Saturday, August 17, 2019

Tonight on Marti Oakley's TS Radio Network: Recapping the Whistleblower Summit!

:00 pm PST…5:00 pm MST…6:00 pm CST…7:00 pm EST
A special time and day for this show! We have been busy! Tonight we will recap the Summit and then move on to the latest BS piece of legislation that is being shopped around to convince the public that Congress actually intends to address the issue of predatory guardians and the abuse of the elderly.

The Federal Guardianship Accountability Act-S 591 and HR 4174 are the latest examples of the attempts to convince the public that congress intends to do anything other than to continue the cash incentivized programs that target the elderly.

Coz will be updating on the latest in a huge Wisconsin case that we have been working on and also on the progress made on the cases in Alaska.

We will also have a guest the last half of the show who has been victimized in this predatory system, who must remain anonymous for fear of retaliation for speaking out.

LISTEN to the show LIVE or listen to the archive later

“Guardianship” Often Fails Poor Seniors. Is There a Different Way?

By Michelle Chen 

When Patricia Cassidy was at her lowest point, she had just been evicted, was overwhelmed with mounting medical bills, and was suffering from a traumatic brain injury that left her emotionally unable to cope with everyday tasks. Then her despair turned to fear as she found herself before a local judge, who mandated that she would have to cede control over her financial and medical affairs to a guardian — an organization that the court would task with managing many components of her life on her behalf.

“I went to the hearing, and it was very, very scary for me,” she recalled in a recent interview. At the time, her therapist and rheumatologist had petitioned the court to place her in a special public guardianship program for people without other means of support from family or friends. But Cassidy, a 59-year-old domestic abuse survivor facing several chronic ailments, feared losing her independence. “I was afraid of guardians,” she said. “I felt that they were going to come in and take over my life and take over everything I had and get rid of it all.”

Five years later, Cassidy said that what she most feared about guardianship — losing control — hasn’t happened. Instead, she’s stayed independent, living in a Brooklyn apartment her case worker helped secure. She now sees her guardianship, administered by the nonprofit advocacy group Vera Institute of Justice, as “just a part of my life.” But her program is part of a small, unconventional support network for extremely vulnerable seniors that aims to safeguard their lives without taking them over. For hundreds of thousands of other seniors, guardianship is an ethical gray zone, operating at the heart of a question that increasingly haunts an aging nation: When am I no longer able to care for myself?

Aging Gaps

Guardianship is one of the most ethically fraught aspects of the elder care system, hinging on the most sensitive questions about personal liberty, medical responsibility and kinship. And it all starts, for better or worse, with a judge’s decree. A court appoints a guardian when a senior is deemed unable to live independently, usually after a hearing process that reviews an individual’s medical needs or physical, intellectual, mental or psychological disabilities, and determines that guardianship is appropriate. Similar to adoption, the guardian is in most cases a relative or friend who petitions for them. But people with fewer resources might end up in the care of a public or private agency, which is tasked with managing issues like medical treatment, financial planning and end-of-life care.

Overall, about 1.5 million people nationwide are in some form of guardianship, more than three-quarters of them involving a relative. Seniors without friends or relatives who are willing to help manage their affairs may enter the care of a private guardian (who is generally arranged by family or friends and compensated directly), if they have the financial resources to do so. Elderly people who don’t have enough funds to finance their own guardians can enter a separate system known as public or community guardianship, provided by a nonprofit or government agency. But as a whole, court-appointed guardianships lack central regulation or monitoring. Advocates fear that as the Baby Boom generation ages and guardianship becomes more widespread, so will the potential for abuse or neglect.

The Vera Institute’s The Guardianship Project (TGP) is trying to get courts and communities to reimagine guardianship, both through research and advocacy and through running its own guardianship model, which now serves about 180 people across New York, including Cassidy. On a national level, TGP’s research on guardianship programs in several states suggests the system is letting many seniors fall through the cracks: Surveys of judges and other court personnel, along with professional guardians, indicate that many courts are overstretched; there is little monitoring of cases, and judges often lack expertise for handling complex cases of seniors with serious health and economic issues. Meanwhile, court-appointed guardians are in many cases attorneys, who might have no expertise in caregiving, and respondents reported a lack of guardians available with skills like social work and nursing.

“Basically, what the whole story is showing is that there’s a population of elderly, disabled and/or poor people that are largely invisible and largely ignored,” said TGP Director Kimberly George.

Meanwhile, public wariness of guardianship is growing: Media reports and government audits have revealed many cases plagued by dysfunctional bureaucracy and a pattern of elder abuse. In professional private guardianships, which often take in seniors who have some assets to pay for services, scandals have erupted in cases of neglect, exploitation or abuse of elderly people. But the poorest seniors are even more vulnerable, since their fate relies completely on the courts and public welfare systems. Poor, socially isolated seniors with complex care needs often find themselves assigned to a public or community guardian that is financed by public funds, but without adequate resources for care and legal services. According to Peter Strauss, an elder law attorney and professor at New York Law School, when funding is arbitrary and inconsistent, guardians, public or private are frustrated by “underfunding, short staff, and then they get overwhelmed with the number of cases that they can’t handle.”

“There’s a gaping hole in the system for folks who don’t have money, but who need help and don’t have anybody [who] can step in to pay their bills, make health care decisions and the like,” said Bernard Krooks, an elder law attorney who handles guardianship cases in New York. Although public guardianship programs could play a critical role for the most marginalized seniors, Krooks told Truthout, “The reality is, there has not been a funding mechanism in New York State to make this happen.”

Keeping Elders at Home

TGP’s model seeks to serve as a different kind of last resort, aiming to provide intensive services for seniors in economic hardship, with no family or friends available to serve as guardians. Funded by New York’s Office of Court Administration and other public and philanthropic funds, TGP serves clients across a range of settings, including residential care facilities, but aims to keep clients in their communities. Each client with a “wraparound team” that includes lawyers and other support staff, with specialists in managing public benefits, finances and housing. About half of the clients live at or below the federal poverty line, and half are people of color. About 60 percent of clients are living in their communities, while others live in residential institutions like nursing homes.

TGP’s multidisciplinary program intends to knit together different strands of the social infrastructure to help people avoid nursing homes and jails. If a client with mental health problems suffers a breakdown and gets arrested, TGP can provide legal representation to secure their release from jail and help connect them to a long-term treatment program that fits their needs. TGP can also support undocumented seniors by helping them obtain medical care and other services while avoiding immigration authorities and federal law that curtails non-citizens’ access to aid.

Until recently, Cassidy hardly fit the stereotype of an “incapacitated” elder. Earlier in her life, she had worked in public relation and museum curation, but over the years, her health deteriorated due to various chronic ailments and domestic abuse. Then in her mid-fifties, she was living on her own — just not very well. Her brain injury often triggered emotional outbursts; basic tasks like a visit to the bank could spiral into an angry breakdown. “I was very overwhelmed, and then therefore not able to even operate on the simplest level,” she said. Cassidy’s vulnerability was aggravated by estrangement from family members. “It was like I became an orphan at 50,” she said.

