurred.

Types of injuries that can result from neglect or abuse in a nursing home or long-term care facility:
· Falls
· Avoidable bedsores
· Dehydration or malnourishment
· Injury or illness as a result of medication errors
· Broken bones or hypothermia as a result of wandering or elopement
· Infections

At Hupy and Abraham, we have represented clients who have suffered from severe abuse and neglect that resulted in successful wrongful death settlements. In one sadly common example, an elderly resident received such poor care that a pressure ulcer (bedsore) was allowed to develop and go untreated for months, resulting in her death. The family of the victim received significant compensation in a wrongful death claim, but it will never undo the pain and suffering that such serious neglect caused. Unfortunately, these atrocities happen all the time.

Hupy and Abraham, S.C. has a successful track record when it comes to helping victims of negligence and abuse. So if you have any questions regarding nursing home abuse or neglect, or suspect that a loved one has been a victim of such abuse or neglect, please contact Hupy and Abraham, S.C. today. Call 800-800-5678, or start a live chat with us anytime at to schedule an initial consultation.

Full Article & Source:
Justice for Victims of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

EM man accused of financially exploiting his grandmother

An East Moline man is charged with forging checks in his grandmother's name, exploiting her out of several thousand dollars.

During the last month, Christian M. Lannan, 19, is accused of writing more than $10,000 in checks to himself, forging the signature of his 74-year-old grandmother and cashing the checks, according to charges filed this week.

East Moline Police Lt. Darren Gault said officers were called about 1:15 p.m. Wednesday to Triumph Community Bank, 701 Avenue of the Cities, for a report of a suspicious person cashing checks.

Through further investigation, police determined Mr. Lannan allegedly took the checks from his grandmother and cashed them for "large amounts of money," Lt. Gault said.

Mr. Lannan was arrested and made an initial appearance the same day in Rock Island County Circuit Court.

He is charged with financial exploitation of an elderly person. The Class 2 felony alleges he "knowingly and illegally" used assets or resources of his grandmother, with whom he held a "position of trust."

He also faces four counts of Class 3 felony forgery, alleging he cashed the fraudulent checks on several occasions between Jan. 1 and Wednesday.

Lt. Gault said police recovered some of the funds, and the case remained under investigation.

Mr. Lannan is held on a $75,000 bond and must post at least 10 percent -- or $7,500 -- to be released.

However, a judge's order signed Thursday prohibits him from posting bond before a hearing is held to determine the source of money he may use to bond out.

The order was granted on a motion filed by Assistant State's Attorney Justin Umlah, who wrote that Mr. Lannan also faces charges in two other pending felony cases.

Those charges accuse Mr. Lannan of possessing cannabis, with the intent to deliver, on two different dates and also of possessing less than 15 grams of a substance containing Alprazolam.

Mr. Lannan had obtained thousands of dollars by "means of deception" and "admitted to moving tens of thousands of dollars of narcotics," Mr. Umlah wrote in the motion.

He added that, according to police, Mr. Lannan was not employed and had "no legitimate source of currency" to use as bond.

Mr. Lannan is represented by the Rock Island County public defender's office and is scheduled for a Feb. 23 preliminary hearing in the forgery case.

Full Article & Source:
EM man accused of financially exploiting his grandmother

Friday, February 12, 2016

Guardianship bill gets unanimous support

The Florida Senate on Wednesday unanimously backed the expansion of the state’s regulation of guardians who care for frail elders, including allowing the state Department of Elderly Affairs to discipline private guardians who violate care standards.

At the same time, a similar measure cleared its final House committee, meaning the bill is now ready for a floor vote in the House.

“We all recognize there is a problem,” said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, who has called the bill (SB 232) her top priority for her final regular session in the Legislature.

The measure follows up on a law that Detert helped pass last year to curb abuses in the adult guardianship system, including regulations on public guardians, who are appointed to care for incapacitated seniors who are poor.

The new bills extend a series of regulations and state oversight to private guardians, who now must have a background screening and meet certain training requirements. It would include a system for investigating complaints and disciplining private guardians.

“It left a whole segment of the elderly open for abuse and they have been targeted, especially wealthy older women,” Detert said, adding it is a problem not only in Florida but across the nation.

She said Florida would have “the strongest laws” in the country if the bill becomes law as anticipated. “I know you will agree that protecting the elderly is one of our top priorities,” Detert said.

In a tribute to Detert, the 39 other senators agreed to become co-sponsors of the legislation as it heads to the House.

Earlier in the day, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously backed a bill (HB 403), sponsored by Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, that would expand the Department of Elderly Affairs (DOEA) power to monitor and regulate public guardians to include private guardians.

All the guardians would be required to register and would be regulated by the DOEA’s renamed Office of Public and Professional Guardians.

“Under this bill the office can investigate allegations of abuse and fraud and take disciplinary action when warranted,” Ahern said.

Ahern cited the press reports of abuses of elderly Floridians as one of the motivations for the legislation. The Herald-Tribune’s December 2014 series, “The Kindness of Strangers,” highlighted cases of frail seniors who had been taken advantage of by unregulated private guardians.

“We don’t want to read another story about someone who has been appointed by the courts and given complete autonomy over a person’s life and estate and uses that position to take advantage of the person they were entrusted to protect,” Ahern said.

The House committee also heard from Doug Franks, who has fought to remove his mother from a private guardianship in Pensacola.

“This bill is going to put some oversight on this where before we had no oversight on professional guardians,” Franks said, adding he wanted to eventually see stronger laws, including criminal penalties for guardians who abuse their trust.

Under the current law, Franks said it is difficult for family members to “get their parents back because once they’re in guardianship, professional guardianship, they can’t get out.”

“It’s not like foster care where you get a chance to get your children out. When they’re in guardianship, forget it,” Franks said.

The legislation has the support of the AARP and the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops. Detert said the legislation also has the backing of Gov. Rick Scott and DOEA Secretary Samuel Verghese.

The bill provides $822,000 in funding for the DOEA’s expanded guardian office, which will include six full-time employees.

Full Article & Source:
Guardianship bill gets unanimous support

Appeals board reverses another VA executive’s punishment

WASHINGTON – An appeals board has handed the Department of Veterans Affairs a third straight reversal in a high-profile executive malfeasance case, this time voiding the dismissal of the embattled director of the Albany-Stratton VA Medical Center in New York.

But VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson is vowing not to reinstate the director, saying the Veterans Choice Act that Congress passed in 2014 gives him the authority to discipline staff, intensifying a growing battle between VA and the Merit Systems Protection Board, which hears appeals from federal employees about punishments.

“I am disappointed that the MSPB judge in this case did not afford my judgment the deference the Choice Act envisioned, but I will nevertheless continue to hold VA senior executives to the highest standards of conduct regardless of the risk of having my decisions overturned,” Gibson said in a released statement after the decision to reverse the dismissal of Albany-Stratton Director Linda Weiss. “Because of this high standard, I do not intend to return this individual to any position, in Albany or elsewhere, where she would be responsible for patient care or safety.”

Veterans Affairs officials have withstood criticism from lawmakers, who have harangued them routinely for not punishing executives accused of wrongdoing. Now department leadership faces a new challenge: an appeals board that is routinely voiding disciplinary actions, contending the VA is going too far in their punishments of executives.

