Saturday, March 5, 2016

5 Investigates: Hundreds of elders abused by caregivers

BOSTON —They are caregivers turned criminals, accused of horrific crimes against the elderly.

And that mistreatment of elders by trained and state certified is more widespread than you may think.

Records obtained by 5 Investigates show in the past five years the state took action against the certifications of more than 200 certified nurse aides for cases of abuse, neglect and misappropriation.

"He was boxing and hitting my dad on the face and shoulder. You could hear the physical slaps. My dad was cowering and mumbling, 'Please stop hitting me.'"

Kristy Donovan said in describing the abuse her father, William Myerson, received at the hands of a CNA during his second night at Emeritus at Farm Pond in Framingham in 2014.

Video obtained by 5 Investigates shows the CNA, Samuel Ayekple, taunting and hitting Myerson, a patient he was supposed to be helping. Myerson was 70 years old, non-verbal and suffering from dementia.

A second CNA, Damaris Diaz, recorded the abuse on her cellphone.

"I was horrified," said Donovan, who said she had trusted the people at the nursing home to take care of her father.

"I really don't have words for them," she said. "I will never forgive them to be honest. My dad struggled a long time after that. He didn't trust anybody, he was nervous all of the time."

5 Investigates also obtained video of Ayekple and Diaz taunting another patient, a 77-year-old woman.

In the video, Diaz flicked the woman's ears, wiped mucus in her mouth, and mocked her over and over again.

"You're so ugly. You're ugly," Diaz said. "Such a loser."

When we confronted Ayekple and asked him about the abuse depicted in the video, he had nothing to say. Asked if he thought the elderly deserve compassion and respect, he walked away.

"What I find in the abuse cases is a lack of awareness by caregivers on how to protect and respect the elderly," said David Hoey, an attorney who has been representing victims of nursing home abuse and neglect for almost two decades.

"That tells me these aides are not being trained or supervised by those that do know how to protect and maintain dignity of elderly people," he added.

Ayekple and Diaz were charged with assault and battery on persons over 60, but both reached deals with the court in which they admitted they assaulted elderly patients. If they complete probation without problems, no conviction will show on their records.

"The punishment definitely was not what it should be," said Donovan. "They pretty much got a slap on the wrist."

The Massachusetts Health and Human Services Department maintains a license verification site which includes CNAs, but when we looked up Ayekple and Diaz there was no disciplinary action noted and no indication they had committed any crimes, even though they are on court-ordered probation.

According to a civil lawsuit in another case, a CNA allegedly raped an 85-year-old woman at a nursing home in Marlborough. The staff cleaned up the victim after the attack and did not bring her to the hospital until the next day. The jury ruled in the victim's favor. The suspect was fired but never criminally charged.

In the case of Henry Hayes Jr. of Rehoboth, the abuse he suffered was not physical, it was financial.

"This was like a bad dream," said his son, Henry Hayes III. "He was 90, he was vulnerable and he needed help."

So Hayes turned to a home care agency for around-the-clock help for his elderly parents.

But one of the caregivers they got, an unlicensed in-home aide named Kristen Gonzales, ended up stealing more than $30,000 in cash and jewelry, including wedding bands and Hayes' father's cherished railroad pocket watch. Gonzales, now on probation after pleading guilty, even stole the family safe.

"We told him, 'Dad, this was the girl you liked so much, she's the one that was doing the stealing,'" Henry Hayes III said. "Eleven days after this happened my father had a heart attack and he died. (It was) very traumatic to the entire family."

The companies that employed each of the caregivers tell us they all passed background checks and had proper training. Ayekple and Diaz are prevented from working with the elderly as long as they're on probation, but there's nothing preventing them from retraining to become a certified nurse aide in Massachusetts again.

To protect your elderly loved ones, experts and victims said you should find out how experienced the staff is, check the staffing levels and state inspection reports, make unannounced visits, and secure any valuables. You may also may want to install a surveillance camera if you are getting in-home care.

There are a few things you can do to protect your loved ones from abuse.

Check into how experienced the staff is at the facility and the staffing levels.

You can also get state inspection reports online and check the licenses of caregivers.

If the care is in your home, you could consider a surveillance camera, as long as you follow state laws.

Full Article, Transcript & Source:
5 Investigates: Hundreds of elders abused by caregivers

Judge sets bail for couple convicted of stealing from elderly friend

90-Year-Old Woman Chooses Trip of a Lifetime Over Cancer Treatment

At 90 years old, a woman from Michigan named Norma is living life to the fullest on a road trip across the United States.

Just two days after Norma’s husband of 67 years passed away, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Doctors gave her the options of surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. She decided she would forgo any treatment, telling the doctors, “I’m 90 years old, I’m hitting the road.”

Norma’s son, Tim, and daughter-in-law, Ramie, are full-time RVers. Since Norma couldn’t live at home alone without her husband, they invited her to join them on the road. Six months later, the three of them, along with their poodle Ringo, are enjoying the trip of a lifetime.

Ramie, who spoke for the family, said that Norma is a set of fresh eyes on this indefinite road trip.

“She’s very quiet and humble, and then she has this streak of adventure that surprises us.”

Adventure is right. After leaving Northern Michigan in August, their first big stop was Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. From there, they traveled to Yellowstone National Park and then onto the Rocky Mountains. All the while, they've been documenting their adventure on the Driving Miss Norma Facebook page.  (Continue Reading)

Full Article & Source:
90-Year-Old Woman Chooses Trip of a Lifetime Over Cancer Treatment

Friday, March 4, 2016

Press Release: AARP Backs Bipartisan Credit for Caring Act

Introduced yesterday in Congress, the bill offers a federal tax credit for family caregivers

Press Center, March 4, 2016 Contact: Greg Phillips, 202-434-2560,, @AARPMedia;

Washington, DC – AARP commends U.S. Representative Tom Reed (R-NY) and U.S. Representative Linda Sanchez (D-CA) on the bipartisan introduction of H.R. 4708, the Credit for Caring Act, that supports America’s family caregivers by offering a federal tax credit of up to $3,000 for those who qualify.

This tax credit would provide eligible family caregivers caring for loved ones of all ages with some financial relief and help them pay for services such as home care, adult day care, respite care, and other supports. Family caregivers help older adults and people with disabilities live independently in their homes and communities, saving taxpayer dollars by helping to delay or prevent more costly nursing home care and preventing unnecessary hospital readmissions. In addition to other assistance family caregivers provide, nearly 70% of family caregivers pay out-of-pocket to help provide care to their loved ones.

“The bipartisan Credit for Caring Act sends a clear message that support for family caregivers is not bound by political ideologies,” said AARP Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond. “This legislation will help ease the financial burden faced by many family caregivers today.” The strong majority (83%) of registered voters age 40 and older, across party lines, support providing a federal income tax credit to family caregivers for the support and care of loved ones, according to a poll conducted by AARP.< br/>< br/> Many family caregivers pay for caregiving expenses with their personal savings, too often causing them to reduce or stop saving for their own future. One survey found that over 40% of family caregivers spend more than $5,000 a year on caregiving expenses.1 Another survey found family caregivers of persons age 50 and older reported spending an average of more than 10% of their annual income on caregiving expenses, an average of $5,531 out-of-pocket. Long-distance family caregivers averaged $8,728 in annual expenses.

