Saturday, August 29, 2020

Former ward of disgraced guardian Rebecca Fierle won his rights back. Then he died

Jack Meagher says his court-appointed guardian, Rebecca Fierle, doesn't respect his wishes, and he doesn't need someone to make decisions for him.
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By Monivette Cordeiro

James “Jack” Meagher Jr. was always a proud man, those who knew him said.

When a judge declared him incapacitated in 2018 and put him under the care of former Orlando guardian Rebecca Fierle, the Winter Springs man fought in court and in the press to prove he was capable of making decisions about his life. Meagher, who was disabled, traveled with his motorized wheelchair to get groceries, took photos of meals he cooked and dressed himself.

“[Fierle] is not looking out for my best interests,” a then 67-year-old Meagher told the Orlando Sentinel in 2019.

Rebecca Fierle
After a statewide scandal that led to Fierle’s resignation from hundreds of cases — and later arrest, on charges that she caused the death of another ward through abuse and neglect — Meagher and his attorney convinced a Seminole County circuit judge in April to restore his civil rights and discharge the guardian who replaced Fierle on his case.

It was a rare victory Meagher was only able to enjoy for four months — he died Aug. 13 of pancreatic cancer that had metastasized, his daughter Melanie Meagher said.

“He was reborn after guardianship,” said Sam Sugar, founder of the South Florida-based organization Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, who knew Meagher from his work. “To have his new life cut short by a physical injustice, it’s really just tragic.”

The stories of Meagher and other Fierle clients and reporting by the Sentinel exposed widespread flaws in Florida’s guardianship system, prompting the Legislature to pass reforms aimed at reducing conflicts of interest and creating additional oversight for the court-appointed decision-makers, who assume full control over the lives of their wards.

Meagher, 68, was an Irish American who was born in New Jersey. He married Darcy Meagher in 1972 and had four children. They moved to Central Florida in 1979 and Meagher started A Budget Tree Service in 1981, a business which he eventually passed down to his son Dale Meagher, his daughter said.

“Dad worked from sunup till sundown,” said Melanie Meagher, 44. “He was always fixing something. ... People were inspired by that work ethic.”

After his wife’s death in 2014 from cancer, Meagher’s health declined and he needed care, his daughter said.

“It was difficult for Jack to lose function of his physical body,” she said. “He needed the assistance but he was a very proud man. Asking for help in his generation as a man was unheard of.”

Melanie Meagher said her family was desperate to get care for her father.

Her siblings sought a risk protection order against him — under a provision of Florida’s “red flag” law that allows a judge to prohibit someone considered a risk to themselves or others from possessing weapons — and later opted for guardianship, thinking that would provide him the best care possible, she said.

Circuit Judge Kenneth R. Lester appointed Fierle, a private guardian, to make medical, financial, housing, legal and personal decisions for him Nov. 5, 2018. Wards like Meagher can lose the right to marry, vote, travel or have a driver’s license. They also lose the right to decide where they live, how they spend their money and what doctor they go to.

Fierle came under fire after the death of an incapacitated client, 75-year-old Steven Stryker.

Stryker died at a Tampa hospital in May 2019 after medical staff were unable to attempt to save his life because Fierle had signed a “do not resuscitate” order against his wishes and the protests of his daughter, health-care surrogate and psychiatrist.

Fierle also insisted Stryker’s feeding tube be capped, despite being warned that he could choke and die, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Days later, Stryker aspirated and died.

The disgraced guardian, who was arrested in February on charges of aggravated abuse and neglect of an elderly person, has denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty. Multiple investigations found Fierle routinely filed DNRs on her incapacitated clients and unearthed conflicts of interest in her handling of cases, including that AdventHealth Orlando paid her nearly $4 million over a decade to care for vulnerable patients — a financial arrangement not allowed without court approval.

“I don’t want to die,” Meagher told the Sentinel after the Stryker case came to light, when he was still legally under Fierle’s care.

Court records show Fierle said she had no DNR order in place for Meagher. He accused her of ignoring his wishes and ridiculing him.

“We trusted the state and the guardianship ... only to find out that was a very neglected department where they weren’t doing things correctly,” Melanie Meagher said.

After Fierle’s resignation, Nicola Fitchner was appointed Meagher’s guardian. Meagher hired attorney David Yergey III to get him out of the guardianship and restore his rights, Yergey said.

Through her attorney David Brennan, Fitchner asked a judge for the authority to sue Dale Meagher and the tree-trimming business Jack Meagher had handed down to him for using his father’s properties. Brennan said Fitchner didn’t endorse Meagher’s efforts to restore his capacity.

“This latest attempt to obtain the ward’s restoration to capacity is a strategy to preempt the guardian’s ability to recover assets and income for Mr. Meagher,” Brennan wrote in a court filing.

Lester restored Meagher’s rights April 8.

“He was very excited and wanted to know when he could get his driver’s license back,” Yergey said. “I remember he wanted to go out and do stuff but he couldn’t because of the whole [COVID-19] situation. ... It was my accomplishment of the year. I used my law license for something that carried a greater purpose.”

Meagher’s family and Fitchner are still fighting in court over fees and expenses the guardian and her attorney are trying to collect from his estate — $19,231 for Brennan’s law firm and nearly $4,365 for Fitchner for work they did from Aug. 1, 2019 to May 11.

Dale Meagher’s attorney, Lisa McCrystal, said her client has been wrongfully accused by the guardian of exploitation when in fact he had been helping with the costs of his father’s care. McCrystal said she’s objecting to fees she considers “unnecessary work.”

“Everything in guardianship is supposed to be for the best interests of the ward,” she said. “... We felt the guardian was [taking legal action] because they wanted to inflate the amount of the ward’s estate. In guardianship and probate proceedings, the amount of fees is directly tied to the estate.”

Brennan called McCrystal’s statement a “malicious accusation of dishonesty.”

“It is patently defamatory,” he said. “The ’unnecessary work’ she claims is the time spent trying to get her client, the loving son, to pay a reasonable amount for use of this property.”

Melanie Meagher said her parents passed along their business to her brother years ago and called the guardian’s involvement an “abuse of authority.” The last thing Jack Meagher said to his children was “I love you” before dying peacefully at hospice care, she said.

