Saturday, September 9, 2017

Editorial: Red flags should matter in NM guardianship cases

Asleep at the wheel.

That’s a polite way to describe oversight by the courts and the Attorney General’s Office of New Mexico’s scandal-rocked guardianship system over the years – a point hammered home by the revelation that independent audits of Ayudando Guardians Inc. in 2011 and 2012 pointed to clear financial impropriety. That’s impropriety in the form of top company executives “borrowing” tens of thousands of dollars from client accounts.

“There is no justification for any organization to borrow money from clients,” said Wendy York, who chairs a commission appointed by the state Supreme Court to recommend ways to improve the state’s guardianship system.

The two independent audits filed with the AG’s Office also noted Ayudando hadn’t complied with generally accepted accounting procedures. The 2011 audit noted $72,321 in employee advances, with only $23,766 in repayments during the audit year.

But despite the fact auditors red-flagged Ayudando – and despite being delinquent in filing its annual AG registration every year since 2012 – there is no indication the AG’s Office did anything, and judges in New Mexico went right on appointing the company as guardians and conservators in charge of the lives and finances of people who had been declared incapacitated and unable to care for themselves.

Perhaps that’s because the system isn’t set up in a way that the needed information gets to those judges – some of whom previously have defended the system and dismissed complaints as coming from “emotional” family members.

It was York who asked a forensic accountant to look at Ayudando’s audits and then relayed findings to the commission. The AG’s Office says it is reviewing the issues.

And Ayudando was slick. A company representative even showed up at one of the commission hearings chaired by York to defend the system by pointing to the fact that – get ready for this – it was audited every year by the state.

Ayudando had more than 176 guardianship or conservator appointments outstanding in Bernalillo County District Court in July when federal law enforcement filed a massive money laundering and fraud indictment that named the company and its two top officials – president Susan Harris and chief financial officer Sharon Moore. Federal investigators have identified more than $4 million in client money that was allegedly diverted to finance a “lavish lifestyle” by the two women and their family members. The U.S. Marshals Office says the company had about 1,400 clients, some of whom received financial management or representative payee services.

One federal agent in a search warrant affidavit described the company as “permeated by crime.”
But there is hope.

York says there are important lessons to be learned from the Ayudando debacle, including the need for an accountant who reports to the court. Improving the annual forms required of guardians/conservators to include more detailed financial information would also help.

Those are among the many reforms under consideration by York’s commission.

And York has asked the state’s chief disciplinary counsel to weigh in because her research has raised questions about potential conflicts of interest and other ethical issues surrounding lawyers that can arise in cases involving third-party corporate guardians and conservators. That’s an important step in a system in which professional guardianships involve a relatively small group of insiders.

Going forward, the courts can make some meaningful reforms. Others will require legislative action. But in the aftermath of the Ayudando case, one thing is clear: We can no longer accept being asleep at the wheel.

Full Article & Source:
Editorial: Red flags should matter in NM guardianship cases

Keokuk woman sentenced to probation in theft case

Laura Hawkins
QUINCY -- A Keokuk, Iowa, woman must pay $18,000 in restitution for stealing from an elderly family member living in a Quincy nursing home.

Laura Hawkins, 56, was sentenced Wednesday by Judge Charles Burch in Adams County Circuit Court to 30 months of second-chance probation, a form of probation where a conviction will be removed from a person's record if probation is successfully completed. The terms were agreed to by Assistant State's Attorney Anita Rodriguez and Hawkins' attorney, Curtis Dial.

A hearing was expected to Wednesday to review restitution, but both sides agreed to the $18,000 in restitution. The probation will end early if Hawkins pays the restitution, and Burch agreed to let her transfer probation to Iowa.

Hawkins was found guilty of theft in a stipulated bench trial last month before Burch. Two counts of financial exploitation of the elderly were dismissed.

After Hawkins' arrest in February 2016, the Quincy Police Department said it was notified by Sycamore Healthcare of a 77-year-old resident who was possibly being exploited by a family member with power of attorney for the resident. An investigation found that several thousand dollars had been misused.

Full Article & Source:
Keokuk woman sentenced to probation in theft case

See Also:
Keokuk woman convicted of theft from elderly relative

Keokuk woman convicted on theft charge

Couple ‘churns' thousands from elderly clients

LAGRANGE, Ga. – The Livingstons have a picture-perfect family of five on Facebook—but the couple smiling in the photos with their three children have a secret, and it’s a secret that authorities said, have ripped off thousands of dollars in fraudulent insurance policies.

Independent insurance agent Amy Livingston, 34, and her husband, 48-year-old Matthew, were arrested Wednesday morning for exploitation and fraud scheme. A scheme that, Troup County’s Insurance and Fire Safety commissioner Ralph Hudgens’ said, likely reeled in more than $100,000.

Matthew, a former insurance agent himself, posted to his Facebook page: 0% LUCK. 100% HUSTLE.

It’s this alleged hustle, however, that landed him and his wife in jail, thanks to a consumer tip.

During a six-month investigation by the commission’s fraud division, the LaGrange, Ga., couple allegedly found that Amy was using the identities of Matthew’s former clients to create applications for fake life insurance policies.

According to Hudgens, those fraudulent applications collected $11,453 in advanced first-year commission payments through four different insurance companies. But, Hudgens said that he believes the duo has racked up more than $100,000 in their scheme.

“My fraud investigators discovered that the couple worked together to illegally obtain approximately $11,453 in commission fees by issuing fraudulent documents to insurance companies,” Hudgens said. “With additional evidence still coming in, we expect the amount stolen to increase to well over $100,000.”

This type of fraudulent activity is known as “churning.”

“[Churning is] taking insurance policies, existing policies, canceling them and then re-writing new policies so they could get an insurance commission off writing the new policies… converting these policies for their own personal use without the people that were being covered without their knowledge,” Hudgens said.

The Livingstons are accused of churning life insurance policies of their elderly clients—at least seven so far, but there could be more victims. Those clients who have had fake policies created in their name, may have further insurance issues down the road.

“Unfortunately, they are elderly and they're going to have a hard time getting new policies, maybe their health situation has declined and they are not eligible to get coverage again,” Hudgens said.
His agency, he said, is going to the insurance companies, asking them to restore the policy holders’ previous policies.

“Otherwise, what do they do? It puts these people, the victims, in a very, very precarious position, because they don't know whether they're going to have coverage if something happens… This is really a tragedy,” Hudgens said.

Troup County Sheriff’s deputies arrested the couple Wednesday morning at 9 a.m., in their driveway and took them to the Troup County Jail.