In announcing the decision of Judge Arthur S. Joseph to overturn Weiss’s dismissal, the Merit Systems Protection Board did not give reasons for the decision, saying it will be released by Feb. 16.

“This is yet another MSPB ruling that defies common sense,” said Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. “It will likely force VA to create a do-nothing job for an employee it has no confidence in.”

At times, judges have struggled with Veterans Choice Act rules that force them to adjudicate VA appeals within 21 days. In one recent ruling, a judge who reversed VA’s proposed demotion of St. Paul (Minnesota) VA Regional Director Kimberly Graves noted she and the lawyers involved had just 2 ½ weeks to pore over 3,800 pages of documents.

William Spencer, spokesman for the Merit Systems Protection Board, would not comment Monday on the Weiss ruling or the board’s disagreement with VA over the department’s authority to discipline executives.

A VA spokeswoman said Monday that Weiss received information in March 2015 showing a certain nursing assistant “should not be involved in direct patient care” but did not remove the assistant from patient care until July. The spokeswoman did not offer more specifics.

More so, Weiss retired in January after finding out she would be removed and it is unclear what the judge’s ruling means as far as the department’s obligations, the VA spokeswoman said.

Two staff members were caught stealing drugs at the Albany-Stratton medical center during Weiss’ tenure as director. One staffer was found in the hospital incoherent with a used syringe nearby, according to the Albany Times-Union.

Weiss could not be reached for comment Monday.

The week before the Weiss decision, two other VA executives had high-profile disciplinary positions overturned. Diana Rubens and Graves, the directors of the Philadelphia and St. Paul VA regional offices respectively, were found to be involved in a scheme to move themselves to new positions with lesser responsibilities at their higher salaries while also receiving about $400,000 in relocation compensation.

VA had recommended Rubens and Graves be demoted and separate judges found both were guilty of wrongdoing. Yet, the MSPB overturned their punishments, finding the VA was inconsistent in its punishments.

The MSPB’s decisions also appear to be emboldening Miller to expand the scope of his criticism beyond VA, calling for reform of the entire federal employee disciplinary system.

“The MSPB coddles and protects misbehaving employees rather than facilitating fair and efficient discipline,” he said. “And as long as we have a system in place that requires a similar standard to discipline federal workers as it does to send criminals to prison, accountability problems at VA and across the government will only continue.”

Full Article & Source:
Appeals board reverses another VA executive’s punishment

State to hold training sessions on investment fraud

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A series of training programs to teach certified public accountants about investment fraud and financial exploitation will kick off this month in Las Cruces.

The state Securities Division is holding the programs so CPAs will be better able to “recognize signs of vulnerability to financial exploitation and make appropriate referrals for (those) deemed vulnerable or for those who’ve already been defrauded,” according to a news release.

The first session will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 22 at the Thomas Branigan Memorial Library. Other sessions will be held on March 14 in Roswell, May 24 in Santa Fe and June 7 in Albuquerque.

Full Article & Source:
State to hold training sessions on investment fraud

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Judge in Post series moved from guardianship cases

Circuit Judge Martin Colin’s tenure as a probate judge is over in the wake of The Palm Beach Post’s investigation into the the veteran jurist and his wife in the guardianships of incapacitated seniors.
But it remains to be seen whether he still has a role in guardianship through a mediation program he helps coordinate.

Palm Beach County Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath, with little fanfare, posted Colin’s transfer on the judicial circuit’s website on Tuesday, moving him from the Probate & Guardianship Division in Delray Beach to the Civil Circuit division in the central courthouse in West Palm Beach.

He is also no longer hearing Family Division cases and will instead hear civil disputes and hold jury trials involving disputes in amounts of more than $15,000.

The move was buried on the circuit’s website and not readily seen without searching an announcement section that appeared blank on the home page.

Circuit Judge Jaimie Goodman will take Colin’s place, hearing guardianship, probate and family cases in the South County Courthouse.

Colin assumes Goodman’s docket as of Monday in the circuit civil division. Colin said he will not seek re-election following The Post’s series, Guardianship: A Broken Trust.

Colin’s transfer comes just as the Florida Senate approved legislation that would give Florida its first regulatory authority over professional guardians. The bill – along with one passed this past year – is in response to complaints of guardians bilking the savings of the elderly as appointed officers of the court.

Many of these elderly seniors — called wards — suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia.

Colbath did not respond to a request through his spokesperson to comment. He also would not answer repeated queries about whether Colin will continue in his role coordinating the court’s elder care program, a mediation program for guardianship disputes, where many former judges work. Chief Judge Colbath’s father, for example, former Chief Judge Walter N. Colbath Jr., is listed as a mediator for a local company.

Also, it appears that Colbath is not taking any direct action regarding Colin’s wife, Elizabeth “Betsy” Savitt, a professional guardian who has taken tens of thousands of dollars from the life savings of incapacitated seniors prior to court approval in guardianships and in follow-up probate cases.

The couple’s finances improved substantially after Savitt became a guardian in 2011 after years of foreclosures, liens and unpaid loans to private individuals.

As a court-appointed professional guardian, Savitt takes over the lives of seniors and other adults who no longer can care for themselves, managing their finances, medical care and whether they can remain in their homes. She has access to hundreds of thousands of dollars. She was a tennis pro before she became a guardian.

The families of these seniors, backed by reams of court documents, say that besides taking fees without court approval, Savitt double-billed, funneled money to relatives of the ward who are suspected of financial — and even physical abuse. In numerous cases, she was accused by families of creating unnecessary litigation in order to generate more fees for herself and the cadre of attorneys who represent her.

Those attorneys regularly appeared in front of Colin, sometimes seeking his approval for generous fees in other cases. When The Post started investigating, Colin started shedding their cases: 115 recusals from July 1 to Dec. 31.

Colin’s colleagues on the bench presided over his wife’s cases. Currently, she has at least two guardianships but has also been involved in managing special-needs trusts and as a personal representative of estates.

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald Kogan told The Post for its series that Savitt’s role as a professional guardian created an appearance of impropriety for Colin that put him in jeopardy of violating the state’s judicial canons.

Savitt and Colin have denied any wrongdoing.

Colin didn’t hear Savitt’s cases, but his colleagues do – particularly Circuit Judge David French, a friend who once planned a cruise vacation with the both of them.

French, for now, appears to be staying put in the Probate & Guardianship Division. Earlier this month, Colbath announced a five-point plan that directed all “current” south county judges to recuse themselves from Savitt’s cases so it is uncertain whether Judge Goodman will be hearing Savitt’s cases.

Colbath’s plan also includes training for probate judges and their staff, standardization of billing practices and a wheel system to provide random assignments of guardians to cases.

Dr. Sam Sugar, who has led the charge for legislative reform in Florida as head of Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, said Colbath has not gone far enough.

“The response from Judge Colbath is an outrage and reinforces the widely held and growing perception that the Florida court system does not deserve the trust of the people,” he said.

“Years of blatant conflicts of interest, looting of innocent people’s entire estates, self serving protection of rapacious guardians and lawyers has resulted in no discipline, no consequences, but every indication that this egregious system will continue.”

For Skender Hoti, Colbath’s actions smack of a whitewash.

