Saturday, May 19, 2018

Pennsylvania's guardianship system has room for improvement, some in the field say

Roughly five years ago, the state Supreme Court realized that Pennsylvania's expanding aging population would likely create a major increase in court cases dealing with the protection of the elderly.

At the time, Pennsylvania ranked fourth in the nation in the percentage of residents 60 and older, and the number was only expected to increase.

So the court created an Elder Law Task Force in 2013 made up of 38 representatives to examine the current system, identify concerns and find ways to improve practices to best protect against elder abuse.

The task force released a list of 130 recommendations in November 2014, many of which addressed the guardianship system. The suggestions included the need for a statewide management system to track cases and identify problems; better training for judges ruling in guardianship hearings; and amendments to require background checks for guardians and representation for incapacitated individuals.

Some of those issues are being addressed and a statewide tracking system is expected to be in place by the end of the year, but those within the system agree there are still other aspects that can be fixed to best protect the rights and lives of the elderly.

In the works

One of the biggest criticisms of the guardianship system is the lack of an organized statewide method to maintain and monitor the data, making it nearly impossible to screen for potential issues.

In Berks County, cases are maintained by the county Orphans Court staff by hand in a desk ledger, but practices vary from county to county. With that setup, there's no way to know even how many adults are under guardianship.

Guardians, both family and professional, are directed to submit annual reports for the courts to review to ensure they are doing their job properly, but those filings also are not tracked.

To address those issues, the Information Technology Department for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts created a Guardian Tracking System to track compliance in mandatory guardian reporting and to provide statewide statistics.

Paul Stengle, CEO of The Arc Alliance, which provides services including guardianship, said the system will cause more work for his staff, but they fully support it.

"They worked hard on this, and from what I've seen, it looks very good," he said.

State Rep. Mark Gillen is taking the lead on another key concern regarding the lack of statutory standards for guardians. The Robeson Township Republican introduced legislation in March to require background checks for individuals seeking to be guardians.

The bill came shortly after a three-day Reading Eagle series that analyzed the guardianship system and found courts in Philadelphia and Montgomery counties appointed a professional guardian who had a 2005 felony theft conviction to manage the estates of more than 75 incapacitated adults.

Gillen's bill would disqualify convicted felons from guardianships and require federal and state criminal background checks. It's garnered bipartisan support and is one of the first steps to establish a set of standards for guardians as suggested by the Elder Law Task Force and other groups.

However, advocates such as senior attorney Sam Brooks from Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, believe the bill needs to be amended so it doesn't blindly bar willing family members. Brooks believes family guardians are almost always a better fit than professional guardians, claiming professionals' large caseloads keep them from giving adequate attention and care to their wards.

Ongoing concerns

However, Brooks' biggest concern stems from the incapacitation hearings at the start of the guardianship process. According to the current state statute, a potential ward does not have to be present for the hearing if a physician testifies it would be harmful for him or her. There's also no requirement that potential wards be represented by counsel.

Brooks said there is legislation in the works to require counsel in all cases, but he said that doesn't fully address the problem. In his experience in Philadelphia courts, Brooks said he too often sees court-appointed counsel present evidence against his or her client and give his or her own opinion on the case. He said that determination needs to be made by the judge.

"There should be a mandate that court-appointed counsel zealously represent the wishes of the alleged incapacitated," Brooks said.

Stengle said Arc, which becomes involved after the hearings, also prefers individuals to have representation, noting that Berks is better at that than other counties.

"We would like to see more representation for those people to make sure they're represented and their rights are protected," he said.

Stengle said Arc also has been lobbying for legislation for more limited guardianships, instead of the usual plenary appointments. While the state statute says limited guardianship should be considered, Stengle said too often individuals are found completely incompetent and stripped of their full rights.

"We would love to see the court utilize more judgment in giving limited guardianship," he said, adding that would allow wards to choose where they live and spend their time but not manage financial accounts.

Stengle also took issue with the way the current setup rewards guardians who place individuals in a nursing home with a monthly $100 reimbursement from Social Security. He said it costs much more to keep individuals in the community because most wards don't have funds.

"It seems like they should reinforce you to keep them in the community instead of a nursing home," he said.

Full Article & Source:
Pennsylvania's guardianship system has room for improvement, some in the field say

Colorado Judicial Branch – Weld County – Five Corrupt Weld County Judges Seek Retention In Nov. 2018 Elections. Will Their Careers End?

Colorado Judicial Branch – Weld County: What effect will Colorado Judicial Ethics Advisory Board C.J.E.A.B. ADVISORY OPINION 2008-05 have on Corrupt Weld County Judges James Hartmann, Todd Taylor, Michele Meyer, John Briggs, and Charles Unfug’s  bid for retention in 2018?

As we are roughly 7 months away from elections, this question is posed to evaluate how the above-named Judges will respond to the negative publicity of, and All are up for retention in 2018.

Judges James Hartmann, Todd Taylor, Michele Meyer, John Briggs, and Charles Unfug are proven to have concealed, aided, abetted, and compounded multiple felonies by Longmont, CO homeowner Craig Buckley’s former employers, Dream Stone, Inc.

The record of the Court, according to Judge James Hartmann’s sworn testimony, indicates that the above-named criminally complicit Weld County Judges knew, on or before April 4, 2012, and concealed the fact that Buckley’s former employers had sworn simultaneously before both the Weld County District Court, and the Colorado Division of Labor, that NEITHER had jurisdiction over Buckley’s claim for accrued wages due on termination of employment, because the matter was before the other, constituting Class 4 Felony Attempt to Influence a Public Servant, and Fraud Upon the Court.

On April 7, 2012, Dream Stone, Inc. Vice President Ronald Murphy would confess the Class 4 felony of Attempt to Influence a Public Servant in sworn testimony before Weld County Court Judge John Briggs. The above named Judges would spend the next 6 years attacking and retaliating against Buckley for bringing that evidence to light, and implicating the corrupt Weld County Judiciary in the aiding and abetting of crime.

While the preceding is a vast oversimplification of what is actually 8 years of Conspiracy Against Rights by Judge James Hartmann and his cohorts, the fact remains that it is Buckley’s steadfast intention to expose the criminal acts of all individuals and agencies involved, and to do, “everything lawfully possible” to ensure that the offending parties are removed from their positions of power.

C.J.E.A.B. ADVISORY OPINION 2008-05 provides guidelines in which a Judge, effected by negative publicity, may to a limited degree “campaign” for his/her retention. The official Opinion is found HERE.

Canon 7B(2) provides that a judge who is a candidate for retention should abstain from any campaign activity in connection with the judge’s own candidacy unless there is active opposition to his or her retention in office. If there is active opposition to the retention of a judge, the judge may engage in certain enumerated activities, including speaking at public meetings; using advertising media, provided that the advertising is within the bounds of proper judicial decorum; and requesting that supporters organize a nonpartisan citizens’ committee advocating the judge’s retention.

So what does this mean for the offending Weld County Judges? “Basically, they’re screwed,” commented Craig Buckley. “Hartmann has already committed First Degree Perjury in sworn testimony to attack me, and conceal his involvement in crime. Anything these corrupt Judges would publicly assert to preserve their reputations and secure their retention, in light of the evidence, would be a lie: easily torn to shreds.”

