Saturday, August 5, 2017

Caregiving Is Hard Enough. Isolation Can Make It Unbearable.

Marcy Sherman-Lewis is the primary caregiver for her husband, Gene Lewis, who has Alzheimer’s.

For years, Marcy Sherman-Lewis went to a beauty salon in St. Joseph, Mo., every few weeks for a haircut and highlights.

It had become something of an ordeal to prepare her husband, Gene Lewis, for this outing; he has Alzheimer’s disease, at 79, and helping him shower and dress, insert hearing aids and climb into the car was a very slow process.

But she could no longer leave him at home alone. And once at the salon, “he just sat, watched TV, slept — didn’t bother anybody,” said Ms. Sherman-Lewis, 62. Her stylist kindly trimmed his hair, too.

Then last month, the salon owner took Ms. Sherman-Lewis aside. “Marcy, he makes my other patrons awfully uncomfortable,” she said.

“I was dumbfounded,” Ms. Sherman-Lewis said. “It’s O.K. for other people’s little grandchildren to be running around sometimes. What am I supposed to do, keep him in a crate in the car?”

Like so many caregivers, she has discovered that along with the abandoned career, the hands-on tasks, the medical scheduling, the insurance tussles and the disrupted sleep, she faces another trial: social isolation.

“It’s hurtful,” she said. “You need friends more than ever.”

But where are they? Betsey Brairton, 48, cares for her mother, Sue, in rural Olean, N.Y. The elder Ms. Brairton, 79, suffers from spinal stenosis, arthritis and lingering damage from a stroke, so she has limited mobility. “We hardly go anywhere, and nobody comes here,” said her daughter. When she does leave for an hour or two, she’s afraid to put down her cellphone.

Though a couple of friends occasionally invite her out for dinner, “I can’t commit to anything, in case my mom is having a bad day,” Ms. Brairton said. She has begun to worry that when she does spend time with others, her narrowing life leaves her with nothing interesting to say.

Those who work with caregivers know this phenomenon well, especially when the cared-for person has dementia, a particularly arduous responsibility.

“Caregiving is done with a lot of love and affection, but there’s a lot of loss involved,” said Carey Wexler Sherman, a gerontologist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. “People talk about friends disappearing, about even family members not wanting to be involved. It’s a lonely business.”

Sometimes, caregivers isolate themselves. Barbara Moscowitz, senior geriatric social worker at Massachusetts General Hospital, hears clients lament that with a loved one whose dementia-related behavior can be startling, venturing out in public creates more apprehension than pleasure.

“They say, ‘I’m exhausted trying to explain to people why she’s doing what she’s doing, why they shouldn’t be angry or afraid,’” Ms. Moscowitz said. “It’s just easier to stay home.”

Yet a habit of avoiding others — or watching them avoid you — collides with a growing body of research showing how damaging isolation and loneliness can be. They are associated with a host of ills, including heart disease and stroke. Among older people, isolation is linked to depression, even higher mortality. Lonely old people, Dutch researchers have found, are more apt to develop dementia.

We’ve long thought of these factors as dangers for the people being cared for. But they also imperil caregivers, who are often older adults as well.

Years of caring for his wife, now deceased, who had early onset Alzheimer’s, left Les Sperling, 65, so despondent that “I’d stay in my room in the dark and sleep all day,” he said. “I didn’t want to come out.”

Mr. Sperling, of Lake Worth, Fla., went into therapy and took antidepressants until he felt able to function again.

We know something about how to help caregivers feel less alone. Researchers have shown that even modest-sounding interventions can reduce their sense of isolation and improve their mental and physical health.

Mary Mittelman, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias Family Support Program at NYU Langone Health, has been conducting such studies for years.

With federal and state grants, the program — involving several counseling sessions, followed by support groups and phone access to counselors as needed — has inspired others that have been adopted throughout New York and in several other states.

“The support is what leads to less stress, less depression, better health and delayed nursing-home admissions,” Dr. Mittelman said. Interestingly, her team has found that “instrumental support,” in which others actually help with tasks, has less impact than emotional support.

“Having someone outside who is paying attention and who cares is more important,” she said.

Other initiatives, like Savvy Caregiver and REACH, have demonstrated similar effectiveness. Because they are offered under various names in different states, Area Agencies on Aging can help besieged caregivers find free local programs. And since getting out of the house can be a struggle, program developers are also testing online versions.

Caregivers already gather in Facebook groups and on websites, but experts have mixed feelings about online chats and groups. “They provide anonymity, and that may permit more honesty,” said Dr. Wexler Sherman, the gerontologist. “Sometimes you need to vent at 2 a.m.”

”But we need skills,” she said. “Being a caregiver is a job.” Online, is the information passed along accurate and useful? Is there a trained, knowledgeable moderator?

“It’s important to have a leader to monitor and validate,” said Ms. Moscowitz, who leads several support groups for Mass General employees and for community members. Besides, “there’s nothing like a real person to hug you.”

On other fronts, we’re seeing more efforts to provide convivial social and cultural events for both people with dementia and their caregivers: Memory Cafes, museum programs, choruses. The Dementia Friendly America campaign aims to make whole communities — including police forces, churches, restaurants and hair salons — more knowledgeable and accommodating.

Individuals can also play a role. It’s too easy to let caregiving friends slip off our radar with a general call-if-you-need-anything.

“Don’t put the pressure on the caregiver to tell you what to do,” Ms. Moscowitz said. She suggests asking what would be helpful, making a list of specific tasks and parceling out assignments.

“Don’t invite me for lunch — you know I can’t go,” Ms. Sherman-Lewis said. “Just bring a pizza and a bottle of wine and come by.”

Though tangible help counts — and let’s acknowledge that an aging country can’t rely solely on families, friends and volunteers to provide everything dependent elders need, however well supported they are — so do regular texts, calls or visits. They help keep caregivers from feeling invisible and forgotten.

Counselors in the NYU program once had the friendly inspiration, since they kept caregivers’ information in their database, to send clients a card on their birthdays.

It sounds sweet, if trivial. But often, Dr. Mittelman said, “they’d call up, so grateful, and say, ‘You’re the only one who remembered.’”

Full Article & Source: 
Caregiving Is Hard Enough. Isolation Can Make It Unbearable.

The Case of Carl DeBrodie: The Investigation

Click to Watch Video
FULTON, Mo. - Carl DeBrodie's body was found encased in concrete in a Fulton storage unit.

The questions of who poured the concrete over DeBrodie's body and stashed him out of sight has been the target of an intense investigation over the last 11 weeks.

ABC 17's Jordana Marie has been digging through hundreds of court documents, looking into who was responsible for keeping him safe. She's found a court custody battle, a list of people responsible for his daily care and at least one serious potential violation of state law.

ABC 17 spoke with a former guardian of DeBrodie about what she fears happened.

“I think somebody lost it on him and that’s how he died,” Mary Martin said.

Martin is a former guardian for DeBrodie. She took care of him most of his childhood until he was 21 years old.

Martin said DeBrodie is developmentally challenged and doesn’t speak well but can get his point across to those who know him.

She said he went to live at Second Chance homes, an Independent Supported Living facility in Fulton about nine years ago. That’s where she said things started to go south for DeBrodie.

“When he went into Second Chance, he was put on meds and it upped and upped and upped until he had the Thorazine shuffle," Martin said. "He was not Carl anymore. He walked like a Zombie”

On April 17, Fulton police received a missing person’s report from Second Chance homes. They quickly realized DeBrodie had been missing a lot longer than the Second Chance workers had reported.