Amy was charged with seven counts of insurance fraud, five counts of exploitation of the elder, 12 counts of forgery and seven counts of identity fraud. Matthew was charged with three counts of insurance fraud and two counts of exploitation of an elder.

Amy, who has been licensed as a life and health insurance agent since 2010, faces possible suspension or revocation of her license. Matthew, however, has not been a licensed insurance agent since November 2016.

If found guilty, insurance fraud is a felony and the couple could face two to 10 years and a fine up to $10,000.

The investigation is ongoing. The couple remains in the jail. No bond has been set.

If you suspect an insurance fraud or if you were one of the Livingstons’ clients, call to verify your coverage with the insurance company listed on the policy, or contact Hudgens’ Consumer Services Division at (800) 656-2298.

Full Article & Source:
Couple ‘churns' thousands from elderly clients

Friday, September 8, 2017

Question raised about conflict of interest for lawyers

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Should New Mexico attorneys petition the court for people seeking professional guardians or conservators when they also represent the prospective guardian or conservator company in other matters?

That’s among the sticky ethical questions that guardianship commission Chairwoman Wendy York has posed to the state’s chief disciplinary counsel, William Slease, for an opinion.

York announced at a Friday commission meeting in Albuquerque that her research on guardianship issues has raised questions about potential conflicts of interest and other ethical issues that can arise in cases involving third-party corporate guardians and conservators.

“I wanted to know whether our current rules address this issue,” York said.

Attorneys play a major role in guardianship/conservator cases, which are cloaked in secrecy under state law. All records, except for a brief court docket sheet summarizing actions in the case, are sealed. All hearings in the case are sequestered.

To file a guardianship request, a petitioner, often a family member, typically needs an attorney. Judges often rely on the petitioner and his or her attorney to recommend a guardian or conservator for appointment.

At times, those companies’ attorneys also represent the petitioner.

A petitioner’s attorney, for example, might be reticent to challenge or try to remove a guardian or conservator on behalf of a client if that same lawyer also represents the guardianship company in other cases. Sometimes clients aren’t told about such potential conflicts beforehand and find themselves having to hire a new attorney.

Adds York, now a private mediator, “I think the guidance (from the chief disciplinary counsel) might be helpful.”

Full Article & Source:
Question raised about conflict of interest for lawyers

OIG Issues Stark Warning to Skilled Nursing Facilities: Potential Abuse or Neglect of Residents Receiving Emergency Room Services is Being Underreported to Law Enforcement


On August 24, 2017, the Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) of the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) issued an “Early Alert” that disclosed the preliminary results of its ongoing review of abuse of Medicare beneficiaries in skilled nursing facilities.  Specifically, OIG determined: (i) that a significant number of incidents of potential abuse or neglect of nursing facility residents receiving emergency care has not been reported to law enforcement as required under the Elder Justice Act; and (ii) that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) lacked adequate procedures to ensure proper reporting.  The Early Alert, which includes a list of suggestions for immediate remedial action to be taken by CMS, highlights the increased scrutiny that nursing facilities will face for failing to comply with the Elder Justice Act’s reporting obligations, and points to proactive measures nursing facilities can take, now, to mitigate risk of any enforcement action. 

Requirements to Report Abuse or Neglect of Residents of Skilled Nursing Facilities

The “Elder Justice Act,” adopted with the passage of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) effective March 23, 2011 (see 42 U.S.C. § 1320b-25), requires “covered individuals” -- including an owner, operator, employee or agent, of a long term care facility -- to [A] report to HHS (or the State Survey Agency) and one or more law enforcement entities any reasonable suspicion of a “crime” against any individual who is a resident of the facility; and [B] make such report within two hours after forming the suspicion that the resident suffered serious bodily injury, or within 24 hours if there is no serious bodily injury. 

Failure to make the required reports could result in civil monetary penalties of up to $300,000 and exclusion from participation in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.  Id.  Although the law went into effect in 2011, the corresponding regulations requiring skilled nursing facilities to develop and implement conforming policies and procedures do not go into effect until November 28, 2017.  See 42 C.F.R. § 483.12(b).

Separately, skilled nursing facilities must also report resident abuse, neglect, mistreatment, injuries of unknown origin, and misappropriation of resident property to the administrator of the facility and the State Survey Agency.  See 42 C.F.R. § 483.12(c); see also N.Y. Public Health Law § 2803-d and 10 N.Y.C.R.R. § 81.1 et seq.

OIG’s Audit

Although its review of skilled nursing facility abuse reporting is not yet complete, OIG issued its preliminary audit results through the Early Alert because of the “importance of detecting and combating elder abuse.”

Audit Methodology and Findings:  To conduct this audit, OIG reviewed hospital emergency room records of 134 residents of skilled nursing facilities transferred to the hospital, in which the emergency room staff assigned one of 12 primary diagnoses codes utilized for Medicare reimbursement claims that indicate potential abuse or neglect (e.g., adult sexual abuse, adult physical abuse, adult maltreatment).  OIG also reviewed the State Survey Agency records for each of the relevant skilled nursing facilities.  Based on these records, OIG found that, for 28% of these cases, there was no evidence that the underlying incident had been reported to law enforcement.  Notably, OIG assumed that every emergency room visit associated with one of the 12 “abuse” diagnostic codes was an incident reportable under the Elder Justice Act.  OIG, however, did not independently verify whether there was actual abuse or neglect of these individuals. 

Based on its findings, OIG concluded that CMS lacks procedures to enforce the Elder Justice Act, and specifically to ensure that incidents of abuse or neglect of nursing facility residents are being properly reported to law enforcement.  In particular, OIG noted that CMS does not “match” hospital Medicare claims for emergency room services with claims for nursing home reimbursement, to identify instances of potential abuse or neglect.

CMS acknowledged that it has not identified any instances in which a covered individual failed to make a report to law enforcement.  In its defense, CMS informed OIG that it has not taken any enforcement action yet because HHS has not yet delegated enforcement authority to CMS.
Furthermore, CMS stated that it has recently updated the State Operations Manual, used by the State Survey Agencies, to reference the applicable Elder Justice Act regulations, with an effective date of November 28, 2017. 

OIG’s Recommendations to CMS

In the Early Alert, OIG provided the following “suggestions” for CMS to take immediately:
  • Implement procedures to compare hospital Medicare claims for emergency room treatment with nursing home claims to identify incidents of potential abuse or neglect and to periodically provide the details of this analysis to the State Survey Agencies for further investigation of compliance with Elder Justice Act reporting obligations;
  • Continue to work with HHS to secure the authority to impose the civil monetary penalties and exclusion of providers pursuant to the Elder Justice Act;
  • Promulgate additional regulations, if necessary, to impose penalties for non-compliance with the reporting requirements;
  • Impose penalties when appropriate; and
  • Direct State Survey Agencies to refer suspected violations of the reporting obligations to CMS for appropriate action.