Her therapist and rheumatologist encouraged her to enter into the guardianship as a way of getting her life under control. A TGP case worker and other staff have helped her sort out her finances and secure a new apartment with a special housing subsidy based on her medical condition. While Cassidy is capable of making her own treatment decisions, her guardian also acts as an interlocutor. A conversation with a doctor can leave her “mentally fatigued,” she adds, but TGP staff “are there with me, and they’re talking to the doctor … then afterwards if they need to, [they] explain it to me five times — the doctor is not going to explain anything to you five times — [so that] I’m sure that it’s a good decision that’s being made.”

TGP works with individuals in residential institutions, but also helps them move back into their communities whenever possible. As the report explains, many clients become “stuck” in the medical system, “languishing needlessly in a hospital or nursing home,” unable to be discharged “because no one will take on the challenges of transitioning him or her back to their homes or to a less-restrictive setting with proper oversight.” Many guardians, George said, particularly those ill-prepared to deal with complex, high-needs clients, might be tempted to place a senior in a nursing home as an “easier” solution — eliminating the need for the guardian to worry about housing, food or managing the client’s bills.

When TGP steps in, the team prepares for a client’s return home by taking care of tasks like settling rent arrears with the landlord, or planning end-of-life care — services that the client would never be able to arrange while bedridden in a crowded rehab center. If a client’s condition deteriorates to the point that some form of institutionalization, such as placement in a nursing home, appears necessary, TGP would work to place them in the least restrictive setting, according to the study, perhaps seeking out a local facility “with staff who speak a client’s primary language and access to religious services and culturally familiar foods.”

Despite its personalized approach, a recent cost-analysis found that TGP’s budget saved its roughly 160 to 180 clients collectively about $3 million in annual Medicaid costs, primarily by avoiding placements in nursing homes.

The Vera Institute’s study suggests other counties and states can use a similar holistic approach to public guardianship. On the policy level, TGP’s study calls for an expansion of public guardianship nationwide — with additional funding, comprehensive monitoring of guardians and service providers, and enhanced regulatory standards, including a commitment to placing people in the least restrictive setting, and a staff-client ratio of 1 to 20 to ensure adequate resources and oversight. Overall, a more human-centered public guardianship program could enable the most vulnerable seniors to live more independently and stay close to their communities.

Safeguarding Elder Rights

Still TGP, with its limited capacity, is not itself a solution for the guardianship crisis. Some disability rights advocates criticize the concept of guardianship in general, viewing it as incompatible with the principle of independent living. They prefer alternative legal arrangements like “supported decision-making,” in which social service providers provide guidance for people on medical and financial decisions while still leaving them legally in charge of their affairs.

Meanwhile, progressive elder law advocates are also gravitating toward alternatives to guardianship that support independence whenever feasible. Alison Herschel, director of Michigan Elder Justice Initiative, says that while guardianship is necessary for some individuals, “we believe there are far too many guardianships and far too many cases that should have been resolved by utilizing less restrictive alternatives.”

The Vera Institute’s study urges court administrators to implement better training so courts can screen cases so people can opt for less restrictive options like supported decision-making. Instead of appointing a guardian for a senior with severe dementia, for example, a judge could arrange for a sibling to gain power of attorney to aid with medical or legal decisions, and provide a home health aide. Even when guardianship is strictly a last resort, the court process can be a framework for meeting a senior’s needs for both care and personal dignity, and providing support without threatening self-determination.

For Cassidy, the TGP guardianship model is not just about getting the right services, but regaining a firm sense of both her abilities and limits. Her guardian hasn’t taken over her life, as she had once feared; instead, it’s a stabilizing presence.

If she ever needs her case worker, she knows who to call. “I carry their card with me all the time.”

Full Article & Source:
“Guardianship” Often Fails Poor Seniors. Is There a Different Way?

Congress Attacks Elder Guardianship Abuse After Criminal Investigation

HOUSTON - After a court-appointed guardian successfully moved a Schenectady, New York trial Judge to replace him as the trustee of his brother's special needs trust, John Scott appealed and lost.

Now he’s petitioning to either re-argue or appeal.

Trouble ensued when, as trustee of a $2 million fund, Mr. Scott disputed paying a court appointed evaluator's estimated $20,000 fee as well as requests to fund limousine service to take his anxiety-challenged brother James Scott to and from the grocery store and medical appointments, according to a press release.

According to the court appointed guardian Kathleen Toombs, however, it was a mere car service, not a limousine, that was enlisted temporarily to comfortably and reliably transport the brother during winter months.

Although an appellate court overturned an order requiring the payment of court evaluator fees, it upheld the transportation fees and the removal of Mr. Scott as trustee of his brother James' trust.

"John was the person who handled these logistics for no cost until the guardianship was imposed and the relationship frayed," said John Scott’s attorney Paul O’Brien of the Falcon, Jacobson & Gertler law firm.

Mr. Scott in New York isn’t the first to sue over the actions of court-appointed guardians, evaluators and even judges. Plaintiffs in states, including Texas, Florida, Michigan and Ohio, have increasingly cried afoul in recent years and as a result U.S. Representatives Darren Soto, Charlie Crist and Gus Bilirakis of Florida as well as Debbie Dingell of Michigan re-introduced HR 4174 on Aug. 7 to assist states in guardianship oversight.

"There have been cases nationwide that pushed the bill to the forefront of the House agenda," said Oriana Pina, communications director for Congressman Soto.

The House bill is identical to the Guardianship Accountability Act, which is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

HR 4174 comes on the heels of a criminal investigation in Florida of court appointed guardian Rebecca Fierle who resigned last month.

“In Orlando, we saw firsthand the abuse of a former guardian, which led to a preventable death," said Congressman Soto. "We owe it to our seniors and to those living with disabilities to provide protections from ill-intended bad actors who abuse the system that's designed to provide a better quality of life."

For example, in Ohio, a racketeering lawsuit filed in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas alleges that despite the recommendation of a court-appointed officer, a convicted felon was appointed the guardian of 85 year old Fourough Saghafi Bakhtiar. As reported in the Southeast Texas Record last week, a divorce was subsequently imposed against the wishes of Ms. Saghafi Bakhtiar’s 88 year old elderly husband, Dr. Mehdi Saghafi, according to court records.

“Guardianship abuses are resulting in seniors literally being held against their will, isolated from family members and friends, their assets liquidated and drained by unscrupulous people gaming a broken system,” said Congressman Crist.

In April, the Honorable U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal of the Southern District of Texas remanded  Plaintiff Sherry Johnston's federal lawsuit, alleging elder guardian abuse of her elderly mother, to state court.

Full Article & Source:
Congress Attacks Elder Guardianship Abuse After Criminal Investigation

What are the Earliest Symptoms of Dementia?

It can be hard to decipher the difference between the natural memory loss from aging and early signs of dementia. How do you know if the behaviors you are seeing in an aging loved one are normal? Would you know the early signs of cognitive decline?