The Credit for Caring Act is important for America’s silent army of family caregivers who provide 37 billion hours of unpaid care, valued at an estimated $470 billion annually. In addition to AARP, other groups supporting this legislation include the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, National Council on Aging, Autism Speaks, Caregiver Action Network, and the Center for Elder Care and Advanced Illness, Altarum Institute.

AARP urges Congress to pass the Credit for Caring Act. < br/>< br/> For more information on caregiving, visit AARP’s Caregiving Resource Center at
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Marriage annulment upheld in controversial guardianship case

In a decision underscoring the great power of the courts over seniors in guardianships, an appellate court in West Palm Beach upheld the annulment of a couple’s marriage in a controversial case that has already set legal precedent.

Glenda Martinez Smith smiles as her husband Alan Smith opens his eyes while waiting for a doctor’s appointment last year. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

A panel of judges on the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled 2-1 to uphold the annulment of the 2011 marriage of Glenda Martinez and J. Alan Smith, formerly of Boynton Beach.

The Palm Beach Post wrote about the case last April after Martinez won the right to care for Smith as he had specified in his pre-need directives before falling ill. The case showed how incapacitated seniors’ legal rights were taken away in guardianships.

Even though Martinez succeeded in ousting the guardian last year, she was not able to convince the 4th DCA to undo Palm Beach County Circuit Judge David French’s ruling to annul the couple’s marriage.

Judge David French listens to arguments at the South County Courthouse Thursday, May 21, 2015, during a hearing surrounding the guardianship of James Vassallo's father. (Damon Higgins/The Palm Beach Post)
Judge David French listens to arguments in a case at the South County Courthouse. (Damon Higgins/The Palm Beach Post)

The majority of the 4th DCA appellate panel – Judges Dorian Damoorgian and Melanie May – said the couple married without the approval of French as stipulated by the guardianship of Smith.

Martinez’s attorney Jennifer Carroll argued that the requirement flew in the face of state statute, but Damoorgian said in the written ruling that a court could indeed make such a requirement.

Judge Martha Warner, however, in a 8-1/2 page dissenting opinion, said the right to marry is a fundamental right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The dissent possibly sets up the case for the Florida Supreme Court to look at the issue.

Warner noted evidence of how Martinez and Smith fell in love, vacationed together and how he named her his health care surrogate before a 2010 car accident sent his health on the decline. Warner said the only restriction put on Smith by the guardianship was the right to enter into contracts regarding finances.

Warner also noted how Martinez opposed court-appointed guardian John Cramer’s decision to put Smith in a nursing home, where Martinez felt Smith received sub-par care and how a court-appointed attorney to represent Smith failed him.

The 4th DCA eventually ruled that Martinez – not Cramer – was Smith’s designated health surrogate.

 She brought him home last year and takes care of him to this day “I do not believe due process of the ward was sufficiently protected,” Warner wrote, adding that the Legislature’s intent in guardianship is to protect the rights of the ward, not infringe upon them.

“This has not happened in this case,” the judge went on. “Instead, this frail gentlemen has been deprived of his fundamental right to marry, in proceedings which violated his fundamental rights to due process and without a consideration of his best interest.”

In January, The Post published its investigative series into guardianship of seniors and the role of judges. One judge in particular, Martin Colin, is married to guardian and his friend, French, heard the majority of her cases. As a result, Chief Judge Jeffrey Colbath transferred Colin and instituted a plan to train court personnel on probate matters, among other reforms.

Full Article & Source:
Marriage annulment upheld in controversial guardianship case

Local 10 News viewer claims guardian not acting in best interest of father

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. - Florida ranks as one of the top states with a large elderly population and professional guardianship is a booming business, especially in the tri-county area.

Florida law designed guardianship to protect vulnerable seniors. However, some families accuse guardians and their attorneys of not working in the ward's best interest.

The Call Christina team explored the lightly regulated industry and efforts to reform it, beginning with a Century Village man who called Christina for help.

During the course of a months-long Call Christina investigation into a complaint about professional guardian Elizabeth Savitt, her husband, a Palm Beach County Judge, was reassigned.

In an email to Local 10 News, a spokesman for the Chief Judge stated, "Judge Martin Colin is now presiding in the Circuit Civil division at the main courthouse. This change took effect on Monday, February 15, 2016. In addition, the change is permanent as Judge Colin has indicated he does not intend to seek re-election. The Chief Judge is a proponent of transparency in government and wanted to be proactive in addressing concerns expressed by the media and the public. The move of Judge Colin to Circuit Civil division was one of the initiatives implemented by the court."

"We'd lock the doors. We'd get in his car. We'd go out; food shopping, doctors. My father lived here. I moved in 107 right next to each other," James Vassallo told Local 10 News investigative reporter Christina Vazquez.

Vassallo said he and his dad Albert did everything together.

Noting Albert's odd behavior over the years combined with a legal battle with his siblings over missing money from his father's bank account, Vassallo asked the Palm Beach County Court to intervene. His attorney urged him to hire a professional guardian, recommending Elizabeth Savitt.

"I said great," Vassallo said.

Now Vassallo said things are not so great, claiming the guardian fees and legal bills are out of control. In the six-month period from August 2014 to February 2015, the bills totaled $65,000, and they continue to grow.

"This is what you call a legal way of robbing people and they're getting away with it," Vassallo said.

Citing continual family discord, the court removed Vassallo as his father's trustee, making Savitt the sole decision-maker in all of Albert's affairs.

Now Vassallo is appealing the ruling, citing Savitt's personal financial worthiness in her guardianship application with Florida's Department of Elder Affairs.

"If I knew she had a lien, foreclosure, a judgment against her," Vassallo said during a court hearing in front of Judge David French.

Savitt's 2015 guardianship application with the Department of Elder Affairs revealed a pending home foreclosure case, and a FICO credit score below 600.

"Are you financially fit to be a guardian?" Local 10 asked Savitt after she emerged from another guardianship hearing.

Savitt did not answer the question, but in a response to the Department of Elder Affairs Savitt stated, "the loan was made under improper conditions and circumstances," and she said she hoped the court will negate the delinquent loan status. Records show the court issued a final judgment of foreclosure in November of 2014 and Savitt later paid off the loan.

 Last fall at a different guardianship hearing, Savitt requested the judge to sign off on her invoice for payment.

"You took funds?" Judge Krista Marx asked while questioning Savitt's payday advance.

"It happens every single morning in here, that people come in and ask forgiveness instead of permission," Marx said.

The judge then signed off on Savitt's motion for payment, but opposing attorney Bruce Rosenwater questioned the practice.

"We have a motion to remove the guardian. We have a motion for sanctions. We have a motion for surcharge," Rosenwater said to the court. The ward in this case has since died and there are no more issues in court relating to the guardianship.

Exiting the courtroom after the hearing, Savitt slipped past Local 10 as she was escorted down a hallway reserved for judges by a Palm Beach County Sheriff. A judge she is not, although her husband, Judge Martin Colin, is.

At the time, Colin served in the Probate division, the same court division Savitt's clients are in and often heard arguments from attorneys representing Savitt in court.

Colin never presided over any of his wife's cases, however last month he was reassigned and now hears cases in the Civil division.

For Vassallo, who is appealing his removal as trustee, the odds may be stacked against removing Savitt as his father's guardian.

"Getting out of one of these guardianships is harder than going to the moon. It just doesn't happen," Sam Sugar said.

Sugar is a retired physician and founder of Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship. His organization wants laws changed protecting the elderly against abusive guardians. Sponsoring seminars nationwide, he hears from others with stories similar to James'.