Hoti is the restaurateur who in February 2012 watched as Savitt – assisting a family guardian — tried to seize possessions from one of his homes using an order by Colin. Hoti claims he is still missing cash, jewelry and other possessions.

Hoti cared for Gwendolyn Batson for decades before the senior’s brother sought to find her incapacitated and seize her assets.

Hoti said Colbath’s changes are sweeping the problem under the rug.

“We’ve been caught so we will change clothing and continue as usual,” Hoti said. “A septic tank plumbing would be more appropriate.”

While Colbath shook up the judiciary with Colin’s move, lawmakers aimed to do the same to professional guardians. The Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday to provide the state’s first real regulatory authority over the burgeoning industry, while the House’s Judiciary Committee unanimously advanced a bill that would do the same.

SB 232,is sponsored by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, while its House companion HB 403 is sponsored by Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole.

“I think a year from now this is going to be the top issue on 20/20 and 60 Minutes,” Detert said before the vote. “I think with this bill we will have the strongest law in the nation.”

The bill would create the Office of Public and Professional Guardians and give the state the power to investigate and discipline professional guardians. The bill has received support from Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida State Guardianship Association.

Ahern, speaking to the Judiciary Committee, said reports of guardians taking financial advantage of the elderly person they are sworn to protect are overwhelming. He told lawmakers that they don’t want to read another story of guardianship abuse.

Jodi Rich, whose uncle was in a contentious guardianship under Savitt, said bills are a good sign of change for the industry to hold bad professional guardians accountable.

“It’s a good idea that the state now looks out for seniors’ welfare,” she said.

Not everybody, though, was a fan.

During public comment in front of the House Judiciary Committee, the bill came under fire for not addressing how new standards will be formulated and was called a Band-Aid on a massive wound.

“It is all about the money,” said guardianship reform advocate Douglas Franks of Pensacola, who has fought a professional guardian on behalf of his mother. “Isolate, medicate and steal the estate — that is what these people go by.”

Full Article & Source:
Judge in Post series moved from guardianship cases

See Also:
Chief judge keeps public waiting on details of guardianship shakeup

Guardianships: A Broken Trust: Attorney: "Courts Have Allowed This Culture"

Guardianships: A Broken Trust, 115 Recusals in Six Months

Guardianships: A Broken Trust: Judges Socialized, Planned Trips Together

Broward Judge Cynthia Imperato to resign

Broward Circuit Judge Cynthia Imperato, who was facing disciplinary action from the state's Supreme Court over her conduct following a 2013 DUI arrest, will resign by the end of the month, Broward Chief Administrative Judge Peter Weinstein confirmed Tuesday.

"I spoke to her today and she indicated that in the next few days she's going to send a letter to the governor announcing her retirement from the 17th Judicial Circuit," Weinstein said. "Judge Imperato was an excellent judge and a dedicated public servant. I think I speak for many people here when I say we will be very sorry to see her go."

In October, the Judicial Qualifications Commission recommended a three-month unpaid suspension and a fine of $20,000 as punishment for Imperato's refusal to cooperate with police who had pulled her over on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol in Boca Raton. Imperato was later found guilty of DUI and sentenced to 20 days of house arrest, which she served last summer.

But in January, the Supreme Court appeared unsatisfied with that recommendation and ordered Imperato to give justices a reason she should be allowed to keep her job. She has until Monday to respond, but her resignation makes that unnecessary.

Imperato was a Tallahassee police officer who earned her law degree in 1989 from Florida State University. She went on to become an assistant statewide prosecutor from 1990 to 2003, when Gov. Jeb Bush tapped her to replace Circuit Judge Estella May Moriarty, who had resigned.

Full Article & Source:
Broward Judge Cynthia Imperato to resign

Justice Eakin's trial over Porngate emails scheduled for March 29 in Philly

Suspended state Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin will be tried next month in Philadelphia over allegations that he engaged in inappropriate email practices that tainted the reputation of Pennsylvania's court system.

Superior Court Judge Jack A. Panella, who is also conference judge for the state's Court of Judicial Discipline, scheduled Eakin's ethics trial for March 29 in an order issued Tuesday. The setting will be Courtroom 612 in Philadelphia City Hall.

In choosing that site, Panella noted the courtroom is "high-tech equipped" so emails Eakin sent or received can be shown on a video screen during the trial, which will be open to the public.

Eakin is on the hot seat in the so-called Porngate scandal, for being part of an email chain that passed on what critics contend were offensive message that were sexist and racist.

Eakin, a former Superior court judge and Cumberland County district attorney, has apologized for his email activity, but argued that his online actions don't warrant discipline. In December, a three-judge panel of the Court of Judicial Discipline suspended him with pay over the emails.

The stakes will be high for Eakin when he enters that courtroom in Philly. If the disciplinary court rules against him he will face punishment, including possible removal from the state's highest court.
The 67-year-old Republican was elected to the Supreme Court in 2001 and won retention in 2011. By law, Pennsylvania judges must retire at age 70, although there is a push to extend that cut-off to age 75.

Eakin is one of the highest officials to come under scrutiny in Porngate, which was triggered by emails Attorney General Kathleen Kane uncovered while reviewing the handling of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation case. A fellow Justice, Seamus P. McCaffrey, was suspended and then retired in 2014 after disclosure of his questionable emails.

Full Article & Source:
Justice Eakin's trial over Porngate emails scheduled for March 29 in Philly

Deputy County Attorney reprimanded

Deputy La Paz County Attorney Karen Hobbs was reprimanded in November by the Presiding Disciplinary Judge of the Arizona Supreme Court for using improper methods in plea negotiations in certain drug cases.

In his final judgement and order handed down Nov. 12, Presiding Disciplinary Judge William J. O’Neill stated that when Hobbs became aware of her error, she took steps to mitigate her actions and cooperated with authorities investigating the matter.

The parties involved agreed Hobbs should pay costs totaling $1,200.

O’Neill’s order says that Hobbs used a plea bargaining practice in 2014 in drug cases involving disclosure of confidential informants that was no longer permitted as a result of modifications to the revised Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure. These modifications went into effect in January 2014.

Hobbs learned of her error in December 2014 after she observed a Mohave County trial and asked the prosecutor about his plea bargaining practices. In January 2015, she travelled to Phoenix and sought the advice of Maricopa County prosecutors.

The order said Hobbs began mitigating the effects of her errors soon after this.

“Ms. Hobbs conditionally admits her misconduct violated Rules 42, ERs 3.4(a) (fairness to opposing party/counsel), 3.8(d) (prosecutor disclosure/special responsibilities) and 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice),” the order said.

As an aggravating factor, the order said Hobbs engaged in a pattern of negligent misconduct. As for mitigating factors, the order found Hobbs had no prior disciplinary record, engaged in a timely good faith effort to rectify the consequences of that misconduct, and she made full and free disclosure to disciplinary boards and had a cooperative attitude towards the proceedings.

“Attorney Hobbs corrected her mistake as soon as she understood that she was wrong,” La Paz County Attorney Tony Rogers said in an e-mail. “This has been a learning experience for her and adjustments have been made to prevent it from happening again.”