Lessons for Skilled Nursing Facilities

  • With the issuance of the Early Alert, the mandate to report to law enforcement, suspected crimes against residents, including abuse and neglect, will continue to be a compliance focus of OIG and will likely be an enforcement priority for CMS going forward. Nursing facilities need to revisit and, to the extent they have not done so already, update their policies and procedures to comply with the reporting obligations contained in the Elder Justice Act -- before the applicable regulations go into effect on November 28, 2017.
  • OIG focused its attention on skilled nursing facility residents receiving emergency room services. Skilled nursing facilities should likewise be particularly focused on resident transfers for emergency care for potential incident reporting pursuant to the Elder Justice Act.
  • OIG equated any emergency room visit associated with one of the 12 “abuse” diagnosis codes to be reportable under the Elder Justice Act. However, at the time of an emergency room transfer, nursing facilities in some cases may not have identified evidence of potential abuse of a criminal nature, and would not have the benefit of the emergency room physicians’ evaluation when the resident arrives at the hospital.  As a matter of course, skilled nursing facilities should consider requesting records of the emergency room diagnoses and, whenever one of the 12 codes has been assigned, presume that the incident should be reported to law enforcement if it has not been already, unless the evidence clearly indicates the coding is mistaken and no abuse took place.

Bottom Line:  Nursing facilities -- and “covered individuals” -- that fail to heed OIG’s alarm may be putting themselves in regulatory jeopardy.

Full Article & Source:
OIG Issues Stark Warning to Skilled Nursing Facilities: Potential Abuse or Neglect of Residents Receiving Emergency Room Services is Being Underreported to Law Enforcement

Nursing Home Compare not good enough, Harvard experts say

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' Nursing Home Compare is suffering from “considerable” knowledge gaps that may make it harder for consumers to make informed decisions about their post-acute care, according to some experts.

In a blog posted Tuesday in the Health Affairs Blog, Harvard researchers Brian E. McGarry, Ph.D., and David Grabowski, Ph.D, argued that the tools currently at hospital patients' disposal for choosing a post-acute provider are “often complicated, incomplete, and potentially misleading.”

Nursing Home Compare, the website meant to inform consumers about local long-term care providers, is lacking in information regarding short vs. long nursing home stays, facility features or amenities, care coordination or the “culture and care philosophy” of the provider. The tool also suffers from dissemination issues, McGarry and Grabowski wrote, with some patients and hospital staff unaware that it's available.

“Patients and providers alike need to know that help is available, and barriers to accessing these websites during the potentially stressful and hectic time of discharge planning need to be minimized,” the blog reads.

To improve Nursing Home Compare the authors recommend first separating the measures regarding short- and long-stay residents so patients can “identify the quality metrics most pertinent to their situation.”

They also recommend adding new information to the comparison website, like building age, availability of private rooms, photos of the facility, and reviews from residents or their family members to offer data more in line with consumers' concerns. 

“Although some of this information is subjective, consider that even individuals researching hotels have easy access to useful data of this sort,” McGarry and Grabowski wrote. “Certainly patients considering where to spend weeks or months of important recovery time are entitled to similar resources, and recent evidence suggests that consumers are already turning to social media platforms such as Facebook to post facility feedback and obtain first-hand perspectives.”

Bringing such information Nursing Home Compare would allow CMS to oversee its exchange in “a controlled and transparent manner.”

The last recommendation detailed in the blog post would be connecting long-term care consumers to both Nursing Home Compare and the Home Health Compare tool. Advertising alone wouldn't be enough, the researchers wrote. Instead, CMS may have to consider making it mandatory for Medicare patients to be informed of the tools during their discharge planning process, and that they have web-enabled technology to access the sites from their hospital rooms.

Those Nursing Home Compare changes will be crucial as acute and post-acute care providers become more integrated, McGarry and Grabowski said.

“If consumers are to play an active role in the evolving postacute care choice environment, it is essential that they be well-positioned to make good decisions,” the post reads.

Full Article & Source:
Nursing Home Compare not good enough, Harvard experts say

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Ayudando audits pointed to financial impropriety

The red flags were evident five years before top executives of one of New Mexico’s largest commercial guardianship companies were indicted for allegedly pilfering millions of dollars from client accounts to finance lavish lifestyles.

Independent audits and tax records submitted by Ayudando Guardians Inc. to the state Attorney General’s Office in 2011 and 2012 showed evidence of financial irregularities at the firm.

The audit reports showed “employee advances” of nearly $80,000 over a two-year-period – described as loans from client accounts to employees – including Ayudando president Susan Harris and chief financial officer Sharon Moore. Most of the money, the audits showed, was eventually repaid, but not all of it.

“There is no justification for any organization to borrow money from clients,” said Wendy York, who chairs the state Supreme Court appointed commission that is studying ways to improve New Mexico’s guardianship system.

Independent audits are required by state law of charitable organizations, like Ayudando, that received more than $500,000 in revenue each year.

It’s unclear whether anyone at the office of then-Attorney General Gary King reviewed Ayudando’s filings or did anything in response. Those are the last filings by Ayudando on the AG’s Office’s charity search website.

Efforts to reach King, who left office at the end of 2014, weren’t successful on Friday.

The Attorney General’s Office’s charity search website shows that Ayudando has been delinquent in filing its required annual registration every year since 2012, including the last two years under King’s successor, Attorney General Hector Balderas.

Asked about his agency’s oversight, James Hallinan, a spokesman for Balderas, told the Journal, “We are aware of these delinquencies which are within the scope of the Office of the Attorney General’s investigation into potential civil violations of New Mexico charities statutes.”

Hallinan said Friday that, under state law, “certain documentation is required with each application for registration or renewal. While we review every submission, the content and level of scrutiny on these documents varies.”

Federal prosecutors last year launched an investigation into Ayudando after several Ayudando employees went to federal law enforcement with complaints about mismanagement of client funds. Company filings show its clients included veterans, the elderly and the homeless.

Important lessons

York said during a commission meeting Friday that lessons learned from the Ayudando case are important for the commission as it compiles its initial recommendations for the Supreme Court, which are due by Oct. 1.

Harris and Moore were indicted in July on 28 counts of federal conspiracy, money laundering, and fraud related to an alleged embezzlement scheme of client funds that dates back at least a decade.

So far, federal investigators have identified about $4 million diverted from client accounts. The company had been in operation since 2004.

The diverted funds helped support a “lavish lifestyle” for Harris, Moore and family members who allegedly spent client money on vacation cruises, tickets to the Final Four basketball tournament, luxury vehicles, furniture and other personal expenses, according to federal documents.