"Litigate, medicate and take the estate. The cases are all the same," Sugar said. "They involve emergency temporary guardianships, favoritism by the judge toward certain guardians and lawyers and ultimately the rape of the estate."

Last February, Gov. Rick Scott signed HB-5 into law adding additional protections to make it difficult for guardians to seize control of their wards' assets.

This legislative session, state Sen. Nancy Detert was successful in getting SB 232 passed. Her bill establishes a "complaint department" for families and those in guardianships.

The bill also certifies and supervises court-appointed guardians. As of now those decisions are left to the individual courts and vary from county to county. The bill now goes to Scott for his signature to become law.

In an email to Local 10, a spokesman for the Chief Judge also said, "the information listed on the Court's web site is accurate, Judge Martin Colin is now presiding in the Circuit Civil division at the main courthouse. This change took effect on Monday, February 15, 2016. In addition, the change is permanent as Judge Colin has indicated he does not intend to seek re-election. Between now and the end of his term, the Chief Judge does anticipate the need to rotate Judge Colin."

"The Chief Judge is a proponent of transparency in government and wanted to be proactive in addressing concerns expressed by the media and the public. The move of Judge Colin to Circuit Civil division was one of the initiatives implemented by the court. Other initiatives include the following:

 In-house training for probate Judges and court staff;

 The establishment of a Guardianship Wheel which will provide for random assignment of professional guardians to cases;

 Standardization of bill practices for Guardians and Attorneys; and

 Recusal of the current South County Judges from Ms. Savitt's cases."

In a statement, Savitt told Local 10, "all concerns brought by James Vassallo were brought out in open court and are meritless." With respect to her credit report that accompanied her application for guardianship, she said, "all the years that I have been a professional guardian there has been no finding that I have not duly performed my duties to a Ward of mine as a result of my financial condition."

Savitt also said she is "debt free."

"You haven't seen your father?" Vazquez asked Vassallo.

"Haven't seen my father in six months," Vassallo said.

"You have to miss him?" Vazquez said.

"I do I miss him a lot," Vassallo said.

Full Article & Source:
Local 10 News viewer claims guardian not acting in best interest of father

See Also:
Post investigation: Another blow to Judge Colin

Judge in Post series moved from guardianship cases

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

Surveillance video has some attorneys questioning judge's fairness

MARIETTA, Ga. (WXIA) -- A Cobb County surveillance video has some defense attorneys questioning whether their client can get a fair trial in one judge’s courtroom.

The video, obtained through an open records request, appears to show Judge Reuben Green and two assistant district attorneys talking about at least four cases without the defendant or their attorneys’ present.

“They were actually talking about some of the facts of the case. They were talking trial strategy,” said Attorney Ashleigh Merchant who has already filed for a new trial and for Judge Green to remove himself from the case.

Merchant says she believes one of the conversations between the group was about her client, Tomdrick Cromer, who two weeks later would be found guilty of armed robbery and sentenced by the judge to life in prison without parole, the maximum sentence allowed.

In the video, you hear a voice that appears to be Judge Green discuss Cromer’s case. At one point, he says, “Well hopefully this jury does the right thing. Had some unusual cases lately. Unusual juries.”

“You want a judge that is not interested in the outcome. You want a judge that is interested in being fair,” said Merchant.

In fact, Georgia’s code of judicial conduct begins with two Canons which say in part, “Judges shall uphold the integrity and independence of the Judiciary” and “Judges shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all their activities.”

That’s because judges make decisions throughout the trial, from jury instructions to admitted evidence, that can impact the outcome of a case.

We showed the video to professor Michael Mears with the John Marshall Law School. He listened as the group talked about the amount of evidence needed to get a conviction, plea deals and the competency of a defendant.

Mears says in many counties like Cobb, prosecutors are assigned to a specific judge. They spend a lot of time together and too often the lines of professionalism blur.

In one part of the video, the prosecutors play the game rock, paper, scissors several times to decide who will handle a potential plea deal.

“What kind of message does that send to the general public about the seriousness of those proceedings? How much confidence does it build?” questioned Mears. “We’re talking about people’s lives.”

Instead of offended, the judge seemed to be entertained.

The attorney involved in that case says because of the DA's unwillingness to work with her client, he had to spend eight days in jail, just to be given straight probation when he returned to court.

“Hopefully what will come out of it is the judges across the state with your coverage will say, ‘Woah!’ We do that in our courtroom. Maybe we shouldn't be doing that. But if you look at the cannons of judicial ethics, it's very clear. You cannot show even by inference, show your bias,” said Mears.

Neither the judge or the DA's office would comment on the video. Several defense attorneys in Cobb County say they’re now planning to review recordings like it, to see what may have been said about their clients.

Full Article & Source:
Surveillance video has some attorneys questioning judge's fairness

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Parents of Justina Pelletier sue Boston Children’s Hospital

Nearly two years after she returned home in the arms of her father, Justina Pelletier was back in the spotlight Thursday, speaking in a small, slightly shaky voice about the 16 months she spent in state custody, much of it in a locked psychiatric ward.

Justina, whose case drew national attention to the power of medical professionals to override parental rights, said she remains outraged that she was placed in state custody in 2013 after Boston Children’s Hospital accused her parents of interfering with her care.

The 17-year-old Connecticut girl clutched a purple stress ball, fingernails painted turquoise, as she spoke from a wheelchair in front of the State House, where her parents had convened a press conference to discuss the lawsuit they recently filed against Children’s Hospital.

“I’m very angry, and I just don’t understand how this happened, and I just really don’t want this to happen again to another family,” said Justina, who was with her parents, two of their attorneys, and a family spokesman from the Christian Defense Coalition.

She was taken into state custody three years ago after Children’s determined that her many health problems were the result of psychiatric issues and that her parents were pushing for her to undergo unnecessary treatment. The Pelletiers vehemently disagreed, pointing to the opinion of doctors at Tufts Medical Center, who said Justina suffers from mitochondrial disease, a rare genetic disorder that affects how cells produce energy.

On Thursday, Justina criticized her treatment at Children’s Hospital. “They really treated me badly,” she said, looking older and more mature than when she was last publicly seen, being carried into her home by her father after being released from state custody. “They didn’t really care. It was awful.”

Boston Children’s Hospital said in a statement that it “welcomes the opportunity to vigorously defend the medical care it provided to Justina Pelletier.”

“We are committed to the best interests of our patients’ health and well-being, according to the high standards we follow for every patient placed in our care,” the hospital said. “Out of respect for the patient’s privacy and the ongoing legal process, Boston Children’s is unable to provide further comment about the specific issues of this case at this time.”

Justina’s parents, Lou and Linda Pelletier, sued Children’s Hospital in Suffolk Superior Court this month, accusing the renowned institution and four of its doctors — Jurriaan Peters, Simona Bujoreanu, Alice Newton, and Colleen Ryan — of gross negligence and civil rights violations. The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages.

“There’s been enormous financial impact on them,” said Kathy Jo Cook, a Boston attorney who is representing the Pelletiers in their lawsuit. “You can imagine if you couldn’t work for 18 months because all you were doing was driving back and forth from Connecticut to Children’s and trying to figure out how to get your child home.”

Last year, the Pelletiers filed for bankruptcy, according to court records.

They also faced foreclosure on their home but were ultimately able to settle their mortgage payments using money from a fund called “A Miracle for Justina” that was controlled by another daughter, Jennifer, court records show.