In July 2013, the Weld County District Court, under the authority of Judge James Hartmann, illegally raided Buckley’s North Longmont home and incarcerated him on a civil contempt warrant, because he refused to give the deed to his house to his former employers.

Ten days later, authorities again illegally raided Buckley’s home, charging him with Felony Retaliation Against a Judge, for an alleged “credible threat” statement Buckley was purported to have made against Judge James Hartmann during the first illegal raid.

The record of the Court would prove that Hartmann falsified evidence and perjured sworn testimony to effect Buckley’s conviction on the felony charge. “If a ‘credible threat’ had actually been made against Judge Hartmann, why would he have to lie and falsify evidence? This is about harassment, terrorism, and ‘shutting me up’, that’s all,” concluded Buckley. “Corrupt Judge James Hartmann and his criminally complicit subordinates are ethically unfit for office, and MUST be voted out.”

Full Article & Source:
Colorado Judicial Branch – Weld County – Five Corrupt Weld County Judges Seek Retention In Nov. 2018 Elections. Will Their Careers End?

With a week to go at the Legislature, what issues are alive, on life support and not dead yet?

Ideas never really die at the Minnesota Legislature.

There’s almost always a glimmer of hope that a proposal will make it through, until the House and Senate are forced by state law to adjourn on “the first Monday after the third Saturday in May.”
This year, that’s May 21.

After that, lawmakers who couldn’t get attention for certain issues turn into a sort of disappointed Minnesota sports fan — There’s always next year…

There’s no way to tell what proposals might make it in at the last minute as lawmakers are engaged in heated end-of-session negotiations.

Especially with a Republican-led House, a slim GOP majority in the Senate and a Democratic governor.


Elder abuse: The revelation last year that most complaints of elder abuse were never properly investigated shocked lawmakers and they returned to the Capitol calling for widespread reforms. Some of those changes have cleared committees and floor votes, but there is concern among advocates for seniors and vulnerable adults that the changes won’t go far enough.
Status: Alive.

Full Article & Source: 
With a week to go at the Legislature, what issues are alive, on life support and not dead yet?

Friday, May 18, 2018

Son of Former Yahoo CEO Seeks Conservatorship for Dad

The son of former Yahoo! and Warner Bros. executive Terry Semel filed court papers Thursday asking that a judge appoint a conservator to manage his father’s finances, saying the 75-year-old ex-CEO has Alzheimer’s disease and is mentally incapable of doing so.

Eric Semel, 39, states in his Los Angeles Superior Court papers that attorney Andrew Wallet, a co-conservator of singer Britney Spears, should be named to manage his father’s financial affairs and to make sure he has the proper living arrangements.

Semel’s stepmother currently has sole control over her husband’s finances and there is dissension between her and some of his four children, according to the petition.

“An independent neutral conservator of the estate is needed to make certain that Mr. Semel’s living expenses are provided for properly,” the petition states.

Jane Semel relocated her husband from their Bel-Air estate to a one-bedroom apartment in the Motion Picture & Television Fund-operated retirement community in Woodland Hills, according to the petition, which says that he “has become increasingly isolated” as a result.

A hearing on the petition is scheduled for July 19.

Semel was the chairman and CEO of Yahoo! from 2001 to 2007. Before that, he spent 24 years at Warner Bros., where he served as chairman and co-CEO, resigning amid shareholders’ dissatisfaction over his compensation package.

In 2004, the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute was renamed the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. At the time, the university said the couple’s $25 million gift was one of the nation’s largest to be dedicated exclusively to the better understanding of the brain.

Full Article & Source:
Son of Former Yahoo CEO Seeks Conservatorship for Dad

Embattled Judge Russo's lawyers fire back after he was kicked out of courthouse

TOMS RIVER - Lawyers for Superior Court Judge John F. Russo Jr. say the embattled Ocean County jurist “personally observed the highest standards of conduct," despite a complaint accusing him of violating the state code of judicial conduct.

But attorneys David F. Corrigan and Amelia Carolla said the judge is “in a difficult position" to defend against the accusations because he has been removed from duty and barred from the Ocean County Courthouse.

As a result, “he has no access to files, transcripts, notes, other documents and staff that might refresh his recollection in order to better respond to the allegations," the attorneys said in their written response to a complaint filed against Russo March 26 by the Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct.

Russo, among other things, is charged with asking the victim of an alleged rape if she tried to prevent the attack by keeping her legs closed.

Russo is a former mayor of Toms River and the son of the late state Sen. John Russo Sr. He was appointed to a seven-year term on the Superior Court bench in 2015, after serving almost six years as an administrative law judge.

Russo was removed from his judicial duties April 12, 2017, by Ocean County’s assignment judge amid allegations that he threw a file at his law clerk and had a “poop emoji" hanging in his chambers. Those allegations are separate from those contained in the advisory committee’s complaint.  

Corrigan and Carolla, in a May 14 written response to the advisory committee’s complaint, said of Russo, “He was consistently dignified, courteous and impartial to those he dealt with in a judicial capacity."

The attorneys said Russo "did not attempt to use his position to gain personal advantage or deferential treatment of any kind."

The advisory committee’s complaint contained four allegations: that Russo was discourteous to and mistreated an alleged rape victim who was seeking a restraining order by asking her, among other questions, if she kept her legs closed; that he attempted to use his judicial office to influence scheduling of a personal legal matter he had pending in Burlington County; that he failed to recuse himself in a spousal support matter involving a couple with whom he acknowledged having a personal relationship; and that he had improper communications with one of two parties to a paternity matter he presided over.

Corrigan and Carolla denied each of the allegations in their written response.

The complaint contained a portion of the transcript of a colloquy between Russo and the alleged rape victim in which he asked her what she did to try to stave off the attack:

“Block your body parts? … Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?"

Russo’s attorneys responded, “The selected excerpts do not effectively capture the essence of this matter which occurred over three days."

Regarding the allegation that Russo attempted to use his judicial office to influence scheduling of a personal legal matter in Burlington County, his attorneys denied that and also noted the date of his court matter there was incorrectly stated in the complaint.

Defending against the allegation that Russo failed to recuse himself in a spousal support matter involving a couple he knew personally, the judge’s attorneys repeatedly stated he was without sufficient information to respond because he doesn’t have access to documents.

The complaint said Russo reduced another judge's order for payment of spousal support arrears from $10,000 to $300, while acknowledging a personal relationship with the couple and familiarity with the husband's business.

“Respondent was a newly appointed judge to the Superior Court with little or no training or supervision prior to September 2016," Corrigan and Carolla wrote in their response to the complaint.

The attorneys said Ocean County Assignment Judge Marlene Lynch Ford, long before the advisory committee’s complaint was lodged, already had discussions with Russo about errors he may have made and “indicated no further action was needed and made no referral to the committee."

However, in a certification in response to a federal lawsuit Russo filed against Ford and other judges last year after Ford barred him from the bench, the assignment judge revealed the existence of an investigation into Russo’s conduct and gave detailed reasons for removing him.

Ford, in the court certification, said there were incidents in which Russo “made threatening or bizarre statements; exhibited explosive fits of rage; lacked appropriate courtroom demeanor or reasonable legal competence in the field of law assigned to him; and otherwise exhibited extreme emotional immaturity."