The National Institute on Aging reports that half of people over the age of 85 may have some form of dementia. This does not mean that dementia is an unavoidable part of aging. There are many people who never display signs of dementia but receiving a diagnosis may be an ongoing concern for them.
Dementia is one of the main reasons that seniors will lose their independence. This affects millions of people, with over 50 million people currently living with it. Being aware of the signs of early dementia may allow you to recognize the symptoms in your loved one. Early diagnosis can assist you in getting help and accessing treatment for your loved one.

Watch for these 12 Early Signs of Dementia

As you interact with an aging loved one, watch for these early signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s. One symptom doesn’t necessarily mean that they are developing dementia. However, several may mean that your loved one needs to be seen by a neurologist. The top twelve early signs and symptoms of dementia include:
  1. Vision problems. For some, one of the earliest signs of dementia is changes in vision. Your loved one may have trouble reading or seeing the differences in color or contrast. He or she may also begin to experience trouble judging distances which may lead to problems driving.

    You may see that your loved one is struggling to resolve spatial relationships of various types. They may have trouble with the distance between the table and the chair or the distance between a glass and the shelf.

  2. Problems speaking or writing. In the early stages of dementia, it can be difficult for your loved one to follow conversations. You may observe your loved one stopping in the middle of a conversation with no idea how to continue.

    They may also struggle to find the right words. We all forget words from time to time and eventually remember them. People with dementia cannot retrieve the word even after trying for a time. Your loved one may also begin to repeat sentences within a conversation or say the same thing repeatedly in a short period of time.

  3. Poor judgment. Dementia can change your loved one’s ability to make good judgments. They might seem like they no longer know what is appropriate in social situations. Your loved one may ask strangers for odd things like a tissue or a quarter.

  4. Trouble with money. Troubles with finances can indicate the earliest stage of dementia. Managing money requires you to be able to think, remember and reason. These functions deteriorate with dementia. Your loved one may:
    • No longer be able to keep track of spending
    • Buy things but not remember why they did
    • Give money to telemarketers or strangers
    • Leave unpaid bills to stack up
    • Leave an inappropriately large tip or not know how to settle the check
  5. Forgetting the seasons. If your loved one is in the early stages of dementia, he or she may not be able to remember what day, date or season it is. People with dementia may think they are in a different year, sometimes one in the past.

    They may begin to lose the ability to understand that something happened “yesterday” or will happen “tomorrow”. Time begins to shrink, and dementia patients only understand what is happening in the here and now.

    This confusion can extend to an understanding of place. For example, your loved one may be sitting in your living room, but he or she may think they are in another place entirely – usually another place that is familiar and carries fond memories.

  6. Withdrawal from work or social activities. Your usually outgoing loved one may suddenly stop participating in activities, social gatherings or hobbies. Dementia may make it difficult to remember how to interact or conduct a hobby. In the early stages of dementia, people may realize the changes that are happening and as a result, may avoid social interactions altogether. Noisy and complicated gatherings can make it more difficult for them to cope.

  7. Forgetting current details. It is normal to occasionally forget what you had for lunch that day. You might start to notice this type of behavior more often in a loved one with dementia. Although they can recall detailed memories from their childhood, they may forget where they parked the car.

  8. Getting lost. Another sign of dementia is trouble with following directions. Your loved one may get lost coming over to your house even though they have visited you many times before.

  9. Inability to focus. Dementia can make it difficult to focus on a task. Your loved one may start a project and not be able to finish it. You might see this around the house in half-finished tasks. The dishwasher sits half empty or may have dirty dishes mixed with clean! The washing machine could have day-old musty laundry. Your loved one may no longer be able to follow the steps for a recipe or may not be able to follow the plot of a movie or novel.

  10. Acting out of character. We all change as we move through life but a clear warning sign of dementia is abrupt changes in your loved one’s personality. Dementia can cause changes in the brain that affect the ability to know what is appropriate.

    Someone who has always been careful with their words may start saying whatever pops into their head. This can include often quite rude or sexually inappropriate comments. When your loved one is behaving out of character, it is often because of changes in the brain.

  11. Living dangerously. Do you worry about leaving your loved one alone? Often in early dementia, you might notice that your loved one is not making safe decisions. You might come in to find that an oven burner has been left on and the pot of water has boiled dry.

  12. Unsafe driving. Troubles with driving can also be seen. Your loved one may get lost while driving in a familiar area. You might also notice that they are running stop signs. Sometimes you will see new dings and scratches on their car.

  13. An Early Signs of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Checklist

    Noticing potential signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s in a loved one can be stressful. It can help to write down what you see so that you can reference it later when talking to a health professional. Writing down what is normal for your loved one can also help you notice what might simply be normal signs of aging. Download our checklist so you can keep track of the changes see.

    How to Prevent Dementia

    Dementia is not a normal part of aging. Currently, there is no sure-fire way to prevent dementia but you can use these ten strategies to reduce your risk of dementia.
    Before you start asking yourself, “how do I provide dementia care for a loved one?” try to understand the signs. If you observe these early signs of dementia in a loved one, talk with his or her primary care physician and ask for a referral to a neurologist for testing. Early diagnosis can lead to treatment and strategies that can make life easier and less frustrating over the long haul.
Full Article & Source:
What are the Earliest Symptoms of Dementia?

Friday, August 16, 2019

Florida Elder Affairs Chief on Guardian Complaints: We Dropped the Ball on This

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In light of the ongoing investigations into a former state guardian's handling of hundreds of senior guardianships, the head of Florida's Department of Elder Affairs says action needs to be taken to fix the guardian program.

Spectrum News Watchdog reporter Curtis McCloud on Tuesday sat down exclusively with Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom, who opened up about this investigation for the first time. 

He also shared concerns about a backlog of complaints against guardians in Florida that were only recently addressed. 

“We dropped the ball on this one. This will not happen again. This is a wakeup call, and we will actually do a better job,” Prudom said.

Prudom: We Need to be More Responsive

For weeks, Spectrum News has been sharing ongoing reports about embattled former guardian Rebecca Fierle. The professional guardian is now facing a series of state and criminal investigations. Those are focused on Fierle’s handling of finances and care of the seniors for whom judges appointed her to care.

Those same judges are now removing her from more than 150 cases, saying she abused her powers and had various conflicts of interests.

Prudom was apologetic, owning up to the mistakes he says his department made in handling complaints against wards across the state within the Office of Public and Professional Guardians

"We have made mistakes in our office. We have not processed these complaints as efficiently and quickly as we need to," Prudom said. "We need to be more responsive to the complainants and their rights. I take personal responsibility for that."

Prudom says there was a backlog of more than 80 complaints, which have since been closed out. 

In the wake of that backlog, Carol Berkowitz, the former director of the Office of Public and Professional Guardians, stepped down from her position in a one-page resignation letter.

“We have caught up with our backlog. We only have the outstanding investigations, and obviously, it takes the appropriate time to do that,” Prudom said.