Lou Pelletier said he is suing Children’s Hospital because he doesn’t want other parents of children with complex medical problems to fear losing custody if they have to seek emergency medical care at a hospital.

“This is not about revenge,” Lou Pelletier said. “This is about making people accountable and making the medical community think twice before they take actions that can do damage to a child and a family that can be irreversible.”

Justina Pelletier smiled as she listened to reporters’ questions in front of the State house Thursday with her parents, Linda and Lou.

Justina was being treated at Tufts Medical Center for mitochondrial disease when her parents brought her to Children’s Hospital with gastrointestinal problems in 2013.

Doctors at Children’s concluded that she was a victim of medical child abuse as a result of her parents interfering with her care.

A juvenile court judge, relying on the opinion of those doctors, removed Justina from her parents’ custody. She was placed in a locked psychiatric ward at the hospital, where, her parents say, she was denied an education and not allowed to attend Mass.

Children’s Hospital said that patients and their families have access to the hospital’s multifaith chaplains and tutors.

Justina’s case became a rallying point for Christian conservatives and parent activists, who accused the hospital and state officials of violating the Pelletiers’ rights to make medical decisions for their daughter.

Under mounting pressure, the same judge who had placed Justina in state custody returned her to her parents’ care in June 2014, saying there was “credible evidence that circumstances have changed” and that her parents “have been cooperative and engaged in services,” including individual therapy for the teen and family therapy.

Justina said that since returning home, she has undergone several surgeries and is “doing a lot better.”
 She said she rides horses to build strength and attends a school for children with learning disabilities.

“I just really, really want them to get what they deserve,” she said of the doctors at Children’s Hospital. “And I really, really want to walk again and skate.”  (Continue)

Full Article & Source:
Parents of Justina Pelletier sue Boston Children’s Hospital

Abuse of Arizona’s elderly increases as aging population grows

Vulnerable and elderly adults have been the victims of abuse, neglect and fraud in nearly 14,000 cases in Arizona, with the number of cases reported in 2015 increasing 19 percent over the year before, according to a Cronkite News analysis.

Over 4,000 cases involved financial exploitation, and another 3,661 reports involved vulnerable adults being physically abused. There were 9,408 cases that involved neglect, including self-neglect cases.

Physical abuse cases included reports of a nursing home employee who used a bungee cord to confine a patient to his room, to a caregiver who dragged a vulnerable adult from her bed to the kitchen in her home. One man was choked and strangled by his caregiver.

Another neglected a vulnerable adult for so long that he was found with rotting skin on his hands, feet, legs and buttocks. He also was malnourished and suffered from severe, painful gangrene.

Earlier this week, two employees of the Arizona Department of Economic Security were involved in a “horrific case of abuse of an elderly individual,” according to a DES press release. Detective Doug Matteson, spokesman for Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, said that an 86-year-old woman was found in an “unlivable” house in Mesa. So far, one DES employee identified as Carol Brown was fired after DES learned of the incident. An investigation is underway.

In hundreds of other cases, money was stolen and used for everything from casino gambling to a motorcycle purchase. One caregiver made more than $36,000 in illegal debit transactions.

The cases reviewed by Cronkite News are documented on the Arizona DES’s Adult Protective Services registry, made available to the public last year.

APS investigates cases of all vulnerable adults, which under state law, includes people 18 years of age or older who are unable to protect themselves because of either physical or mental impairment. In 2015, 72 percent of APS clients were over 60 years old.

Some caregivers cashed in Social Security checks. Others added themselves and their own children as beneficiaries on a vulnerable adult’s accounts without consent.

That’s what Tinna Kay Lujan did.

While employed as a Certified Nursing Assistant at Amber Lights, an assisted living facility in Tucson, Lujan, 56, took 87-year-old Donald Hansen out of the facility into her own home, where the vulnerable adult later was found dehydrated and suffering from an infection.

According to the court records, at about 11 p.m. on March 23, 2014, Amber Lights staff called Pima County Sheriff’s Department to report the abduction of Hansen.

Minutes before, Hansen telephoned the staff Amber Lights to tell them he was okay. Staff heard Lujan coaching Hansen before she took the phone and said a moving company would be picking up his belongings the following week.

A confused Hansen approached staff earlier that morning. “Why do I have to move? I don’t know why I have to move,” he said. “I was approached to move into this person’s home who I don’t really know.”

That day, Lujan had checked out the keys to Hansen’s apartment.

Lujan was immediately suspended. She admitted to her employers that she removed Hansen from the facility, but said he approached her to be his caretaker.

Lynn Larson, assistant director of the Division of Aging and Adult Services, part of the Department of Economic Security, says the 2015 caseload is an all-time high.

In March 2015, APS had 12,767 open cases. Since then, APS has utilized temporary caseworkers to ensure they would be able to tackle the caseload, she said.

Larson said the number of open cases was down to 4,500, as of earlier this month and are now more aligned with the nation’s standards.

According to the APS Annual Report, APS reports have increased by 79 percent in the last five years. The report also said the agency has closed 13,394 cases after investigations. In Maricopa County alone, 7,204 elder abuse cases were reported. APS said they closed 6,548 cases of the Maricopa County cases. Only 565 of those cases were reported as substantiated.

She attributes the increase in cases in the last year to more attention and knowledge of the problem and therefore, more people reporting cases to APS.

“Nationally, there is the Elder Justice Act,” Larson said. “There’s greater attention being paid to that act and insuring that there’s a level of financing for services such as adult protective services throughout the nation, and part of that is just through the Older Americans Act as well.”

The Elder Justice Act, under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act issued in 2010, is an elder abuse prevention law. The Older Americans Act of 1965 also created the National Aging Network and agencies on aging at the federal and state levels to provide resources and outreach to aging adults.

Even so, Rhonda Coates, deputy assistant director of the Arizona Division of Aging and Adult Services, says abuse still is underreported. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, only one in 14 cases are reported.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the national aging population is growing expected to be reach 83.7 million in 2050, almost double its estimated population in 2012.

Vice President of Programs and Services for Arizona’s Area on Aging Region One, Melissa Elliott, said services haven’t kept up with the growth rate of the national aging population. The Area on Aging works closely with APS to provide resources and programs to enhance the life of vulnerable adults and caregivers in Maricopa County.

“I think that we also need to do a better job of helping people understand what elder abuse looks like,” Elliott said.

Hilary Weinberg, Family Violence Bureau chief for the Maricopa County Attorney’s office, said there are challenges when prosecuting cases in court.

“Sometimes distinguishing from a normal injury versus an actual abuse case can be a little bit tricky,” she said. “[Elders] bruise incredibly easy. It can be something as simple as moving someone from one chair to a wheelchair and they will be completely bruised and marked up and someone seeing that may say, ‘Oh my gosh, something happened to this person…” when basically their skin tears so easily that even very gentle handling of the person can look like abuse.”

Weinberg said victims who suffer from some sort of dementia is common and will sometimes prevent a victim from giving accurate information.

“Financial exploitation can be very hard to detect, so I think that we need more skilled people,” Elliott said. “And it can’t just be professionals, it has to be people in the first line of defense.”
In Hansen’s case, Washington Federal Bank staff contacted deputies because they were suspicious when Lujan and Hansen, a long-time customer, visited the bank together. Lujan provided the bank with a “power of attorney” document dated by Hansen.