Ford, in the certification, noted a “poop emoji" in Russo’s chambers which she said was “juvenile and not befitting the dignity of a judicial chambers where lawyers and others regularly conferenced with the judge."

Ford, in the certification, also referred to the colloquy in which Russo asked the alleged rape victim if she kept her legs closed. She said there was an allegation that Russo threw a file at his law clerk — the final act that prompted her to take away his judicial duties unless he submitted to a mental health evaluation.

Russo refused and instead filed a federal lawsuit alleging Ford and other bosses discriminated against him because he has a disabled son.

Russo’s attorneys, in response to the judicial misconduct complaint, said Russo “has a good reputation and character." They said while he was on the bench, he “handled cases efficiently," and eliminated a backlog of cases in the Family Division “for the first time in many years." Russo worked hard and was “caring and passionate about litigants," his attorneys said in their written response to the complaint.

“Respondent is unaware of any complaints against his strong work ethic, and to his knowledge, no party that appeared before him was ever successful in an appeal," the attorneys said.

Russo remains on paid administrative leave from his $165,000-a-year position. A hearing on the judicial misconduct charges has not yet been scheduled.

Following a hearing, the judicial conduct committee will advise the state Supreme Court of its recommendation as to what, if any, public disciplinary action should be taken against Russo. Only the Supreme Court can publicly discipline a judge. Discipline can range from public reprimand or censure to suspension or dismissal. 

Full Article & Source:
Embattled Judge Russo's lawyers fire back after he was kicked out of courthouse

82-Year-Old Woman With Dementia Gets Her Memory Back After Changing Her Diet

Recently, an 82-year-old woman who suffered from dementia, who couldn’t recognize her own son has miraculously got her memory back after changing her diet.

When his mother’s condition became so severe that for her own safety she had to be kept in the hospital, Mark Hatzer almost came to terms with losing another parent.

Sylvia had lost her memory and parts of her mind, she had even phoned the police once accusing the nurse who were caring for her of kidnap.

A change in diet, which was comprised of high amounts of blueberries and walnuts, has proven to have had a strong impact on Sylvia’s condition that her recipes are now being shared by the Alzheimer’s Society.

Sylvia also began incorporating other health foods, including broccoli, kale, spinach, sunflower seeds, green tea, oats, sweet potatoes and even dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacoa. All of these foods are known to be beneficial for brain health.

Mark and Sylvia devised to diet together after deciding that the medication on it’s own was not enough, they looked into the research showing that rates of dementia are much lower in mediterranean countries and copied a lot of their eating habits.

According to

Mark, whose brother Brent also died in 1977, said: “When my mum was in hospital she thought it was a hotel – but the worst one she had ever been in.

“She didn’t recognise me and phoned the police as she thought she’d been kidnapped.

“Since my dad and brother died we have always been a very close little family unit, just me and my mum, so for her to not know who I was was devastating.

“We were a double act that went everywhere together. I despaired and never felt so alone as I had no other family to turn to.

“Overnight we went from a happy family to one in crisis.

“When she left hospital, instead of prescribed medication we thought we’d perhaps try alternative treatment.

“In certain countries Alzheimer’s is virtually unheard of because of their diet.

“Everyone knows about fish but there is also blueberries, strawberries, Brazil nuts and walnuts – these are apparently shaped like a brain to give us a sign that they are good for the brain.”

There were also some cognitive exercises that Mark and his mother would do together like jigsaw puzzles crosswords and meeting people in social situations, Sylvia would also exercise by using a pedaling device outfitted for her chair.

Mark said, “It wasn’t an overnight miracle, but after a couple of months she began remembering things like birthdays and was becoming her old self again, more alert, more engaged..

“People think that once you get a diagnosis your life is at an end. You will have good and bad days, but it doesn’t have to be the end. For an 82-year-old she does very well, she looks 10 years younger and if you met her you would not know she had gone through all of this.

“She had to have help with all sorts of things, now she is turning it round. We are living to the older age in this country, but we are not necessarily living healthier.”

The Body’s Ability To Heal Is Greater Than Anyone Has Permitted You To Believe

This story just goes to show how resilient our bodies really are if given the right environment. Most of these types of diseases are often related to diet in the first place so that means that they can indeed be reversed with a proper diet. Sure, some of them are genetic and you might be a carrier of the gene, but that is not a guarantee that it will become active, there are things you can do to minimize the risk. Our health is our greatest wealth. We have to realize that we do have a say in our lives and what our fate is.

We have covered the topic before of how aluminum build up in the brain is directly related to dementia and more specifically Alzheimer’s disease, being able to identify this as a cause is important because recognizing this means we can do our part to limit the exposure and to also detoxify our brains and bodies from this damaging heavy metal.

In an article titled, Strong evidence linking Aluminum to Alzheimer’srecently published in The Hippocratic Post website, Exley explained that:

“We already know that the aluminium content of brain tissue in late-onset or sporadic Alzheimer’s disease is significantly higher than is found in age-matched controls. So, individuals who develop Alzheimer’s disease in their late sixties and older also accumulate more aluminium in their brain tissue than individuals of the same age without the disease.

Even higher levels of aluminium have been found in the brains of individuals, diagnosed with an early-onset form of sporadic (usually late onset) Alzheimer’s disease, who have experienced an unusually high exposure to aluminium through the environment (e.g. Camelford) or through their workplace. This means that Alzheimer’s disease has a much earlier age of onset, for example, fifties or early sixties, in individuals who have been exposed to unusually high levels of aluminium in their everyday lives.”

His most recent study, published by the Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology in December 2016, titled: Aluminium in brain tissue in familial Alzheimer’s disease, is one of the many studies that he and his team have conducted on the subject of aluminum over the years. However, this study in particular is believed to be of significant value, because it is the first time that scientists have measured the level of aluminum in the brain tissue of individuals diagnosed with familial Alzheimer’s disease. (Alzheimer’s disease or AD is considered to be familial if two or more people in a family suffer from the disease.)

According to their paper, the concentrations of aluminum found in brain tissue donated by individuals who died with a diagnosis of familial AD, was the highest level ever measured in human brain tissue.
Professor Exley wrote:

“We now show that some of the highest levels of aluminium ever measured in human brain tissue are found in individuals who have died with a diagnosis of familial Alzheimer’s disease.

The levels of aluminium in brain tissue from individuals with familial Alzheimer’s disease are similar to those recorded in individuals who died of an aluminium-induced encephalopathy while undergoing renal dialysis.”

He explained that:

“Familial Alzheimer’s disease is an early-onset form of the disease with first symptoms occurring as early as 30 or 40 years of age. It is extremely rare, perhaps 2-3% of all cases of Alzheimer’s disease. Its bases are genetic mutations associated with a protein called amyloid-beta, a protein which has been heavily linked with the cause of all forms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Individuals with familial Alzheimer’s disease produce more amyloid beta and the onset of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are much earlier in life.”

The First Step Towards Change Is By Raising Awareness

As more and more awareness grows involving the true causes of these neurodegenerative brain disorders, the more we can do our part to prevent and even treat them and hopefully, eventually eliminate things such as aluminum and other chemicals in our foods to prevent this disease from happening altogether.