“We conducted a foot search, a search with drones, a tracking dog from the Highway Patrol," Fulton police Lt. Bill Ladwig said. "It became pretty apparent by speaking to some other people that were in the area that Mr. DeBrodie was probably missing for longer than just 30 minutes on that morning.”

A week later, his body was found, encased in cement, in a storage facility.

“With the decomposition of the body, it was probably there for months,” Fulton police Chief Steve Meyers said.

So when did DeBrodie go missing? Who was responsible for making sure he was alive and healthy while living at Second Chance homes?

According to former Cole County Prosecutor Bill Tackett, everyone.

“It’s everyone who touches the oversight of him," Tackett said. "Everybody plays a part in what happens to any of these people but specifically him.”

ABC 17 News has been looking through hundreds of documents from various agencies, looking for who would be responsible for DeBrodie.

At the top of that list, DeBrodie's court-appointed legal guardian: Callaway County public administrator Karen Digh.

“So she would be one of the people in the network of people of players that were responsible for protecting Carl DeBrodie,” Tackett said.

Next on the list, the case manager responsible for monthly face-to-face visits with DeBrodie.

In May, ABC 17 News reported Callaway County Special Services, the agency that employed that case worker, determined that employee was not meeting monthly with DeBrodie despite filing reports stating otherwise.

That employee has been fired.

“There are criminal statutes for false reporting, filing a false report," Tackett said.  "There's forgery.  There’s a litany of prosecutorial remedies for a lot of what’s happened here.”

Right now, no one with CCSS has been charged, though it is possibly a part of the larger investigation.

We also know Rachel Rowden owns Second Chance Homes. Her name has not been mentioned in the investigation to this point.

Second Chance Homes was an Independent Supported Living facility, with only two or three residents at a time living there.

“All she had to do was drop in," Martin said. "I mean, she didn’t have that many clients.”

ABC 17’s Jordana Marie went to Rowden’s house to ask her the last time she saw DeBrodie, if she knew what happened and how she thought his body ended up encased in cement.

Her daughter said Rowden was out of the state and referred to the lawyers when asked about the investigation.

At the bottom of the responsibility totem pole are the people working in the home day in and day out.

Through court documents and police reports, ABC 17 News has determined Sherry Paulo was one of the employees at Second Chance from as far back at 2011 to as recently as 2016.

In a court document from 2014, Paulo is listed as a staff member and “qualified disability professional" at Second Chance Home in Fulton.

Fulton police records also put Paulo in the home in October 2016 when a resident allegedly threw punches at her and her husband, Anthony Flores.

Neighbors also told ABC 17 they saw Paulo at the house the night before DeBrodie was reported missing.

More than two months have passed since DeBrodie was reported missing and his body was found.

There have been no arrests, no named suspects and no timeline of when justice for DeBrodie will be served. The community wants answers.

“This is one that needs to be compartmentalized and worked through slowly, but surely and get to the bottom of what happened to Carl DeBrodie,” Tackett said.

As a former prosecutor, Tackett said the key to ensure justice is properly served for Carl is to find out what happened before he was reported missing.

“What happened before April 17th? We know what happened after April 17th," Tackett. "What went on before the date that this was called in? What you’re hearing is the chief of police talk about the decomposition of the body being months and if you do the math on it, it doesn’t work out.”

Tackett has not been involved in the investigation of this case. But, he did say if this case was presented to him, based on the facts we know so far, he’d likely take it to a grand jury before deciding who to ultimately prosecute, and for what crimes.

We know Callaway County has a standing grand jury, but it’s not known if this investigation has been presented to that grand jury.

Full Article & Source:
The Case of Carl DeBrodie: The Investigation

The Case of Carl DeBrodie: The Guardians

Part two of a three-part series

Click to Watch Video
FULTON, Mo. - Before 31-year-old Carl DeBrodie's body was found encased in concrete, he was part of a lifelong custody battle.

Some key players in Carl's life say the legal struggles could have been avoided if Carl hadn't gone into Second Chance, the group home where he was last seen.

ABC 17's Deborah Kendrick got her hands on court documents that uncover more about what went on behind the scenes, including a possible conflict of interest.

Early Years

In November 1985: Carl DeBrodie was born to Carolyn Summers. Carl lived with his mother, who has mental limitations, until Carl was about 12-years-old. Carl went into the care of Mary Martin, through the foster care system.

In September 1999: Cole County Circuit Court appointed Mary Martin to be Carl's legal guardian when he turned 14-years-old.

In November 2003: Carl turned 18 and he became his own legal guardian.

In November 2006: Martin cared for Carl until he was 21. It was nearly two years later in 2008, when Carl was declared a incapacitated and disabled adult from Callaway County Court. So Karen Digh, the public administrator was appointed his legal guardian.

Legal Battles

In 2009: Martin petitioned the Callaway County Court to be named as Carl's legal guardian. The court held hearings on April 2010, but she was denied. It was that same year, Christmas Eve at Martin's when Martin claims Carl was abused. An investigation was done and found no one to be responsible. It was noted in documents that Carl sometimes "harms himself."

By 2010: Carl was living at Second Chance. Carl's former guardian ad litem, Jana Oestreich, visited Carl that year and states that she saw "tremendous positive change." A guardian ad litem is court appointed to represent the best interests of a child, or incapacitated adult. In an appeal opinion by the Cole County judge, Oestreich said Carl was "happy, healthy, robust, cozy and comfortable." Oestreich testified that when she visited Martin's home, it was "very chaotic," and "there is a lot of traffic inside of Martin's home with different children, different family members."

In August 2011: Martin petitioned the Cole County Court to adopt Carl when he was 25. It was December of 2011, when Mary Beck, Carl's appointed guardian ad litem during the adoption, made a visit to Martin's home. Beck said Carl appeared to be comfortable and familiar with his residential home and had access to the entire house. Beck stated in her guardian ad litem report, "Carl got his own drinks, letting the dogs out and interacting with family members." Beck stated neighbors and friends who were present enjoyed Carl's company not because they were being paid.

It was in front of Beck that Carl asked his 'Dad', Mary Martin's husband, if he (Carl) could stay at his childhood home. "His father hugged him, but told him he would have to leave and assured him that he was doing everything in his power to ensure that Carl could be a part of the family more often."

May 2012: Six months after the guardian ad litem's report of Carl being calm and loving at the Martin's (home). Carl was observed having an extremely opposite reaction to the mention of the Martin's name.

During a visit in May, the report noted there was a continuous presence of Sherry Paulo, the assistant director of Second Chance homes and Vickie Cole, the house manager of Second Chance homes. It was noted during the visit Carl was very "distraught, crying, screaming and shaking his head "No" when Martin's name was brought up. It was concluded that both Paulo and Cole "exerted immense influence over Carl's response to the Martin's name at the idea of adoption."

It was also in May that the Cole County Court ruled to deny the adoption to Martin because: consent of the adult was needed; no credible evidence was presented to support a finding that Carl knew the legal significance of a decision to consent to the adoption; Carl's legal guardian, Karen Digh, declined to give consent and declined to seek authority for consent.

In 2014: Martin appealed the courts decisions but she was denied. In 2014, that was the last time Martin saw Carl.


Sherry Paulo: a staff member and "qualified disability professional." Paulo testified that Martin and her husband were not denied visitation but they needed to be supervised.

Karen Digh: Carl's legal guardian. Digh stated when Carl returned from visits with Mary he exhibited strange or distressful behaviors.

