Sunday, January 12, 2020

From the Elder Abuse Reform Now Project (The EARN Project): David Really Can Slay Goliath But First He Must Show Up

by Mary West

Marti Oakley, host of T.S. Radio and author of The PPJ Gazette Blog, has devoted herself for many years to educating the public on the dangers and pitfalls of elderly guardianship. This term refers to the legal relationship formed when a court appoints someone to care for a senior who is ill or infirm. In theory, guardianship meets the needs of people who can no longer care for themselves. However, in reality, it is fraught with perils resulting from the callous devaluation of the elderly and the desire of predators to gain control over their assets. Tragically, many seniors experience abuse, neglect, and, in some cases, premature death caused by a guardian.

Guardianships are a lucrative business, and they’ve become one of the fastest-growing cottage industries. Unfortunately, in some cases, an unholy alliance exists between guardians, nursing homes, the lawyers representing nursing homes and guardians, professional organizations, probate judges, and other stakeholders. In other words, there exists a network of corrupt colluders. Consequently, an elderly person is deprived of any fair representation or evaluation in a court where the judge has the power to put a total stranger in charge of their “care.” According to Oakley, “These relationships and networks are clear racketeering.”

Oakley’s Elder Advocacy Journey

Marti Oakley
How did seniors acquire the valiant spokesperson they have in Oakley? Her journey to elder abuse activism began more than 11 years ago. She had always been involved with various issues affecting public health such as pollution, GMOs, and fluoridated water. After doing numerous radio interviews, a friend in New York City told her that she should seriously consider doing a show that would bring these topics, which often flourish in shadow, into the light of day. She initially resisted the idea, but later, realizing how ill-informed the American people were on these matters, she understood that such a show would create the informed public necessary to create a demand for changes in laws to reduce the number of abused citizens.

Oakley traces her interest in elderly guardianship to an interview with Sara Harvey, a woman whose husband, Gary, had a nightmarish experience. Two years after experiencing a traumatic brain injury, Gary’s guardian asked the court to remove his feeding tube and starve him to death. Sara struggled to get Gary proper care, but the guardian had been given all the power, and he passed away.

Oakley researched guardianships and found that Gary Harvey’s story wasn’t an aberration: instead, it was a relatively common occurrence happening to seniors across the country. The problem haunted her. “I was appalled at what was being done to people whose only crime was aging with assets,” and she took up the cause.

Sara directed Oakley to the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse (NASGA), and the dam was open—vast numbers of people came out of the woodwork to tell their horror stories on her show. These accounts have a common thread—the victims became prey to predators masquerading as guardians, who rob them of everything, including their dignity.

Aside from giving family members of victims a voice on her show, Oakley has interviewed doctors, lawyers, and whistleblowers to examine factors that have a bearing on this national plague. Her life is now dedicated to making phone calls, writing articles, and speaking with lawmakers.

Cash Incentivization of Federal Programs

In discussing various aspects of the guardianship problem, Oakley reports that federal programs can be cash incentivized, and hospice care, which can be a Godsend to many suffering the excruciating pain of late-stage cancer and other diseases, can also offer an opportunity to an abuser, becoming “nothing but a killing machine…. to amass funds, corrupt doctors misdiagnose patients as terminal to enter them into the hospice program. Since food and water have been redefined as medical treatment, patients are denied these essential elements for life. After three days without them, their organs start to shut down,” she explains.

In addition, some hospices and nursing homes withhold medications that could extend life. To illustrate, under “comfort care only” directives, antibiotics, normally given to treat an infection, may not be prescribed even to a patient who, if given these curative drugs, might live a perfectly good life for many months or years to come. “Comfort care only” is a convenient an often-used tool by guardians and family members who have a financial interest hastening the patient’s death. This is evident in the audio and video recordings of Mercedes Kibbee in the Silver Standard documentary “The Unforgivable Truth”.

Oakley notes that the federal government owes Social Security about $4 trillion, which has been taken from surplus funds to support other causes. “They have no way to pay it back, so they reduce the amount of income that claimants get, as well as try to decrease the number of claimants. Under Obamacare, many hospices morphed from acting as Good Samaritan to assuming the role of Grim Reaper. We estimate hospice is ending the lives of 300,000 to 500,000 people per year,” she adds.