Lujan requested checks and bank cards from Hansen’s accounts and added Hansen’s “grandchildren” as beneficiaries. The bank staff knew Hansen had no grandchildren and later learned the beneficiaries were, infact, Lujan’s children.

Financial abuse is becoming more prevalent, not only in Arizona, but nationwide.

Elliott said that the 2008 recession offered a new kind of vulnerability for the older population because resources were already scarce prior to the drop in the economy and so it caused them even more of a struggle.

“People who are looking to exploit older adults are capitalizing on two things,” Elliott said. “They are capitalizing on the desperation and the vulnerability but they are also capitalizing on the fact that there are more older adults and more opportunity.”

Nationally, older adults lose about $2.9 billion each year through financial abuse and exploitation, according to a 2011 MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse.

There are perpetrators without malintent who are reported. Some caregivers are overwhelmed and overworked and that leads to vulnerable situations.

“We definitely recognize, especially if the family member or the significant other has been in a caregiving capacity, that there definitely is caregiver fatigue,” Coates said. “It might have been that the caregiver was the one who abused or neglected the individual but I believe most of the time it’s not done purposefully if it is the caregiver.”

In 2015, APS reported 30 percent of alleged perpetrators are family members.

“A certain segment of the reporting sources are family members themselves,” Coates said. “There may be some hesitation there because they don’t want their loved one or a person that they know to be arrested or to go to jail.”

On Jan. 5, 2015, Lujan was sentenced to three years probation for “vulnerable adult abuse” and served 15 days in Pima County Jail.

Lujan’s plea agreement included special terms prohibiting her from working in a position where she has access to elderly or vulnerable adults and she must inform her employers of this conviction. She also must pay restitution of over $16,000 to Hansen and complete 200 hours of community service at a rate no less than 30 hours per month.

There is no unique sentencing code for vulnerable adult abuse cases. These cases have the same potential felonies as any other crime in Arizona, Weinberg said.

“The fact that it’s an elderly person or a vulnerable adult may make it more of somewhat of an aggravating factor that we can use to try to get a court to enhance a sentence because it’s one thing to punch a fairly healthy 45-year-old person, but to do something to someone who may be very frail and in their 80s that becomes a different story,” Weinberg said.

In her court statement, Lujan said Hansen approached her during January 2014 to be his caretaker and she viewed this as an opportunity to escape from her failed marriage. She admitted to taking advantage of Hansen but said she was unaware of he had contracted an infection under her care.

“I’m very ashamed I put the victim in harm’s way because of my impulsive actions,” Lujan said in her court statement.

In Arizona, between 4,600 and 6,900 seniors will experience some type of abuse each year, according to a report by the Arizona Elder Abuse Coalition.

“It takes more than one state agency to protect these individuals,” Coates said. “It really takes the larger community, from the community stakeholders to the churches and the faith-based communities to the family and the caregivers and all these different agencies that support these individuals.”

Full Article & Source:
Abuse of Arizona’s elderly increases as aging population grows

Hundreds to Lobby for State Alzheimer’s Legislation

HUDSON VALLEY – On Tuesday, March 8, hundreds of advocates from the Hudson Valley and around New York State will gather in Albany to rally in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease and share their experiences with this devastating illness with their lawmakers.

The Alzheimer’s Association Hudson Valley chapter invites those whose lives have been touched by Alzheimer’s to participate in Rally Day 2016.

A bus will pick up registered participants in Westchester, Rockland, Orange and Ulster counties that morning and transport them to and from the state Capitol in Albany.

In the Well of the Legislative Office Building, there will be a rally with speakers and presentations before attendees embark on a series of advocacy appointments with lawmakers, where they will share their stories and advocate for related legislation.

Legislation on the Association’s agenda this year includes bills designed to protect vulnerable adults from financial exploitation — one would authorize banks to refuse payments when exploitation is suspected and the other would enable the Office for the Aging to educate the public about the danger of financial exploitation. Others would expand the actions home health aides are certified to perform and establish an online statewide advance directive registry.

Catherine Wilson has advocated for greater Alzheimer’s resources on Rally Day before and plans to again this year.

“I got involved because Alzheimer’s was rampant in my family,” Wilson said. “And the people who are the most aware of it are the people with the least amount of time to advocate on behalf of (their) loved ones.”

She said Rally Day is important because it’s an opportunity to make sure lawmakers understand how devastating the disease is.

“Like so many laypeople, our representatives have a miscomprehension of what Alzheimer’s truly is. They think it is just memory loss, but it’s so much more than that,” Wilson said. “With Alzheimer’s, you can’t turn your back. Life comes to a halt. As a result, families go bankrupt. It affects you for decades to come.”

Wilson was an accountant making around $120,000 when her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Afterwards, the lack of respite care made it impossible for Wilson to remain in the corporate world. Eventually, she was forced to become a bookkeeper and work multiple jobs, causing her income to drop to barely more than $30,000.

In addition, the disease forced her to become very isolated. She said one of her friends actually thought she had died.

“I was very active, and I disappeared. You can’t get out the door. When you are caring for someone who is housebound, you become housebound yourself. You’re talking about people in the prime of their lives who are disappearing from our communities … because they’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s.”

In a letter she wrote to Assemblyman James Skoufis last year, she noted that the lack of respite care had not only resulted in her loss of income, career and retirement savings, but also had cost the state in tax revenue from the higher income she was no longer able to earn. Her reduced income also had an impact on the economy by reducing the goods and services she was able to purchase.

“There’s a domino effect across the board. Multiply me by 500,000 other victims in the state and all the lives they touch. How many jobs are lost because we’re not spending money,” she said.

Wilson said she supports the legislation to give bankers the right to take action when exploitation is suspected.

“The legal standard for an investigation is far different than an accounting standard. The legal standard is actually aiding and abetting the criminal,” Wilson said. “An auditor, if they don’t like what they see, is going to audit you. You don’t need proof to do an audit. We need that mindset. The elderly don’t make great witnesses. They can’t tell you what’s going on. You don’t have proof — you only have suspicion.”

“If you know someone who grew up during the Depression,” who was always careful with their money, Wilson said, “and suddenly there are checks against their account being cleared for $20,000, you know something’s going on — but you can’t do anything about that. We really need to get that law passed,” she said.

Registration for Rally Day is $10 and covers the bus fare and lunch.

To register, or for more information, contact Debbie Warburton at or 800.272.3900 or visit and click on the Rally Day registration link in the center of the home page.

Full Article & Source:
Hundreds to Lobby for State Alzheimer’s Legislation

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Illinois Representative David Harris Introduces FALK~NASGA wards'/human rights visitation legislation in the 2016 Legislative Session


Illinois Representative David Harris (R) 53rd District Sponsor and Chief Co-Sponsor Representative Patricia R. Bellock (R) 47th District of Adult GUARDIANSHIP-PERSONAL RIGHTS

NASGA strongly and enthusiastically supports House Bill 4569 introduced by Rep. Harris.

Synopsis As Introduced
Amends the Probate Act of 1975. Provides that unless a guardian of the person of a disabled adult is specifically authorized by court order, the guardian may not restrict a ward's right of communication, visitation, or interaction with other persons, including the right to receive visitors, telephone calls, or personal mail. Provides that if a ward is incapacitated and unable to express consent to communication, visitation, or interaction with a person due to a physical or mental condition, then consent of the incapacitated ward may be presumed based on the incapacitated ward's prior relationship history with the person.