“I received a bar complaint for refusing to disclose the identity of confidential informants in cases involving the sales of illegal drugs, most commonly methamphetamine, within the required time limits.,” Hobbs said. “Unaware of a recent change in the law, I continued to rely on the prior outdated rule. For this I was appropriately reprimanded by the Arizona Bar. As an attorney, it is my responsibility to stay informed as to every change in the law. I sincerely regret my error and any inconvenience it has caused.”

The Disciplinary Presiding Judge oversees attorney disciplinary matters in Arizona. On the Arizona Supreme Court website, the duties are described this way: “The Presiding Disciplinary Judge presides over attorney discipline proceedings and issues orders together with a two-member hearing panel.

The opinions of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge and hearing panel are final orders in that case and may be appealed to the Supreme Court in accordance with Rule 59, Arizona Rules of the Supreme Court. Although the decisions of the Hearing Panel are final orders in the case in which they are issued, they do not serve as stare decisis precedent for future cases nor constitute the law of the jurisdiction.”

Full Article & Source:
Deputy County Attorney reprimanded

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

CA Investigation: Memphis lawyer removed from veterans' cases amid investigation

David Meadows
David Meadows' life revolves around bottles of medicine cluttered on his living room end table and a $200-a-week spending allowance the disabled veteran receives from the federal government.

Still, it was a comfortable life, until the brain-damaged Army veteran got a call last week informing him his government-appointed conservator — a stranger who manages his money — was under federal investigation.

Meadows said a Department of Veterans Affairs representative reported his account had been frozen — it was unclear when his next check would come.

"If my bills aren't paid I'll be out on the street,'' the graying Meadows, 62, said from an easy chair in his modest Millington rental home.

Meadows is far from alone as the VA's Office of Inspector General investigates actions by Memphis attorney Keith L. Dobbs, a VA-appointed fiduciary who has overseen the financial affairs of as many as 18 Memphis-area veterans in recent years. A VA spokesman declined to discuss specifics of the probe, yet records show the government moved last week to replace Dobbs from control of estates involving four Memphis veterans. Sources knowledgeable of the investigation said they expect that number to grow.

Dobbs' attorney, Michael Scholl, declined to discuss the case, saying, "At this point it wouldn't be proper for us to comment on any investigation. It's Mr. Dobbs' plan to rectify any problems that may have arisen in these accounts if any do exist.''

An independent investigation by The Commercial Appeal shows Dobbs, a licensed lawyer in Tennessee since 2007, has run the financial affairs of as many as 18 Memphis-area veterans. Sixteen of those cases came under a process known as a VA guardianship. In those cases, the VA files a petition to secure an extra layer of supervision in a public court for fiduciaries who run the affairs of disabled and mentally incompetent veterans.

Tennessee law limits an individual other than a family member to no more than 12 VA guardianships at a time. However, the newspaper's review of Shelby County Probate Court records indicates that in January Dobbs may have been in control of as many as 14 VA estates, one worth as little as $1,500 and another as much as $294,000.

Probate Court Clerk Paul Boyd said he believes Dobbs has had as many as 10 to 20 cases but is uncertain if Dobbs ever exceeded the limit.

Boyd said he was alerted to potential troubles in late January when he received an email from the VA informing him it was "investigating allegations'' involving Dobbs.

"I received notification that the VA is taking him off their cases,'' Dobbs said. He declined to release a copy of that email. The newspaper filed a request for the email pursuant to the Tennessee Open Records Act and is awaiting a determination by the County Attorney's Office.

The clerk's office has done its own review of Dobbs' files but Boyd said, "There's nothing that we have seen in the public court to say anything is wrong.''

The VA filed petitions last week to remove Dobbs from four cases, replacing him with Memphis attorney Alan R. Wolfe. Wolfe said the VA selected him because he has experience as a guardian, but said he has not been apprised of any possible irregularities.

Replying to a reporter's inquiry, Martin Greenwell, spokesman for the Veterans Benefits Administration's fiduciary hub in Louisville, Ky., released a four-sentence statement that said in part, "The VA has and will always respond swiftly to address any allegations of wrongdoing in order to protect the beneficiaries we serve.'' He referred questions to the VA's Office of Inspector General in Washington, but a spokesman there did not respond to messages.

Meadows, the disabled veteran, said he detected troubles last month when a check from Dobbs failed to clear his bank.

"That's the second time it bounced,'' Meadows said, handing a reporter a letter from his bank and a copy of a $50 check that Dobbs wrote on Jan. 13 from Meadows' VA account.

Meadows said he receives $3,000 a month in veteran's benefits and another $1,300 a month in Social Security disability payments — money that went to Dobbs as his VA payee. Dobbs, in turn, paid Meadows' rent and utilities and provided Meadows with a weekly, $200 stipend for food and personal spending.

Meadows said he received a troubling phone call on Feb. 1 from a VA representative informing him Dobbs had been removed as his conservator and that the attorney was under federal investigation. Meadows said the agent told him his account has been temporarily frozen.

"He said I cannot expect another check.''

Meadows said he's scheduled to have a meeting Sunday with the VA agent. But he's worried and confused after placing a series of follow-up phone calls that went unreturned.

"I can't even get an answer from the VA,'' he said.

"I'll have to go downtown and beg for an opportunity to stay somewhere until this is resolved,'' he said.

"I gave what I had for my country ... And today I'm in fear of my life.''

Full Article & Source:
CA Investigation: Memphis lawyer removed from veterans' cases amid investigation

See Also:
Norman Hughes

Senate unanimous in support for elderly-abuse protections

PIERRE—A package of protections for elderly people in South Dakota against emotional and financial abuse won approval Wednesday from the state Senate.

The vote was 35-0. SB 54 now goes to the House of Representatives.

Sen. David Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, sponsored the legislation last year establishing the task force.
David Gilbertson, chief justice for the South Dakota Supreme Court, had suggested the topic.

"Some people have described elder abuse as hiding in plain sight or a silent crisis," Novstrup said.

The task force made 16 recommendations. Ten are contained in the legislation.

One of the changes calls for emotional abuse to be classified as a Class 1 misdemeanor crime, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $2,000.

The Legislative Research Council estimated the impact of adding the emotional-abuse misdemeanor at $1,054 per year.

That is based on the likelihood of nine arrests and one conviction per year, with an average jail sentence of 10 days costing $105.40 per day.

Physical abuse or neglect of an elder person or a disabled person is already a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to two years in state prison and a fine of $4,000.

There were 53 physical abuse cases from Jan. 1, 2010, through Dec. 31, 2015, with seven convictions, according to the LRC.

The average time served for those convictions was 730 days in prison.

Another change allows financial institutions to report suspicious situations to the state attorney general office.

The LRC report said the U.S. Census Bureau estimated there are approximately 128,000 South Dakotans who are older than age 65.

Full Article & Source:
Senate unanimous in support for elderly-abuse protections

Are Conservators Stealing From the Rich

Interview on January 25, 2016 with Patricia Rosen about her conservatorship. Bryan Rosen speaks about the corruption in the system, and the need for oversight.

Conservators aren't interested in helping the poor as they have little money. The interview begins at 7 minutes, 50 seconds.

Are Conservators Stealing From the Rich?

See Also:
NASGA Victim Profiles: Patricia Rosten

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Tanya Tucker fights for Glen Campbell

Tanya Tuckers fight for Glen Campbell is to simply be able to get in to see him and say goodbye. Tucker expresses that wish in an interview that can be seen by clicking this photo.