Broadening the Scope of the Problem

Heartbreakingly, the scope of the problem is broadening. Efforts to reduce the population aren’t limited to rushing the deaths of the elderly: the disabled and chronically ill, as in the case of Gary Harvey, are now being targeted as well.

Furthermore, while 10 years ago wealthy seniors were the primary victims, now predators have expanded their targets to include non-wealthy seniors. Social security benefits can provide a hefty income for any guardian who has taken charge of a large volume of seniors and is the designated assigned payee of those payments.

Oakley cites the example of Rebecca Fierle, a professional guardian in Florida who went from being bankrupt to a millionaire within three years after gaining control over the estates of many seniors. Fortunately, Fierle is now under criminal investigation, but in most cases the guardian’s bank account continues to grow as the victim continues to suffer.

Lack of Federal and State Oversight

What can be done? “The federal government absolves itself of any responsibility, claiming that guardianships are under the jurisdiction of the states,” continues Oakley. Due to conflicts of interest affecting state legislators, they fail to assume an oversight role. Why? Nursing home and guardianship associations are among the major contributors to their election campaigns, and to keep money coming in, they’re willing to do whatever it takes to keep their donors happy. Compounding the situation, in recent years, nursing homes, guardianships, and—believe it or not—lawyers are increasingly lobbying lawmakers in a manner that suits their own interests rather than the interests of the elderly.

Consequently, legislators refuse to introduce bills that would stop the abuse, veto those that do come up for vote or, as in Rhode Island, the governor vetoes the Bill just passed (unanimously). Because of the lack of government oversight, it’s not surprising that within Oakley’s 11 years of advocacy, she hasn’t seen any substantial progress.

The Solution

In Oakley’s opinion, the solution to elderly guardianship abuse lies in revamping laws. “The first thing to do is to get rid of probate courts. They are an administrative court based on statues and codes rather than laws. Under this system, people don’t have rights. No evidence is required to back up charges levied, nor is anyone given the opportunity to refute allegations. Due process is not afforded to the persons they’re targeting. It’s the ultimate in identity theft. The person suffers a civil death equal in consequences to a physical death….Conversely, declaring someone incompetent should be handled in state courts. Here, evidence is produced to prove claims, and targets are allowed to speak. I believe that a person’s will and legal directives should stand. Seniors shouldn’t be stripped of their constitutionally endowed protection at any time. We need a guardianship protection bill,” she says.

Opposition and Obstacles

In the course of Oakley’s work, she has encountered indifference from people who don’t care about elderly guardianship abuse because it doesn’t affect them personally. Sometimes the young can’t fathom a time when they will become old and infirmed. Yet aging is a universal experience, and anyone enjoying vibrant health now will someday reach the point where he or she needs care and protection from wrongdoers.

Another obstacle Oakley has met is the failure of people to grasp the magnitude of the problem. Since it has fallen well under the radar of news outlets, the public is largely unaware of it. Most states have passed outreach programs to educate the public, but they are not implemented—most states claim it is because of lack of available funding. This is one reason for the founding of the EARN Project, which provides informative materials, free of charge, to any individual, organization, or government entity willing to conduct a workshop to aid in the education of their local citizens.

In addition, Oakley’s efforts have ignited the ire of predators whose vile deeds she is trying to stop. This has gone so far as to manifesting itself in threats of physical harm and death. Despite the opposition, she is undeterred and perseveres fearlessly “to do something about the human traffickers who are targeting the most vulnerable among us.”

Although Oakley is uninterested in accolades, she has earned the deep gratitude of those whom she is attempting to help. On behalf of people of all ages, The Silver Standard News wishes to express our gratitude to Oakley and others involved in the quest to ensure that Americans enjoy truly golden Golden Years.

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Charlie Lyons said...

Marti Oakley, you are my hero!

Anonymous said...

And imagine how much worse things will get as profit is made at the expense of the greater population as coronavirus weeds out the vulnerable. The for profit industries like prisons, foster care, guardianship take overs will only increase. In my state, the AG just decided that people in jail for failure to pay fines should NOT be released partly for economic reasons. Sounds as if maybe he's concerned about sheltering people too poor to pay off increasing fees upon fees, but that's not how it is. It's about profiting from prisoners. Each prisoner is worth a boatload of money to all sorts of companies associated with prisons in addition to the companies that own them. People ARE the commodities up for trade.