The secretary says the backlog was discovered after an investigation was launched into Fierle.

Prudom apologized to those who have lost trust in the state's guardians because of the investigations.

“That’s the last thing I want to do is for them to lose trust in a program that is designed to protect the frailest of the frail, those incapacitated individuals who need our help," Prudom said. "And when the issue with guardian Fierle came to light, obviously I released the investigation to the judge who was holding a hearing to remove her from her cases.”

Fierle Case Exposes Oversight Needs

Prudom says the next likely action his office would have taken against Fierle is revoking her license, but she resigned as a state guardian in a letter to the secretary earlier this month. 

Still, many are pointing blame at his office.

“The misconception is that somehow we have oversight over day-to-day operation of professional guardians in their operation of a ward's supervision. We do not,” Prudom said.

Watchdog reporter Curtis McCloud asked Prudom, 

When asked whether there are oversight checks and balances as it relates to state guardians, Prudom said, "There is not, and there should be, and there will be.

"I think you know professional guardians register to be a professional guardian. There are supposed to abide by conditions of employment, standards of practice, and the judge, when they assign a guardian a ward, they expect those professional guardians to abide by those standards of practice. That is not being done. It needs to be done.” 

Because of state law, the most severe action that the Department of Elder Affairs can take against a professional guardian is to revoke their license. The courts and judges, however, can appoint wards to guardians — or, in Fierle’s case, take them away.

When asked whether someone is to blame for the wrong that has been done to wards, Prudom replied, “I don’t think there is any one blame, but I think it is actually a system that is not working the way it should. We talked early on about (how) these professional guardians are operating with no checks and balances. I think that is something that is obviously a system deficiency.”

That's a deficiency Prudom says he is working to help fix. 

Prudom says he is currently working with Gov. Ron DeSantis and his legislative team on a permanent fix to what is a flaw in the system with the state guardianship program. He says despite leadership changes in the Office of Public and Professional Guardians, his office doors are open, and he encourages anyone who has complaints to reach out to them. 

Full Article & Source:
Florida Elder Affairs Chief on Guardian Complaints: We Dropped the Ball on This

Investigations of embattled guardian Rebecca Fierle include Medicaid fraud allegations

Click to Watch Video
The state’s Office of Attorney General is investigating allegations of Medicaid fraud against Rebecca Fierle, the former professional guardian whose use of unauthorized “do not resuscitate” orders on incapacitated clients has embroiled Florida’s guardianship program.

Whitney Ray, a spokesman for Attorney General Ashley Moody, confirmed Thursday the office’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit began investigating Fierle in July.

That month, a judge sought the court-appointed guardian’s removal from nearly 100 Orange County cases after finding Fierle “abused her authority” by filing DNRs on incapacitated clients, known as wards, without permission from the court or their families. Fierle has since resigned from all of her cases statewide.

The MFCU probe, which began in October 2018, initially targeted a health care facility, based on complaints about the financial exploitation of a combat veteran, Ray said. As the investigation progressed, Fierle, who was the veteran’s guardian, became a target of the probe.

“As of early July, Fierle is now a major focus of this ongoing MFCU investigation into Medicaid fraud and financial exploitation,” Ray said.

MFCU investigates “patient abuse, neglect, and exploitation in facilities receiving payments under the Medicaid program,” according to the attorney general’s website.

The MFCU investigation is separate from a criminal probe of Fierle’s actions as a guardian that is being conducted by the Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Ray said.

That probe began after an investigation by the Okaloosa County Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller found one of Fierle’s wards, 75-year-old Steven Stryker, died at a Tampa hospital in May following Fierle’s refusal to remove a DNR order she filed against his wishes.

The FDLE and OCSO found the cremated remains of nine people last week when they searched the Orlando office for Fierle’s business, Geriatric Management, at 1646 Hillcrest St. Involved in the investigation are Michael Moreschi, a former Orlando police homicide detective, and Assistant Statewide Prosecutor Cass Michael Castillo, a former homicide prosecutor in the Bartow-based 10th Judicial Circuit.

Fierle is not currently facing criminal charges. The former guardian and her attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Confirmation of the MFCU probe is not the first example of Fierle’s financial management of her wards coming under scrutiny. A review of 30 Orange County cases involving the guardian by the county’s comptroller identified potential conflicts of interest in her handling of wards’ assets.

Comptroller Phil Diamond’s office said Fierle may have entered into a contract with AdventHealth, whose patients later became her wards, an agreement that was not disclosed to the court. It also found she had hired people with whom she had a prior relationship to perform services for wards.

James “Jack” Meagher, a former ward of Fierle in Seminole County, told the Orlando Sentinel that an FDLE agent recently contacted him to talk about how Fierle handled his finances.

Full Article & Source:
Investigations of embattled guardian Rebecca Fierle include Medicaid fraud allegations

Son pushes for cameras after mother's nursing home abuse

CLEVELAND — The images still anger Steven Piskor.

Even eight years later.

She was his mother, after all.

"It was devastating,” he said. “Even to this day, my family can't look at the video."

Seeing his frail mother’s body flung into bed. Her face poked with a disrespecting finger.

Assaulted by health professionals Piskor trusted. “Every time I look at them, I get more mad,” he said.

“Them” represent the video images Piskor captured in 2011, when he placed a hidden camera in his mother’s room inside a nursing home run by MetroHealth Medical Center.

He placed them there on a hunch. The unexplained bruises. Her quiet moods.

“I began seeing changes in my mom,” he recalled. “By then, I knew something was happening…When I put the camera on, I found abuse in the first two days. But I didn’t know how it was going to be handled.”

The video sent shockwaves through the community. Two aides were indicted and later jailed. Three were fired, and three others were disciplined.

But then, nothing.

His mother, Esther “Mitzi” Piskor, died last year at the age of 85. Her son is intent on ensuring her legacy lives on, and that the trauma she endured is not forgotten, or allowed to be repeated.

"Yes, I definitely think it's time to pass the law."

He’s talking about “Esther’s Law,” a proposal in the process of being crafted into a bill by state Sen. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood. While no formal bill has yet been crafted, Antontio says the heart of the proposal would allow families to place a camera in a loved one’s nursing home room.

"Anybody's that's walked the path with their own parents as they age understand the need for special protection as people get older," Antonio said. “Not only is it important today, it's going to be important tomorrow.”

Ten states now have laws dealing with cameras. Antonio believes Ohio should be modeled after the law recently enacted in Illinois.

It would require that cameras not be hidden. A sign would be posted outside the room alerting everyone that a camera is in use. A consent form would allow for the cameras to be turned off for various reasons, such as bathing or visits from doctors or clergy.

There are also provisions on roommates and their privacy.

“We want them to age with dignity, want them to be taken care of safely and appropriately and I think this will help,” Antonio said.

A similar effort in 2013 never gained enough support and the legislation fizzled.