“My father was this big, burly tough guy with squishy insides,” she said. “He had a big heart. He was proud of his life, proud of the children he raised. My mom was his best friend and his rock. I’m glad they’re together again.”

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Former ward of disgraced guardian Rebecca Fierle won his rights back. Then he died

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Jack Meagher

RI State Police Charge Pawtucket Man in Elder Exploitation Investigation

The Rhode Island State Police announced on Wednesday that members of the Rhode Island State Police Financial Crimes Unit arrested Mark W. Harmon, age 62, of Pawtucket on two counts of Exploitation of an Elder; three counts of Unlawful Appropriation; and one count of Obtaining Money Under False Pretenses over $1500.

Allegedly, he took over $600,000 from his victims while regularly frequenting Twin River.

According to the State Police, on May 2, 2019, the Rhode Island State Police Financial Crimes Unit received a complaint from the Office of the Attorney General, Elder Abuse Unit regarding Harmon, who allegedly failed to fulfill his power of attorney fiduciary obligations for two elderly Woonsocket women.

The State Police claim, "the victims were financially exploited, drained of their assets and left in significant debt."

According to the State Police, during his time as power of attorney, Harmon allegedly liquidated $391,727.20 worth of US Savings Bonds, sold a victim’s house, liquidated an annuity and misappropriated funds, while frequenting Twin River Casino with the money. During the investigation, two additional victims were identified, and similar activity was discovered. In total, the four elderly victims incurred a combined loss of over $600,000.

A 2016 study found Rhode Island ranks as one of the worst states in the country when it comes to elder abuse protection.

According to a study done by WalletHub, RI ranked 48th out of 51, the study included the District of Columbia.

“Abuse happens every day and takes many forms. Anyone can become a victim of abuse, but vulnerable older Americans — especially those who are women, have disabilities and rely on others for care or another type of assistance — are among the easiest targets for such misconduct. By one estimate, elder abuse affects as many as 5 million people per year, and 96 percent of all cases go unreported,” said WalletHub.

Harmon was arraigned at 6th District Court by Judge Stephen Isherwood and released on $10,000 Personal Recognizance. Judge Isherwood also issued No Contact Orders for the victims. Harmon's next court appearance is scheduled at Providence Sixth District Court on November 23, 2020.

Under Rhode Island General Law 11-68-2 (a) (3), a person found guilty of Elder Exploitation may be imprisoned up to fifteen (15) years and fined up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or both.

Under Rhode Island General Law 11-41-11.1, a person found guilty of Unlawful Appropriation may be imprisoned up to twenty (20) years and fined up to fifty thousand dollars ($50,000), or both.

Under Rhode Island General Law 11-41-4, a person found guilty of Obtaining Money Under False Pretenses may be imprisoned up to ten (10) years and fined up to five thousand dollars ($5,000), or both.

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RI State Police Charge Pawtucket Man in Elder Exploitation Investigation

When Alzheimer's Disease came for my husband, I was left like a widow who cannot mourn

By Muriel Porter

At first my husband's Alzheimer's diagnosis just meant taking practical steps.(Illustration: Emma Machan (ABC))
I thought I knew how to grieve, how to say goodbye and move on. Until Alzheimer's Disease caught up with my husband.

Grief marked my life first at the age of five, when a beloved uncle died. But it was my mother's death when I was 13 that broke my heart. Then my father died just weeks before my wedding. I posted out "return thanks" cards for him in the same post I sent out my wedding invitations.

So I have always been confident that I knew how to manage grief and loss. Until now.

At first my husband's Alzheimer's diagnosis six years ago when he was 75, 41 years into our marriage, just meant taking practical steps.

A visit to the lawyer to ensure wills were up to date and get enduring powers of attorney drawn up. Organise guardianship documentation, advanced care directives. Ensure my name was on all the utility accounts. Buy some books to understand this insidious disease. Watch for changes in his health and behaviour.

And hope for the best.

I was watchful, careful, and often anxious. In the main, however, life continued on as normal. We travelled overseas, enjoyed local holidays, entertained friends and were entertained, went to restaurants, to films, and to church, went for long walks as we always had, and continued hosting the family Christmas.

But relentlessly, the disease took its toll. Anything that required sustained intellectual concentration became much harder for Brian. It was the first casualty.

Anything that required sustained intellectual concentration was the first casualty.(Illustration by Emma Machan (ABC))
Patterns of a lifetime started to vanish

Called on to preside at the Eucharist in the sudden absence of our vicar — Brian is an Anglican priest — became very tricky for him, though he was not actually aware of it.

He consecrated the bread and wine twice and mixed up the order of the liturgy. This from a man who had presided at the altar regularly for more than 40 years, sometimes multiple times a week in his main life's work as a school chaplain.

The words remained firmly fixed in his mind, the pattern had left him.

I swiftly stepped in on future occasions, producing a neat little word-for-word service booklet and standing beside him at the altar to guide him through. That continued to work well for quite a while, and most parishioners were quite unaware there was even a problem.

Presiding at weddings was not quite so simple. At weddings missteps cannot really be tolerated, and the priest's wife can't easily oversee the proceeding in the same way. So wedding requests had to be gently discouraged. So too did funeral ministry.

A straightforward funeral for an elderly friend not long after his diagnosis nearly turned into a disaster when he lost the service booklets and became alarmingly confused.

Day-to-day routines at home thankfully remained manageable for quite some time, though increasingly anything out of routine became problematic. Entertaining family or friends gradually had to be abandoned, as Brian became easily stressed by change.

Our walks got shorter and shorter and became a real concern. What if he could no longer make it around the block? Who would I call on to help get him home? Neighbours? Ambulance?

And falls increased, sometimes out of the blue. He seemed to just sink down to the ground. No broken bones or injuries resulted, but the falls distressed him. We ended up driving even very short distances.

I lost a partner and a confidante

Brian's growing incapacity resulted in boredom and frustration for him.

Over his lifetime he had regularly devoured several books a week, but now he became increasingly unable to read anything at depth. Books piled up unread, as did longer newspaper articles. Television programs he had once enjoyed, no longer entertained him. Even long-favourite foods no longer pleased.