Provides that the court may, upon motion by the guardian and good cause shown, place restrictions on a person's ability to communicate, visit, or interact with an incapacitated ward. Effective January 1, 2017.

NASGA is grateful to Rep. David Harris, Rep. Patricia Bellock and Rep. Michael Tryon’s commitment to the FALK~NASGA wards'/human rights visitation legislation.

We applaud Rep. David Harris’ ongoing dedication and legislative actions on behalf of the elderly and disabled of Illinois, the voiceless victims of a growing number of unlawful and abusive guardianships.

Read the full text of House Bill 4569

See Also:
NASGA on HB5573

NASGA on HB2504, HB2505, HB2506

NASGA Press Release

NASGA Press Release: Legislation Update: The State of Illinois Passes HB2505; Members in Legislative Action

NASGA Legislative Members

Suspect pleads guilty to stealing from 90-year-old

Clara Nanette Owens
COLUMBIANA – A 51-year-old Vinemont woman will spend the next year on work release after she pleaded guilty to stealing from a 90-year-old victim she was caring for in the summer of 2015.

Clara Nanette Owens, who lists an address on Cullman County 1078 in Vinemont, pleaded guilty to one felony count of financial exploitation of an elderly person during a Feb. 26 hearing at the Shelby County Courthouse.

As a result of her guilty plea, she was sentenced to a total of one year in the Shelby County Community Corrections’ work release center followed by two years of supervised probation. She received 68 days of jail credit for time she served in the Shelby County Jail before her guilty plea.

Through a plea agreement with prosecutors, four counts of fraudulent use of a credit card were dropped against Owens.

As conditions of her sentence, Owens must pay $941 in restitution to the victim, and must avoid initiating any contact with the victim. If Owens fails to complete the work release program or comply with any other conditions of her sentence, she could spend up to 10 years in prison, according to her sentencing order.

The Alabaster Police Department arrested Owens on Nov. 17, 2015, and charged her with the financial exploitation of an elderly persona fraudulent use of a credit card counts.

Alabaster Police Lt. Grant Humphries said the charges came after the department began investigating several fraudulent credit card charges made at stores in the city between June 3-23, 2015.

After examining the credit card activity, investigators determined Owens was using a 90-year-old man’s credit card to make personal purchases without the victim’s authorization. Owens was the victim’s caregiver at the time.

Full Article & Source:
Suspect pleads guilty to stealing from 90-year-old

Progress being made to help advisers combat elder abuse

For many years, the Financial Services Institute has been keenly focused on working with our members, regulators and legislators to develop solutions to the persistent and heartbreaking problem of elder financial abuse.

This challenge becomes more urgent every day, as more retirees reach a stage in life where strong financial safeguards and the close attention of caring, ethical professionals become even more vital to ensuring their long-term well-being.

The problem is more widespread than many realize: According to a 2010 Investor Protection Trust survey, one out of every five U.S. citizens over the age of 65 has already been victimized by fraudulent financial schemes or other forms of abuse.

In working to combat this problem, the key question for advisers and financial services firms has never been their desire to help; our members' commitment to protecting senior investors has been wholehearted and consistent. Rather, it has been a simple question of direction: “What can I do?”

In our ongoing dialogue on this issue with members, several hurdles emerge consistently. Many have questions on the proper channels and processes for reporting possible abuse, which vary from state to state. The issue of potential liability for disclosing sensitive client information to other institutions or third parties is another key concern. Advisers also frequently mention the desire for ongoing training or tips to help them recognize the signs of abuse, which can be obvious in some cases, and more subtle and pernicious in others.

To help answer these concerns, FSI launched our Elder Abuse Resource Center ( in 2014 to provide advisers and other concerned professionals with a centralized, one-stop point of reference on the appropriate state and federal agencies to contact in cases of possible abuse. The resource center also contains information about reporting restrictions in each state, key signs to look for that may indicate financial abuse, and a wealth of other material to help advisers protect their most vulnerable clients.

FSI has also been very pleased to play a role in the development of the model statute recently adopted by the North American Securities Administrators Association to fight fraudulent and predatory behavior that targets our valued seniors. The model, called “An Act to Protect Vulnerable Adults from Financial Exploitation,” goes a long way toward responding to our members' concerns by providing state lawmakers and regulators with a strong framework for developing their own bills to fight elder abuse.

FSI was honored to be invited to participate on the advisory council to NASAA's Committee on Senior Issues and Diminished Capacity. FSI acted as a valuable source of insight and perspective to the committee throughout the process.

The model statute encourages states to adopt regulation or legislation that would:
• Empower financial advisers and broker-dealers to place a temporary hold on disbursements to clients in cases where elder financial abuse is suspected, giving them time to investigate – in conjunction with state securities regulators and adult protective services – and determine whether fraud or exploitation may be occurring;
• Mandate that advisers report suspected cases of elder exploitation to the state securities regulator and state adult protective services agency;
• Provide immunity from administrative or civil liability for broker-dealers and investment advisers for taking actions permitted under the act, including delaying disbursements;
• Authorize notification to previously designated third parties regarding suspected abuse; and
• Allow qualified individuals such as financial advisers to provide government authorities records that are relevant to the suspected or attempted financial exploitation.

Although it can be difficult to predict when individual states will implement laws of their own based on NASAA's framework, the adoption of the model statute signals significant momentum in the effort to give both advisers and regulators the tools they need to protect vulnerable senior investors.

FSI members are determined to do all we can to train, empower and support advisers and other financial professionals, as the first line of defense against this threat. We are also very pleased with the productive ongoing dialogue we have developed with regulators and legislators on this issue, and with the positive progress we have seen so far in establishing a regulatory framework that will help advisers and other professionals detect and prevent exploitation of our treasured seniors.

The problem of elder financial abuse is too big for any one group to tackle alone. By working alongside regulators and our members to focus on this crucial common goal, however, it is clear that the effort to protect our nation's seniors from financial exploitation is gaining much-needed momentum.

Full Article & Source:
Progress being made to help advisers combat elder abuse

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

New Book: "Guardianship: How Judges and Lawyers Steal Your Money"

It’s difficult to believe it happens, but forced guardianship fraud runs unchecked throughout the nation’s probate courts.

Deemed incapacitated by the courts, elderly citizens are robbed of all decision-making rights and assigned professional guardians whose only interest lies in profiting from their vulnerable charges’ estates. 

Guardianship: How Judges and Lawyers Steal Your Money exposes a web of murderous profiteering, all sanctioned by a corrupt legal system. 

As guardians take everything they can, judges and attorneys turn a blind eye.

Crooked cops harass family members into silence, while the very attorneys you hired won’t help for fear of losing their licenses. These are the people who may one day control your loved one’s health care, living arrangements, finances, and very life. 

Ostensibly created to prevent financial abuse by caregivers and family members, professional guardianship instead gave the legal system carte blanche to destroy lives—as author Michael Larsen discovered when family members tried to help a friend suffering under a corrupt guardian, attorney, and commissioner.
Here is a guide for families to better understand a corrupt system, delineating what happens when a loved one falls victim to professional guardians, and offering suggestions to minimize your risk of what amounts to legally sanctioned abuse.

California Member Charles Pascal Guests on "View From the Bunker" Radio

SENIOR CITIZENS are losing their life savings to forced guardianship fraud.

Charles Pascal shares the story of how his mother-in-law’s court-appointed legal guardian drained her estate.