Please share this article with anyone you know who knows someone who is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Full Article & Source:
82-Year-Old Woman With Dementia Gets Her Memory Back After Changing Her Diet

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Houston federal judge allows state judge to be sued

HOUSTON - Southern District Chief Justice Lee H. Rosenthal recently issued a landmark ruling allowing a wrongful death lawsuit against a Houston probate judge to proceed in an adult guardianship claim.

Sherry Johnston sued Harris County Probate Judge Christine Butts in 2016, alleging that her elderly mother Willie Jo Mills suffered broken bones and a rapid, preventable decline, which contributed to malnutrition and death when Mills was a ward of the State of Texas under guardianship.

 A ward is typically a senior citizen experiencing cognitive decline or a younger adult with physical or developmental disabilities.

“Construing the allegations in the light most favorable to Johnston, she has alleged a plausible claim against Judge Butts’s bond under § 1201.003,” Judge Rosenthanl states in her May 15, 2018 Decision.

Issued by Texas Bonding Company and Harris County, Judge Butt’s public official bond is valued at $500,000, according to court records.

 Judge Rosenthal’s ruling comes at a time when the adult guardianship system in Texas is under fire, according to a press release.

Bexar County Probate Judge Kelly Cross was admonished this month by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for labeling a proposed ward in another case "Mr. Maggot" and "Maggot Man” while the Spectrum Institute’s Legal Director Tom Coleman has requested records from Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht to determine whether a self evaluation of the state's guardianship system is underway. On April 18, the Texas Judicial Council’s David Slayton announced to Congress in Washington, D.C. that nearly half of adult guardianship cases in the state are out of compliance with reporting requirements.

“Johnston does not allege that Judge Butts failed to conduct the annual examination,” wrote Judge Rosenthal in her May 15, 2018 Memorandum and Opinion. “But she does allege that Judge Butts ignored requests for emergency relief, including a request made two days before Mills died. The context and timing of these requests are enough to state a claim that Judge Butts did not exercise reasonable diligence to determine whether Dexel and Lott were performing their duties as Mills’s guardian. The claim is limited to the amount of Judge Butts’s bond.”

According to court records, successor guardian Ginger Lott settled with Johnston in April 2018.

Judge Rosenthal dismissed claims against Harris County and guardian ad litem Clarinda Comstock however claims against Judge Butts and David Dexel will continue with a status conference on May 29, 2018 at 10:30a.m.

Section 1201.003 of the Texas Estates Code (TEC) specifically states that a judge is liable on a Judge's bond to those damaged if damage or loss results to a guardianship or ward because of the gross neglect of the judge to use reasonable diligence in the performance of the judge's duty under this subchapter.

“It creates a limited waiver of judicial immunity, allowing recovery for losses directly tied to the judge’s duties under the subchapter,” wrote Rosenthal in her decision.

Johnston sued David Dexel for breaches of his fiduciary duty based on allegations that he improperly billed and received attorney’s fees at $300 per hour in many instances instead of billing at a Guardian’s rate of $100 per hour.

According to Judge Rosenthal’s order, claims against Dexel include discontinuing physical therapy for Johnston’s mother, which Johnston alleges made her mother’s muscle problems worse.

“The allegations as to Dexel’s conduct as Mills’ guardian and the allegations as to his conduct in the probate-court proceedings support one claim for breach of fiduciary duty,” Judge Rosenthal’s order states.

Full Article & Source:
Houston federal judge allows state judge to be sued

The Guardian: How Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren Protects Broward's Most Vulnerable

With animated hands punctuating her speech, Broward County Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren  seems more passionate and forceful than the typical black-robed jurist presiding over a courtroom from an elevated bench.

When she speaks, she still sounds like the woman she was decades ago: the former director of the Office of the Public Guardian, who once traveled across the state to advocate for patients at a psychiatric hospital on the brink of closure.

Back then, Lerner-Wren established herself as a staunch protector and formidable champion, staving off abuse and neglect for thousands in Broward County and across Florida.

Now, more than 30 years later and despite her elevation to the bench, she is still the guardian, straddling two worlds and creating a “court of refuge” for mentally ill defendants facing either imprisonment or care.

Since 2000, the court she presides over has diverted more than 20,000 people with mental illness from the county jail, where they faced criminal charges for misdemeanor offenses. Instead of a system that would give jail time, for instance, to schizophrenics charged with disruptive behavior in public, Lerner-Wren is at the center of a post-booking diversionary strategy that decriminalizes mental illness.

The idea is to administer justice to offenders facing unique circumstances and work with community agencies to deliver medical care, instead of criminal convictions.

“It’s the matter of humanizing the law,” she said. “When you do that, the … forces in the courtroom shift.”

‘Was There Nothing I Could Do?’

That shift has benefited tens of thousands, and the judge collects some of the stories as anonymous vignettes in her new book, “A Court of Refuge: Stories from the Bench of America’s First Mental Health Court.”

The book provides an unprecedented look inside the courtroom. In it, Lerner-Wren tells one poignant and heartbreaking tale after another. In one story, a mother having a mental breakdown walks out of her house and into homelessness, leaving behind her husband, young children and property she’d purchased after working 15 years as a restaurant manager.

In another, a woman spirals from wearing tailored suits and high-heel shoes to getting caught in the rain wearing cardboard on her feet and having an explosive confrontation with police. Lerner-Wren saw the encounter as she drove past with her children. She recognized the woman, and pulled over to help.

“I had a sinking feeling,” she wrote in the book. “She had been to the mental health court years before and that hadn’t led to a healthier life. Was there nothing I could do to help her?”

The questions and her actions that day paint a vivid picture of Lerner-Wren and make one thing clear: This is a woman who never chose between being a jurist and an advocate, because in her heart, she is still both.

“She has done a job that no other judge in Broward County could have done,” said Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein. “When you are blazing the path, when there is no blueprint, you have to make hundreds of decisions every day. As far as I can tell, she took something that never was and made it into something that everybody wants. And that’s amazing.”

Before Lerner-Wren helped pioneer the mental health court, Finkelstein described a cruel system for dealing with a vulnerable population.

‘When you ask me if Judge Wren and the court has made a difference, the difference is night and day,” he said. “The court has dramatically changed the lives of thousands and thousands of people. … It was very common to beat [mentally ill persons], throw them in a van, let them sit in the heat and then drive at break-neck speeds around the county. That was what the police used to call shake and bake. … It was cruelty for cruelty’s sake.”

That started to change with a humanitarian keeping watch.

‘Abiding Belief’

Months after Lerner-Wren took the bench in 1997, Broward’s then-Chief Circuit Judge Dale Ross tapped her to create the nation’s first Mental Health Court.

The court was an outgrowth of a scathing grand jury report that described the county’s mental health system as “deplorable.”

Court administrators convened a task force, spearheaded by Judge Mark A. Speiser and Finkelstein, who pushed for a system unlike any other in the country.

“We literally took a court of law and we reversed it,” Lerner-Wren said. “It moved individuals who were arrested on low-level crimes out of an inappropriate system of care—the jail—into a more appropriate system of health care.”

Since then, Broward has become the national model, and Lerner-Wren has earned widespread recognition and credit for helping to replicate the effort across 250 mental health courts across the U.S.

But at the time, Lerner-Wren had just finished a stint as guardian and had worked as counsel tasked with protection and advocacy through the agency that later became Disability Rights Florida. The chief judge thought she was the right fit for the pioneering venture.