My role as carer became more demanding.

I had immediately taken over all the financial management as soon as his diagnosis was made, and increasingly all aspects of household management as well. I had been used to a husband who happily shopped, occasionally cooked, and mostly did the washing up. That had all ended but none of that really concerned me.

I was aware of an enduring sadness at all he was losing, and all I was losing.(Illustration: Emma Machan (ABC))
Much worse was my increasing anxiety, never more so than when I was away from home.

My mobile phone always remained close in case he needed me, or in case the personal alarm I had arranged for him to wear messaged a fall. He remained steadfastly resistant to the idea of occasional carers coming in to give me an anxiety-free outing.

And because of his decreasing powers of judgement, I could no longer confide in him. I had always shared with him issues arising from my own close involvement in church life.

He had always offered wise advice, a sympathetic ear and unquestioning support. That was no longer possible — he could no longer fully understand what I was sharing, and I was fearful he might inappropriately speak to others of confidential matters.

I was disappointed to discover that, apart from the loving support of my daughter and dear friends, there was no significant external support.

Medical help was resolutely in silos — the psychiatrist, the geriatrician, the GP, were all good but were quite independent of each other. There was no overall medical management. And as for trying to access the Federal Government's much-vaunted home help when the situation was deteriorating — that was laughable.

With the rate of Alzheimer's increasing markedly in our society, it is surely time for each diagnosed case to be allocated a social worker or nurse to assist the primary carer navigate the complex systems to get the best outcome all round. It was such a difficult and lonely road.

With my caring role all consuming, there was little time for reflection at any depth. In the background, I was aware though of an enduring sadness — sadness at all he was losing, and all I was losing.

Rapid change as the pandemic bore down

A sudden acute medical episode that pushed the Alzheimer's into a rapid descent brought a huge change. Brian had to be admitted to residential aged care.

Initially there was no time to reflect on what this all meant. The first weeks of his move were overwhelming, as I grappled with the enormous task of not only trying to settle him in his new environment, but also to complete the necessary paperwork and handle the complex financial issues. I was appalled at what was required, and worried sick by the costs involved.

We had thought we were well set up for retirement; we used to delight in the amount of discretionary money we now had at our disposal — something we had never before experienced.

Now, the costs involved in high-quality aged care made a mockery of that. How was I to cope? Would I need to sell our loved family home and downsize? With all these decisions, I was run ragged.

I had no time to reflect on what was happening, and besides, it all happened during the first COVID-19 lockdown. I did not have ready access, except by phone, to financial advisors, or even my friends and colleagues.

I could not even physically go to church, let alone slip into a church building for quiet meditation.

Living without closure

My daughter is my salvation. Though so busy with her own professional life and young family, her support is steadfast, from home-cooked meals to helping manage the nursing home move and the continuing care of Brian once there. Hers is the shoulder I cry on as the continuing management of Brian's complex needs, even in residential care, frequently overwhelms me.

I am now fully aware I am alone after 47 years of married life. The cumulative grief of the past six years has now hit me powerfully. I find myself crying and crying and crying, particularly as I leave the sad nursing home visits, as I walk the paths and visit the places we have always shared.

I am experiencing full-blown grief, the grief of widowhood, yet I am not a widow.

My husband, the man I had married, the man who has shared my life for more than four decades, with whom I have children and grandchildren, has effectively gone.

Yet I have not been able to say goodbye or be comforted by the religious rituals and societal customs that give us closure. How I have always hated that over-used word, but now I can see its power. I have no closure, and without closure, no way of moving on.

I grieve like a widow

Brian is still part of my life. In Melbourne's stage 4 lockdown, I can visit him only infrequently, and then only because I have wrangled a "compassionate exemption" to their strict no-visitors rule. I am glad I am able to do so, but he is now, in many ways, someone else.

Our relationship is so utterly different. I care for him like a dependent child.

How on earth am I to live with this never-ending grief, this living death, in a future that now stretches before me as a grey muddle?

And my deep sadness is not just for myself, but for him.

His life is now so reduced, in so many ways. Reduced to the confines of an aged care room, with his daily needs managed by strangers. Where the prospect of fish and chips for Friday lunch, a short walk in the facility courtyard, and attending some of the centre's activities are the highlights of his week, surpassed only by occasional phone calls and longed-for visits.

Each time I leave him in anguish at the diminishment he has suffered and agonise afresh at what more I should or could do for him.

In short, I am a wife and partner still, but not as I have known it or could possibly want it. I live like a widow, I grieve like a widow, but cannot mourn.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted, as the Bible says in St Matthew's Gospel. But where is the comfort for those who grieve but cannot mourn?

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When Alzheimer's Disease came for my husband, I was left like a widow who cannot mourn

Friday, August 28, 2020

Pols push for independent probe of COVID-19 deaths in New York nursing homes

NYC EMTs move a patient from a Brooklyn nursing home into an ambulance in April. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
By Bernadette Hogan and Natalie Musumeci

Albany lawmakers are pushing for an independent, bi-partisan commission that would investigate the COVID-19 deaths of at least 6,447 New Yorkers in state-regulated nursing homes and what role Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mandate that virus-ridden patients be taken into the facilities may have played.

The legislation, if passed, would establish a five-member commission to conduct an investigation with subpoena power and perform a top-to-bottom review of what happened in the state’s 613 nursing home facilities during the coronavirus pandemic.

The commission — which would purposely not include a Cuomo appointee — would probe the measures taken by nursing homes to ensure the safety of their residents during the crisis, the coronavirus-related death rates of residents in the facilities, and the effectiveness of state and federal laws, as well as “executive orders, rules, regulations and recommendations governing the response of nursing homes to COVID-19,” the bill says.

“We need closure — we need closure for the people who lost those family members, and they deserve the answers because there’s several disconnects that took place here,” state Sen. Jim Tedisco (R-Glenville), the chief sponsor of the bill, said at the state capitol in Albany Wednesday.