Listen to Charles Pascal's interview on VFtB Radio

See Also:
NASGA Profile:  Marcy E. Dudeck, NV/CA Victim

Pivotal Nursing Home Suit Raises a Simple Question: Who Signed the Contract?

Scott Barrow’s reflection in a portrait of his mother, Elizabeth Barrow, who was killed at a nursing home in 2009
Elizabeth Barrow celebrated her 100th birthday at a backyard gathering with her son and three grandchildren in the coastal Massachusetts town where she raised her family and cooked lunches in a school cafeteria.

A month later, in September 2009, Mrs. Barrow was found dead at a local nursing home, strangled and suffocated, with a plastic shopping bag over her head. The killer, the police said, was her 97-year-old roommate.

Workers at the nursing home, Brandon Woods in South Dartmouth, Mass., had months earlier described the roommate in patient files as being “at risk to harm herself or others.”

After a police inquiry, the roommate — despite her age and dementia — was charged with murder.

The authorities did not focus on the nursing home, though. Brandon Woods claims that, except for some minor arguments, the two women got along nicely. When the roommate was deemed unfit to stand trial and committed to a state hospital, the sensational case that shocked this corner of New England essentially disappeared.

More than six years after the killing, Mrs. Barrow’s only son, Scott, is still trying to hold the nursing home accountable. “The woman had a history of problems,” Mr. Barrow said of the roommate in an interview this month. “She should not have been living in that room with my mother.”

Mr. Barrow was barred from taking Brandon Woods to court in 2010 because his mother’s contract with the nursing home contained a clause that forced any dispute, even one over wrongful death, into private arbitration.

He has been trying ever since to get back to court, and next month he will finally get that chance. A Massachusetts state court is scheduled to hear Mr. Barrow’s case against the home, which has evolved into much more than a lawsuit about one woman’s death. It has become a crucial test of a legal strategy to prevent nursing homes across the country from requiring their residents to go to arbitration, where there is no judge or jury and the proceedings are hidden from public scrutiny.

Arbitration clauses have proliferated over the last 10 years as companies have added them to tens of millions of contracts for things as diverse as cellphone service, credit cards and student loans.
Nursing homes in particular have embraced the clauses, which are often buried in complex contracts that are difficult to navigate, especially for elderly people with dwindling mental acuity or their relatives, who can be emotionally vulnerable when admitting a parent to a home.

State regulators are concerned because the secretive nature of arbitration can obscure patterns of wrongdoing from prospective residents and their families. Recently, officials in 16 states and the District of Columbia urged the federal government to deny Medicaid and Medicare money to nursing homes that use the clauses. Between 2010 and 2014, hundreds of cases of elder abuse, neglect and wrongful death ended up in arbitration, according to an examination by The New York Times of 25,000 arbitration records and interviews with arbitrators, judges and plaintiffs.

Judges have consistently upheld the clauses, The Times found, regardless of whether the people signing them understood what they were forfeiting. It is the most basic principle of contract law: Once a contract is signed, judges have ruled, it is legally binding.

Mr. Barrow’s case is pivotal because, with the help of his lawyers, he has overcome an arbitration clause by using the fundamentals of contract law to fight back.

As is often the case when elderly people are admitted to nursing homes, Mr. Barrow signed the admissions paperwork containing the arbitration clause on his mother’s behalf.

Although his mother had designated Mr. Barrow as her health care proxy — someone who was authorized to make decisions about her medical treatment — his lawyers argued that he did not have the authority to bind his mother to arbitration. In 2014, a judge ruled in his favor. (Continue)

Full Article & Source:
Pivotal Nursing Home Suit Raises a Simple Question: Who Signed the Contract?

The Agonizing Limbo Of Abandoned Nursing Home Residents

Bruce Anderson about a year before his accident.
A bad bout of pneumonia sent Bruce Anderson to Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento last May. As soon as he recovered, hospital staff tried to return him to the nursing home where he had been living for four years.

But the home refused to readmit him, even after being ordered to do so by the state. Nearly nine months later, Anderson, 66, is still in the hospital.

“I’m frustrated,” said his daughter, Sara Anderson. “You cannot just dump someone in the hospital.”

Anderson said her father, who has a brain injury that causes dementia-like symptoms, is confined to the hospital bed and frequently given anti-psychotic medications. She believes the nursing home, Norwood Pines Alzheimer’s Care Center, refused to readmit him because it wanted to make room for more lucrative and less burdensome residents.

“I didn’t have any question this was about money,” she said.

Bruce Anderson is the victim of a flawed readmission system for patients who want to return to their nursing homes after spending time in the hospital.

Nursing home residents are entitled to hearings under federal law to determine whether they should be readmitted after hospitalization. The state Department of Health Care Services holds the administrative hearings, but has said it is not responsible for enforcing the rulings.

But the state Department of Public Health, which oversees nursing homes, neglects to enforce the rulings and sometimes disagrees with them, according to advocates and court documents.

That leaves residents like Anderson, who won his hearing in July, with little recourse — and not many places to go. And since many nursing home residents have publicly-funded insurance, it means taxpayers are on the hook for hospital stays long after the patients are ready for discharge.

“Federal and state law have created a complicated and expensive process to ensure residents are not abandoned by their nursing homes,” said Tony Chicotel, a staff attorney at the nonprofit California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. “It fundamentally doesn’t work.”  (Continue)

Full Article & Source:
The Agonizing Limbo Of Abandoned Nursing Home Residents

Monday, February 29, 2016

AG official wants more resources to battle guardianship abuse crisis in Nevada

The Nevada attorney general's chief of investigations told a Supreme Court panel Friday that he is becoming "increasingly aware" of the impact guardianship abuse is having on the state.

And it's something he hopes his office can fix.

"The guardianship and elder abuse problems in our state are not going to go away," Roland Swanson said. "Our elder population continues to grow. Our elderly citizens continue to be victimized across the state."

Over 4,000 people in Clark County have been deemed a ward, or someone incapable of handling their own money or affairs, and been placed under a court-approved guardianship. Those guardians are given control of the wards' lives, including the house, car and even life-savings.

The panel was formed after a series of stories in the Review-Journal published in April exposed longstanding problems in the system that left elderly and infirm adults open to losing hundreds of thousands of dollars to fees, mismanagement and even outright theft.

Swanson, who was appointed by Attorney General Adam Laxalt in August 2015 after working for the FBI for over 20 years, said he doesn't think local law enforcement agencies have the resources or training to thoroughly investigate criminal exploitation by guardians, especially in the state's rural areas.

Swanson said his office is looking for additional resources so it can better investigate abuses and mentioned the possibility of forming a "broader, statewide task force."

His comments about forming a statewide body to handle guardianships would seem to line up with the previously stated goals of the Supreme Court panel of getting law enforcement more involved when criminal actions are suspected in guardianships.

But for the 26-member panel, the rest of the goals seem to be moving along much slower than expected, even after getting a six-month extension.

Justice James Hardesty, who chairs the panel, said the group will have to buckle down if it wants to have a concrete list of recommendations by its final meeting in May. He said that going forward they will likely heavily restrict the public comment period, which often takes up over one-third of the alotted meeting time.