Records obtained by the Journal show that Harris and Moore also bought a $42,500 suite at the Pit last basketball season, but it isn’t clear whether client funds were involved.

Harris and Moore have pleaded not guilty to the charges and have been released pending trial.

Before the U.S. Marshals Service closed Ayudando’s doors last week, the company was the guardian and/or conservator for about 185 clients, some who received state-funded services. It also had private pay clients and had managed finances for another 1,200 clients, including representative payee accounts, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

York told the commission she has consulted with a forensic accountant who has offered advice on how the courts can provide better oversight of guardians and conservators who handle client funds, including hiring an accountant to review audits and annual filings required of guardians and conservators.

As a retired state district judge, York said she believes it would be most appropriate for the accountant or auditor to be “an arm of the court” so he or she could notify the court if discrepancies are found in audits or reports. That could lead to the removal of a guardian or conservator, she added.

Annual reports

New Mexico is one of 26 states that require yearly independent financial audits of charitable organizations.

The law seems to imply that the AG’s Office is responsible for reviewing the documents, in that it requires a charitable organization to correct any deficiencies in an annual report “upon notice by the AG’s office.”

It isn’t clear why Ayudando would not have filed an annual audit after 2012 – if in fact it did not.

But York said the accountant recommended the state modify existing law to make it clear as to what agency will review the required audits and annual reports.

Asked by commission member Sen. Gerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, whether fiscal audits “really catch theft,” York responded that “you can catch them when they are borrowing money from clients or make loans. You can’t catch everything but you can certainly catch some things.”

Ayudando audits

The two independent audits filed with the AG’s Office noted that Ayudando hadn’t complied with generally accepted accounting procedures and added, “We were unable to satisfy ourselves by means of other audit procedures on the correct allocation of the account to the Foundation and the client.”

The Ayudando audit report for 2011 noted $72,321 in “employee advances” with only $23,788 in client reimbursements.

“Formal terms of the advances were not documented in agreements, therefore, interest was not charged nor was there a stated maturity date,” the audit stated. The advances in 2011 were completely paid off in 2012, the audit stated.

A different independent auditor noted in a report for the 2012 tax year that “advances were made in previous years to various employees including the President and Secretary/Treasurer of Ayudando.” Harris took a $38,565 advance, and Moore took $10,894 – amounts the report stated were repaid.

But Harris received an additional advance of $8,636 in 2012 that hadn’t been paid by the end of the year, the audit noted.

Ayudando supplied a 990 IRS tax form to the AG’s Office in 2012 showing “director advancements for 2012 at $62,846, with total due to clients at $18,937. The audit also found Ayudando had a note payable “due to the President’s parent” with an outstanding balance of $19,919.

As president, Harris in 2012 was paid an annual salary of $138,230. Moore was paid $125,453 a year.

York said the auditor she consulted also recommended guardian/conservators keep separate bank accounts for each client account, otherwise they are “very susceptible to comingling.”

York told the commission a full-time auditor who answered to the courts could provide better oversight by regularly reviewing audits and randomly reviewing required annual reports to the court. She added that annual reports – the chief method of oversight of guardianship or conservatorship cases – are currently “pretty anemic.”

Full Article & Source:
Ayudando audits pointed to financial impropriety

Former Exeter lawyer pleads not guilty to elderly exploitation

 BRENTWOOD -- A former Exeter lawyer charged with financial exploitation of a 71-year-old woman pleaded not guilty and waived his arraignment Friday, according to state Assistant Attorney General Brandon Garod.

Thomas U. Gage, 57, of Newfields, was indicted in Rockingham Superior Court last month on five counts of financial exploitation of an elderly, disabled or impaired adult, the state attorney general’s office announced in a press release.

The indictments allege Gage, through the use of undue influence, acquired possession or control of five credit cards allegedly belonging to the woman. The total amount of the alleged exploitation is $87,165 occurring between January 2015 and January 2016.

Gage is a former attorney who practiced in Exeter, the attorney general’s press release stated. He was disbarred in 2016 for unrelated reasons.

The maximum penalty for each indictment is 7½ to 15 years in state prison and/or a fine of $4,000.

The case is being prosecuted by Garod, assistant attorney general in the office’s Elder Abuse and Exploitation Unit. Garod said a dispositional conference will be scheduled in Rockingham Superior Court in a month.

Full Article & Source:
Former Exeter lawyer pleads not guilty to elderly exploitation

Charleston woman allegedly faked mother’s will, pocketed $1 million

Tracie D. Wilson
Police say a Charleston woman created a fake will for her dying mother, in order to cut her siblings out of an estate worth more than $1 million.

Tracie D. Wilson, 44, allegedly colluded with several others to create a fraudulent last will and testament for her mother, Joyce M. Johnson, according to a criminal complaint filed in Kanawha County Magistrate Court.

Johnson, who was 77 years old, was hospitalized in June 2015, suffering from “multiple serious medical conditions” and was “lethargic and suffering from a decline in mental status,” according to the complaint, filed by State Police First Sgt. S.E. Wolfe.

At the time, Wilson and her co-conspirators had discovered that Johnson’s estate was worth about $1 million. The estate was supposed to be divided equally between Johnson’s four children, according to the complaint.

Johnson died on June 27, 2015. After that date, according to the complaint, Wilson met with one of her co-conspirators, forged her dead mother’s signature and had the fake will certified by a notary public.

Two other people served as witnesses for the fake will, according to the complaint. Neither of them actually saw the will signed, and one of them knew the will was fake.

After the fake will was signed and notarized, Wilson filed it with the Kanawha County circuit clerk’s office. The will was made public on Aug. 6, 2015, according to the complaint.

Wilson then received “approximately $1,107,858.84,” which was the estimated appraisal of her mother’s estate at the time.

Police say the allegations against Wilson are all supported by statements from co-conspirators and witnesses, text messages, bank statements and other evidence.

Johnson was retired vice-president of J.E. Johnson Funeral Home, a firm her and her late husband, J.E. Johnson, established in 1960. After his passing, the Kanawha City funeral home was sold to Chad and Billie Harding, which they renamed Harding Funerals & Cremations, according to Johnson’s obituary.

Wilson was arraigned in Magistrate Court Tuesday. She is charged with financial exploitation of an elderly person, protected person or incapacitated adult; obtaining money, property and services by false pretenses; conspiracy to commit a felony; forgery of public record, certificate, return or attestation of court or officer; and computer fraud. All are felonies, and Wilson could face more than 40 years in prison and fines of more than $20,000 if convicted of all charges.