Tedisco pointed to Cuomo’s Health Department’s controversial March 25 mandate barring the facilities from turning away coronavirus-positive patients — and how a recent DOH report “absolved” the three-term Democratic governor when it claimed that the policy was not responsible for spreading infection and death among frail residents.

A patient is loaded into an ambulance outside Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn at the height of the city’s COVID-19 pandemic.AP Photo/John Minchillo
The state order, which Cuomo has vehemently defended, has been blamed for fueling the nursing home death toll. The Cuomo administration in early May also stopped counting the deaths of nursing home residents who died of COVID-19 in hospitals as nursing home deaths, raising more questions about the official death tally.

“They stopped counting individuals who left nursing homes, went to hospitals and died there. They don’t know when the peak was,” Tedisco said, explaining. “We don’t know how many left after the 25th [of March] to a hospital and died in a hospital.”

State Sen. Joe Griffo (R-Utica), another backer of the bill added, “The state can investigate bars and restaurants under this COVID-19 — how can we not investigate some of the nursing home conditions and the concerns that have been expressed by residents and families?”

Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens), who lost an uncle in a New York nursing home to COVID-19, expressed his support for the bill as he ripped for Cuomo for penning an upcoming book on how the governor led New York through the coronavirus pandemic.

“In general,” Kim said, whenever Cuomo’s Health Commissioner Howard Zucker “was confronted with a tough question, he responded by saying, ‘We’re still in the middle of a pandemic, we’re still dealing with this,’ and yet the governor is writing a book and taking multiple victory laps around this issue.”

Kim, a co-sponsor of the bill, continued, “So there’s a clear disconnect, and I think they’re making excuses that we’re still in a challenging time when they don’t wanna’ answer questions and they don’t want to investigate.”

Assemblyman Ron Kim
Bernadette Hogan/NYPost
Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman, argued that the two legislative hearings specific to long term care held several weeks ago were sufficient.

“Though it’s surreal to see Ron Kim repeat Trump’s discredited talking points, last time I checked the legislature was already looking at nursing homes, so what are we even talking about?” he bit back.

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Pols push for independent probe of COVID-19 deaths in New York nursing homes

Disbarred Attorney Sentenced to House Arrest for Embezzlement

Defense attorney James Mason (left) stands with his client, disbarred attorney Jonathan Hull, of Newcastle, during Hull’s sentencing for his embezzlement of funds from two nonprofits, at the Lincoln County Courthouse in Wiscasset on Tuesday, Aug. 25. (Evan Houk photo)
by Evan Houk

Jonathan C. Hull, a disbarred local attorney, pleaded guilty to three crimes related to embezzlement from two nonprofits he served as treasurer at the Lincoln County Courthouse on Tuesday, Aug. 25.

Superior Court Justice Bruce C. Mallonee imposed a fully suspended four-year sentence with two years of probation. Hull will spend the first six months under house arrest.

Hull must also undergo psychological evaluation and treatment during his probation.

Hull, 74, admitted to two felonies and one misdemeanor: two counts of class C theft by unauthorized taking and one count of class D misuse of property. The counts are in relation to embezzlement from the Cheseborough Program and Seven Trees Inc.

The misdemeanor count was unconditionally discharged, meaning there was no sentence for the crime.

The Cheseborough Program facilitates student exchanges between Bath, Maine and Tsugaru, Japan.

Seven Trees Inc. was co-founded by Hull and was the owner and steward of two homes for troubled youth, the Weymouth House in Bristol and the Curtis House in Jefferson, from the late 1970s until the homes closed in 2008 and 2010, respectively.

Hull lives in Newcastle and had practiced law in Damariscotta until an August 2018 suspension that resulted from the charges.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Dumas presented the state’s case against Hull and argued for a four-year sentence with all but nine months suspended, saying Hull’s conduct was “deeply troubling.”

“Professionally, yes, Mr. Hull has paid a price. But that does not erase the harm he has inflicted,” Dumas said.

“The courts have not shied away from imposing periods of imprisonment on other members of the bar who exercise unauthorized control over funds. Nor should this court shy away from doing so today,” Dumas argued.

Dumas detailed the charges, saying Hull embezzled $24,250 from the Cheseborough Program and over $47,000 from Seven Trees Inc. between June 2014 and May 2018.

He acknowledged that Hull incrementally paid back the money and eventually made good on all the funds he took from both nonprofits. He also acknowledged that Hull does not have a criminal record.

Mallonee said each class C felony could carry with it a sentence of up to five years of imprisonment and a $5,000 fine.

After a handful of emotionally charged appeals on Hull’s behalf and an argument from Hull’s Brunswick-based attorney, James Mason, in the courtroom on Tuesday, Mallonee decided against jail time.

Mallonee said the COVID-19 pandemic factored into his sentencing decision, as there is not a death sentence for embezzlement.

“If there were no COVID pandemic, then I think that I would not feel that I had a choice but to impose a jail sentence,” he said.

According to Hull’s disbarment decision from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in June, he was diagnosed in 2018 with post-traumatic stress disorder connected to his military service during the Vietnam War and has been under medical care for diabetes, high blood pressure, and a sleep disorder.

Hull spoke during the hearing and cited his mental health issues as factors in his unlawful behavior.

Mallonee said Hull’s conduct represented a pattern of behavior, not just a one-off incident, and is a blemish on the reputation of the legal profession.

“Is this a lawyer with a sudden emergency need who met an opportunity and yielded to an uncharacteristic temptation? And that was what I hoped I would see. But it is what I fear I did not see,” Mallonee said.

Mallonee also cited a pending civil case that factored into the Supreme Judicial Court’s June disbarment decision.

Hull is cited in the decision for misconduct involving two former clients, Martha L. Hills, of Swoope, Va., and the estate of Wayne Plummer.

According to a complaint filed with the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar, in February 2018, Hull improperly charged Hills’ credit card in the amount of $3,480.88, but reversed the charge later that day when contacted by Hills.

The disbarment decision also details how, from 2009-2010, Hull withdrew approximately $47,300 in funds from the estate of Wayne Plummer without explanation. Hull started to repay the estate in 2010, but there is still an outstanding balance.

Mallonee said he was grateful for 17 letters and additional statements from family and colleagues in support of Hull’s character.