Back in the early 1980’s, Tanya Tucker and Glen Campbell were an item. It was a tumultuous relationship but as Tucker says in a recent tear filled ET interview, “he was the love of my life.” She would like to get in and see him to say goodbye but it seems that request is not being addressed.

Tanya Tucker fights for Glen Campbell. Campbell who is entering the last stage of Alzheimer’s may not even remember who she is so her visit is more for her than him but it sure seems important to Tucker that she be allowed her goodbyes. Campbell recently made it through the holidays in what is being referred to as a “Memory Home,” a facility that specializes in patients with this horrible disease. Nobody can say exactly how much time he has left but if his Stages are being diagnosed correctly, it might not be too much longer. Time is of the essence.

What turns out to be an even sadder situation is it looks like the children from Campbell’s first 2 marriages have had to fight legally for the right to visit with him and even at that, those visitations are very strict and limited.  There has been a new bill drafted and being presented to the legislation in Tennessee allowing the rights of grown children of parents who have become wards of the state or are governed by a conservatorship to preserve the family relationship.

Tanya Tucker is standing right beside Campbell’s first two children in an effort to see to it that Campbell and others like him are not prevented from sharing what time they have left with ALL not just some of their loved ones.  There has been a Facebook page created for this purpose to bring awareness to the Campbell children and Glen Campbell’s plight.  The name of the page is ‘Help Glen Campbell.’  If you want to help, like the page and see what if anything there is that you can do to help at this time.   For more on this fight visit the Catherine Falk Organization.  The daughter of deceased actor Peter Falk heads this organization.

Full Article & Source:
Tanya Tucker fights for Glen Campbell

Doctor convicted of murder for patients' drug overdoses gets 30 years to life in prison

A judge on Friday sentenced a Rowland Heights doctor to 30 years to life in prison for the murders of three of her patients who fatally overdosed, ending a landmark case that some medical experts say could reshape how doctors nationwide handle prescriptions.

The sentence came after a Los Angeles jury last year found Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng guilty of second-degree murder, the first time a doctor had been convicted of murder in the United States for overprescribing drugs, the district attorney’s office said.

Superior Court Judge George G. Lomeli said before sentencing Tseng that she had attempted to blame patients, pharmacists and other doctors rather than take responsibility for her own actions.

"It seems to be an attempt to put the blame on someone else," he said. "Very irresponsible."

Tseng, wearing blue jail scrubs, apologized to the victims' families, her family and "medical society."

"I'm really terribly sorry," she said, before addressing the courtroom audience, which was crowded with victims' relatives. "I have been and forever will be praying for you. May God bless all of you and grant comfort to all who have been affected by my actions."

April Rovero, whose son, Joey, died after mixing alcohol with Xanax and oxycodone he had obtained from Tseng, sat expressionless, listening to Tseng's first public show of remorse.

"It feels too late," Rovero said outside the courtroom. "But it was better to hear something than nothing."

Rovero, who founded the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse after her son's death, praised the judge's decision.

"Justice has been served," she said.

Tseng, 46, who was a general practitioner, is among a small but growing number of doctors charged with murder for prescribing painkillers that killed patients. A Florida doctor was acquitted of first-degree murder in September.

Some experts fear that Tseng’s conviction will usher in a precarious new reality -- a scenario in which doctors fearful of prosecution are hesitant to prescribe potent painkillers to patients who need them.

Attorney Peter Osinoff, who represented Tseng before the state medical board, told the judge during Friday's hearing that the doctor no longer represents a danger to society since she surrendered her medical license in 2012.

The trial had already had a "deterrent effect" on other doctors and has captured the medical community's attention.

"More primary care physicians no longer accept or treat chronic pain patients in their practice," he told the judge.

Outside the courtroom, Osinoff said Tseng's prosecution has had a negative impact on physicians and patients.

"The doctors are scared out of their minds," he said. "The pendulum has swung so far. The people who need [pain medication] can't get it now."

Other medical experts have echoed his concerns since Tseng was charged in 2012.

“When you use the word 'murder,'” said Dr. Peter Staats, president of the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, “of course it’s going to have a chilling effect.”

Staats said he believes an aggressive medical board -- not prosecutors -- should go after reckless doctors. But, he added, any doctor who is prescribing pills knowing that they are being abused or diverted shouldn’t be called a doctor.

“That’s not the practice of medicine,” Staats said.

Dr. Francis Riegler, a pain specialist who works in Palmdale, said he has followed Tseng’s case and talked about the prosecution with fellow doctors across the country.

“We agree,” he said, “that if you’re doing the right thing -- if you’re one of the good guys, if you will -- you don’t need to worry about being prosecuted for murder."

During Tseng’s trial, Deputy Dist. Atty. John Niedermann told jurors that there were “red flags” in her prescribing habits.

More than a dozen times, the prosecutor said, a coroner’s or law enforcement official called with the same stark message: “Your patient has died.”

Her prescribing habits, Niedermann said, remained unchanged.

The prosecutor told jurors that Tseng wrote a man’s name on prescriptions so his wife could get twice as many pills, openly referred to her patients as “druggies” and sometimes made up medical records.

Her motivation, Niedermann said, was financial.

Between 2007, when Tseng joined the Rowland Heights clinic where her husband worked, and 2010, tax returns show that their office made $5 million, he said.

Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said the conviction sent an unflinching message to medical professionals.

“In this case,” Lacey said, “the doctor stole the lives of three young people in her misguided effort to get rich quick.”

Tseng was convicted of murder for the deaths of Vu Nguyen, 28, of Lake Forest; Steven Ogle, 25, of Palm Desert; and Joey Rovero, 21, an Arizona State University student who prosecutors say traveled more than 300 miles with friends from Tempe, Ariz., to obtain prescriptions from Tseng at her Rowland Heights clinic.

The jury also found Tseng guilty on more than a dozen illegal-prescribing counts.

In a four-page written statement submitted to the judge before her sentencing, Tseng discussed the accusation.

“I terribly regret that even after learning of the overdoses, I did not investigate my prescribing practices to see if they played a role,” she said, adding that she doesn’t believe she was ever properly trained in addiction medicine or pain management.

“I told myself that my patients’ conduct was beyond my control,” she wrote. Most of what she learned about pain management, she said, came after DEA agents and medical board officials raided her office in 2010.

In the letter, Tseng said that she now realizes that personal problems — undiagnosed depression, hoarding and difficulty juggling work and her children — interfered with her abilities to be a good physician.

“I was not the doctor I should have been for the patients who came to me,” she wrote. “I know that being remorseful for my failures as a doctor and as a person does not reverse time or does not help the families heal their grief.... No words can properly describe the sadness.”

Full Article & Source:
Doctor convicted of murder for patients' drug overdoses gets 30 years to life in prison

CDC, NCIPC launch first national definitions of elder abuse

What constitutes elder abuse? A new joint effort between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control has now taken the first step to publish national definitions for the various aspects of elder abuse. The “Elder Abuse Surveillance: Uniform definitions and recommended core data elements” outlines specific definitions for several categories of elder abuse, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional/psychological abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.