Mary Martin: Carl's former guardian. Martin stated Carl "needed an advocate and needed somebody to watch out for him the rest of his life." Martin stated she did not want Carl living at Second Chance and believed he was being overmedicated.

Mary Beck: Carl's guardian ad litem. Beck stated that Carl really valued the role of his biological mother and Mary Martin in his life. Beck recommended that the court grant the adoption.

During a visit to Second Chance Beck asked Carl if he wanted to continue living at Second Chance or if he wanted to live with the Martins. Carl pointed to the ground and said "here." Beck asked Carl the same question when he was visiting at the Martin's Carl said, "Here. Home."

Conflict of Interest
The question on the minds of several people in the community, "Why wouldn't someone who has cared for him for years not be allowed to adopt him."

"Why would someone resist in giving guardianship or adoption to a family that had cared for him for 13 years and were in love with him, who had the financial means to take care of him," Beck said.

Beck states a financial tie and conflict of interest existed with the Public Administrators office and Second Chance.

"This is my guardian ad litem report to the court so it's not confidential information. There was a financial tie between Karen's office and Second Chance homes," Beck said.

In the report it states, "The legal guardian's deputy was working at Second Chance while working as a deputy to the Callaway County public administrator, which is a noteworthy conflict of interest. The deputy was very much in favor of keeping (Carl) DeBrodie institutionalized."

"It's a real conflict of interest to have a facility for incapacitated adults to have a financial tie to a main worker in the public guardian's office," Beck said.

Second Chance Finances

According to a financial document that ABC 17 News obtained from the Missouri Department of Mental Health, Second Chance was bringing in an average of $592,000 each year from 2009 to 2017. This brought the total to more than $5 million over the nine year span.


ABC 17 News checks in daily on the investigation. So far, no arrests have been made in the disappearance and death of Carl DeBrodie.

Full Article & Source:
The Case of Carl DeBrodie: The Guardians

The Case of Carl DeBrodie: Checking The System

Part three of a three-part series

Click to Watch Video
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - The investigation into Carl Debrodie’s death is still underway by state and federal law enforcement agencies.

The 31-year-old, developmentally disabled man was found dead in a Fulton storage facility after being reported missing days earlier.

Investigators say evidence suggests Debrodie had died long before he was reported missing, leading them to believe there was a coverup involved.

ABC 17 News reported on May 19 when a case manager with Callaway County Special Services was fired after it was alleged that the required monthly face-to-face visits with Debrodie were not being performed.

According to the Missouri Department of Mental Health’s Division of Developmental Disabilities, the monthly support monitoring visits are one of three ways cases are reviewed and monitored on the individual level.

Debrodie’s service provider, Second Chance Homes in Fulton, underwent a licensure and certification process that involved the DMH checking to make sure the facility is able to care for its clients based on their individual needs.

The recertification process occurs every two years and doesn’t require direct contact with the individuals.

The division also performs quality enhancement reviews each year, during which documents from 400 randomly selected cases are supposed to be requested and reviewed.

If the cases involve increased medical needs, a registered nurse is supposed to perform a medical review on an annual basis.

“We have quality enhancement nurses and those nurses will review individuals, specifically individuals that have really high medical needs, about 65 percent of the 8,377 with comprehensive waivers,” said Valerie Huhn the division's director. “Those cases would warrant this annual nurse review.”

While other oversight systems exists within the division, none of them require consistent, face-to-face contact with clients like Debrodie.

The Missouri Developmental Disabilities Council shared an office building with the Department of Mental Health but it is a separate entity.

The 23-member council is federally funded and at least 60 percent of its membership have a direct connection to people with developmental disabilities.

"We don't delve that deep into oversight,” said Vicky Davidson, the council’s director. “We provide advice on the services systems, on how families believe the service system should be driven."

One tool the council uses is a victimization task force, something Davidson said will examine the Debrodie case closely.

"The victimization task would like to look at what systems might have broken down and work to address those and change that to make sure that doesn't happen again,” Davidson said.

The task force is only able to submit recommendations to the Department of Mental Health, meaning it's up to Gov. Eric Greitens' administration to change or update policy.

In a division that serves more than 36,000 people across the state, all of them with different needs, Huhn says it can be difficult to keep the system individual-driven.

"It can be challenging making sure all those needs are met and those rights are protected,” said Huhn.

“The system always evolves because the individuals evolve and the ways we can find to care for individuals."

ABC 17 News is closely following the Debrodie investigation and will publish updates on air and in a special section of this website: "The Case of Carl Debrodie."

Full Article & Source:
The Case of Carl DeBrodie: Checking The System

Book: Defending Your Loved One: Avoiding the TRAPS of CONservatorship

Sgt. David finds himself at the mercy of his psychotic ex-wife Sybil. Suffering a traumatic brain injury and trapped in a body that he no longer knows as his own, he tries to battle back only to realize that not only is he physically compromised, but also his mental capacity has failed to the point that he cannot fight the enemy on his own. Coming to grips with his new normal, he enlisted the help of family, friends and strangers.

You will read the account of an elderly woman, Rose, who was essentially kidnapped and taken away by those who were entrusted to help her, and lock away from her loving husband and preyed upon by the very system that was designed to assist the elderly in their time of need. Or the account of a lonely man with diminished capacity and estranged from his family but looking for companionship, only to have a new “relationship” revealed to be a well thought out scam unique for the cunning and deception employed to plunder an unsuspecting persons estate. These are the stories of innocent people ill prepared to deal with traps laid to ensnare them and with few answers available that could help them out of the maze of deception. What these families endured was not only unconstitutional, but also criminal. This is what this book is about, the complicated and nefarious world of conservatorship and caregiving.

As unpleasant as the thought, we may one day be incapacitated and unable to make medical and financial decisions for ourselves. No matter how well you may plan in advance, there may be those impatiently waiting on the sidelines for just the right opportunity to take advantage of an unfortunate situation, including, sadly individuals and institutions you may have thought had your best interests at heart. Your very life could hang in the balance and not being apprised of the perils that await the naive and unprepared could mean the difference between having the loved ones you wanted around you at your most vulnerable to being snatched away at a moments notice, a ward of the state and your estate bled dry. This is what this book is about. Because we lived the nightmare and made it through the other side to tell the stories so that you can avoid the pitfalls that lie ahead. 

This book contains real stories of how families can become victims of greedy scammers and how would be conservators can lay waste to your finances with the help of the system with just a few well-placed phone calls. This book will help you navigate the land mines and roadblocks that we had to face from vultures perched to feast on the bodies of those who cannot defend themselves. 

You will find out the real fight is ultimately for freedom. Freedom to vote, freedom to marry, freedom to eat what you want (or don't want) and most of all freedom to choose your own destiny from this nightmare called CONSERVATORSHIP. With the help of the book, you will become the VICTOR, not a victim.

Available on Amazon!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Court scrambles to replace Ayudando guardians

State district judges in Albuquerque have identified 176 people, many of them indigent and all of them incapacitated in some way, who relied on Ayudando Guardians for help with everything from living arrangements to ensuring their funds, however meager, were safe.

Those people fall under court oversight, because the courts, over the years, have appointed Ayudando Guardians as their guardians or conservators and judges relied on annual reports from the company to keep tabs on Ayudando’s clients.

“A guardianship/conservatorship offers a higher degree of protection to the individual than other management mechanisms,” explains Ayudando on its web site.

Now that the company and its two principals are under federal indictment for looting client accounts and money laundering, two CPAs with the U.S. Marshals Service are winding down Ayudando business operations. The Albuquerque-based company has lost about half of its employees since the recent arrests of its two top managers.