Rob Gregory, a Damariscotta attorney who serves as clerk and registered agent with Seven Trees, attended by videoconference and spoke highly of Hull’s character, saying he has known him for 40 years.

Gregory argued against jail time and said Hull showed “only remorse and a desire to provide quick restitution and acknowledge his wrongdoing.”

Rem Briggs, a Newcastle resident and current member of the Seven Trees board who served with Hull beginning in 2007, spoke to Hull’s volunteer and charitable work as co-founder of the organization.

“When I think of Jonathan Hull, the first thing to come to mind are not his mistakes; he is aware of them and made good. What comes to mind first and foremost are the hundreds of troubled youth that Jonathan’s efforts put on the path of recovery and promise,” Briggs said.

Hull’s son spoke by videoconference and Hull’s estranged wife, Gretchen Hull, gave tearful testimony in person, arguing against a jail sentence.

Full Article & Source:
Disbarred Attorney Sentenced to House Arrest for Embezzlement

Some family members now deemed ‘essential caregivers’ and can hug their loved ones in nursing homes

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By: Meghan Moriarty

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The task force for the safe and limited re-opening of long-term care facilities in Florida is sending its recommendations to governor Ron DeSantis for approval.

The plan would allow for re-opening of facilities to the general public if the facility is COVID-19 free for 14 days—meaning no staff or residents have contracted the virus during that two week period.

According to the taskforce, about 60% of Florida’s nursing home facilities have not had a COVID-19 case in two weeks.

Essential caregivers can go inside the facilities, even if there are active cases.

On Wednesday, a big milestone was made. Those who provide emotional support, like a spouse or child, will now be considered an essential caregiver, meaning they will be allowed to get closer than six feet and hug their loved ones.

Previously essential caregivers were the only ones who could get close with residents. Essential caregivers are defined as those who help a resident get dressed or perform routine activities.

Mary Daniel, a taskforce board member and the wife of a man staying at Rosecastle at Deerwood.

In this July 13, 2020 photo made available by Rosecastle at Deerwood assisted facility in Jacksonville, Fla,, Mary Daniels and her husband Steve, sit together in his room Monday, July 13, 2020. Mary went 114 days without seeing her husband who has early onset of Alzheimers, after the coronavirus forced the facility to ban all visitors. She took a job as a part-time dishwasher at the facility so that she is able to see her husband. (Rosecastle at Deerwood via AP)

In this July 13, 2020 photo made available by Rosecastle at Deerwood assisted facility in Jacksonville, Fla,, Mary Daniels and her husband Steve, sit together in his room Monday, July 13, 2020. Mary went 114 days without seeing her husband who has early onset of Alzheimers, after the coronavirus forced the facility to ban all visitors. She took a job as a part-time dishwasher at the facility so that she is able to see her husband. (Rosecastle at Deerwood via AP) (Uncredited) 
The details of the re-opening will be up to each individual facility.

But, there are some statewide guidelines: only five people can be listed as visitors for each resident and only two can come to visit at a time. They must stay six feet apart unless they are essential caregivers or a compassionate caregiver.

Compassionate visitors are defined as those who assist residents through emotional situations, including death.

Other rules include staff being tested regularly. Visitors are not required to go get a COVID-19 test. However, the facility can offer one upon arrival.

Visitors must wear PPE when visiting—that could include a gown, gloves, mask and eyewear.

The governor must approve the plan before it goes into effect.

Full Article & Source:
Some family members now deemed ‘essential caregivers’ and can hug their loved ones in nursing homes

Thursday, August 27, 2020

NHS care homes told to put ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ orders on all residents at Covid peak

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Care homes were told to introduce blanket “do not resuscitate” (DNR) orders for all residents at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report.

A survey of 128 care home managers and nurses by the Queen’s Nursing Institute charity found that one in ten of the institutions was ordered by NHS bosses to introduce DNRs without permission from the residents, family members or fellow staff, in order to free up hospital beds.

Half of the staff members who said they had been asked to change DNRs worked in homes for the elderly, while the other half worked in homes for younger people with learning or cognitive disabilities, The Times reports. 
A fifth of the survey respondents also said that they received residents from the hospital sector who had tested positive for Covid-19 during March and April.

An unnamed respondent told the researchers that care homes “were advised to have [DNR orders] in place for all residents”, adding: “We acted in accordance with medical advice and resident wishes, not as advised by a directive to put in place for all by a clinical care group representative. We challenged this as unethical.”

Report author Professor Alison Leary has described the findings as “worrying” and is calling for a public inquiry. 

“These decisions were being made by NHS managers not clinicians,” Leary, a professor of healthcare and workforce modelling at London South Bank University, told The Telegraph.

She added that “the way the situation for care homes has been handled needs a retrospective view, particularly because winter is coming, which is always a difficult time” for the elderly and other vulnerable people.

Reports over the treatment of residents in care homes hit by Covid outbreaks sparked widespread outrage back in April. In response to the public anger, ministers forbid the use of blanket DNR agreements and instructed the Care Quality Commission to “urgently” tell homes to tear up agreements that “would stop residents getting access to full healthcare if they choose it”, as the London Evening Standard reported at the time.

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NHS care homes told to put ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ orders on all residents at Covid peak

Britney Spears' Sister, Jamie Lynn, Secretly Named Trustee Of Singer's Massive Fortune

By Mike Walters

Britney Spears' sister, Jamie Lynn, has been named the trustee of a trust that holds the massive fortune belonging to the pop star, and she just has taken the first steps to become more involved in the singer's finances.

According to legal documents, obtained by The Blast, Jamie Lynn Spears was named trustee of the 'SJB Revocable Trust' which was set up by Britney in 2004 to protect her vast fortune and provide for her children's financial future.

The new documents claim the trust was amended in 2018, naming Jamie Lynn as the 'trustee' and the move was signed off on by her co-conservators Andrew Wallet, and their father Jamie Spears.

According to the documents, while alive Britney Spears is the "sole beneficiary" of the SJB Trust, but it outlines what steps are to be taken if she passes away.