The report marks the first national foray into defining the violations of an elder’s expectation of trust. For years, states have relied on their own definitions of elder abuse. But, without some national definition lines carved in the sand, data sets aren’t comparable across state lines when attempting to record and measure instances and trends in elder abuse. “The creation of uniform definitions and data elements for use in collecting [elder abuse] data is essential…to promote national level public health surveillance,” the report states.

The new report tallies all previous research and definitions on what constitutes neglect, physical and emotional abuse, financial abuse and the age-ranges defining an “elder.” The new report outlines a core data set of definitions for the various aspects of elder abuse—including what constitutes financial abuse. For example, the new data set includes not only “financial misappropriation,” but also “undue influence” and breach of conservatorship.

Valuable data collected by state adult protective services, long-term care ombudsman offices and law enforcement have encountered the barriers of siloed data, partly because the terminology isn’t standardized, the report explains. “Characteristics such as the use of different terms and jargon and behavioral categories that are not conceptually or operationally compatible make efforts such as cross-walkingiv for the purpose of data aggregation very difficult.”

Most agree the report, a joint effort by the CDC and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, is a good first step toward defining lines that can lead to measurable national data sets, and a better understanding of the scope of the problem.

Read the entire CMS report here.

Full Article & Source:
CDC, NCIPC launch first national definitions of elder abuse

Monday, February 8, 2016

Fighting Back Against Isolation: Travis Campbell and Catherine Falk Join Forces

When a loved one is in the hospital, you naturally want to be at the bedside. But what if the staff won’t allow it? What happens when a loved one is wrongly isolated from family and friends?

Glen Campbell’s Son Travis Campbell and The Daughter of the Late Peter Falk, known as “Columbo” are speaking out about the importance of adult visitation legislation [the Campbell~Falk Bill] which coincides with the push of the Peter Falk Bill.

After Catherine Falk was a victim herself in the attempts to see her ailing father, Catherine's former probate attorney drafted the Peter Falk Bill in 2011 and the first draft was handed to Assemblyman Gatto. After many amended drafts and hard work by her former lawyer, Catherine took one of the amended drafts to other states. California passed the visitation bill in 2015. 

Catherine has since broadened her scope beyond just an adult child seeking visitation with an ailing parent but for all wards in isolation within Conservatorships/Guardianships exposed to abusive guardians who isolate our loved ones. Now Travis Campbell is in the same predicament. He too is in a fight for his right to see his ailing father Glen.

How can we put an end to this isolation that continues to impact society as a whole? The mission is to go to every state in this country to pass a very important Bill/Law protecting the rights of families, specifically when a family member is being isolated from his/her loved ones or there is elder abuse involved. Let’s all join together to make this bill a reality!

Fighting Back Against Isolation

See Also:
Catherine Falk Organization

NASGA:  Legislative Action

Joe Roubicek: The Criminal "Civil Matter"

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Mark Twain

January 1991 – The house was perfect for this sting operation, unoccupied and up for sale by an owner kind enough to lend it out for a couple of days. The most important feature about this house was its plumbing, which happened to be in excellent condition. It had to be for the whole case could … Well, go down the toilet. 

A 75-year-old woman, an actress provided by chief LaGraves of the prosecutor’s office, was wearing a hidden microphone, sat patiently on a couch in the living room waiting for the doorbell to ring. Soon she would be presenting herself as a poor, frail and confused old lady, just ready for the taking.

Our technical unit had set up a video camera that spied on the exterior east wall of the house from inside a neighbor’s home. A detective was parked a half block up the road, waiting to give the signal when the suspect arrived, and three more detectives sent by the camera and the neighbor’s house. Two patrolmen cruised a couple blocks away, ready if called upon, and a special prosecutor, Mark Springer, stood by his desk for progress reports. The bait was set, everyone just waiting for the suspect to arrive.

He was considered a figurehead in a tunneling fraud operation that had burned victims for tens of thousands of dollars each. His real tools weren’t a shovel or backhoe – they were deception and extortion. Michael Angove, or “Mike The Plumber,” was known to dig a mountain of dirt for a mountain of cash that he demanded from elderly homeowners, using their limited mobility and dependency on others against them.

Dorothy Darling, an 80-year-old disabled woman, was one of those victims. She called for a plumber because her toilet made a constant leaking noise. She didn’t know that the plumbing was actually in good condition. A “leaking flapper,” the small rubber piece that keeps the water in the tank, could have been easily fixed with a $10 repair kit.

After Angove of A Aachen Plumbing in Fort Lauderdale checked it out though,he left Dorothy’s bathroom and went to his truck to begin a very different type of repair. He grabbed a shovel and dug a one-foot-deep hole by the side of the woman’s house, filling the hole with water from the garden hose.

Full Article and Source:
Joe's Cases: The Criminal "Civil Matter"

Health worker charged with stealing from elderly person she cared for

Mia Vela
A home health care worker is charged with stealing from an elderly person she was hired to care for, according to a news release from the Bartlett police.

Mia Vela, 40, of the 15000 block of Turlington Avenue in Harvey, was arrested Wednesday and charged with a class 2 felony count of financial exploitation of an elderly person or a person with a disability, police said.

According to police, Vela was hired in July 2014 as a home health care worker to care for a 61-year-old Bartlett resident. Police said Vela stole approximately $10,000 from the victim's bank account and made approximately $5,000 worth of unauthorized purchases with the victim's credit card.

Vela was given a $75,000 bond Thursday at the Cook County court facility in Rolling Meadows.

Full Article & Source:
Health worker charged with stealing from elderly person she cared for

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Take next step in guardianship reform

Court-appointed guardians are supposed to protect their wards. So it is depressing that somebody needs to guard against the guardians.

Yet that is the situation.

Last year, spurred on by reports of widespread abuses, the Florida Legislature enacted a first round of reforms to improve court oversight of guardians appointed to safeguard the property, wealth and health of people deemed incapable of managing their own affairs. Many of those incapacitated people are elderly.

These reforms included protections for people who wish to resist appointment of a guardian and procedures to keep courts from handing out for-profit guardianships to preferred insiders.

Lawmakers also were poised to approve a second round of reforms that for the first time, would have given the state Department of Elder Affairs the power and duty to regulate the burgeoning "professional guardian" business.

The courts turn to professional guardians when there is no appropriate family member or friend to assume those duties. Professional guardians are entitled to collect fees, usually paid from the assets of the ward they have been appointed to protect.

Although the proposal to improve regulation unanimously passed the Senate, it died when the House — angry about unrelated matters — threw a childish fit and went home early.

This year, the measure's main sponsor, Nancy Detert, R-Venice, has reintroduced the bill (SB 232), and it has cleared several early tests. The Legislature should approve it this session, and Gov. Rick Scott should sign it.

Most guardians are honest. All judicial circuits strive, with the help of clerks of court, to provide guidance and oversight for guardians. Yet there is ample evidence — most recently out of Palm Beach County — that more is required on the state level.

Allegations in a recent Palm Beach Post series help to frame the issues. The Post series suggested that Elizabeth "Betsy" Savitt, who is a professional guardian, has benefited from her status as the wife of Circuit Court Judge Martin Colin, who serves in the probate division.

Savitt, according to The Post, collected fees before they were approved by a court, cited her husband's power in an attempt to intimidate opponents, instigated unnecessary legal action to increase guardianship and lawyers' fees, and frequently appeared before a probate judge who was a close family friend. Savitt denied any wrongdoing.