Chief District Judge Nan Nash and Chief Civil Division Judge Shannon Bacon in Bernalillo County said in an interview Friday that the courts are faced with having to quickly find lawyers who will file cases for replacement guardians and conservators, and to ensure no one slips through the cracks.

“Our intention is to move heaven and earth to make sure every single case is transferred in a timely manner and in accordance with the law,” Bacon said Friday.

Bacon has also asked the State Auditor’s Office to conduct an audit of 20 other companies, like Ayudando Guardians, that have contracts with the state Office of Guardianship to provide guardianship or conservatorship services for low-income or indigent and incapacitated New Mexicans.

“We are looking into the Office of Guardianship’s oversight and lines of accountability for guardianship companies,” said a spokeswoman for State Auditor Tim Keller on Friday.

The guardianship office provides publicly funded guardianship/conservatorship services, paying contractors about $325 a month for each client.

In responding to Journal questions, officials with the Office of Guardianship last week said the agency’s most recent audit of Ayudando was in September 2016. Ayudando has 166 clients through its guardianship office contract, and is required to carry liability insurance and post fidelity bonds each year.

In Bernalillo County, about 110 clients who have court-appointed Ayudando guardians and conservators fall under the responsibility of the state guardianship office. That state agency is expected to find replacement companies, but faces budgetary issues and has only about 10 lawyers on contract, the judges told the Journal. Finding lawyers to refile cases for the remaining 66 “private pay” Ayudando clients is underway, and Bacon is also working to recruit guardians ad litem and other guardians to take over Ayudando’s role.

Outside the court’s jurisdiction are those clients who gave Ayudando authority to act as their representative payee, managing their monthly income from Social Security, VA pensions or other sources and paying their bills. That group of Ayudando clients will need to find new payees, and if they are now incapacitated, that could send another wave of guardianship/conservatorship cases into the courts.

Nash and Bacon said they learned that the U.S. Marshals Service, which has federal court authority to operate Ayudando for the time being, is expected to end its oversight by the end of August, so there is a looming deadline to transfer clients to other guardians.

As for those Ayudando employees who remain at work, many appeared shocked and worried about their clients when Nash and Bacon visited Ayudando’s office last Thursday for a meeting with U.S. Marshals.

“I can’t tell you how moved we were about the dedication of the employees,” Nash said. Even before the indictment was handed down, employees were paying for some clients’ incidentals out of their own pockets, she said.

“They were just as gobsmacked as the rest of us (about what’s happened),” Nash added.

In promising that clients’ funds will be protected, Ayudando’s web site notes, “The guardian/conservator must file an inventory which lists all the property of the client and must file accountings with the court that reflect all transactions involving that person’s assets.”

But Nash and Bacon said the annual financial reports filed by Ayudando in their courts provided no red flags. Neither judge recalled receiving complaints from Ayudando clients about missing money.

Critics say the annual reports required of guardians and conservators fall short of providing judges with enough information.

Moreover, a recent lawsuit alleges a $600,000 theft of client funds by another Albuquerque conservator, Desert State Life Management. The firm filed annual conservator reports, but accountings of the client’s trust funds weren’t in the court file, according to a lawyer involved in the case.

Full Article & Source:
Court scrambles to replace Ayudando guardians

The Scourge of Elder Abuse

Dr. David Lipschitz
Recently, I saw a 78-year-old woman who was brought to the clinic with Alzheimer's disease. She had bruises on both of her arms and refused to speak in the presence of her husband.

He said she just didn't listen and to move her from one place to another required force on his part.

He refused to believe that what he was doing was elder abuse that is defined as a “knowing, intentional, or a negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.” The abuse may be verbal, physical, sexual, neglect or financial.

Sadly, caregivers can take advantage of an older parent. Often one family member reports that sibling is taking advantage of their parent and stealing them blind.

Not infrequently, family keep and use a parent's resources for their own purpose, manipulate the will or frankly steal funds from their parent.

Difficult and fractious litigation is often needed to resolve the problem and often the concerned family cannot afford or don't feel the effort is worth it. This form of abuse that is clearly motivated by greed.

Criminal abuse occurs from neglect where the patient is not fed, bathed or given medications, from violence and on occasion sexual assault that, just like child abuse by a parent, is a well-recognized concern amongst dependent older women.

The stereotypic view of an abusive caregiver is incorrect. Abuse does not discriminate on the basis of race, sexual orientation, economic status or level of education.

Although caregiver stress may contribute to abuse, it's not the only cause. Even in the most loving families, the risk of some form of abuse remains high.

A recent research study published in the British Medical Journal indicated that over half of all caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients admitted that they had behaved abusively toward the patient.

Although physical abuse was rare, 26 percent admitted to screaming or yelling at the patient, insults and swearing occurred in 18 percent and in 4 percent, the caregiver threatened to send the patient to a nursing home.

All admitted guilt and wished it didn't happen and admit that stress contributed to the problem.

Not uncommonly, the caregiver will state that he or she was provoked and were responding to an act of aggression by the patient or another difficult situation, such as an unwillingness on the part of the patient to cooperate.

While we must do what we can to prevent elder abuse, it's imperative that healthcare providers be aware of the warning signs of abuse.

The patient may show obvious bruises, there may be evidence of old fractures or he may be unkempt and undernourished. Emotional abuse is more difficult to recognize.

The patient is usually agitated, very quiet around the caregiver and may be clinically depressed and withdrawn.

An abusive caregiver will often refuse to bring the patient to see the doctor, refuses to allow the family to visit and has no explanations for the patient's physical findings and demeanor.

We must also be aware of the characteristics of caregivers most likely to abuse. No matter how loving and well adjusted the caregiver, potential that abusive behaviors always exist.

However, there are certain characteristics that are common in caregivers who are more likely to abuse. Abuse is more common in males, in those who have themselves be abused, have low self-esteem and are usually the primary caregiver who lives with the patient.

Often abuse occurs because the caregiver reaches a breaking point and has nowhere to turn.

It's important therefore that close attention is paid to the caregiver, making sure his or her needs are met, encourage respite and joining a support group.

But if there is a high level of suspicion the health care provider is required to ask for an evaluation by "Adult Protective Services."

Abuse is a fact of life, by paying close attention, listening hard and being aware the problem abuse can be identified or if the risk is high steps can be initiated to avoid the problem.

Vulnerability to abuse occurs in those who are dependent at the extremes of life and sadly abuse of our elders is as common as abuse in children.

Dr. David Lipschitz is the medical director for the Mruk Family Education Center on Aging and the Fairlamb Senior Health Clinic. Contact him at

Full Article & Source:
The Scourge of Elder Abuse

Granny Pods Now Allow Your Aging Parents to Comfortably Live in Your Back Yard

Looking for a place for your elderly parent(s) to live? If you don’t have enough space in your home and don’t want them to go into a nursing home, MEDCottages, also known as “Granny Pods,” are the latest rage.

Well, they could be. Though it seems like the MEDCottage is meant to prevent loneliness, I fear it may promote it.

In the next 10 years, America’s elderly population is said to double. According to AARP surveys, many older people would rather live at home or with family versus elsewhere. I know, in people’s final years, the quality of their lives is key, and MEDCottages do appear to have many pluses.

The look of a MEDCottage reminds me of a guest house—only, with nursing home amenities inside. But, instead of renting it to just anyone, you purchase the MEDCottage for your loved one. Prices vary, from $85,000 to $125,000.