She was being held Tuesday at the South Central Regional Jail on a $25,000 or 10 percent cash bond.

Full Article & Source:
Charleston woman allegedly faked mother’s will, pocketed $1 million

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Divided Supreme Court Rules on Ward's Right to Marry

Jennifer Suzanne Carroll
The certified question before the Florida Supreme Court seemed simple, but has far-reaching consequences regarding the rights of incapacitated people.

The case puts Florida laws governing legal guardianships in the spotlight, and how a probate court's removal of some rights might affect a ward's remaining freedoms. It came as Florida legislators re-examined the guardianship system, long plagued by accusations of corporate greed and policies designed to benefit guardians instead of wards and heirs.

The dispute focused on a ward of the court's right to marry, and asked justices: If permission is required to wed, does marrying without that approval render the marriage void or voidable?

Answering that question Thursday, the justices needed to determine the legislators' intent in crafting a state statute to govern people for whom the courts have taken responsibility through guardianship programs.

That task divided the high court.

In the end, the majority ruled that a ward didn't need to get court approval before marrying, but did need to have the court later ratify that marriage.

"In other words, the ward's ability to enter into a valid marriage depends on court approval," Chief Justice Jorge Labarga wrote for the majority in a decision issued Aug. 31.

The ruling stemmed from a bid by Glenda Martinez Smith, a woman looking to reinstate her marriage to Alan J. Smith, who had been deemed legally incapacitated. Palm Beach Circuit Judge David French annulled the marriage because Smith wed without court approval.

Marriage is a fundamental right, but courts have the power to invalidate the marriages of people who become wards of the court because of severe physical, mental and other disabilities that prevent them from making their own decisions.

Smith lost the right to contract, but not the right to marry, when he became the court's ward. His wife challenged French's decision, but a state appellate court couldn't agree on whether the trial court's annulment deprived Smith of his "fundamental right to marry."

Just as with the high court, the majority and dissenters in the Fourth District Court of Appeal disagreed on the "effect" of the statute.

"This is something that was sorely needed in our state," Martinez Smith's attorney, Jennifer Suzanne Carroll of the Law Offices of Jennifer S. Carroll in Palm Beach Gardens, said. "This opinion is a major step forward in protecting the fundamental rights of incapacitated persons in Florida. … It enforces the Legislature's intent to uphold the incapacitated person's rights to the greatest extent possible."

The closely watched Florida Supreme Court case drew amicus curiae briefs from the Florida Bar's Real Property, Probate & Trust Law Section, its Elder Law Section and the Academy of Florida Elder Law Attorneys.

"It is absolutely now crystal clear that a marriage is invalid if it was entered into with a person who at the time was subject to a guardianship and had their right to contract taken away. The court did clarify that the marriage can only be legitimized by seeking subsequent court approval," said longtime Miami probate lawyer Michael Schlesinger of Schlesinger & Associates, who was not involved in the litigation. "This ruling bolsters the intent of the guardianship law to protect the incapacitated from financial abuse. However, the system in my opinion still needs further revamping by the state Legislature and prosecution of offenders by law enforcement to ensure that the generation of fees never outweighs the best interests of the wards."

Full Article & Source:
Divided Supreme Court Rules on Ward's Right to Marry

Judge nixes $1M request for lawyer fees in case worth $125K

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) — A federal judge has angrily rejected a request for more than $900,000 in legal fees in a Pennsylvania insurance case that saw the attorneys' client receive $125,000.

The (Scranton) Times-Tribune ( ) reports U.S. District Judge Malachy Mannion found the fee request so "mind-boggling" and "outrageously excessive" that he's planning to report the attorneys to a Pennsylvania disciplinary board that investigates complaints of attorney misconduct.
Lead attorney Michael Pisanchyn defended the request saying he and another attorney worked hard on the 2013 lawsuit to hold an insurance company responsible for delaying payment of a $25,000 car crash claim and won the client another $100,000 at trial.
Mannion says the bill is based on 2,583 hours, or the equivalent of 323 eight-hour days spent on the case.

Full Article & Source:
Judge nixes $1M request for lawyer fees in case worth $125K

Shoals man charged in insurance scheme that allegedly took millions from elderly customers

Ronald Powell
ATHENS, Ala. — A Muscle Shoals man has been arrested and charged with insurance fraud and financial exploitation of an elderly person, in a case potentially involving millions of dollars, according to the Alabama Department of Insurance.

Ronald Warren Powell, 55, turned himself in to Limestone County Sheriff’s Office Wednesday and was released on bond.

A source with the Alabama Department of Insurance  told WHNT News 19 Powell gained control of millions of dollars under false pretenses from elderly victims who thought they were buying insurance policies, but instead the money went to Powell, according to sources from the Alabama Department of Insurance.

Other victims claimed they were unaware their signatures had been forged and their funds diverted to Powell, according to the insurance department source.

Powell’s Florence-based attorney James Irby said Powell denies any wrongdoing and “absolutely denies” any claim that he gained control of millions of dollars from the sale of false insurance policies. He said those claims go well beyond what is alleged in the Limestone County indictment.

“We are very confident in our position and we certainly are going to aggressively defend against these charge,” Irby said.

Powell had previously been barred from selling financial securities in Alabama in a 2015 action by the Alabama Securities Commission.  Powell had served as chairman and CEO of the Tom Jones Insurance and Financial Services Group in Muscle Shoals, according to the Alabama Securities Commission.

He was indicted on one count of first-degree insurance fraud and one count of financial exploitation of an elderly person.

Full Article & Source:
Shoals man charged in insurance scheme that allegedly took millions from elderly customers

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Guardianship company closed, U.S. Marshals Service says

The U.S. Marshals Service announced the closure of Ayudando Guardians Inc. offices on Thursday, noting that the company had about 1,400 clients when a federal grand jury indicted its two principals and the company on charges of embezzling client funds in July.

Previous reports estimated the number of guardianship or conservator clients in New Mexico at less than 200, but it wasn’t known how many others were receiving representative payee services in which Ayudando handled monthly or regular client benefits from agencies such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Social Security Administration.

Those representative payee agreements don’t have to be approved by a court.

The Marshals Service has been under federal court order to oversee operations of the company since the July 11 federal indictment of Ayudando president Susan Harris and chief financial officer Sharon Moore. The two were charged with 28 counts of conspiracy, fraud, theft and money laundering charges arising out of an alleged scheme to embezzle funds from client trust accounts. They have pleaded not guilty.

The two women are alleged to have siphoned more than $4 million from clients’ representative payee accounts and savings or money market accounts to support lavish lifestyles for themselves and family members. The company served hundreds of clients with special needs or who are disabled.