In the new filing, Jamie is asking the court to approve the appointment of Fidelity Financial Management to create "blocked accounts" that will hold all of Britney's assets and serve as advisors with her investments.

It's unclear if Jamie is asking to move the assets to these accounts now, or in the event of Britney's death. But, the trust outlines exactly what should happen to her fortune in the case of her death.

"Upon the settlor's death, the entire principal of the Trust, including all accused and undistributed and unrealized income, together with any insurance on the settlor's life or other assets payable to the Trust as a result of settlor's death, shall be promptly distributed by the Trustee to the trustee or co-trustee of the BJS Kids & Family Trust, to be held, administered and distributed in accordance with its terms."

In other words, if she passes away, Jamie Lynn will ensure that the assets and cash be transferred to the trust set up to take care of her children.

As you know, this is a HUGE move considering Britney Spears' strained relationship with her father, Jamie Spears, and is the first time her sister has been named in connection to her conservatorship.

We broke the story, Britney and Jamie's mother Lynne Spears filed documents to be included in future hearings involving this same trust.

As we reported, Britney's lawyer has filed documents claiming the pop star no longer wishes to have her father involved in her estate and is asking that a financial advising company be put in charge of her finances.

Jamie Lynn and Lynne Spears' filings, in this case, maybe the beginning of a movement to them being much more involved in Britney's conservatorship.

In 2004, Britney created the trust to include, "All of my right, title, and interest in all my property." Plus, "My furniture and furnishings, clothing, jewelry, vehicles and accessories to vehicles, books, paintings, and other artwork, and other tangible articles of personal, domestic household, or recreational use or nature, together with any insurance on such property."

The trust also includes, "My stocks and securities of every kind and character. My cash and cash equivalents, including all bank accounts and savings accounts of any kind or character."

It should be noted, Britney Spears has not filed a request to be completely released from the conservatorship, but she was specific about not having her father be involved. It appears at this point, her sister and mom may become more intimately involved.

As we reported, there has been a major resurgence of the #FreeBritney movement including celebrities like Paris Hilton, Arial Winter, and Rose McGowan who have come forward in support of her freedom.

The conservatorship will remain in place for at least the next 6 months.  

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Britney Spears' Sister, Jamie Lynn, Secretly Named Trustee Of Singer's Massive Fortune

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Britney Spears

Hundreds of Thousands of Nursing Home Residents May Not Be Able to Vote in November Because of the Pandemic

Sally Deng, special to ProPublica
Renowned inventor Walter Hutchins has voted in every presidential election since 1952. This year, as many states stopped sending teams to help seniors vote, his nursing home was on coronavirus lockdown and his streak was in jeopardy.

by Ryan McCarthy and Jack Gillum

Walter Hutchins cast his first vote for president for Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952, and he has voted in every election since. The last thing he wants is for his “68-year streak,” as he proudly calls it, to end in November.

An industrial engineer, Hutchins helped design the M16, the weapon of choice for American soldiers during the Vietnam War, and he invented several tools that may be currently sitting in your garage. He and his wife, Margaret, a teacher and ordained Episcopal minister whom he married the year after he voted for Ike, were “executive gypsies,” she said. They followed his jobs from Connecticut to Florida, New York and Wisconsin, until they retired to North Carolina. Wherever they were, they always voted — in fire stations, churches, their retirement community. When Walter became blind and hard of hearing, Margaret helped him in the voting booth.

This year, what stumped Hutchins, despite all his resourcefulness, was how he was going to exercise his basic constitutional right to vote during a pandemic. The Davis Community nursing home in Wilmington, North Carolina, where Hutchins has lived for two years, has barred visitors since March. Margaret, still in the retirement community nearby, can’t help him, nor can their four kids and eight grandchildren.

Neither can the nursing home staff. A 2013 state law prohibits staff at hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and rest homes from helping residents with their ballots. Some North Carolina counties, including New Hanover, where Wilmington is located, send teams into nursing homes to assist voters or bring them to polling places, but the threat of the coronavirus has limited that service as well.
As the pandemic worsened, he and Margaret began to consider a more drastic measure to keep his streak intact. “It makes me angry that something like this could happen and that we’d be denied the right to vote just because of our age and condition,” she said.

How to vote during a pandemic poses a dilemma for many Americans, who worry about the health risks of voting in person and whether the U.S. Postal Service will be able to deliver mail-in ballots on time. Such concerns are multiplied for nursing home residents.

Most, though not all, of the roughly 2.2 million Americans living in nursing homes or assisted living communities are elderly — and thus at higher risk of dying from the coronavirus. They’re also part of the most politically engaged demographic in the country. In 2018, 66% of Americans over 65 voted, compared with just 35% of those 18 to 29. In 2016, Donald Trump had an advantage over Hillary Clinton among voters 65 and older by 53% to 44%, according to the Pew Research Center.

At least 68,000 residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic outbreak began, some 41% of all coronavirus deaths in the U.S., according to a New York Times analysis. This ongoing crisis at care facilities across the country has had a troubling hidden effect: the looming mass disenfranchisement of America’s elderly and disabled. Hutchins is one of hundreds of thousands of residents of nursing homes and assisted living communities who may not be not able to vote this year because of coronavirus related-lockdowns and the failure of state and county officials to help a forgotten population of voters.
A family visits through a window at a locked-down nursing home in New York. (Stephen Speranza/The New Yor​k Times via Redux)
Family and friends who helped them vote in prior elections can’t visit them — and may have taken ill or died from COVID-19 themselves. Swing states such as Florida and Wisconsin have suspended efforts to send teams to nursing homes to assist with voting. Despite a federal law that residents must be “supported by the facility in the exercise of” their rights, two states — North Carolina and Louisiana — prohibit staff from actively doing so. While many other states allow voters to appoint a helper of their choice, voting assistance may be a low priority for understaffed institutions struggling with COVID-19 outbreaks. And polling places are being moved from nursing homes and assisted living facilities to sites less affected by the virus. For example, Somerville, Massachusetts, relocated voting from a nursing home to a school a little less than a mile away.

“The hurdles are so high for people that are living in long-term care facilities — people who don’t have access to or who need different levels of help,” said Lori Smetanka, executive director of the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, an advocacy group. “I really think disenfranchising that entire population — we’re in real danger of that at this point.”