“It was as if all these pieces somehow conflated,” Lerner-Wren said. “We thought like painting a jet in mid-air, we would just figure it out. I looked at it at the time as a leap of faith — a court of conscience. If it didn’t work, at least the family members would know that there was a judge who was standing up for them against the injustices of mental illness.”

Some of the country’s foremost mental health experts and therapeutic justice advocates partnered to support the fledgling venture.

“We have an abiding belief in recovery,” she said. “People diagnosed with mental health conditions have the capacity to pursue their dreams and their professional lives. They deserve dignity and are entitled to the full breadth of their legal rights under the law. Every individual  has worth and should have the opportunity to reach their human potential in this life within the community.”

Lerner-Wren said that she has never forgotten her work to benefit psychiatric patients.

“My time spent at the state hospital working on behalf of the residents there, that was a difficult tour of duty,” she said. “This is a healing tour of duty.”

Full Article & Source:
The Guardian: How Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren Protects Broward's Most Vulnerable

Senior Minnesota health regulator is fired, triggering calls for greater scrutiny of senior abuse probes

The Minnesota Department of Health has fired one of its top administrators, triggering fresh concerns about the agency’s handling of allegations of criminal abuse in senior homes.

Nancy A. Omondi was terminated last month as director of the department’s health regulation division, which oversees state investigations of abuse in senior care facilities. Omondi alleges she was fired in retaliation for filing a complaint about “misconduct and bullying” in her division, as well as high staff turnover, her attorney said Tuesday.

After her termination, Omondi approached Sen. Karin Housley, chairwoman of the state Senate Committee on Aging and Long-term Care, who on Tuesday joined two other senators in calling for an investigation into management practices at the division that handles elder complaints.

“[Omondi] desperately tried to get the attention of her superiors ... but it fell on deaf ears,” Housley, a Republican from St. Marys Point near Afton, said at a news conference Tuesday. “What this whistleblower uncovered was a toxic culture of bullying, intimidation, harassment and complete disregard for outside input.”

The call for a fresh investigation comes a month after the Star Tribune published a five-part series chronicling breakdowns in the state’s handling of elder abuse investigations. The series found that ­hundreds of vulnerable residents at senior care centers across Minnesota are beaten, sexually assaulted or robbed each year. Yet the vast majority of these incidents are never resolved, and perpetrators often go unpunished, in part because the Health Department lacks the staff and expertise to investigate the crimes.

A Health Department spokesman said the agency is coordinating with the Minnesota Management and Budget office to investigate Omondi’s complaint.

“The core values of our department include integrity, respect and accountability,” spokesman Michael Schommer said in an e-mail. “We take all complaints raised by or against our employees at any level of the organization very seriously.”

Philip Villaume, an attorney for Omondi, called the timing of her termination “highly suspect.”

Omondi filed a formal complaint on Nov. 13, alleging a “pattern of bullying and harassment and dysfunction” within the health regulation division, he said. She had planned to raise these same concerns with Minnesota’s legislative auditor, who is also evaluating the Health Department’s process for investigating maltreatment complaints. Omondi was fired a day before she was scheduled to meet with a representative with the Legislative Auditor’s office, Villaume said. The firing also occurred a day before Omondi had a scheduled meeting with Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger, where she had also planned to raise her concerns about misconduct, the attorney said.

“It’s clear they were trying to silence her by terminating her,” said Villaume, who said he is preparing a lawsuit against the Health Department. “It’s a classic whistleblower case.”

Agency officials declined to discuss the terms of Omondi’s departure.

Omondi, 43, is a health research scientist who was born in Kenya and graduated from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. She worked at the Health Department from Sept. 19, 2016, to Nov. 29, 2017.

As the population of seniors seeking care has increased, the Health Department has been overwhelmed by a dramatic surge in maltreatment complaints. Last year, the agency received 25,226 allegations of abuse and neglect in senior care facilities, a sevenfold increase since 2010. The agency has failed to keep pace with this increase, and last year investigated only 3 percent of maltreatment complaints on site. Even when the state does investigate, the cases can drag on for months, frustrating families and making criminal prosecutions difficult or impossible, the Star Tribune found.

Agency officials early this year admitted they were falling behind, and persuaded lawmakers to allocate $11.4 million in new funding to investigate health facility complaints.

With the new funding, the agency has embarked on a plan to double its investigative staff over the next four years, including more investigators with a criminal justice background. The agency is also modernizing its computer systems so that it can share more information about abuse investigations electronically; currently, the agency is hampered by a paper-based system that slows investigations.

“We’ve been running fast to catch up, but it’s clear we’re not running fast enough,” Ehlinger said in a recent interview.

However, both Housley and Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee, said Tuesday they would oppose any new funding for the division that investigates maltreatment until the concerns raised by Omondi are addressed.

“There should be no more money until we know what they are going to do about this toxic culture,” Housley said. “No one should be fired for speaking up.”

Since the Star Tribune series was published, Gov. Mark Dayton has appointed a working group to review the Health Department’s oversight of state-licensed senior care homes, and Housley announced that she is preparing bills for the 2018 Legislature that would improve the speed and transparency of Health Department investigations.

Full Article & Source:
Senior Minnesota health regulator is fired, triggering calls for greater scrutiny of senior abuse probes

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A closer look at one case of guardianship in Berks County

Editor's note: Joseph N. Pastore Jr. was featured in a three-day series by reporter Nicole Brambila, "How the courts fail the vulnerable," that scrutinized the court's role in the guardianship system. A review of the original story by the newspaper found that information that would have provided more context to the case was omitted from the story. Today's story provides more information about the guardianship system and more details about Pastore's case.

As he stood before a federal judge to be sentenced for dealing methamphetamine, Joseph N. Pastore Jr. became emotional, telling the court his drug case had taken a toll on him during the 18 months since his arrest in November 2016.

"I felt like it was killing me from the inside," he said. "I had difficulty sleeping and eating. I find it difficult to lift my head and look someone in the eyes. I don't know if I will ever be able to forgive myself."

But just two months before, Pastore stood before a different judge, in a different courtroom with a much different story as he and his fiancee pleaded to become guardians for his elderly aunt.

When their bid was denied and The Arc Alliance was appointed guardian, Pastore and his family claimed they had been wronged by the court. In a Reading Eagle front-page story, the family said it felt it was attacked through an "aggressive interrogation" and painted as bad people when attorneys questioned them about Pastore's "drug charge."

While those within the system readily acknowledge there are flaws that need to be addressed, they say the process in place for identifying an appropriate guardian is thorough and reliable.

The challenge, they said, is deciphering the true motives of those trying to become guardians.

It's one of several concerns being examined by task forces, courts and state legislators in anticipation of more cases with an expanding aging population and more individuals with disabilities living longer lives.

Pastore is now serving an eight-year sentence in federal prison for that drug charge, a conviction on multiple counts of dealing almost-pure meth and using a gun for drug-trafficking. He admitted to investigators that he sold drugs for more than a decade in Berks.

Pastore pleaded guilty to all the charges in the case in June 2016 and was awaiting sentencing when the guardianship case began for his aunt Theresa Santoro, who is 91.

The pending sentencing was one of several red flags authorities uncovered during the process, which included an investigation by the Berks County district attorney's office into a sudden transfer of $180,000 from Santoro's account.