Granny Pods Now Allow Your Aging Parents to Comfortably Live in Your Back Yard

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Tonight on T.S. Radio: Whistleblowers! Marcel Reid and Michael McCray on the Summit

With Host Marti Oakley and Co-host Danny Tate:   It is with great pleasure that we have Marcel Reid and Michael McCray joining us this evening. We will be discussing the recent Whistleblower's Summit which we were honored to be a part of, directly as a result of efforts on their part on our behalf.

As our regular listeners know, TS Radio has been hosting the Whistleblower's radio show almost every Thursday evening for approximately two years in order to give those individuals who have stepped up and spoken out about the corruption, fraud, waste and abuses within Federal agencies, a voice. These individuals have been targeted, harassed, threatened, and retaliated against for doing what they knew to be the right thing. They need our support and our gratitude.

To find out more about the annual Whistleblower's Summit and all events and information please visit the Whistleblower's website.

LISTEN to the show live or listen to the archive later!

Marti Oakley: Report on the Whistleblower’s Summit

by Marti Oakley

First, we would like to thank all of those who came from far away places to attend the summit in support of our panel. We had seventeen states represented and 73 supporters in attendance that we connected with and now have as firm contacts. We were also able to socialize outside of the Summit to a great extent and formed many new partnerships and supporters which included many from the DC area who may be able to help in bringing attention to the issues we addressed.

Our panel was well received and I personally was proud of each of my panel guests who represented not only guardianship abuses, but also:

Danny Tate spoke to the conservator abuses, using his own experience as a backdrop.

The audience was stunned listening to this articulate, talented and highly successful musician and songwriter, describe how an ex parte hearing that he had no notice of, had in actuality declared him to be insane. The result is that ten years later, even though the conservatorship supposedly ended, the attorney’s from both sides are still collecting the royalties from all of his music, while Danny has been left with virtually nothing.

Brian Kinter from the Judicial Accountability Movement (JAM) gave one of the most impassioned talks about the corruption of family/divorce courts, and most especially spoke to the damage caused to his children as a result of being subjected to this system predicated upon the destruction of families for profit. Brian’s young son Zach had accompanied him to the Summit. This young man made such an impression on attendee’s that he now has his own fan club!

Michael Volpe, one of the few nationally known reporters who has diligently reported on the abuses of families, individuals and children caught in the trap of family and probate courts revealed the end results of these tribunals that have destroyed so many lives. Michael is known most for his factual, documented reporting on many of these cases.

The Result?

The result of our first ever panel on this destructive system was more than I could have hoped for. Invaluable contacts were made and we gained many supporters for our combined causes. The networking after the panel ended was most important to us. To know that so many people drove from across the country to attend the Summit was inspiring.

In spite of the onslaught of threatening texts, emails and phone calls to not only panel members but also to the organizers of the Summit, we prevailed. We were also commended for not participating and responding to these attacks which were described as “appalling, horrific and unprofessional behavior” by those who had witnessed the online attacks as well as those committed through personal communications.

With this in mind, I wish to thank all of you on behalf of our panel who supported us, those who commented civilly and positively to our efforts and who recognized that this was an opportunity for all of you to have your voices heard. Although the length of the panel was only one hour, the rest of the day and evening was spent networking, meeting new contacts and meeting face to face with people who had previously only been a voice on the phone or in an email. For me personally, This was an overwhelming experience as I know it was for our panel overall.

In the end

We wish to thank Marcel Reid, Michael McCray and the MISC committee for giving us this opportunity to have the first ever panel on the abuses of guardianship, conservatorship and family court abuses. This was an important first step in recognizing nationally this corrupt system that is destroying so many lives. Please visit the Whistleblower’s website for more information on the Whistleblower’s community and all the activities there. Also remember that this Summit is free, open to the public and anyone may attend. It has been presented as a free to the public event to make sure that those who make the trip to attend are allowed to attend without the additional expense of admission fees.

We will keep you all informed of future updates on these issues.

Full Article & Source:
Marti Oakley: Report on the Whistleblower’s Summit

General Absconding lawyer of wheelchair-bound girl arrested

Teenager Pattarada "Nong Beam" Kaewpong (right) and her mother at Bang Yi Khan
Police have arrested a lawyer accused of cheating a young girl of 5 million baht in compensation after a 2005 road accident that left her confined to a wheelchair.

Pisit Sammalert is in police custody, along with his wife, and being questioned over the allegation he stole most of the compensation money due to his crippled client Pattarada "Nong Beam" Kaewpong, who is now 14 years old.

It was reported they were apprehended in the parking lot of a condominium in Soi Ram-Indra 125, in Bangkok's Min Buri district.

Pol Lt Gen Sanit Mahathavorn, chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, said the Anti Money Laundering Office (Amlo) will be asked to examine the lawyer’s finances and see if any of his assets can be seized.

He said the suspect claimed to have received 4 million baht from the insurance firm, deducted 500,000 baht for legal fees, and handed the remainder to his wife, Pornpavee Chukaew.

Pol Lt Gen Sanit said police have evidence supporting the allegation against Mr Pisit and were not bothered by the suspect's knowledge of the law. The city police chief enouraged people who are mistreated by their lawyers to file complaints.

He said police were investigating who provided aid and shelter to the suspects, and would take action against them.

"Nong Beam" was left with a crippling spinal injury after a 2005 road accident in Surat Thani in which her father was killed. The family's pickup was hit by an 18-wheel truck.

According to the girl’s mother, Pornthip Chantharat, Mr Pisit contacted the family and offered pro bono legal help. He was authorized to represent the family and get compensation from the truck operator.

In 2014, the lawyer told her the truck operator had agreed to pay 1 million baht in compensation in monthly instalments. The family received 40,000 baht a month for seven months, and then Mr Pisit disappeared.

Ms Pornthip later contacted the truck operator and learned that his company had paid 5 million baht in compensation, which it believed was going to the family.

A complaint was filed against Mr Pisit with Bang Yi Khan district police in Bangkok in 2015.

After the arrest of the lawyer and his wife, Mrs Pornthip said she was still worried whether she would get any of the money they were owed, or not.

“If I get a chance to talk to him, I’d really want to ask him if this was the help he once promised,” she said.

Mr Pisit has been charged with collaboration in falsifying documents and using falsified documents to defraud and embezzle money from a client.

Full Article & Source:
Absconding lawyer of wheelchair-bound girl arrested

Police believe Greeley man used power of attorney to steal two houses from elderly father

A Greeley man could face a felony charge after police say he abused his power of attorney to steal two houses, worth about $353,000 in total, from his 85-year-old father.

Albert Ortega was arrested Thursday on suspicion of theft from an at-risk adult. According to the affidavit for his arrest, Greeley police believe Ortega completed quit claim deeds for two houses his father owned, 302 13th St. and 304 13th St., signing them over to his own name. He did this by using the power of attorney he had because his father, David Ortega, is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease, according to the report.

Police learned about the situation earlier this month, when Albert Ortega's sister, Abigail Nickerson, called them with concerns about her brother's intentions toward their father. Over the years, she told police, things of value disappeared from her father's home. She also said Albert Ortega withdrew $23,000 from their father's bank account, and she didn't know where that money went. Nickerson was so concerned about her father, she applied to be his legal guardian.

When police spoke with Albert Ortega, he told them he took possession of the houses at his father's request. When police pointed out he filled out the quit claim deeds about the same time Nickerson applied to be their father's guardian, Albert Ortega told them he didn't think that was true.