Under federal law, nursing homes have a duty to facilitate residents’ rights, including voting, said Nina Kohn, a distinguished scholar in elder law at Yale University. But even before the pandemic, compliance was spotty. From 2018 through 2019, Medicare documented complaints from at least 55 U.S. nursing homes in which residents said they weren’t given the opportunity to vote or were unable to get help casting a ballot. But nursing home inspectors categorized the vast majority of these complaints as low severity, meaning they were seen as inflicting little or no actual harm.

As a result, fines for violating residents’ voting rights are rare. Nursing home inspectors, Kohn said, do not take such violations seriously. “What you have is a system where the deprivation of our fundamental civil liberties never arises as being classified as real harm,” she said. “You’ve got a whole category of violations where there are virtually no consequences.”

Some nursing homes have begun adjusting procedures ahead of Nov. 3. Chris Hannon, the chief operating officer of Pointe Group Care, a nursing home operator in Massachusetts, said his staff is working to ensure residents are mailed absentee ballots. Although he hasn’t seen problems, “it becomes as challenging of a job as any other responsibility that we have,” he said.

Many nursing home residents have some degree of mental impairment — nearly half of long-term care patients suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s. But those afflictions do not mean residents automatically lose their right to vote — competency requirements vary from state to state — and advocates say that nursing home staff often make arbitrary judgments about who can vote. More egregiously, some residents are not informed of their voting rights.

Other residents are as mentally sharp as ever — yet still may not be able to vote this year. Jay Leavitt jokingly refers to himself as a “sort of a disaster case,” a phrase that wildly undersells his productivity. A former Fulbright scholar, with a doctorate in applied mathematics, Leavitt used to run the academic computing program at the University at Buffalo. He’s 84 and is a quadrapelgic, but he’s still publishing research; his current project examines how natural resource levels affected prehistoric migratory patterns.

“I’m sort of blessed. Even though I’m a quad, my mental activities haven’t decreased. As a matter of fact, they’re probably increasing,” Leavitt said.

He normally stays in a nursing home in Hendersonville, North Carolina. But this summer he was transferred to the River Falls Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Slater-Marietta, South Carolina, for treatment of a wound.

Over the years, he’s voted in person or by mail, and he has helped other nursing home residents fill out their ballots. He’s even grilled local candidates about conditions in North Carolina nursing homes. Because of his disability, he can’t mark a ballot himself. His wife used to help him. But she isn’t allowed to visit him, and she is in the early stages of dementia, he said.

He’s succeeded in getting a North Carolina absentee ballot form, but he’s not sure where to send it, or how to fulfill the requirement for a witness. The River Falls staff has not discussed voting with him or offered assistance to anyone he knows, he said.

“I’m certainly very concerned” about voting, Leavitt said. “I haven’t seen anything done in this nursing home.”

After ProPublica asked about Leavitt’s experience, a River Falls spokesperson said it would provide him with any voting help he needs. The facility held a cookout in early July to register residents to vote, the spokesperson said.

“We’ve made it a top priority to help our staff and residents get involved in the electoral process and exercise their right to vote,” River Falls administrator Tkeyah Brunson said. “Just as we have worked hard to help residents communicate remotely with friends and family, we want to help our residents enjoy their normal freedoms and quality of life during these difficult times, including the ability to participate in our democracy.”

Before the pandemic, recognizing the barriers that elderly and disabled voters in institutions already faced, almost half of states offered some form of assistance. Florida’s program was typical. A trained bipartisan team appointed by the election supervisor would travel to residential care facilities and help residents fill out absentee ballots. The service was provided to any facility that had at least five people interested in voting and submitted a request at least three weeks prior to an election.

This year, Florida’s program has been suspended, leaving thousands without help in a swing state with one of the largest elderly populations. A similar program in Wisconsin, where “special voting deputies” visited nursing homes, has also been curtailed.

Karen Lee Weidig, who served as a special voting deputy in Madison, Wisconsin, for more than a decade, said she was “stunned and disappointed” that the program is not being offered this year. “The people to whom we present ballots very much want to vote, it’s a big part of their civic life,” she said. “It might be the only part of their civic life.”
Nursing homes have shut their doors to visitors, and many states have curtailed programs that provided voting assistance. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)
Some election officials in Wisconsin are trying to adjust the rules on the fly, according to internal emails obtained by ProPublica. “The assistant for the ballot cannot be an employee of the care facility,” stated part of a July presentation by Madison’s elections clerk. Soon after, an elections official indicated those rules had been relaxed following questions from a local nursing home: “Since the ballot is being mailed and SVDs are not present, the voter can designate ANYONE to help them mark their ballot (including facility staff and administrators).”

In North Carolina, individual counties decide whether to send what are known as multipartisan assistance teams (MATs). They have traditionally been funded by county resources and depend on volunteers. On Aug. 1, the state Department of Health and Human Services released guidance that “strongly encouraged” that those teams visit residents outdoors, no more than two residents at a time, and maintain 6 feet of social distance.

Officials in North Carolina counties that still plan to provide MATs told ProPublica that they will follow this guidance. But people familiar with the process said that the guidelines, though appropriate during the pandemic, will make it much harder. For one thing, not every voter is healthy enough to be outside. When North Carolina’s League of Women Voters ran an informal precursor to those teams, volunteers had to go room to room, sometimes waking residents from naps, said Vice President Marian Lewin.

Even in normal times, MATs leave voters out, Lewin said. “You’re doing this out of the good of your heart,” she said. “If the teams exist,” they may consist of five or 10 volunteers for an entire county. “By their very nature, they’re inadequate.”

Martha Roblee, 67, is a resident of the assisted living section of Scotia Village, a community care facility in Laurinburg, North Carolina. Through her work with the League of Women Voters, Roblee has been helping to educate voters at Scotia, but there are people she isn’t allowed to reach in the skilled nursing wing. “They’ve been voting for decades. Who’s going to help these people?” Roblee said.