The Ohio Health Care Association, an association of nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the state, raised some concerns on how the placement of cameras would blend with existing privacy laws. A spokesman told Channel 3 News that those same concerns should be addressed in any new proposal.

To Steve Piskor, he’s aware of privacy concerns and he believes that the success of similar laws in other states is proof tjhat “Esther’s Law” is viable. And necessary, especially as Ohio’s population continues to grow older.

He said he wants “Esther’s Law” to be a symbol for change.

"Because every time that camera goes into a nursing home, that nursing home is going to know that it was...because they abused my mother.”

Full Article & Source:
Son pushes for cameras after mother's nursing home abuse

Thursday, August 15, 2019

When Dad died, Mum's dementia triggered a financial nightmare: Our writer's moving account reveals why you mustn't wait for old age to set up power of attorney

By Samantha Partington

My dad, Phil, was a proud and private man, but he openly adored my mum, Maureen. They were childhood sweethearts and had not spent more than a week apart since getting engaged aged 19.

So when Mum was diagnosed with dementia in February 2016 and we were told she needed round-the-clock care in a home, he struggled to cope. Just seven months later he had a heart attack, aged 66, and died. In the space of a year it felt as though my entire life had fallen apart.

But instead of being able to focus on grieving and looking after mum, my brother Michael, 42, and I found ourselves facing a financial nightmare.

My dad had not made a will, which meant everything he had, passed automatically to my mum. She was now the sole owner of our family home, all the bank and savings accounts and in charge of their equity release mortgage.

This would have been fine but my mum, who was then 69, was in such poor health herself that she was struggling to even communicate with us. And as she hadn't registered a power of attorney, my brother and I were unable to act on her behalf.

My dad's bank allowed us to draw a cheque to pay for the funeral expenses. But beyond that, his accounts now legally belonged to my mum and were off limits — and it wasn't long before the bills began arriving.

Fortunately, there was enough money in my parents' joint account to cover essential bills such as the council tax and utilities, which were paid by direct debit.

My brother and I then did our best to cover any extra costs, such as repairing the boiler, but it quickly became too much.

My dad's pension company, Legal & General, demanded to be reimbursed after paying his pension in the month he died. And the equity release mortgage provider was asking for its money back now the house was empty.

With hindsight, it is easy to think we were utterly foolish not to organise power of attorney years earlier. It seems so obvious that mum's dementia had been progressing.

But we had always explained away her confusion as a side-effect of the radiotherapy treatment she had for a brain tumour in her 40s. It was not until she went into hospital with a minor infection in February 2016, that the word 'dementia' was ever said to us.

I had brought up the subject of setting up a power of attorney with dad on a couple of occasions. But each time he dismissed my well-meaning nagging with his familiar, 'Oh Sam, we're OK' response.

Sam with her mum in 2016
Less than a year before he died I tried again. 'What's going to happen if you die?,' I said. 'Mum will be in charge of everything'. But he just gently reassured me: 'Don't worry Sam. I'm not going anywhere'.

In truth, I think he just didn't want to admit that there was anything wrong with his sweetheart. So they struggled on, and found their own way of getting around difficulties.

Dad had emphysema, a lung condition, and couldn't walk far. So Mum would go to the bank for them both, with their Pins written down so she wouldn't forget them.

We eventually discovered they were keeping worryingly large sums of money in the house to avoid too many trips to the bank. But by the time Michael and I finally realised how bad things had become, there was no way anyone would have allowed mum to sign over power of attorney.

When we visited our local solicitor to begin the process of wrapping up the estate, he told us without power of attorney we needed to apply to the Office of the Public Guardian for something called a court of protection order (or a guardianship order in Scotland).

Once granted, you become what is known as a deputy, and can act on your loved one's behalf.

As a financial journalist, I'd heard the process mentioned in passing but had no idea what it involved. I assumed it was much the same as appointing an attorney — but I was very wrong.

Setting up power of attorney is relatively straightforward. You can complete the paperwork yourself or via a solicitor at any time, as long as you have mental capacity.

A court of protection order, however, is usually triggered by a life-changing event such as a bereavement or serious illness, and is a very long and complex process.

Sam as a child with her dad
Around 59,000 deputies were approved by the Office of the Public Guardian in England and Wales in the year ending March 31, compared to 835,950 applications to register a power of attorney, according to the Ministry of Justice.

There are also very strict rules attached to a court of protection order. This is understandable as unlike with a power of attorney, where you choose who you want to appoint to make decisions on your behalf, a court of protection order involves someone applying to take charge of your finances without your permission.

But it means that family members can end up losing control over their loved one's life. Ultimately, the Office of the Public Guardian is responsible for their affairs.

The court of protection order sets out what the deputy has permission to make decisions about. And then as a deputy, you are obliged to carry out these duties and report back regularly.

It took us seven months to be granted a court of protection order.

We had to fill in complicated forms, declare the nitty-gritty details of our own finances, including any debt we had, and take identity papers to a solicitor to be verified. We also had to provide the contact details of other family members so they could be informed of our application.

Most upsetting of all, we had to arrange a visit between my mum and a representative for the Office of the Public Guardian so they could confirm she really had lost mental capacity. We were not even allowed to be present to hold her hand and tell her everything was okay.

I understand why we couldn't be there, but I felt so humiliated for my mum who would have made an effort to be friendly to the visitor she didn't recognise, without understanding that she was being secretly tested.

Much of the delay was down to the fact that without access to mum's accounts we could not find the information we needed about her income. In the end I had to apply to become a so-called appointed person with the Department for Work and Pensions. 

This involved being interviewed in my own home to ensure I was trustworthy. Only then could we find out how much state pension she received and what benefits she was claiming. 

After finally being granted a court of protection order, we were assigned a case manager who arranged a 'settling-in' call for a few weeks later. I was contacted at the beginning of June 2017 and immediately hit with a bombshell question.

Were my brother and I going to sell my mum's house or rent it out? My brother and I had grown up in that house and planned to keep it so I'd have somewhere to stay when visiting mum.

To think about selling our family home, which still had all my dad's clothes in the wardrobes and an attic full of our memories, felt overwhelming. I'm from North Wales, and live in London but my dad had said I would always have that house to go home to.

And to top it all off, we were given just three weeks to make the decision.

I tried to stand my ground. In the guide book about being a deputy it says that if you knew the person you are looking after, you should try to think how they would want you to act.

We knew our mum would not have wanted us to sell the house, but we were told we had to act in her best interests.

We had repaid the equity release loan using dad's savings. But now mum solely owned the property, she was no longer entitled to state support towards her care home fees. 

Leaving the house empty was not an option as we would not be able to afford her care fees. So in the end we decided the best thing was to put it on the market.

There were also all sorts of extra costs involved with being a deputy that we were not expecting.
As well as hundreds in legal fees, we had to pay a one-off £365 application fee to the Office of the Public Guardian and a £100 assessment fee. If your estate is complicated, you also have to pay up to £325 a year in supervision fees.

All deputies must take out insurance called a surety bond to protect the estate from their negligence, which is about £90 a year.