The Marshals Service, meanwhile, has been transferring Ayudando clients to new agencies, with the help of state district court judges.

But earlier this month, the transfer process was described by one private agency professional as a “nightmare.”

One of Ayudando’s former clients was profiled by the Journal Aug. 10 because of his living conditions and his inability to find out the status of his guardianship case by trying to telephone the Marshals Service.

Peter Grotte-Higley, 81, is a Holocaust-era survivor whose living arrangements were controlled by Ayudando, which also handled his monthly pension check and finances as his court-appointed conservator. He had complained that the debit card Ayudando provided for his incidental expenses had a zero balance in recent months.

Grotte-Higley wanted to go in person to the Ayudando offices at 1400 Central SE, and he accepted an offer from two Journal reporters to drive him there on Aug. 8. But at the last minute, a manager at his Northeast Heights boarding home intervened and asked a Journal reporter to leave.

Grotte-Higley now has an Oct. 2 hearing set in his guardian/conservator case in state district court in Albuquerque, according to a court docket sheet, the only public record available by law in guardian/conservator cases.

The docket sheet shows that two new attorneys have entered appearances in his case before Judge Denise Barela-Shepherd, but there’s no indication of a new temporary guardian. Grotte-Higley, who has been an Ayudando client since January 2016, is still living in the same home.

Meanwhile, a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Mexico on Thursday provided new details about the Marshals Service’s role in winding down Ayudando operations.

The Marshals Service was appointed to operate the business “to ensure that its assets were not improperly spent or removed, and that the interests of Ayudando clients were protected as the prosecution of the criminal case moves forward.” That court order also required the Marshals Service to submit under seal to the court a report on its findings within 45 days.

The vast majority of Ayudando’s clients have been transferred to new temporary guardians, other service providers and/or new representative payees, the release says. And those still awaiting transfers will receive temporary services from other providers.

Three New Mexico guardianship companies under contract with the New Mexico Office of Guardianship – including CNRAG, Inc., Tierra Alta Guardianship Services LLC and Quality of Life Guardians LLC – will provide temporary or interim services to some former Ayudando clients.

Private clients for whom Ayudando maintained guardianship, medical power of attorney accounts, private trust accounts or conservator services will receive services from Ascending Hope LLC for guardianship services. Bridge to Success Inc. will provide financial services until the courts can appoint new guardians, if required, the press release says.

Although Ayudando’s offices are closed and transfers of clients have been processed, the Marshals Service “remains responsible for managing Ayudando’s business affairs under the magistrate’s order” and “remains committed to ensuring continuity of service for Ayudando clients,” according to the release.

Ayudando, which also had offices in Mesa, Ariz., was created in 2004.

Full Article & Source:
Guardianship company closed, U.S. Marshals Service says


Click to Watch


Feds Clarify New Rule For Special Needs Trusts

Special needs trusts have a new level of flexibility and federal officials are working to ensure that state Medicaid directors understand the implications.

Under a law passed late last year, individuals with disabilities can for the first time establish special needs trusts for themselves.

The shift, designed to make saving money easier for those with disabilities, is significant. Previously, trusts had to be created by a third party.

Now, federal Medicaid officials are offering guidance on what the change means for state programs.

“A trust established on or after December 13, 2016, by an individual with a disability under age 65 for his or her own benefit can qualify as a special needs trust, conferring the same benefits as a special needs trust set up by a parent, grandparent, legal guardian or court,” wrote Brian Neale, director of the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services in a letter to state Medicaid directors this month. “The other defining features of a special needs trust remain unchanged.”

To qualify as a special needs trust, Neale said that a trust must contain the assets of an individual with a disability who’s under age 65, be created for that person’s benefit and include a provision that any remaining assets be repaid to the state at the time of that person’s death up to the value that the state provided in medical assistance.

In many cases individuals with disabilities face a cap on the assets they can have in their name in order to qualify for Medicaid and other government programs. Special needs trusts are one of a few ways that individuals with disabilities can accrue more assets without losing eligibility.

Allowing individuals to form trusts for themselves “supports the independence of individuals with disabilities,” Neale noted in the guidance.

Full Article & Source:
Feds Clarify New Rule For Special Needs Trusts

Monday, September 4, 2017

Who guards the guardians?: Judge vows to fight for clients who lost trust funds

The civil case of Ayudando Guardians Inc. v. Desert State Life Management involves two companies accused of siphoning client accounts for personal gain.

With their owners absent for an initial hearing in the lawsuit Wednesday, a state district judge heard from those who are picking up the pieces after the shocking collapse this summer of the two New Mexico nonprofit companies that for more than a decade specialized in serving developmentally disabled, elderly and otherwise vulnerable clients.

In the audience were lawyers from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting Ayudando Guardians and its two principals on criminal charges of embezzling at least $4 million in client funds; and Liane Kerr, whose former husband Paul Donisthorpe has been accused by state and federal authorities of embezzling $4 million from his clients’ accounts at Desert State. He hasn’t been criminally charged.

At issue Wednesday was how to proceed with the lawsuit filed by Ayudando Guardians on June 6 seeking damages from Desert State on behalf of seven clients. Those clients entrusted their funds for Desert State to manage, the lawsuit states.

That case was filed a month before Ayudando’s two principals, Susan Harris and Sharon Moore, and the company itself, were indicted July 11 by a federal grand jury for embezzling more than $4 million from their clients. The U.S. Marshals office has been running Ayudando since then, with the prospect of a shutdown of the company imminent. Harris and Moore have pleaded not guilty.

Donisthorpe didn’t attend Wednesday’s hearing. He hasn’t responded to requests for comment and is reportedly brain damaged from a botched suicide attempt.

His wife of 31 years, Kerr, filed for divorce in March after state financial examiners began to look into Desert State’s books. She appeared in court with her attorney Wednesday, but didn’t comment. In court records, Kerr has denied any involvement in the alleged embezzlement scheme or the trust company business.

Both companies are being dismantled by government agencies in light of the fraud and embezzlement allegations.

Judge Alan Malott on Wednesday denied a motion to dismiss Ayudando’s claims against Desert State, vowing to make sure the seven Ayudando clients who may have lost trust funds at Desert State “don’t fall through the cracks” because their guardian is under federal indictment.

“There may be nothing left, but I’m going to try to get as close to the penny as I can get,”said Malott.

Desert State in early August was placed into the receivership of the state Financial Institutions Division.

An estimated 70 people who were clients of Desert State have lost some or all of their trust money, state officials say. Malott, during the hearing, said state district judges are in “crisis management” mode trying to find replacement guardians for Ayudando’s clients.