The final three meetings are scheduled for April 1, April 22 and May 20. They from 1 to 4:30 p.m. on the 17th floor of the Regional Justice Center, 200 Lewis Ave

Full Article & Source:
AG official wants more resources to battle guardianship abuse crisis in Nevada

The Probate Court's Dirty Secret That's Robbing the Elderly in Retirement

Kathleen Dunn’s mother Jacqueline Scott was placed under the care of a professional fiduciary in Florida after a sibling filed in probate court to be her guardian. When a Pinellas County Judge began to restrict visitation with her then 82-year-old mother, Dunn filed a complaint.

"I was under the impression that we lived in America and this is the land of the free but I had no idea that people were being legally kidnapped to be robbed of all their assets and Constitutional rights,” Dunn said.

Dunn is among a rising number of baby boomers and Gen Xers involved in expensive custody battles concerning their World War II generation family members who are expected to collectively pass along $41 trillion in inheritance money. However, family disputes and professional guardians sanctioned by courts nationwide stand to intercept this transference of wealth.

“Probate judges are increasingly handing over an innocent elderly person's health, wealth and life to a total stranger whose only focus is often just to take and make as much money from the family as possible,” says Dr. Sam Sugar, founder Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, an advocacy group.

In most cases, courts appoint family members as guardian but they are increasingly turning to an emerging cottage industry of professional guardians who are not related to their wards and usually work in for-profit firms and whose fees are paid from the assets of the person they’re taking care of. But several reports note a rising number of allegations of financial exploitation.

The courts of 65 percent of state judges and court staff have taken action against at least one guardian for “misconduct, malfeasance, or serious failure to fulfill their obligations” in the previous three years, according to a 2014 survey by the Administrative Conference of the United States. Some 60 percent of court personnel did not review credit or financial reports on prospective guardians.

“The best way to prevent a guardianship is to have the family of the incapacitated person enter into some sort of agreement as to how things will be handled from that point forward,” said Don Ford, an attorney in Houston whose legal strategy liberated 97-year-old Ann Walton James, whom Titus County Judge Brian Lee placed under professional guardianship.

Spelling out wishes in a trust, power of attorney or will can avoid disputes in some cases but even this foresight is not fool proof.

“Estate planning can be very useful in preventing or delaying guardianships, however, this will not work if the person or family member you have designated to serve as power of attorney or trustee end up abusing their authority,” Ford said.

It’s often rivalry among family members that creates chaos in the lives of the elderly who may be losing their memory or experiencing the symptoms of early onset of dementia.

Mary Rose, 43, has been required to pay $50 an hour to a monitor to supervise weekly 2-hour visits with her 83-year-old mother Evelyn Ann Nabity due to a court order signed by Nebraska Judge Darryl R. Lowe. That’s because Rose says Robert Nabity, a sibling, applied to be guardian in probate court and won.

“Our mother had given me medical power of attorney in 1998 and now I have limited access to see her and no authority to make medical decisions for her,” said Rose, an R.N. who lives in Grand Island, Nebraska.

The elderly Ms. Nabity remains locked up in an Alzheimer's facility in Omaha.

“The biggest source of abuse comes from someone who ends up taking their parents’ or spouse’s money for their own personal use instead of using it solely for the benefit of the incapacitated parent or partner,” said Ford.

Full Article & Source:
The Probate Court's Dirty Secret That's Robbing the Elderly in Retirement

See Also:
NASGA profile:  Jacqueline Scott, Florida

NASGA profile:  Evelyn Nabity, Nebraska

Elder guardianship aims to bilk more than help

I wrote about the plight of 94-year-old Betty Winstanley, who resides at the Masonic Village retirement home in Elizabethtown, Pa. She doesn’t want to live there anymore. Now that her husband of 72 years is gone, she longs to move to a care home closer to her two children in Maryland. The state of Pennsylvania won’t let her leave.

To the state, Betty is case #1201 of 2014, just another old person the court has declared, “totally incapacitated.” Once someone is so labeled, they get a court-appointed guardian who, literally, takes over their life.

Guardians decide all the ward’s finances, who can visit and for how long, when or if they can leave the home – everything.

This is widow Winstanley’s lot in life now. Yet when you talk to Betty, she is charming, articulate, highly intelligent and simply looking for a less lonely life during her last years.

I had no idea the enormity of the nation’s elder guardianship problem or how many individuals and organizations are fighting to change the now bastardized set of laws that can turn an elder’s life into a nightmare.

If the aging Baby Boomer generation hasn’t already experienced the problem with their own parents – steel yourselves – you could be the next one to get caught up in this awful system.

Reader Marcia Southwick wrote to tell me about Boomers Against Elder Abuse, a New Mexico organization fighting against abusive court-ordered guardianships.

“There is plenty of it going on in New Mexico but records are sealed here, and families gag ordered and made to sign no-sue agreements once the guardianship/conservatorship is over,” she wrote. Her group’s Facebook page lists nearly 350 elder guardianship horror stories from just about every state in the union.

From Austin, Kelley Smoot Garrett also wrote about New Mexico’s system and the arrogance displayed by the court.

“In NM’s 2nd Judicial District Court,” she said, “The judges … ALWAYS favor their court-appointees and never listen to the families or the elderly because they are too busy allowing the ‘incapacitated’ person’s property to be sold off – frequently without the appropriate court-order in place – for pennies on the dollar.”

There is no way for me to confirm judicial misconduct in sealed cases, but the sheer volume of complaints is staggering. They highlight citizen’s attitudes about the way the legal system has taken laws designed to help the elderly and twisted them to insure continued employment for judges, lawyers, court-appointed guardians, social workers and those who own or staff elder care homes.
And it is, conveniently, paid for out of the estates of the elderly.

“My mother has been shanghaied into a nursing home, drugged, assets disbursed,” a woman named Frania wrote from Baltimore, Md. “The guardian of (Mom’s) property is like God. And the judge is cocky, completely confident, arrogant (and) does exactly what she wants knowing nothing will happen to her.”

It doesn’t matter if the elderly person has a will or living trust; it can be automatically overridden by the state. Once someone approaches the court for assistance with an elderly person – say, a warring sibling or nosy neighbor – they are in the clutches of this dysfunctional system.

Andy Skupaka wrote to say he has experienced it.

“For profit guardian/ conservatorship is now a big business with massive power. The elderly are being denied their civil rights and due process,” he said.

“Their estates and legacies are being looted. … Family members are slandered, libeled, vilified and driven into bankruptcy while trying to save their loved ones from this exploitation.”

Some report that they were tricked by unscrupulous lawyers.

Darryl Steiner, a decorated and now retired Army major wrote from Clearwater, Fla. He said he went to his lawyer for financial advice and suddenly found himself in what’s called a “plenary guardianship.” Now he has no control over his money for his son’s education.

“I do have a good monthly retirement income that disappears as soon as it comes in,” he said. “I am desperately seeking help.”

Several groups, nationwide, are working to change this awful system.

Among them, the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse, and the Catherine Falk Organization.

Catherine, daughter of the late actor, Peter Falk, of “Columbo” fame was denied visitation by her stepmother during her father’s last days. Now her group lobbies for a passage of a bill to remove barriers to family participation, while still providing ample protection for those in true need.

Catherine Falk says lawmakers in nearly two dozen states have responded positively to the need to change the status quo.

Change couldn’t come fast enough for Betty Winstanley.

Ever since her eldest son, Richard, took a family squabble to court in July 2014, she has had to live where her husband died – and without the family she so desperately craves.

Her estate was worth $1.9 million before her guardianship began in July 2014. Wonder what it’s down to now?

Full Article & Source:
Elder guardianship aims to bilk more than help