Two chief judges did nothing to intervene until The Post series ran, though now Chief Judge Jeffrey Colbath has undertaken an investigation.

Judges are supposed to oversee fees collected by guardians and attorneys in guardianship cases before them. That system is insufficient if one of the probate judges is friendly with a guardian. Probate attorneys would be reluctant to file complaints since retaliation could affect the outcome of guardianship and other cases.

The Palm Beach County example, which raises at least the appearance of a conflict of interest, shows the need to establish an office above the judicial-circuit level to handle complaints concerning guardians and, where appropriate, to discipline guardians for misconduct.

Detert's bill would create the Office of Public and Professional Guardians. It would provide for a staff of investigators and empower the office to review and recommend regulations governing guardians.

Some advocacy groups, such as Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, lobby for even further reforms, including a cap on guardianship fees, which would prevent gouging. For the moment, Detert's bill is the next reasonable legislative step.

Of course, individuals can and should take steps on their own before they are incapacitated. Those include granting trusted family or friends financial power of attorney and designating individuals to make health care decisions. Even those arrangements can fail in the midst of family feuds — which are common, particularly when large sums are at stake, and currently are a major reason why the courts turn to professional guardians.

So — one of the most difficult pieces of advice to accomplish — make family peace when possible.

Full Article & Source:
Take next step in guardianship reform

Too poor to retire and too young to die

At the wise age of 79, Dolores Westfall knows food shopping on an empty stomach is a fool’s errand.

On her way to the grocery store last May, she pulled into the Town & Country Family Restaurant to take the edge off her appetite.

After much consideration, she ordered the prime rib special and an iced tea — expensive at $21.36, but the leftovers, wrapped carefully to go, would provide two more lunches.

The problem, she later realized, was that a big insurance bill was coming due. How was she going to pay it? Was she going to tip into insolvency over a plate of prime rib?

“I thought I could handle eating and shopping,” she said, “but lunch put me over the top.”

Westfall — 5 feet 1 tall, with a graceful dancer’s body she honed as a tap-dancing teenager — is as stubborn as she is high-spirited. But she finds herself these days in a precarious place: Her savings long gone, and having never done much long-term financial planning, Westfall left her home in California to live in an aging RV she calls Big Foot, driving from one temporary job to the next.

She endures what is for many aging Americans an unforgiving economy. Nearly one-third of U.S. heads of households ages 55 and older have no pension or retirement savings and a median annual income of about $19,000.

A growing proportion of the nation’s elderly are like Westfall: too poor to retire and too young to die.

Many rely on Social Security and minimal pensions, in part because half of all workers have no employer-backed retirement plans. Eight in 10 Americans say they will work well into their 60s or skip retirement entirely.

Westfall hadn’t planned to keep working. But in 2008, as the U.S. economy spasmed, she lost her home and tumbled out of the middle class.

Today, Westfall is one of America’s graying nomads. Although many middle-class retirees ply the interstates in Winnebagos as a lifestyle choice, for Westfall and many others, life on the move is not as much a choice as a necessity.

Her seven-year journey has taken Westfall to 33 states and counting. She’s worked as a cavern tour guide, resort receptionist, crowd control officer, hustling clerk at an Amazon warehouse. Others like her have cleaned toilets, picked beets, plucked chickens.

Her monthly income consists of $1,200 in Social Security and a $190 pension, plus pay from her seasonal jobs. She owes $50,000 on her credit cards. There’s also a $268 monthly loan payment for her aging rig.

There have been times when she has survived on brown rice and milk — and worried the milk would run out.

Westfall spent the Christmas season of 2014 working at a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., mall for $10 an hour, then hit Virginia for a stint selling photos door-to-door on commission. By May 2015, she brought her roadshow into the Darien Lake Theme Park in upstate New York for a job as a kiddie ride operator. The pay: $9 an hour. The job would carry her only through September.

She untethered from Big Foot the tiny white Smart car she calls Little Tow and set up camp in a field among two dozen other seasonal workers, nearly all of them retirement age. Wearing an electric orange work shirt, she’d soon become known among youngsters there as “the Ride Lady.”

Nearing 80, she suffers daily aches and pains — leg cramps and arthritis and weakness from low blood sugar. Big Foot has its own problems: The roof leaks, so do the pipes beneath the sink. The water pump feeding the shower and sink is failing. “One of us is going to give out first,” Westfall said with a laugh. “It’s either me or Big Foot.”

She avoided disaster after the prime rib dinner by persuading the insurance company to space out her payment in installments. But then that same month, she was caught driving 43 mph in a 35-mph zone. The ticket: $300.

“I could just cry,” she wrote in her journal. “I won’t have earned $300 in all of May. If I can get it lowered to $150, it will still be more than my entire grocery budget. Don’t know how I’m going to manage it.”

For weeks in the spring of 2008, Westfall lingered alone inside Big Foot, parked outside her double-wide trailer in a mobile home park in Kelseyville, a rural town in Northern California.

The furniture was sold, the mobile home up for sale, and Westfall was living in the driveway. She thought about killing herself.

“I had a serious out-loud talk with myself,” she recalled, about how to get out of her financial fix — an unforeseen downturn in a long and independent life.

The New York City native had put herself through business school and had spent time as a bank executive secretary and a museum curator. She’d later started her own interior design consulting firm. That’s when she bought Big Foot, using it as a mobile office to meet clients across California.

Westfall didn’t know it, but she was perched on the fault line of an economic temblor: In a few months, U.S. housing prices would record their largest drop in history.

The Great Recession would hit older Americans hard. Of the 4.7 million home foreclosures from 2007 to 2011, one-third, or 1.5 million, involved people ages 50 and older. Studies show that older single women are the most vulnerable: They make less than male workers, and those that take time off to have children often miss chances for seniority and pay raises.

Westfall married twice decades ago but never had children, deciding she was at her loneliest with a man in her life. After her retirement in 2007, she had planned on selling the double-wide to finance a lifelong dream: touring the nation from behind the wheel of Big Foot.

She knew the move would be a stretch. The financial fallout had rendered her modest stock portfolio worthless, and she’d never put away much in savings.

The mobile home was worth $40,000, but there was a catch: The trailer park’s new owner had tripled the rent, making it impossible to sell her unit. She reached out to the local senior law center, even her county supervisor, scrambling for a solution.

It was around this time in 2008 that Sheila Faulds died; she’d been a friend of Westfall’s for half a century and she left her $20,000. “Promise me you won’t pay bills with the money,” Faulds had told her. “I want you to buy a car.”

Westfall’s journal oozed despair: Her best friend was gone. And she was stuck: How could she hit the road without selling her double-wide? Her skin flushed with hives. She couldn’t sleep.

“I burst into tears and had a big long whopping cry,” she wrote in her journal. Then she pounded her fists on the sofa until she fell asleep.

She awoke to this thought: There was another option.

With a pad and pencil, she produced a pro-and-con ledger to assess her predicament. On one side of the page, under “Bad,” she wrote, “No money. No job. Insufficient income. Big debt. No place to go. No plans.”

Under “Good”: “Motor home to live in (though part of the debt). Ability to make plans.”