We are also required to complete an annual report accounting for all the money paid in and taken out of mum's bank account, down to the last penny. It takes hours to complete and after filing the first report I had a call querying why I'd claimed the cost of a disabled access taxi to take her to a family party.

I understand it is the Office of the Public Guardian's job to look out for those who cannot manage their own affairs. But these sorts of questions felt like an intrusion into the close, loving relationship mum and I cherish. 

Having to keep records and receipts makes looking after mum feel a bit like running a small business. It would be nice to just take her shopping without having to worry about justifying every little thing we buy.

I often wished the staff I had to deal with could have been just a little kinder and more sensitive. At times it is hard not to feel a little angry at dad for not just getting mum to sign that crucial bit of paper when she was well.

But he had no idea not doing it would leave my brother and me in such a difficult situation while still grieving for him. It isn't what mum and dad would have wanted for us.

If this article encourages just one family to take the necessary steps to protect their loved ones, I'm sure they would be pleased I shared our story. 

Full Article & Source:
When Dad died, Mum's dementia triggered a financial nightmare: Our writer's moving account reveals why you mustn't wait for old age to set up power of attorney

Governor vows to stop guardianship abuse

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday addresses the opening session of the 41st annual New Mexico Conference on Aging. (Rick Nathanson/Albuquerque Journal)

By Rick Nathanson / Journal Staff Writer
In about a decade, one third of New Mexicans will be age 60 or older, begging the question, “have we as a state prepared to meet the needs of that population?” asked Alice Liu McCoy, outgoing secretary of the state Aging and Long-Term Services Department.

That question is one of many addressed Tuesday at the 41st annual New Mexico Conference on Aging, held at the Sandia Resort and Casino Conference Center and offering more than 60 workshops on a variety of topics.

More than 1,300 people are attending the conference, which continues through today. Dedicated to highlighting New Mexico’s aging population, the conference is geared for caregivers, family members and service providers throughout the state. It is being sponsored by the state Aging and Long-term Services Department, whose mission is to promote programs leading to lifelong independence and healthy aging, as well as advocacy for legislation and issues that serve New Mexico’s elderly and disabled adults.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham addressed the conference Tuesday morning and said her administration is working to correct a number of problems, including those related to guardianship.

“Here in New Mexico, veterans, senior citizens and disabled adults have been taken advantage of by unscrupulous court-appointed, corporate guardians,” she told the conference. “That means somebody decides that you can’t control your own life and neither can your family. They separate you and the court determines that a corporation can make life and financial decisions for you.”

Corporate guardians, she said, “have been stealing people’s property, separating them from their families and hiding their benefits, as well as “locking folks away where nobody can find them and nobody can visit.”

Her administration, she said, is working to prevent this and adopt the best possible standards and safeguards. McCoy, who will become the director of the state Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, will lead that effort.

Lujan Grisham also said the state was expecting a windfall of more than $1 billion from gas and oil revenues. Out of that money, she will ask the state Legislature for $25 million to help create a fund for recurring expenses for senior programs and services. She also will ask for money to fully fund pre-K programs.

Katrina Hotrum-Lopez, Bernalillo County’s director of behavioral health services, who will replace McCoy as the new secretary of Aging and Long-Term Services Department, said she will focus on increasing the department’s budget and restoring “programs that have been fractured during the last administration.”

Among those are restructuring and building more senior centers, rebuilding Meals on Wheels and senior transportation programs, and enhancing the department’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman program, which advocates for residents of nursing homes, monitors the quality of care provided and investigates complaints.

Full Article & Source:
Governor vows to stop guardianship abuse

Members of Elder Abuse Task Force in Ill. announced

The task force will analyze the effectiveness of elder protective services
By Jasmine Adams

ILLINOIS (KFVS) - Twenty-two members will make up the newly created Elder Abuse Task Force in Illinois.

The task force includes:
  • Rachelle Crowe, State Senator, 56th District, (D)
  • Katie Stuart, State Representative, 112th District, (D)
  • Craig Wilcox, State Senator, 32nd District, (R)
  • Debbie Verschelde, Executive Director, Aging Care Connections
  • Lori Hendren, Associate State Director, AARP Illinois
  • Dawn Wells, RN, Area Manager, Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services
  • Aimee Isham, Bureau Chief for Long Term Care, Illinois Department of Public Health
  • Paul Isaac, Senior Advisor to the Secretary, Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation
  • Gene Seaman, Human Rights Authority Supervising Manager, Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission
  • Cordelia Coppleson, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General
  • Barbara Eskildsen, Executive Director, Western Illinois Area Agency on Aging
  • Kelly Richards, State Long-Term Care Ombudsman, Illinois Department on Aging
  • Lois Moorman, Program Administrator, Illinois Department on Aging Office of Adult Protective Services
  • Eric Lane, Political and Grassroots Director, Health Care Council of Illinois
  • Ashley Snavely, Legislative Director, Illinois Health Care Association
  • Beth Menz, Vice President and Director for the Home Care Division, SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana Missouri Kansas
  • Aimee Winebaugh, Director of Government Relations, Illinois Bankers Association
  • Bill Langheim, Captain, Illinois State Police
  • Brian Fengel, Police Chief, Bartonville Police Department
  • Michelle Weinberg, Supervisory Attorney, Legal Aid Chicago
  • Kristopher Tharp, Lieutenant, Madison County Sheriff’s Office
  • Tonya Genovese, Assistant State’s Attorney, Madison County State’s Attorney Office 
This new group was created through Senate Joint Resolution 13 according to the office of Illinois Governor JB Pritzker.

The task force will analyze the effectiveness of elder protective services in Illinois and other states and develop a long-term plan to improve outcomes for older Illinois residents.

“In Illinois, every single person – no matter their age, gender, citizenship, sex, ability, race or religion – deserves to feel safe and secure,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “One case of elder abuse would be too many, but 20,000 annually is unacceptable: we need to tackle this head on. This bipartisan Elder Abuse Task Force will investigate our current elder protective practices and strategies for increasing public awareness and come up with the best possible plan to combat patterns of abuse and treat our older Illinoisans with the respect they deserve.”

The task force will report its findings and recommendations to the governor and the General Assembly by January 1, 2021.

Full Article & Source:
Members of Elder Abuse Task Force in Ill. announced

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Local family says guardianship cost elderly woman $123K for 3 months of care

(WXYZ) — More than $123,000. That’s what a local family says a guardianship cost their elderly mother for three months of care. It was a huge chunk of her life savings.

It’s the same guardianship company that 7 Investigator Heather Catallo exposed back in May when they were accused of cutting off family contact with an elderly couple.

The family in this case originally didn’t want to talk to us on camera, but when they saw the fees that Caring Hearts Michigan is asking a judge to approve – they agreed to speak out.

Piera Franklin is 90 years young and still loves working in her yard.