Albert Ortega told police his siblings wanted to put his father in a nursing home and that they wanted to sell the two houses to pay for it. He said he'd promised his mother he'd never let that happen. He added putting his father's properties in his name was a way of protecting his father from his greedy siblings.

Police arrested him and he was booked into the Weld County Jail the same day.

Full Article & Source:
Police believe Greeley man used power of attorney to steal two houses from elderly father

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Who guards the guardians? Ayudando was a family affair

Ayudando Guardians Inc. opened its doors with two nurses and a medical records expert in 2004. It was formed, according to its website, “due to the enormous need for guardians and conservators in the State of New Mexico.”

The nonprofit Albuquerque-based guardian and conservator firm – now accused along with its principal owners of looting millions of dollars from client accounts – grew over the years.

And, the company increasingly became a family affair.

 Newly unsealed federal search warrant affidavits describe how Ayudando – described in one federal document as “permeated by criminal activity” – began hiring more and more relatives of its two principals, Susan Harris and Sharon Moore.

Three family members, in addition to Harris and Moore, had their own Ayudando credit cards and over a four-year period racked up more than $1 million in personal purchases, court records allege.

Two of the three family members serve on Ayudando’s board of directors, drawing salaries of at least $56,000 a year, a 2015 IRS tax form shows. Each of the three relatives racked up tens of thousands of dollars in credit card charges from 2013 to March 2017, one affidavit states.

The purchases “do not appear to be related to Ayudando clients,” said one affidavit stated. “The credit charges appear to be personal expenses such as cruises, hotels, casinos, automobiles, furniture and other personal expenses.”

The affidavits identify the three relatives as: Harris’ husband, William Harris, Craig Young and Cody Harris. They have not been charged.

Susan Harris and Moore were arrested after a 28-count federal criminal indictment was unsealed July 19. The company was also indicted.

Several Ayudando employees who became confidential witnesses in the case told investigators that Ayudando appeared to be putting “more and more family members” on the payroll and “the business owners and their families appear to be living lavish lifestyles with expensive vehicles and expensive vacations,” one affidavit states.

The organization was tightly run by the family insiders. Affidavits allege that some non-family employees had their access to client accounts cut off – meaning they lost their ability to monitor transactions and balances.

There was even a file room at the company’s Central Avenue offices that non-family members were barred from entering, an affidavit alleges.

Mission gone awry

Ayudando’s web site sets out a lofty mission statement.

“As a provider for the State of New Mexico,Veterans and private individuals, Ayudando employs an experienced team of licensed social workers and rehabilitation specialists.”

“This diverse group is able to assist our clients with their everyday needs as well as providing assistance in managing their financial needs.”

Details emerging from the yearlong federal investigation describe a different kind of operation.

Federal agents made detailed allegations in affidavits seeking search warrants to obtain company records and, more recently, sought permission to seize a 2018 K-Z RV Durango Gold 5th wheel RV purchased in late June of this year by Harris and her husband of 27 years, William Harris. They allegedly bought the RV using proceeds from an illegal scheme to embezzle funds from clients, some with special needs, according to an affidavit filed July 24.

Harris, 70, and Moore, 62, have pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering, mail fraud, conspiracy and aggravated identity theft that allegedly dates back to 2006. Both women were ordered released from federal custody under certain conditions and after posting property bonds Friday.

Both have homes in the Tanoan Country Club area in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights. An attorney for Moore didn’t return a Journal phone call. Robert Gorence, who represented Susan Harris at her detention hearing, had no comment. Efforts to reach lawyers who have represented the firm in the past were unsuccessful last week.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque declined to comment on whether the family members named in the affidavits or anyone else will be charged in the case.

The arrests of the two women coincided with a federal restraining order against them and 11 others, barring their entry into Ayudando offices at 1400 Central SE without prior approval from the U.S. Marshals Service. Several of those are believed to be family members of Sharon Moore or Susan Harris.

“Based on the widespread indications of criminal activity, centered around Ayudando’s core bank accounts and affecting all categories of its clients, it appears Ayudando is permeated by criminal activity,” said one IRS agent in seeking a July 12 search of Ayudando offices. “Efforts to restrict the search to certain client files would be futile and could result in substantial under-collection of evidence of criminal activity.”

Federal agents who executed the search removed more than 476 boxes of documents along with computer hard drives from the business.

Accidental discoveries

The affidavits chronicle how over the past year at least four employees, referred to as confidential witnesses, came forward with information about the alleged embezzlement. The affidavit refers to them as “walk-ins.”

They told federal investigators how they discovered that Ayudando client funds were disappearing. At least twice, according to one affidavit, the employees found out by happenstance while company owners appeared to take steps to keep their activities hidden.

For instance, the affidavits say:

⋄ One employee accidentally wrote a check for client services from a client’s Veterans Affairs money market account. The check bounced, and, when she called the bank, she was told the money market account had been closed due to insufficient funds. According to the bank, there had been about $100,000 in transfers from the client’s VA money market account into other Ayudando bank accounts.

⋄ Employees who work as representative payees – managing monthly client pension or benefits checks from the VA or Social Security – didn’t normally have access to Ayudando petty cash account. But several months ago, an employee accidentally got access to that account “and saw that there were lots of payments from the petty cash account to the Ayudando owners and their family members. There was also a $75,000 payment to an American Express card from the petty cash.”

⋄ At least two confidential witnesses reported that their prior access to VA clients’ savings or money market accounts had been taken away several years ago. That kept them from seeing the balances. They had access only to a client’s checking accounts.

⋄ One employee alleged that she had a client who died about four or five years ago and who was missing about $30,000 from his account. The confidential witness told investigators the deceased client had money “that should have been returned to Social Security.” After she asked defendant Moore if the funds had been returned, the employee “lost access to that client’s account, and doesn’t know if the money was ever returned.”

⋄ One relative of Ayudando president Susan Harris who works as a guardian is alleged to have taken about $22,000 in client funds from two different clients and failed to provide receipts to show where the money went. Such client advances require that guardians submit receipts. When informed about the issue, Moore told the employee in charge of the accounts that she would “take care of it.”
Stealing from veterans

The indictment singles out the cases of 10 veterans the government contends were victims of the alleged embezzlement scheme. Information in the affidavits suggests there could be several dozen more clients whose accounts were illegally tapped.

For instance, one employee told federal agents that one developmentally disabled client was missing about $30,000 from his account.

Another employee discovered on Jan. 24 of this year that 25 clients were missing a total of about $70,000 from their accounts.

Still another employee told investigators “that she deals with mostly Social Security income clients who have limited income and financial resources. She stated that “she has some clients who are children that are missing money.”

The indictment alleged that the defendants diverted more than $4 million from petty cash and client reimbursement accounts to pay off credit cards used to pay for luxury vacations, vehicles and more.

The July 12 search warrant affidavit also stated, “Additional large, unusual and questionable checks were written to pay for additional items that do not appear to be related to client accounts.”

Missing private cash

“Guardianship/Conservatorship services may be needed when someone is incompetent to manage his or her own financial affairs and/or personal care, and has no viable alternative method of delegating these duties to another,” the company web site states.

About 166 of Ayudando’s clients in New Mexico receive such state-funded services, because they were deemed indigent or met other eligibility requirements. The company also had dozens of “private pay” accounts, according to court records.

The affidavits allege that more than $1 million was missing from at least eight “private pay” client accounts. An employee, referred to as confidential witness #2, was responsible for managing Ayudando’s client bank accounts, paying client bills, selling client assets such as real property and automobiles, and attending court as part of the conservatorship process.