Then she made another two-sided list. One column read, “What have I always wanted to do in retirement?” The other: “How close can I get to it.”

She could hit the road, but she would have to keep working. And just maybe, there might be money for a few nice things. It was all so scary but also a little exciting.

Westfall sold off most of what was left of her belongings and put the rest in storage. Her friend’s gift would launch her life as a road gypsy, and she would leave the double-wide behind without getting a dime for it.

She started Big Foot’s engine, drove down the blacktop driveway and turned right, heading south onto Soda Bay Road and a life as a tumbleweed on wheels.

“I’m not sure if I even closed the gate behind me,” she recalled. “I just drove away.”

Westfall has long been used to being on her own. In her youth she took solitary road trips into the desert and mountains and once took flying lessons. But life on the road taught her to be more resourceful, bolder.

She once raced north out of Texas to escape a hurricane and rode out the remnants of the storm at a truck stop in Little Rock, Ark. One Christmas in Florida, she scared off a would-be armed robber who accosted her at an ATM, yelling, “I haven’t got any more money, fool.”

Last summer, a few weeks after getting the speeding ticket, Westfall stood in traffic court to fight the $300 fine. She persuaded the judge to reduce it to $75 — but missed a day’s pay to plead her case.

Two months later, in August, she still didn’t know where she’d be working after Darien Lake, and faced yet another nasty choice between need and want.

Should she go to the dentist, or take a guided tour of buildings designed by her favorite architect, Frank Lloyd Wright? Each cost $100.

She picked Frank Lloyd Wright. Her teeth could wait.

“I believe doing something fun, no matter how frivolous it might seem, is food for the soul,” she said. “You need to feed yourself some pleasure once in a while to keep feeling alive. Otherwise, it’s just drudgery.”

But there is little money to see the sights. She earns too much to receive food stamps, and a lot of it goes to groceries. She tries to eat organic food, with her low blood sugar. That rules out cheap but filling Big Macs — as well as the food kitchens whose mass-produced meals, she decided, are unhealthful.

She can’t buy in bulk because Big Foot has little storage space. Often, she’s forced to purchase smaller-sized products — at convenience store prices — that fit a smallish RV refrigerator. At laundromats, she tries to keep wash day under $10, always scouting the hotter money-saving dryers.

Her key ring is crowded with plastic discount tags for supermarkets and places like Staples and Books-A-Million.

But Westfall finds that she is now more in debt than when she hit the road. She hasn’t been able to visit her younger sister, Mary Ann, in California since she set out; she can afford to take only the shortest route to the next job, and the jobs haven’t taken her that way. The biggest blow came in 2013 when she faced $8,000 in charges for emergency dental work and rig repairs. It was a gut punch from which she has yet to recover.

She tries to do the repairs herself when she can. One day at Darien Lake, she climbed a ladder to lean over the RV’s roof, looking for the source of a leak that was dripping water onto her laptop. Time was, she’d climb all the way up on the roof to take care of things. But not anymore.

“I’m beginning to feel ineffectual,” she said. “And I’ve never felt that before. I don’t feel desperate, but I’m getting close.”

Westfall was working her last shift at the theme park on a warm Sunday afternoon in late September. While some co-workers slouched glumly at the controls, she was a blur of activity. Using a stick, she measured each tyke to make sure they were tall enough to ride; she strapped the youngest ones in tightly.

Wearing the leopard-spotted glasses she’d bought at a truck stop, she stooped face-to-face with little ones for conversations that never condescended. Some wrapped her in a spontaneous hug.

They’d ask, “Did you get your glasses at Target?” or “Are you nice.”

Her favorite: “How did you get so old.”

She responded, “By hanging around a really long time.”

Her feet hurt constantly from standing 12 hours at a stretch, six days a week, racking up overtime. On her last day, an hour before the park would begin to shut down for the year, Westfall gently corrected a mother who’d barged into the ride area to check on her child after the security gate was closed. That was her job, Westfall explained.

The mother exploded. She shouted inches from Westfall’s face, spittle flying.

“Just because you’re a miserable old lady with your effing $7-an-hour job,” she hissed. “You don’t have a life.”

As the irate woman was finally escorted away by security, a bystander sent her daughter over with a $10 bill. She said Westfall deserved a nice dinner.

An hour later, Westfall walked to her car, exhausted and preoccupied: She still had not lined up her next job. Suddenly, a small crowd rushed the vehicle, and Westfall tensed: the irate mother again?

It was six teenagers she’d worked with that summer. They rocked her car back and forth, chanting, “We love Dolores! We love Dolores.”

The youngsters pulled Westfall out for a group hug and invited her to Denny’s for a going-away dinner. Her face flushed at this gift of grace. At the restaurant, she laughed along with high schoolers that in another life could have been her grandchildren.

After a waitress dropped off the check, a manager approached and put a hand on Westfall’s shoulder. “So, you’re going to pay for the whole crew.”

The group ignored him and divvied up the bill. Westfall’s portion came to $10; Her AARP card cut the damage to $8 and change.

She walked into the night feeling less alone. Later, she sat at the picnic table next to her rig, one she’d cozied up with a red-and-white plastic tablecloth.

Most of the RVs belonging to other seasonal workers had already departed. On a gray October morning, a flock of geese flew in formation overhead, and Westfall knew she’d have to flee too. Big Foot could never keep her warm in winter, but she couldn’t travel too far south; she knew from experience that south Florida was too expensive.

But where to go? Despite hours of phone work, Westfall still didn’t know whether she was heading to Maryland for a door-to-door sales gig or to Georgia for a mall kiosk job.

Big Foot was another problem. The roof still leaked, and the plumbing was acting up. Thanks to a surprise $1,000 limit increase on one credit card, she had a bit of headroom, but $400 of that was already spent.

The deadline for leaving Darien Lake was the next day. She turned on the kitchen faucet. Water collected in the sink.

A flash of weariness crossed her face. “I don’t like this,” she said.

Westfall, in a brown house robe, began once again storing her life for the next move. The driver and passenger seats and floor were stacked with boxes marked “writing,” “receipts,” “credit cards” and “insurance.”

She emerged from the bathroom looking glum: The foot pedal toilet flusher had just broken.

Soon a security guard knocked.

“Hi,” he said. “I just wanted to know when you plan on leaving.”

“Oh, in about a year,” Westfall said with a laugh. “You know, packing one of these is like putting your house on wheels.”

As the afternoon waned, she finished organizing and moved outside. Winding up several hoses, her fingers ached in the cold. Then a brace on the rig’s stairwell snapped. In frustration and despair, she banged on Big Foot’s side.

“You’re getting damned uninhabitable,” she scolded.

With the sun sinking, Westfall drove to a repair shop.

The mechanics confirmed the busted water pump. Without it, she couldn’t save money by parking at truck stops and would have to pay to stay at campgrounds with water hookups.

But the mechanics wanted thousands for the repair. So Westfall did without it, scouting half-price campgrounds while hopscotching south to the Carolinas, where she found a mechanic to fix the pump for $200.

By late October, she was parked at a campsite in Savannah, Ga., her Christmas season working grounds. She was entering her eighth year on the road, ready to start the entire process all over again.
Dinner was back to brown rice and milk. Big Foot’s kitchen sink still drained slowly.

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Too poor to retire and too young to die