After she had some health issues in February, Macomb County Probate Judge Kathryn George appointed Caring Hearts Michigan Inc. as Piera’s temporary guardian and conservator. That means Caring Hearts had total legal control of Piera. As her conservator, they also had total control of her money.

Caring Hearts Michigan Inc. is owned by Cathy Kirk. Court records show, Kirk used her husband’s law firm to bill the estate. Kirk also used one of her companies, Executive Care, to provide 24/7 in-home care for Piera.

Please note: Caring Hearts Homecare of Southfield is not affiliated in any way with Cathy Kirk’s Caring Hearts Michigan Inc.

Piera said that she didn’t need that. She cooks, cleans, washes her clothes and didn’t want that kind of 24/7 help.

In May, the 7 Investigators were in the courtroom when the judge took Caring Hearts off the case and granted guardianship and conservatorship of Piera to her son , John. But the Franklin family was stunned when they recently got the final accounting from Caring Hearts.

For only 91 days of care, Caring Hearts wants the court to approve:
  • $10,5224.37 for guardianship services
  • $19,369.90 in legal fees for Cathy Kirk’s husband’s law firm
  • $86,304 for home care charged by Executive Car
“Is more than $86,000 for 91 days of care reasonable,” asked 7 Investigator Heather Catallo.

“Not in my opinion,” said John Perrin, an attorney hired by Piera’s son, John Franklin. “Based on the invoices themselves, there’s clearly overcharges here.”
“Do you feel like they earned that money?” Catallo asked Piera.

“No! No way no way! Because they didn’t do anything. No help for me, no bath, nothing, nothing,” Piera responded. “I make my own bed. I clean up the house. I did everything! Was nothing done. They sit there with their book and watching TV. That’s it!”
Piera said she did like some of the home aides, but she says one caregiver had a fight with her boyfriend in the driveway of Piera’s home. She said it made her feel scared, like she did during the war in her childhood in Italy.

“I was raised in the war time, and I remember when the bombs coming, I would get stomach problem, and I felt the same anxiety in my stomach,” said Piera.

In court filings, Perrin argues Caring Hearts Michigan Inc. “engaged in serious conflicts of interest that resulted in waste and dissipation of Ms. Franklin’s savings.”

“There’s one particular occasion where I see 48 hours billed for one caregiver in a single day,” Perrin said. “The cumulative time in that single day wound up being almost $2,500.”

Other fees include:
  • Hours of overtime for what Perrin says are non-skilled caregivers charging above-market rates of $45 per hour;
  • $1,760.50 to change the locks on Piera’s home (family members say they don’t know why the locks needed to be changed);
  • $1,129.81 for correspondence with banks and closing Piera’s accounts so they could be moved to First State Bank where Cathy Kirk’s husband, Robert, is a board member.
Now, Piera has less expensive caregivers for fewer hours in the day. She says now she is worried about how much money she was charged by caring hearts.

“I worked hard to save, 10 hours a day,” said the mother of five.

The 7 Investigators spoke with the Michigan Attorney General’s Office and they say their financial crimes unit is aware of this case, but they can’t confirm or deny if they are investigating.

The Attorney General is investigating a different probate case first exposed by the 7 Investigators that also involves Caring Hearts Michigan Inc.

Lawyers for Caring Hearts Michigan Inc. deny any wrongdoing, and they have told the court they will review some of the billings. They say the relationship between Kirk’s companies while serving Piera did not violate any law or court rule.

Kemp Klein Attorney Ed Nahhat sent the 7 Investigators this statement late Tuesday:

“Caring Hearts disclosed in writing to Court Administrator John Brennan on April 4, 2018, its common ownership of Executive Care. This was many months before the Court’s "related persons" policy was issued. The policy assures disclosure upon the annual account.

In these cases, all interested persons, and the court, had disclosure; they knew that the companies had common ownership as intended by the policy.

Neither Caring Hearts nor Executive Care did anything wrong when doing what the court ordered them to do: care for someone according to their needs and preferences. Mrs. Franklin was very grateful to Caring Hearts, as she wanted her care to be at home, extensive and high quality, and she wanted only certain persons to take care of her. In fact our Executive Care’s service was so valued that her son rehired them at one point, and his mother specifically asked for their employees to continue serving her, even after Caring Hearts was replaced. Simply put, she liked her care at home, and that is always more expensive.

Caring Hearts and Executive Care are ready and willing to be examined for all that they did and the fees they charged. That’s what trials are for.

It’s about money.

While family are entitled to challenge fees, we fear Mrs. Franklin is now being scripted to create an inaccurate public image of Caring Hearts. It’s sad to see a good company get publicly attacked when the family already has a court of law available to them, where both parties have a fair chance to present their case."

Full Article & Source:
Local family says guardianship cost elderly woman $123K for 3 months of care

Caretaker accused of biting elderly man in wheelchair, leaving him outside for hours

A Phoenix man was arrested for biting an elderly man in a wheelchair and then leaving him outside for hours in the sun, Saturday.

Phoenix Police arrested 49-year-old Earl Churchill Wintersmith Junior.

Court documents read Wintersmith “holding the victim down on his bed and bit him on his right arm just below his elbow and then he pushed him outside onto the front porch during 105-degree weather."

According to the report, the victim sat in the sunlight for about two and a half hours until officers arrived.

Police said the victim is in a wheelchair and has a heart condition.

When police arrived at the scene, the victim was in his wheelchair under direct sunlight wearing a thick bathrobe. He had no access to water and the front door was locked, the report reads.

Police said Wintersmith admitted being the full-time, live-in caretaker of the victim.

Wintersmith faces one count of vulnerable adult abuse.

Full Article & Source:
Caretaker accused of biting elderly man in wheelchair, leaving him outside for hours

Stan Lee Elder Abuse Case

Source: Stan Lee Elder Abuse Case

Keya Morgan is facing three charges, including false imprisonment and elder abuse, according to Los Angeles police. Morgan, who was arrested in Scottsdale, faced a Maricopa County judge Sunday morning to discuss his extradition back to California. He waived his rights to an extradition hearing.

Full Article & Source:
Suspect in Stan Lee elder abuse case to be extradited to CA from AZ

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

New law by Crowe denies inheritance to those who abuse elderly family members

SPRINGFIELD – In an effort to further protect senior citizens, an initiative by State Senator Rachelle Crowe (D-Glen Carbon) to deny inheritance to those convicted of assaulting their elderly family members was signed into law last week.

“It’s disheartening that we need legislation such as this to prevent family members from taking advantage of their elders,” Crowe said. “Seniors are targeted every day for their estate, and I’m proud to put this legislation forward to prevent abusers from benefitting after committing this serious crime.”

Under the current Elder Abuse and Neglect Act, a person convicted of financial exploitation, abuse or neglect of an elderly person is prohibited from benefitting from the victim’s estate. Crowe’s measure expands the law to include assault, aggravated assault, battery and aggravated battery against people over 60 years old.

“Every day, we see the devastating effects of abuse of senior citizens, often by family members,” said Tom Gibbons, Madison County State’s Attorney. “I’m thankful to Senator Crowe and our legislators passing this important measure to prevent abusers from profiting from their abuse.”