Based on everything they know about Pastore, his family and the case, District Attorney John T. Adams and other family members of Santoro adamantly believe the court made the correct decision.

"The system absolutely worked," Adams said. "This was a prime example of why we need independent guardians."

Detecting imminent risks

Santoro's case started like most others, but it quickly went awry with two emergency hearings, held within days of each other, and the investigation into the bank transfers that occurred the day after a temporary guardian was appointed to monitor her assets.

According to the court docket, the process began when a petition for a guardian for Santoro was filed Jan. 19 by the Berks County Area Agency on Aging.

Dr. Ed Michalik, executive director of Berks County Area Agency on Aging, and his deputy director, Jessica Jones, said they couldn't comment specifically about Santoro's case due to state confidentiality regulations, but spoke openly about the general process.

They said their office is just one of the entities that can petition the court for a guardian for an individual. Nursing homes, hospitals and private attorneys also can start the process.

Petitions from the Berks aging office all begin when the agency receives a "report of need" concerning elder abuse or neglect, either by the individual or another. The agency then conducts a comprehensive investigation, including months of record-taking, visits with the individual in question and an evaluation by a psychologist.

But if an "imminent risk" is identified, emergency hearings are held to fast-track the process so the individual and his or her assets are protected from harm.

Jones said such risks typically involve finances or medical needs.

"Situations such as when there's a risk of large amounts of money going away or if family has unfettered access," she said. "We become concerned if that money's gone with no potential of the consumer ever seeing it again."

Adams said that concern is what led his office to investigate Pastore and his family in the midst of their bid to become the guardian for Santoro.

"While we are not typically involved in cases involving the appointment of a guardian, we were well aware of Joe Pastore," he said.

The investigation

The district attorney's office launched an investigation after the Western Berks Regional Police Department received a complaint from Phoebe Berks, the nursing home where Santoro was living, about possible elder abuse by financial exploitation.

According to the investigation and court docket:

When the Jan. 19 petition was filed for the appointment of a guardian, a hearing was set for March 6.

Pastore, meanwhile, received a certified letter Jan. 23 from Phoebe Berks, restricting him from the facility "due to disruptive and inappropriate behavior" and "verbal abuse" to staff.

Five days later, Pastore's father, Joseph Pastore Sr., and family friend Don Lebo went to Phoebe, and removed Santoro from the facility. Authorities said she was found at Pastore Jr.'s home, where Pastore Sr., 94, also lived, in Sinking Spring.

An emergency hearing was held the next day, Jan. 29, before Judge J. Benjamin Nevius for the appointment of an emergency guardian. Nevius entered an emergency order Jan. 30 that found Santoro to be an incapacitated person and named The Arc Alliance as her temporary guardian.

The Arc Alliance is a nonprofit advocacy organization that provides various services, including professional guardianship, in four counties.

A full hearing to determine permanent guardianship was scheduled for Feb. 8.

However, the next day, Jan. 31, Pastore Sr. and Lebo were back at Phoebe and again removed Santoro from the facility.

Detectives discovered Pastore Sr., Lebo, and an unidentified driver took Santoro to at least two banks and withdrew more than $180,000 from her accounts. The visits and transactions were captured on the banks' surveillance videos.

A second emergency hearing was held Feb. 2 before Nevius. The court ordered Santoro's family to immediately return the missing money and gave Arc emergency guardianship until the next hearing.

While some of the funds were returned Feb. 2, authorities said the full amount wasn't restored until three days later.

Adams said his office determined it could not pursue criminal charges in the matter because the money was returned after the court order.

However, he said the lack of charges didn't diminish the suspicious activity and risk authorities discovered in the case.

Historically, Adams said, almost every time his office investigates matters like this, it discovers evidence that the family was trying to steal money. He said he was unaware of any case in which his office determined a court-appointed guardian was exploiting the elderly.

"Upon reviewing our investigation and the information that we were privy to, I was shocked that anyone would claim that Joe Pastore should be a guardian," Adams said.

In the original story, Pastore said his aunt always provided a much-needed escape for him during his rough childhood and he wanted to now care for her. He said she didn't need a guardian because she had family.

Finding appropriate guardians

With Arc in place as the temporary guardian to protect Santoro's finances after the emergency hearings, the case moved forward to the Feb. 8 hearing to determine her permanent guardian.

Berks Aging's attorney was asking for Arc to remain in place while Pastore and his family tried to have Hillary Button, Pastore's fiancee, appointed guardian. An attorney entered his appearance for Button only the day of the hearing, having previously represented only Pastore in the case.

The hearing itself was closed to the public, but in the prior Eagle story, Pastore and his family said they were upset about being questioned by the attorney from Berks Aging about when he and Button would be married, his criminal history and drug case, how frequently they visited Santoro, and Pastore's past career as a boxing trainer.

Speaking generally, Michalik and Jones of Berks Aging said their investigations look at many factors as they try to determine if the person petitioning to be a guardian is appropriate.

"We're really here to be the safety net for individuals who are at risk," Jones said.

The agency focuses on several things, including financial situations, living arrangements and availability to provide proper care for the incapacitated person, she said. The biggest red flag is if the potential guardian is financially dependent on the older adult.

"There's all kinds of questions in the interviews of these individuals as it evolves," she said. "We really have to vet them out and determine if it will work. We have to figure out if they do have an ulterior motive."

The findings from Berks Aging's investigations are first reviewed with a unit supervisor, then presented to Jones to show why they are asking for a guardian. Such a matter is then taken to Michalik, who ultimately signs off on it before submitting it to the county solicitor's office.

The solicitor then meets with the agency to discuss its recommendation to see if there's a strong enough case.

"And then we have to go convince the court," Michalik said.

But the investigations rarely go that far.

For example, in the most recent fiscal year from July 2016 through June 2017, Berks Aging sought guardians in fewer than 3 percent of the cases it handled.

Jones said the agency received 1,112 reports of alleged abuse of individuals older than 60. From those reports, 869 warranted investigations.

The agency substantiated 242 of the cases, meaning it found evidence of abuse and identified potential risks, but petitioned the court for a guardian in only 33 cases. In the other cases, guardians were not needed because the individuals were either found to be competent or had family and others who could help.

Michalik said family members sought to become guardians in only five of the 33 cases from that year, and in two of them, they were appointed.

As far as the other three, Michalik said in one case a family member withdrew his request to avoid drama with other family members and in another the incapacitated person didn't want her children appointed.

The remaining case was the only contested guardianship Berks Aging had that year after finding the potential guardian was inappropriate.

Michalik said his office has seen an uptick in recent years in the number or reports of need due to increasing elder abuse. In a four-year span from 2013-14 through 2016-17, that number went from 477 to 1,112. However, the number of guardian petitions has remained roughly the same at 2 percent to 4 percent.

"We don't just get involved with things we don't have to get involved with," Michalik said. "If we pick someone bad (as a guardian), that's on us."

'No funds for a nurse'

The Feb. 8 hearing for Santoro's permanent guardian included hours of testimony. While the hearing was closed, its transcript became part of Pastore's sentencing hearing in Allentown on April 3.

Pastore and his attorney, Leonard D. Biddison, repeatedly asked the federal judge to consider a sentence that would allow him to continue to care for his father. They said Pastore Sr. suffers from dementia and has terminal cancer and claimed Pastore was his sole caretaker.