That employee alleged that Moore, the chief financial officer, allegedly took about $700,000 from one client’s estate. The estate was supposed to be settled in February 2017 and the employee became concerned that “it wouldn’t be possible to close the estate if there was money missing.” She said Moore recently returned about $220,000 to the estate, but the money came from four other client bank accounts. Another $500,000 was still missing, the employee reported to federal agents.

Full Article & Source:
Who guards the guardians? Ayudando was a family affair

Scambuster: Elderly Woman Victim of Financial Exploitation

MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Terry Graham is bed ridden. Doctors say a brain tumor started growing three months ago, but her family just found out. They’re also just finding out that she’s been the victim of elder abuse. Unfortunately, they believe one of her close friends is the suspect and has taken money out Graham’s account.

“There was $10,000 taken from Regions. Then that Monday she wrote a $3,000 check, then July 12 she went to the credit union and got $72,572,” says Graham’s daughter, Terry Lynch.

The bank told her it was a friend of her mother’s who had recently been added to the bank account.

They are telling me that she’s the one signing the checks but that’s all they’ll tell me at this point,” says Ginger Lynch.

This all happened while Graham was in the hospital. She added her friend to her bank account so that she could get help paying medical bills.

She got another shock after she got home. The keys to her house were gone, so they had to change the locks to get in. A filing cabinet was also missing—and with it her social security card, driver’s license, birth certificate and her will. Cash was missing as well as her prescription medications.

Graham’s daughter, Ginger says her mom’s mailing address had also been changed because they haven’t gotten mail in over a week. She now believes her mother’s friend had help from a family member.

“Unfortunately, what we see most frequently are family members taking advantage of other family members,” says Sgt. Keith Miller with Mobile County Sheriff’s Office.

Sgt. Keith Miller with Mobile County Sheriff’s Office says in cases like these, a family member should gain power of attorney.

“If they’re to the level, either physically or mentally that they need a full-time caregiver chances are you would want to accept that responsibility to handle their daily affairs, particularly where there’s a large amount of money or bank accounts, things of that nature,” says Miller.

And if you’re hiring someone to take care of your relative, you’ll want to screen them and their agency closely. Meanwhile, Ginger Lynch has filed reports and is working with the police on this case.

Full Article & Source:
Scambuster: Elderly Woman Victim of Financial Exploitation

Caregiver sentenced for theft from 87-year-old

Beverly Joyce Kegley
After a Johnstown woman was sentenced to jail time, community service and probation for stealing nearly $50,000 from an 87-year-old woman over a 13-month period, the Cambria County Area Agency on Aging is urging the public to keep an eye out for and report suspicions of elder abuse and exploitation.

Beverly Joyce Kegley, 49, was working as an independent home health care provider when the thefts occurred, according to West Hills Regional police.

In a criminal complaint, police said Kegley was caring for a senior citizen in Southmont when she allegedly made unauthorized purchases on credit cards, unauthorized ATM withdrawals and overcharged for her services.

After the thefts were discovered by the victim’s tax preparer, the Cambria County Area Agency on Aging conducted a forensic audit, which revealed:

• Overpayment for services from April 2015 to April 2016 totaling $21,552.

• Unauthorized ATM withdrawals totaling $10,285.

• Unauthorized charges at Wal-Mart for $2,822.

• Unauthorized charges on a Chase credit card totaling $4,092.

• Unauthorized purchases on a Citi credit card for $10,730.

• Unauthorized transactions on a Sheetz Chase card for $446.

 On May 30, Kegley entered a guilty plea to two felony theft charges.

On July 11, Judge Tamara Bernstein sentenced Kegley to 45 days to two years in the Cambria County Prison, followed by 48 months of county probation.

In addition, Kegley was ordered to complete 160 hours of community service, have no contact with the victim and repay $38,928 in restitution, along with court fines and costs.

M. Veil Griffith, administrator of Cambria County Agency on Aging, said the department has a protective services unit whose purpose is to protect the elderly against abuse, self-neglect and financial exploitation.

Investigators are trained to handle these types of cases, she said, which are becoming more frequent as the region’s drug problem makes targets of elderly people who typically have their own homes and savings accounts.

An interest in the mail, specifically credit card statements, is often the biggest tell-tale sign that an elderly person is being taken advantage of financially, she said.

“That’s always the first red flag,” she said.

“They want to get to the mail first.”

Usually, an elderly victim who is being financially exploited by a caregiver is probably not being taken care of properly, Griffith added.

They may be isolated or miss regular doctor appointments, for example.

Although family members often are the most frequent perpetrators against the elderly, Griffith said other caregivers – as in Kegley’s case – are possible suspects.

It’s often safer to hire caregivers who are employed through personal care agencies that must follow state guidelines and require background checks for employees rather than independent caregivers, she said.

Aside from being careful in who you trust, Griffith added that it’s important for the elderly to balance their finances and keep a close eye on their bank statements.

“The sooner something like this can be detected, the less loss there is,” she said.

To make a report of suspected elderly abuse or financial exploitation, which can be done anonymously, contact the Cambria County Area Agency on Aging at 535-5595.

Full Article & Source:
Caregiver sentenced for theft from 87-year-old

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Marti Oakley Will Guest on AJC Radio Tonight

Although the American system of justice is the most-respected worldwide, it is still a system designed, and operated, by humans, which means it's not perfect. Lamont, Cliff, and Lisa will highlight ongoing struggles against "the system" and what happens when justice miscarries against our American citizens.

Tonight, our Hosts will be discussing the Abuse of the Elderly in America's Rest Homes. Please feel free to dial in and share your thoughts on tonight's topic. We would love to hear from you!

8:00 EST

LISTEN to the show live or listen to the archive later

Johnson: Guarding The Guardians

Guarding the Guardians: The Challenge of Protecting the Incapacitated New Mexico’s Guardianship System provides the statutory framework for guardianship and care to be provided to incapacitated adults deemed to not possess the mental ability to care for themselves and their assets any longer.

Due to the expense of Guardianship proceedings these adults must have sufficient financial resources in order to afford the court proceedings necessary for the appointment of a guardian. They also must have no other form of intervention, such as a power of attorney or designated decision maker (usually a trustee), set in place.

When one is declared incompetent they become a ward and are appointed a guardian who then acts as their surrogate decision-maker concerning their place of residence and health care decisions. A visitor (generally a social worker who reports to the court on the person’s situation) and a guardian ad litem (an attorney who represents the alleged incompetent person and reports what their best interests are to the court) are appointed by a judge to act only for the alleged incompetent person.

A conservator, who makes decisions about and deals with their financial matters, also is usually appointed by the court. The powers of these appointees can be limited by the court depending on the alleged incompetent person’s capabilities and needs. The Guardianship procedure is statutory, and is the only method available under New Mexico law for appointment of a guardian or conservator. Those who most commonly qualify for appointment of a guardian or conservator include adults with a significant brain trauma injury, developmental disability, behavioral health disorder, Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other conditions that produce similar effects.

In these situations when the person is unable to make or communicate their decisions, a Guardian is appointed by the courts. In cases of mental illness, a trained Mental Health Treatment Guardian is appointed.

In cases where there are significant conflicted family disputes, or when there is no family to step in for the incapacitated person, the Guardianship System is a viable option that provides care, decision making, and legal services through contracts with attorneys, guardians ad litem, and court visitors. The System does not come without its drawbacks and risks, however.