State FID attorney Kevin Graham told Malott that families and individuals, some with “limited” ability to understand “what’s going on in the case,” have contacted the state to find lawyers to help recover their missing trust funds.

Meanwhile, the state Public Accountancy Board last week revoked Donisthorpe’s CPA license.

Full Article & Source:
Who guards the guardians?: Judge vows to fight for clients who lost trust funds

Commission suspends Goodsprings judge for year without pay

Peace Dawn Haviland
A longtime Goodsprings judge has been suspended for a year without pay following a series of ethics charges, according to a ruling made this week by the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline.

The punishment is based on Justice of the Peace Dawn Haviland’s “repeated failure over several years to follow the law, her proclivity towards following her own moral compass in administering her version of justice irrespective of the law, and her lack of remorse and admission of wrongdoing for the same,” the ruling states.

According to a host of allegations made public earlier this year, Haviland sealed her then-son-in-law’s criminal records, ordered staff to run background checks on her friend’s boyfriend, and bullied employees.

Haviland has served as the small town’s sole justice of the peace since 1999. She was suspended with pay in December.

In her absence, three temporary justices of the peace will rotate to cover her calendars, Clark County spokesman Erik Pappa said. The arrangement has been in place since her initial suspension.

“We’re going to honor the decision, and we will continue to operate as we have these past seven months,” Pappa said.

Haviland is expected to return to the bench next year.

As justice of the peace, Haviland receives a taxpayer-funded salary of more than $70,000 a year. She does not have a law degree, which is not a requirement for justices of the peace in rural communities. Goodsprings is about 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas.

Though Haviland could not be reached for comment late Wednesday, the judge responded to her charges in March in the form of a 14-page formal statement. She contended that all claims made against her were fabricated by resentful employees.

“I do not believe that I have committed any ethical violations,” she wrote at the time. “I have at all times during my 20-year career attempted to administer justice fairly and within the confines of the law.”

She also addressed specific allegations:

— In response to an accusation that she sealed her former son-in-law’s criminal records, Haviland said an employee handed her a stack of orders to be signed. “I do not recall specifically signing this order.” The records were in a domestic case involving Haviland’s daughter, and both parties agreed to the seal, said Haviland, who recused herself from the case.

— In response to an allegation that Haviland instructed her staff to conduct a criminal background investigation on her friend’s boyfriend, the judge said she simply ran a basic public records search on behalf of a woman who lost $65,000 in a previous relationship. “This was a small favor for me and my staff to do for this woman, and my advice may have saved her tens of thousands of dollars and considerable grief and heartache,” she said.

— In response to a charge about an improper sentence she later modified, Haviland said, “It is surprising to me that I am being charged with an ethics violation based on a simple mistake.”

Haviland’s lawyer, Al Marquis, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Wednesday that both he and his client were “very disappointed in the decision.”

“We really thought that we had clearly established that she had not violated the code of ethics,” he said Wednesday. “But when three employees decide to gang together to bring down their boss, it’s hard to fight that.”

The commission’s ruling instead commended the employees who came forward.

“If they had not done so, these disturbing matters would not have come to light and, quite probably, would have continued far into the future,” the ruling states.  (Click to Continue)

Full Article & Source:
Commission suspends Goodsprings judge for year without pay

Elder Justice Initiative Webinar

Hosted by Julie Childs, J.D., Consultant, Elder Justice Initiative, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, and featuring Brenda Uekert, Ph.D., Principal Court Research Consultant, National Center for State Courts, Williamsburg, VA.

Date & Time:
Wednesday, September 6, 2017 -
2:00pm to 3:00pm ET

Financial Exploitation in the Context of Guardianships and Other Legal Arrangements

Sunday, September 3, 2017

For Vulnerable Older Adults, a Harrowing Sense of Being Trapped

Laila Mina is rescued by members of the nonprofit organization Team Rubicon
HOUSTON — A Holocaust survivor waded waist-deep in flood water. Dozens of people were trapped in a 14-story residence for seniors. A disabled man sat alone at home, without the aide who usually helps him, watching the water rise and unsure if anyone would come.

Harvey was terrifying for millions of people along the Gulf Coast. But it was particularly difficult for the region’s seniors and disabled, many of whom struggled to escape as the water rose. Now, some wait in shelters for chemotherapy, dialysis, pain medication, a pillow. Rescue teams are still evacuating people from their homes.

Inside her apartment in a Houston Housing Authority senior residence on Friday, Ida Szydlik insisted that she hadn’t been scared as the water rushed into her building over the weekend, filling the first floor. “We were just frightened for the other people,” said Ms. Szydlik, 97, as she began to cry. “I was in prayer, but I wasn’t scared, I was too busy praying that this would all go away.”

It is impossible to be sure how many older people have been affected by the storm, and many experts say it is too early to know how nursing homes are dealing with the impact.

Still, throughout the region, there have been reports of nursing homes thrown into chaos by floods. In one assisted living facility in Dickinson, Tex., residents sat in murky water that reached well above their waists while they awaited rescue. Residents in another Houston senior home in Houston were trapped in dark rooms, with water covering their feet.

Officials from this state’s Health and Human Services Commission said that about 4,500 residents have been evacuated from more than 130 Texas nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The storm has killed at least 46 people; at least 9 of them were 65 years or older. The eldest was 89.

And in the aftermath of Harvey, the challenges of keeping older and disabled people healthy have been enormous.

More than 100 dialysis centers in the regions are closed, and in some cases patients have not been able to get transportation to the few that are open. Patients are separated from caregivers by flooded highways. And at the downtown convention center here that shelters thousands of people, a crew of volunteer doctors has been treating evacuees around the clock.

But people have been showing up with waterlogged pills that have turned to a sludgy mix, if they have them at all.

Dr. Shital Patel, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine who helped in the medical clinic at the convention center, said that many of the patients she saw had spent four or five days without taking medication or checking their insulin.

A Houston Housing Authority residence for older adults, where the water rose nearly five feet. Credit Julie Turkewitz/The New York Times

On Thursday, Danny Graves, 62, shuffled across the center in a yellow T-shirt that read: Built For It. He spoke low and slow and said he was bipolar and schizophrenic and normally has a caretaker who cooks and helps him shower. But she left before the storm.

When the water came in, it rose to Mr. Graves’s knees, he recalled, and he sat alone for hours after calling 911. He said he did not think he would make it out alive; he has trouble walking. “Rough,” was he how described it.

Finally, a neighbor arrived and helped him out. “I ain’t doing too good,” Mr. Graves said, standing amid thousands of people under florescent lights. “I ain’t used to this. First time I’ve ever been a storm.”