The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alicia M. Freind, argued that Pastore Sr. had many options for care. She quickly noted that Button, the fiancee, testified at the guardianship hearing that she would care for Pastore Sr. and Santoro when Pastore Jr. went to prison.

The defense responded, saying Button works a full-time job and wasn't able to provide the necessary care for Pastore Sr. Biddison said Button would have been able to do it only if they had been granted guardianship for Santoro because she has the financial means to pay for a nurse's aide.

Freind quickly rebutted that Santoro's money was for her care and could not be used for Pastore Sr. She also noted that as a World War II veteran, Pastore Sr. receives veterans benefits for such care and that his son previously testified that he's never touched that money.

Biddison's only response was that there were simply "no funds for a nurse."

In a video interview that accompanied the prior Eagle story, Pastore claimed the individuals from Phoebe, Berks Aging and Arc were wrongly accusing his family of being after his aunt's money.

"Moving my aunt here was going to be a challenge for Hillary and I, but it was the right thing to do," he said in the video. "That was the only motivation that we had."

Judge: 'Honor her wishes'

The case was resolved Feb. 20 when Nevius appointed Arc as the permanent guardian for Santoro and her estate.

The final order is the only public document from the case, other than an entry listing, available from the Berks County Register of Wills office following legislation that went into effect this year.

In the order, Nevius said he found clear and convincing evidence that Santoro suffers from significant cognitive deficits that impair her ability to make sound decisions and properly care for herself and her finances. He said the appointment of a permanent guardian was necessary to ensure Santoro receives proper medical care and her finances are spent for her care and benefit.

The judge instructed Arc to consult with Santoro on all decisions and to "honor her wishes to the greatest extent possible." He also ordered that Arc be paid its usual fee for such care, as long as sufficient funds were available, but not to exceed $600 a month.

Paul Stengle, the CEO for Arc Alliance, also declined to comment on Santoro's case specifically, but he stressed that Arc is not involved in the actual guardianship proceedings. He said it is notified shortly before a hearing date to see if it would be willing to serve as guardian, then attends merely to observe. In most cases, he said, there's only one hearing.

"We would never be invited if there was a family member that looked to be good," Stengle said. "The courts want to give it to families."

When Arc is appointed as a guardian, Stengle said, it tries to be "least restrictive" to allow the individual to do as much on his or her own as possible and work with other family members.

"We believe in inclusion," he said. "When we become guardian, we aid with decision-making and work to keep them in the community."

He described Arc as a family-driven organization concerned about its clients' rights.

"We have come down on the sides of families at times when the courts didn't want to," he said. "We have also told the courts individuals don't need a guardian."

'I want her to stay there'

Mary Bagley said she found out about the guardianship for Santoro, her godmother, only after her hairdresser read about it in the Eagle. She said she and her three siblings didn't even know Pastore Jr., her cousin, was close to Santoro and were alarmed to hear he and his fiancee were trying to become her guardian without alerting the rest of the family.

"I can't believe that anybody would do something like that knowing there's other family members and didn't let anyone else know," Bagley said. "If we're so close and so family-oriented, why don't you call me up?"

Bagley said she frequently calls her aunt. The only thing she heard Santoro say about her cousin's family was a complaint that Pastore Sr. frequently asked her for money. Bagley said she would be uncomfortable with anyone from that part of the family being able to make decisions about her aunt's care and finances.

"Heavens no," she said. "If I had known about all of it, I would have stepped in."

Bagley, a former nurse, said she would like to be the guardian for her aunt's medical needs, but is unable to do so now and is grateful to have Arc play that role. She praised her aunt's guardians and the staff at Phoebe Berks, saying they are always willing to answer any questions she has about her aunt's care.

Based on their many phone calls, Bagley said her aunt seems comfortable and content.

"I want her to stay there," she said. "If she's happy, it's her money. She earned it, she worked hard for it, she can stay. I'm happy with her there."

Full Article & Source:
A closer look at one case of guardianship in Berks County

Bring Minnesota's courts out of hiding

Minnesota courtrooms need a good airing out, and allowing the limited use of cameras and other recording devices inside them would be a significant first step.

In the voting booth, Minnesotans are asked to approve a long list of judges, typically running unopposed, of whom they have very limited or no knowledge.

The judiciary is the third branch of government but one where the news media provides the public with no perceptible ongoing coverage of its inner workings nor sorely needed scrutiny. Imagine if the actions and decisions of our president, governors and legislators were rarely covered by America's press.

Furthermore, it's very common in news reports relaying a specific judge's legal decision that the judge's name will not even be mentioned, referred to only as "a judge."

The fact Minnesota lags far behind other states in allowing cameras in courtrooms and that such a collection of powerful interests is so vehemently opposed to it speaks clearly to the need to bring Minnesota's courts out of hiding.

Long-time personal experience involving loved ones across Minnesota taught me that in a Minnesota Probate Court a vulnerable, elderly person innocent of any wrongdoing may easily receive more punishment and less justice when it comes to limiting their personal freedom than a defendant in Criminal Court charged with a felony and subject to a possible sentence.

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Bring Minnesota's courts out of hiding

Governor Dayton and AARP Minnesota Announce New Work Group on the Health and Safety of Minnesota Seniors

Independent work group will be led and convened by AARP Minnesota, in conjunction with other senior organizations, to provide guidance on how the state can better serve Minnesota seniors
Recommendations of the work group will inform legislative proposals ahead of 2018 Legislative Session
Among requested recommendations are strategies to protect the rights of residents and families, connect them to resources, and improve communication about allegations of abuse
ST. PAUL, MN – Governor Mark Dayton and AARP Minnesota Director Will Philips today announced a new work group to provide guidance on steps the state should take to improve the health and safety of Minnesota seniors who are cared for in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The new, independent work group will be led and convened by the AARP, in conjunction with other organizations serving Minnesota seniors, and will provide its recommendations to state leaders ahead of the 2018 Legislative Session.
“I am deeply concerned by recent reports of maltreatment, neglect, and abuse taking place in those businesses, which families have entrusted for the care of their loved ones,” said Governor Dayton. “I believe the perspectives of seniors and their families should be at the center of the discussions, as we work to ensure that Minnesota laws protect our seniors. I thank AARP for agreeing to convene and lead this work group, and I am committed to proposing legislation next year to improve oversight of senior care and strengthen the rights of residents and their families.”
In a letter to Director Philips, Governor Dayton requests that the AARP-led work group also engage the expertise of other consumer-focused senior organizations in the work group process, including Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, the Alzheimer’s Association of Minnesota, the Elder Justice Center, and Elder Voice Family Advocates. 
“Caring for its most vulnerable citizens is one of the greatest responsibilities of any state. AARP is honored that Governor Dayton asked us to lead this workgroup to better protect vulnerable adults and hold abusers accountable,” said AARP Minnesota Director Will Phillips. “We look forward to working with other consumer advocates and policy makers to identify key policy changes to better protect Minnesota seniors.”
Among the recommendations the work group may provide, Governor Dayton’s letter requests guidance for state leaders focused on the needs of seniors who are cared for in nursing home and assisted living settings, including:
·         Protecting the rights of residents and families and connect them to resources.
o    Review the current state and federal regulatory, licensing, compliance, and enforcement requirements, and recommend changes if these requirements are insufficient to deter potential abuse and protect seniors and families from retaliation from providers. 
o    Clarify and strengthen the statutory definitions of memory care, assisted living, and housing with services so consumers and families can make informed decisions on proper placement for seniors.
o    Recommend changes to current law to ensure that family members are informed about how to report suspected abuse and neglect, including the Minnesota Vulnerable Adults Reporting Center and the Ombudsman for Long Term Care. 
·         Improving communication with family members and law enforcement about allegations of abuse.
o    Recommend changes to current law to remove barriers and improve communication with family members when there is alleged abuse, including the complaints and investigations processes within the Office of Health Facility Complaints and self-reports from providers.
o    Recommend changes to current law ensure proper reporting to law enforcement about potential abuse.
Efforts Already Underway to Protect Seniors and Improve Care
Last session, Governor Dayton worked with the Legislature to secure new funding to increase staffing and resources at Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to more quickly respond to and investigate alleged abuse of vulnerable adults. The legislation also called for MDH to engage stakeholders in these improvements. The new work group will build off of the feedback gathered from MDH’s Request for Information from stakeholders, and the three listening sessions the agency held this fall, which engaged hundreds of seniors, families, and providers across Minnesota about senior care issues. 
The Administration is also taking immediate action to shorten the timeframe to respond to complaints and complete investigations into alleged abuse. MDH and the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) are collaborating to implement a rigorous plan to improve processes and assessments of senior care and safety, based on the successful changes that DHS has made to their own licensing system.