Across the nation, and particularly in New Mexico, there have been cases of fraud in Guardianship proceedings. Some families have come forward claiming that their family member has been wrongfully entered into guardian or conservatorship proceedings against their will, and both the member and their assets have been significantly mismanaged. While there does seem to be a rise in such cases of fraud, it has not yet become a major issue in Los Alamos. So far, Los Alamos has only dealt with two or three cases of alleged abuse in attempts to have a guardian or conservator appointed in court.

A Los Alamos Police Department Officer commented that he feels fraudulent cases are not as big of an issue in Los Alamos. He said, “Los Alamos County is unique, in that most of the elderly have been able to either have a solid base of money or that someone in their family does.

We, as a county, take pride in being a county that has the education that we do, so that helps in regards to people being very careful in picking either a guardian or an assisted living situation.

The addition to that is that there are only three places in Los Alamos County that are assisted living. I believe that helps keep the people honest, as it is a small community.”

While our small community may not have major problems with the Guardianship System, the potential for finding oneself in an undesirable situation certainly exists. The best way to avoid any such situation is by remaining informed and prepared.

Many of the reported problems with the guardianship system stem from neglect or purposeful fraud by appointed guardians and conservators; including fraudulent billing, exploitation, moving the ward to different, unnecessary living arrangements and selling their property and assets, unnecessary charging of expenses, and false filings and records. This generally arises when someone other than a family member is appointed as a guardian; however, it is not unheard of among family members as well.

An article about cases of guardianship mismanagement was published in the Albuquerque Journal in November 2016. “Who guards the guardians: A Series by Diane Dimond,” is a five-part series highlighting the risks and caveats of the Guardianship System. The article contains cases of several Albuquerqueans who felt they were taken advantage of in the Guardianship System. In one such case Albuquerque native Mary Darnell was serving as her mother’s caretaker when Darnell’s sister filed a petition requesting the courts to declare their mother as incapacitated and appoint outsiders to manage her affairs. The petition was granted.

Darnell’s mother was entered as a “ward of the state,” appointed a guardian, her civil rights were removed, and she was referred to as “an adult incapacitated person” without even appearing before the Court. Darnell and her other siblings, who had not initiated the proceeding, felt helpless in the case and found themselves separated and isolated from their mother.

Over the next few years, Darnell found her mother’s estate being sold off, drained of its assets, and mismanaged. By the time her mother died seven years later, her estate, which had an estimated value of $5 million when the court first took possession of it, had dwindled to less than $750,000. In addition, the 17-acre estate had been divided and sold off without the children’s consent by the appointed conservator. More cases, as well as an in-depth look and analysis into the Guardianship System, can be read in the full series – found at:

Common complaints concerning the New Mexico Guardianship System cite the fact that New Mexico’s poor financial situation and consequent lack of funding are the reasons that there are no in depth audits or reviews of the performance of the conservator of the ward’s assets.

Many who are involved in the Guardianship System feel that there is no accountability between the judges who oversee the cases and the guardians who are supposed to report to them.

When asked what he felt the key to raising accountability between guardians and judges was, a Los Alamos Police Department Officer stated, “The largest obstacle that is in the way of the judges is poorly written and undefined legislation. Not only that, but with the state being overall a poor state, many of the people within the state cannot afford to have their attorneys work all the way up to the Supreme Court where case law could set precedent for future problems.”

Currently, in Albuquerque there are ten judges that handle guardianship cases, eight of whom handle a load of more than 1,000 cases each. While this has led many to feel that this reduces accountability between judges and guardians because the size of their caseload prevents in-depth attention, this is not yet as much of an issue in Los Alamos. As a result of guardianship cases being handled at the District Court level, there are three judges in the First Judicial District in Santa Fe that handle these cases.

Because the Guardianship System comes with inherent risks of fraud, there are several measures that should be taken to minimize the risks. The first is for persons to be very careful when selecting their future designated decision maker, and use Guardianship as a last resort.

Guardianship removes many rights of an alleged incompetent person; including the right to manage money, vote, marry, sign contracts, determine medical care, and monitor domestic visitors. In addition, the alleged incompetent person does not have the power to choose their guardian in court proceedings. In the event that an alleged incompetent person has not selected anyone to manage their estate through a Power of Attorney or trust prior to being declared incapacitated, they can be entered into the Guardianship System if deemed necessary, and the courts appoint the guardian and or conservator.

One way to avoid the risks that come with the Guardianship System is for a person to utilize written Powers of Attorney for health care and financial issues, and to choose wisely when deciding upon their designated Attorney-in-Fact (A Power of Attorney is a legal document in which a person can authorize a surrogate – known as an Attorney-in-Fact – to act for them).

An intervivos or living trust is another way to avoid the expense of court initiated by guardian or conservatorship proceedings.

An Attorney-in-Fact is designated and appointed before a person becomes incapacitated. Often, a person will appoint a springing power of attorney, in which they can specify that the Attorney-in-Fact will only come, or “spring”, into effect when two separate doctors have diagnosed them as unable to care for themselves and manage their assets. Some choose to have their Attorney-in-Fact come into effect immediately upon signing, while they are still capable of managing themselves, but wish someone else to have the power to act immediately.

By appointing an Attorney-in-Fact, persons have control over who will manage their affairs, and it is a much surer option that is associated with less risks. Even when appointing an Attorney-in-Fact one must be extremely careful. There remains the potential risk for the designee to mismanage the person’s assets and health. An additional measure that can be taken to combat this risk is to appoint multiple Attorneys-in-Fact. There are several ways to do this. The first is to appoint each Attorney-in-Fact with independent authority.

This results in them having the responsibility to manage any task that is authorized by the Power of Attorney document. In this case, they do not need to consult the other before making a decision; as their responsibilities are separate. The other, perhaps safest way, is to appoint more than one Attorney-in-Fact and stipulate that they must reach an agreement before making any decisions concerning the person’s assets or health.

A Power of Attorney can be revoked at any time before the person becomes incapacitated. After the person becomes incapacitated, however, the legal battle to revoke a Power of Attorney becomes more difficult.

Another way to avoid the risks of court initiated by guardian or conservatorship proceedings is for a person to create a living trust before becoming incapacitated.

If they choose to do so, they usually name themselves as trustee, but name a family member, friend, or trust company as their successor trustee. A successor trustee manages their financial affairs should they become incapacitated. This eliminates the need for conservatorship court action. In order to eliminate the necessity of guardianship court action, however, a Power of Attorney for Health Care (Advanced Health Care Directive) is still necessary.

As a result of the considerable loss of civil rights when entering into, and the inherent risks involved, the Guardianship System should be considered only after these alternative options are shown not to exist for the individual. If one finds themselves in an undesirable Guardianship situation however, their recourse may be limited. The Guardianship System requires intense secrecy and privacy concerning the cases, thus making it hard for family members to obtain information and be involved in the alleged incompetent person’s life.

Despite this, there is still action that can be taken. A Los Alamos Police Department Officer advised, “A report to law enforcement could mean that police are able to determine that there is a criminal aspect to the situation, which would then be able to remove the elderly from the poor situation.”

In addition to this, if one has a grievance against the Guardianship System, their complaints can be filed by sending a written complaint into the Secretary of Human Services Department and the Manager of Guardianship System at 625 Silver Av. SW, Albuquerque, NM 87102.

As with most legal systems, New Mexico’s Guardianship System possesses both virtues and flaws. In order to navigate these issues, one should be educated about the system and explore their options carefully before committing to any such surrogate program; Guardianship or otherwise.

Full Article & Source:
Johnson: Guarding The Guardians