Crowe has championed other protective legislation for seniors by creating the state’s Elder Abuse Task Force. She plans to be a member of the task force and to study senior mistreatment and protective services and laws, and report the findings back to officials.

House Bill 347 is effective Jan. 1, 2020.

Full Article & Source:
New law by Crowe denies inheritance to those who abuse elderly family members

Florida Leaders Want Changes in Senior Guardian Program

ORLANDO, Fla. — Top Florida officials are looking to make changes to the state’s guardian program for seniors.

Concerns with the program first came to light after a hearing led to the removal of nearly 100 seniors in former professional guardian Rebecca Fierle’s care. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Secretary of Elder Affairs Richard Prudom say they are willing to make legislative changes to better the state guardianship program.

Prudom says while the Office of Public and Professional Guardians is responsible for taking complaints against professional guardians, the office is not directly responsible for oversight and keeping track of the number of seniors each professional guardian is assigned.

“I think it’s a serious important issue, that it deserves more of a quick fix. It is something that I will be working with the governor and his policy staff, and we will be working with the legislature, and I think the judicial branch as well,” Prudom said.

In a recent interview, Spectrum News 13 spoke with DeSantis, who vowed for change within the guardianship program.

“As we look at this guardianship program if there needs to be legislative changes, those could be something we propose for the next legislative session,” DeSantis said.

How the Guardian Program is Structured in Florida

Currently, the Department of Elder Affairs operates the public and professional guardian program out of Office of Public and Professional Guardians. Judges appoint guardians when the court declares an individual incapacitated and in need of guardianship.

If no family or friend is able or willing to serve, or if the court determines that the family member is inappropriate to serve as guardian, the vourt appoints an outside guardian.

If the ward has assets from which to pay the guardian, a professional guardian is appointed. If the ward does not have assets, a Public Guardian is appointed, and services are paid by the state through contracts the Dept. of Elder Affairs has with 17 Offices of Public Guardian across Florida. 

If a legally sufficient complaint is reported to the Office of Public and Professional Guardians against a professional guardian, it is referred for investigation to the Clerk of Courts’ Statewide Investigative Alliance, as part of the agreement with the Dept. of Elder Affairs.

Complaints and Reform

According to the Dept. of Elder Affairs, since 2016, 764 allegations against professional guardians have been investigated. Approximately 11 percent of those had substantiated findings, or were noted as concerns.

Secretary Prudom says he recently cleared an 80+ case backlog of complaints that had not been closed. He plans to make changes to improve this process.

“What we are going to do actually is, to be more responsive," Prudom said, "Is when an investigation is completed, we are going to release that investigation to the complainant, rather than wait for the administrative process to take place. I think that is going to be more responsive to the needs of the complainant.”

The Dept. of Elder Affairs can only reprimand professional guardians by stripping them of their license — further action can only be taken by the courts or law enforcement.

Secretary Prudom wants to see more oversight for professional guardians, and is working with the governor and other state leaders to make changes.

“That’s what I’ll be doing, working on how to provide monitoring to the over 550 guardians that we have the state, that operate in all 67 counties and have thousands of wards under their supervision. That is what I will be working on to ensure what has happen to date doesn’t happen again.” 

While there is an ongoing FDLE criminal investigation centered on Rebecca Fierle, she's not been charged with a crime. We continue to seek comment from her attorneys.  

Full Article & Source:
Florida Leaders Want Changes in Senior Guardian Program

How do we stop and prevent nursing home abuse?

When it comes to abuse, most people think about it in terms of domestic violence or child abuse. But when you look at the data, it becomes clear that one massive population is being overlooked: the elderly. 

Understanding the Nursing Home Abuse Crisis

Nursing home abuse is a catchall term used to describe any situation in which a responsible individual takes advantage of an elderly resident. It can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, confinement, passive neglect, willful deprivation, and financial exploitation. 

According to the National Council on Aging, 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 60 have experienced some form of elder abuse. And despite the fact that 5 million elderly individuals are abused annually, just 1 in 14 cases (7 percent) are ever reported to authorities. 

When it comes to high-risk settings, nursing homes come in at or near the top of the list. Residents can be isolated and typically don’t interact with friends and loved ones on a daily basis. This makes them more vulnerable to abuse. 

5 Ways to Prevent Nursing Home Abuse

Whether you’re an elderly individual or have a family member who is, it’s important that you educate yourself on this issue. Collectively, we can work together to propose and implement effective solutions. 

Greater Awareness

The solution starts with increased awareness. The majority of people – including those who have loved ones in nursing home facilities – have no idea that abuse is a prevalent issue. Conspicuous ad campaigns and more features stories like these will make people aware of what’s really happening behind closed doors.

Better Vetting and Staffing

Nursing home abuse doesn’t always have premeditated malintent behind it. In a large percentage of cases, it stems from overworked employees who are exhausted and under-resourced. 

“While there is nothing illegal about making a profit by caring for people, a conflict arises when operators attempt to maximize profits by reducing the staffing levels and hiring inexperienced workers,” Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers explains. “These cost-cutting measures impact patient care, often causing serious injuries and deaths.”

Nursing homes should do a better job of vetting potential hires and using strategic approaches to staffing to ensure that employees don’t burn out. It’s also important to set and maintain reasonable staff-to-resident ratios that ensure each individual has the opportunity to be cared for. Cost cutting should never compromise the quality of care.

More Oversight

We need more oversight over nursing homes to ensure they aren’t engaging in reckless behavior. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) seems to be taking the lead on this.

As CMS explains, “America deserves nursing homes that ensure residents are treated with dignity and kept safe from abuse and neglect; that are rewarded for value and quality; whose patient outcomes are transparent to consumers; all without unnecessary paperwork that keeps providers from focusing on patients.”

As of Spring 2019, CMS has started the process of conducting a comprehensive review of regulations, guidelines, processes, and internal structure as it relates to the safety and quality of nursing homes. The hope is that this review will lead to more oversight from the appropriate governing bodies. 

Greater Accountability

In addition to more oversight, individual nursing homes need greater accountability. And who better to supply this accountability than the residents themselves?

Every nursing home should have a committee that consists of both residents and administrators. This committee should regularly convene and discuss the concerns of the residents, as well as the priorities of the facility. The hope is that common ground goals can be achieved without compromising the quality of resident care.

More Loved One Involvement

Loved ones are a key piece to this puzzle. The more they’re involved with the residents, the less likely that abuse will be allowed to thrive. In addition to phone calls, family members should make it a priority to regularly visit residents to check in and spend quality time together.

Adding it All Up

The prevalence of nursing home abuse in America – and around the world, for that matter – is unacceptable. Most victims are unable to properly protect themselves and/or speak out. Thus, the onus falls on family members, nursing home administrators, law enforcement, and government leaders to step up and implement positive changes.

Full Article & Source:
How do we stop and prevent nursing home abuse?