One resident of an assisted living facility in southeastern North Carolina said she has helped other people there vote in prior elections. The woman, who suffers from a crippling genetic condition, said some of her “dearest friends” in the facility have died from COVID-19. Almost every day, she has a socially distanced lunch with her boyfriend of 15 years in the facility’s lobby, where they’re separated by tempered glass. “I have a rocking chair. He has a rocking chair,” said the woman, who requested anonymity. “He brings Big Macs and he gets on his cellphone. I get on my cellphone on speaker, and we just eat and jabber.”

Helping the elderly and disabled to vote will be very challenging in the pandemic, especially if MATs aren’t available, she said. “How would you do it?” she said. “How would you walk a senior citizen or a person with a disability through marking their legal ballot so that you knew the vote they wanted to cast was theirs? It would be a difficult thing. You would have to get into their chair and think like they do, and look at that ballot through their eyes.”

Even if state law were to allow it, she said, the staff don’t have time to help with voting. “They’re juggling all kinds of things trying to keep us from going crazy,” she said. “To put something else on them? No.” So far, she said, the facility has not even discussed voting: “We’re hard put to get our Pepsi machine filled.”

In June, to help relieve the boredom of life under a lockdown, Phoenix Assisted Care in Cary, North Carolina, posted residents’ pictures on Facebook. Each resident held a sign describing their interests and asking for pen pals from across the country. (“I like women, wrestling, eating out,” one man’s sign read.) Donna Horton, an administrator there, said that the response was “hogwild”; the posts went viral and were picked up by national news organizations. Since then, residents have received more than 110,000 letters and hundreds of packages.

But Phoenix hasn’t come up with a similar innovation to enable residents to vote. In past years, about 40 have voted, usually in person, Horton said. This year she isn’t sure what her facility will do, or if MATs will be enough.

“My fear is taking them somewhere that is going to expose them,” Horton said. “This is a senior population. It’s not gonna take but one person, and it’s gonna spread. I’ve been doing this for 20 years. This is really tough. No one is seeing their family, you can’t vote. It’s beyond something I ever thought I’d witness.”

This spring, a friend of Margaret Hutchins at the local League of Women Voters chapter asked her if Walter would be interested in joining a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s vote by mail restrictions and ballot accessibility laws. “I thought that he’d be willing, and that I better call him and ask him,” Margaret said.

Hutchins agreed. He signed up as a plaintiff, along with the league; Democracy North Carolina, a nonpartisan nonprofit; and several voters who were either elderly, disabled or at high risk of contracting COVID-19. Hutchins was the only plaintiff confined to a nursing home.

Walter and Margaret’s son, Jim Hutchins, 54, a correctional officer in Idaho, said he wasn’t surprised that his dad got involved in the case. Walter was “always very active in exercising his rights,” Jim said. “Dad was a lifelong Republican. Mom was a Democrat, so they always canceled each other out.” Today, Walter and Margaret are registered Independents; they declined to say whom they would support in November.

In the suit, Hutchins’ lawyers argued that the state was violating his rights by barring staff from helping him with his ballot. The case also sought broader changes to make voting easier in North Carolina.

Conservative legal groups intervened to oppose the lawsuit. Committees for the Republican Senatorial and Congressional campaigns filed motions in the case, arguing that election rules, including the staff prohibition, should not be changed. The Public Interest Legal Foundation, a right-wing think tank that has long pushed exaggerated claims of voter fraud, filed an amicus brief for the defense, asking the court to consider its research on inaccuracies in the state’s voter rolls.

The state and county boards contended that Hutchins had not yet been deprived of the right to vote. His facility, for example, might not be locked down by the election. They also argued that MATs could help Hutchins with his ballot, though the state had not yet released its guidance.

Emails submitted as evidence in the case, though, showed that Hutchins and other nursing home residents might not be able to rely on MAT, and that at least two counties did not have teams. “It may be difficult to find a team of bipartisan volunteers to serve, and the MAT program has no funding allocated to it by the legislature,” Katelyn Love, the North Carolina Board of Elections’ general counsel, had written to a disability rights group. “If a MAT team is unavailable, another person may assist a voter in a nursing home or other facility provided that the person is not disqualified. Nursing home owners, managers, and employees, may not assist.”

Hilary Harris Klein, a lawyer for Hutchins at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, told ProPublica that the law prohibiting employee assistance trampled Hutchins’ rights. “He trusts these people and wants them to help,” she said. “The government is denying his choice by enforcing this ban on staff assistance.”

In August, a federal judge in Greensboro, North Carolina, found that the state had violated Hutchins’ rights, but only his. Staff at Davis Community could help Hutchins with his ballot, but no one else there or in the rest of the state could receive assistance from nursing home workers.

Which is to say, Walter Hutchins won a remarkable legal victory that was also remarkably limited.

The North Carolina Board of Elections declined to comment on the lawsuit. But Patrick Gannon, a public information officer for the board, said that in March the board “recommended that the prohibition on facility employees be temporarily lifted during the pandemic.” North Carolina’s Republican-dominated legislature declined to lift the ban.

Gannon also said that this summer, for the first time, state funding had been allocated to help recruit and train MAT teams. In a March letter to the governor and state legislators, Karen Brinson Bell, the board’s executive director, noted that MAT teams may not be able to reach some facilities.

Davis Community did not respond to multiple requests for comment, including how it will help Hutchins vote in his 18th consecutive presidential election.

Klein said she was disappointed by the narrow ruling. “The court acknowledges that a lot of people are in this situation. So we would have hoped that it would have applied to more people, but that doesn’t mean the state can’t do anything about this.” Calling the judge’s decision “clearly erroneous” and arguing that it will lead to “manifest injustice,” Hutchins’ lawyers filed a motion this month asking the court to let all North Carolina nursing home residents who need assistance with their ballots get help from facility staff.

For Walter, the decision was a welcome, if limited, victory. “I’m a very patriotic guy,” he said in an email. “I love this country. And the right to vote is a very important thing to me. I’m very, very pleased to have participated in this lawsuit. But there are others who are in nursing homes in North Carolina who need help in voting too. They should be able to have nursing staff help them as well.”

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Hundreds of Thousands of Nursing Home Residents May Not Be Able to Vote in November Because of the Pandemic