Full Article & Source:
Governor Dayton and AARP Minnesota Announce New Work Group on the Health and Safety of Minnesota Seniors

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Preventing Senior Isolation: Can You Actually Adopt a Senior?

A recent article in The Washington Post focused on the millions of Chinese citizens living alone. There was a particular emphasis on one: Han Zicheng. He literally wanted to be adopted.

Han posted note in a bus shelter. According to the Post, the headline read: "Looking for someone to adopt me." The text that followed said: "Lonely old man in his 80s. Strong-bodied. Can shop, cook and take care of himself. No chronic illness. I retired from a scientific research institute in Tianjin, with a monthly pension of 6,000 RMB [$950] a month."

A woman saw the note and posted it on social media, and Han received extensive media coverage.

Unfortunately, he died March 17 – his death mostly unnoticed, his adoption just a dream.

About 15 million people in the U.S. live alone, including 27 percent of the 65-plus population. Carol Marak, an advocate on behalf of older adults and family caregivers, calls these people "elder orphans." Isolation can lead to poor physical and mental health as well as thoughts of suicide – thoughts Han had as he desperately sought companionship.

Legal Adoption Fraught With Minefields

Obviously, I'm not a legal expert, but from what I've read, in very specific circumstances you can adopt someone older than yourself. You don't have to stretch much to see the potential of elder fraud and abuse. What commonly happens when an older adult cannot take care of him or herself is guardianship.

According to the National Guardianship Association, "Guardianship is a legal process, utilized when a person can no longer make or communicate safe or sound decisions about his/her person and/or property or has become susceptible to fraud or undue influence."

Guardianship gone wrong can be disastrous. Just ask Catherine Falk, Peter Falk's (Columbo) daughter. In 2009, during her legal battle to see her ailing father, she proposed a "Right of Association" bill for the state of California, enabling visitation rights among family members when an ailing, incapacitated loved one who is being wrongly isolated by a guardian or power of attorney. She has joined forces with the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse in an effort to pass legislation in every state across America to prevent this.

An Adoption Mindset

OK, so perhaps legal adoption is out of the question. You can think instead about developing an adoption mindset. Here are some things we can do as a community.
  • We covered home sharing in a previous article. In the context of that article, it was more about the older person having someone move into their house. But it could work the opposite way, too, having someone live with a family.
  • The Adopt an Elder Foundation in California provides financial and advocacy assistance to low-income elders that affords them the opportunity to maintain an appropriate degree of independence and quality of life. Other communities can emulate this.
  • In Charlotte, North Carolina, Love Inc help congregations in forming one or more LINC (Love In the Name of Christ) teams. A team is a group of six to 12 individuals who agree to provide certain types of services such as transportation, grocery shopping, yard work, house cleaning, visitation, meal preparation and telephone contact.
  • If you need inspiration, check out Angela Bronson's buddy program in Los Angeles. Once a month, her third-grade students visit residents in the Jewish Home for the Aging. where they interview and write a short biography on the life of their elderly buddy. This can easily be adapted for home-bound elders.

Elder Orphans and Potential Orphans Can Help Themselves, Too

Consider that 19 percent of women ages 40 to 45 have no children, and you quickly realize that this problem can continue for generations. So, it's best to be prepared sooner than later.
  • Make sure you're legally protected as you age. Do you have a will, an estate plan, a trust, a medical and financial power of attorney, and an advanced directive?
  • Are you in the best possible health? Evaluate your eating habits. Look at your exercise routine. Staying healthy is the key to aging in place, in your home.
  • Surround yourself with people, in essence, forming a "family" to substitute for a spouse and children. Create a lifestyle that does not isolate you.
  • Consider a move to an urban area where you can walk to nearby locations while in turn keeping fit.
  • You might consider a move even if you already live in an urban area. If your home isn't suited for aging in place, you might need to find a place that will serve you better.
  • Aging alone can lead to mental decline unless you consciously work on it.
  • Carol has created the Elder Orphans Facebook group that people can join for mutual support. There are nearly 8,000 members. She has taken that further and formed her own local group that physically meets in her community.

Working together as a community and with our older adults, we can minimize isolation and all of the bad effects it can have on quality of life for older adults.

Full Article & Source:
Preventing Senior Isolation: Can You Actually Adopt a Senior?

Woman arrested, charged with exploitation, neglect of elderly persons

A personal care operator was arrested Wednesday, accused of neglecting elderly persons at a licensed personal care home in Waynesboro, Ga.

Elizabeth Sheppard was charged with exploitation of a disabled adult and neglect of a disabled adult, both felonies, with additional charges expected, according to a Burke County Sheriff’s Office news release.

Members of the Augusta Judicial Circuit C.A.V.E unit (Crimes Against the Vulnerable and Elderly) responded to a call from a Burke County sheriff’s deputy regarding possible neglect at the home in the 100 block of Emma Lane. An investigation revealed Sheppard controlled the majority of the residents’ money, and most never saw any of their money, according to the news release.

In addition to the people in the home, officers found two disabled residents in a dilapidated camper hidden behind a building.

The camper was described as filthy, with raw sewage backing up through the sink from a non-functioning toilet. The roof of the camper leaked and the air conditioning unit was not working.

The two disabled individuals were paying around $2,000 monthly to Sheppard.

Sheppard was booked into the Burke County jail. Seven residents from the home were taken to safe, state-approved personal care homes, and Sheppard’s home is now closed pending a license review.

Chief Deputy Lewis Blanchard thanked Investigator William Loomer of the District Attorney’s Office, District Attorney Natalie Paine, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, Richmond County Marshall’s Office, and the Department of Community Supervision “for their dedication to protecting our elderly and for everything they did to help improve the lives of seven citizens within Burke County.”

Full Article & Source:
Woman arrested, charged with exploitation, neglect of elderly persons