During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, more than half of the 1,800 people who died were people older than 65, and the depth of the tragedy set off a conversation about disaster preparedness in hospitals and senior care facilities across the country. During that hurricane, about 3,800 residents were evacuated from 53 nursing homes.

Since then, Texas has put in place many more safety requirements for elderly care providers, including rules requiring written evacuation plans and the designation of specific workers to deal with local emergency agencies.

On Friday, at a senior living center owned by the city a mile from the downtown convention center, residents described being trapped inside the building as the storm hit.

Water had poured into the glass-walled first floor — home to the dining area, the gym and the mail room, but no resident apartments — filling it like a fishbowl and blocking all exits.

Then the freshwater cut out. Ms. Szydlik, one of the residents, said her blood pressure spiked and she spent the next few days in her third-floor apartment eating canned tuna and being very careful not to flood the now unflushable toilets.

Once the floodwaters subsided, an army of volunteers, as well as building management staff, came to help residents, carrying water and food up 14 flights of stairs in buckets.

On Friday, Monique Ritter, 80, a Holocaust survivor, described how she had made it through Harvey.

As water gushed into her dining room and kitchen, friends came over and lifted her on to the kitchen island, where she waited — and fell, becoming soaked — until a rescue team came and pulled her onto a boat. Her granddaughter found a hotel room for her and her husband.

When the storm had finally passed, she returned home to find drawers full of water and photographs that belonged to her grandmother, now destroyed.

“We’re tired,” she said, speaking on the telephone from a hotel. “We’re exhausted, mentally and physically. I cannot tell you how I feel. I am really numb. We just got here and we need to rest. My husband is sleeping in his chair. We really need a break.”

Full Article & Source:
For Vulnerable Older Adults, a Harrowing Sense of Being Trapped

'Always grasp the opportunity': confronting ageism creatively

Eileen Kramer, 102-year-old dancer and artist
Eileen Kramer is reinventing ageing. The 102-year-old dancer and artist is working on a new ballet and plans to perform it in November – with a walking stick, if necessary. “I aim to be walking properly because there is nothing wrong with me except my balance,” she says.

If she needs her cane, she will ask her dancing partner to use one too. “We can do a cane dance,” she says, miming the actions from her seat.

Kramer is one of a growing number of older Australians who have decided to do ageing differently, busting through the stereotypes that say that people retire, apply for a pension, downsize to an apartment, then move to a retirement village to play cards, and then shuffle off to a nursing home to quietly die.

Instead, we are seeing more older people switch to new careers in their 60s, become entrepreneurs, throw themselves into creative endeavours, chase adventure in travel and investigate new forms of communal living, where they remain in charge and avoid the humiliation of the institutional 5.30 pm dinners of soft foods and cordial.

Kramer is the ambassador for the non-profit Arts Health Institute and has a 75-year international career that, most recently, included a role in the Belvoir production of the Wizard of Oz; appearances in music videos and a collaboration on a fashion project. “Always make the opportunity for yourself or else grasp the opportunity,” Kramer said at a recent forum in Sydney on confronting ageism.

When asked if she believes herself to be old, Kramer replied: “I don’t use the word ‘old’. I say I have been on the planet a long time.

“If you are doing creative work, you are absolutely ageless. There is no such thing as age in creativity. It is always something new.”

Chief executive of the Arts Health Institute, Dr Maggie Haertsch, says creativity has beneficial effects on health and quality of life in older people.

“Arts play a really significant role in building a person’s quality of life. I think that ability to keep learning and learning something new should never be underestimated, no matter what your capability is,” she said at the ageing forum.

A study of 60,000 older people by National Taiwan University finds that those who took part in a creative (performance and art) program had lower rates of loneliness and depression, higher morale and improved hand dexterity.

There are now 3.57 million people aged 65 and over in Australia and, by 2056, they may comprise around a quarter of the Australian population.

While those numbers create a powerful bloc, that has not yet resulted in an opening up of the employment market for mature-aged workers or the retreat of ageism.

It takes an average of 68 weeks for someone aged over 55 to get a job. The lack of employment options could be one reason that 34% of young firms in Australia are led by senior entrepreneurs (55-64 years), which is a higher activity rate than average.

Co-founders of the profit-for-purpose consultancy The Ageing Revolution, Leonie Sanderson and Simon Lowe, have found that it is not only young people who hold unhelpful and untrue views about their elders.

The couple took a three-month fact-finding trip last year, interviewing “grey nomads” and mature-aged people around Australia and discovered that many people were discriminating against their own age group.

“We are all hopefully going to grow old so why are we prejudicing our future lives?” asks Sanderson.

“The negative beliefs about ageing are all around us. Even things like birthday cards have terms like ‘over the hill’, ‘one foot in the grave’ or ‘God’s waiting room’.

“There are even beauty regimens to combat ageing from when you are in your twenties, hair dye to cover up your grey hair. It is like we are trying to erase any talk or discussion of ageing in our society at all, instead of focusing on the opportunities that come with growing older.

“The discrepancy between these beliefs and how older people actually are is the most amazing thing.”

On their road trip, Sanderson and Lowe had no shortage of grey nomads to interview. There are around 80,000 on the roads in Australia at any one time.

Lowe says The Ageing Revolution aims to work with companies and startups to co-design and develop ideas and products, such as an app to help carers.

Haertsch says the process of internalising ageism starts before people even hit middle age. “There comes a point in your life where you are somewhat ashamed, or embarrassed, or insecure about talking about your age. I hazard a guess it might be around the age of 30.

“What happens is this internalised ageism is incredibly serious because it also plays out in areas where we do our work – which is in aged care and, particularly, residential aged care.

“We find that some of the self-limiting age beliefs actually stop people flourishing. People don’t realise that they keep learning. Even if you have some form of cognitive impairment such as dementia, you can keep learning.”

Full Article & Source:
'Always grasp the opportunity': confronting ageism creatively

Songs about Alzheimer’s | Ed Sheeran

I was driving the other day past the church where my dad walked my sister down to aisle when Ed Sheeran’s “Afire Love” came on. She was only 23, wanting to have our father walk down the aisle before he really started losing his memory and cognitive abilities. He had early onset Alzheimer’s and was only 60 at the time.

I’ve heard the song plenty of times before on the radio, but never really listened to the lyrics. A wave of familiarity washed over me when my ears focused on the opening lyrics:

It took me second to realize this was indeed another one of the singer’s tunes about love, but he was singing about the love of that for his grandfather, who suffered from Alzheimer’s for two decades.

Noticing this, I paid attention to the lyrics more. If you love or care for someone with Alzheimer’s, I trust you’ll find comfort in this song’s lyrical narrative of the disease.

Full Article & Source:
Songs about Alzheimer’s | Ed Sheeran