HOUSTON - The physician who sued a Houston probate judge over her
guardianized mother’s will has also filed a complaint in federal court
against the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services accusing
the state agency of equal protection and due process violations.
Dr. Sheila Owens Collins named as defendants Adult Protective
Services (APS) Director Jamie Masters, APS Supervisor Lydia Bias, and
her niece Aisha Ross, alleging defamation, retaliation as well as
unconstitutional policies, procedures, and practices, according to a
“APS has a system in place to assure more experienced investigators
get appointed for difficult cases, especially where there are forensic
accounting issues,” Plaintiff’s attorney Martin J. Cirkiel wrote in the
complaint. “But Defendant Bias did not sufficiently supervise staff to
assure this occurred and rather appointed an inexperienced
A neonatologist on staff at a Clearlake hospital and other
hospitals nationwide, Dr. Owens Collins accuses Ross, her niece, of
filing a false report with APS alleging that the physician was
financially exploiting her mother Mrs. Hattie Owens.
“Aisha Ross took advantage of the obvious lack of experience of the
investigator and totally contaminated the process,” the complaint
states. “Not surprisingly, the first investigatory report from APS came
back with a finding that Dr. Collins had financially exploited her
Ross allegedly used the APS finding to file for permanent guardianship of her grandmother Mrs. Hattie Owens.
“[Ross] cited the alleged exploitation of Mrs. Owens by Dr. Collins
as the primary rationale for the application,” Attorney Cirkiel wrote
in the lawsuit. “It totally polluted the guardianship proceeding with
the guardian, attorney ad litem and Judge turning against Dr. Collins.”
As previously reported in the SE Texas Record,
Dr. Owens Collins sued Harris County Probate Judge Michael Newman last
month in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas,
alleging unlawful treatment, rascality, and unfair judicial practices
that violated Mrs. Owen’s final wishes before she died under
On Nov. 3, the Honorable Judge Newman recused himself from underlying litigation involving the estate of Mrs. Hattie Owens.
“Dr. Collins filed a response to the application which disputed the
need for a guardianship,” Attorney Cirkiel states in the plaintiff's
pleading. “First, that the durable power of attorney and joint account
were less restrictive means adequate to meet [Mrs. Hattie Owens’] needs.
Additionally, that because Ross had a long criminal history of
shoplifting and time in jail, it disqualified her from serving as
guardian in the event the court determined the need for temporary or
Dr. Owens Collins’ APS lawsuit, filed in the Western District of
Texas in Austin, requests that the state agency’s failure to have a full
appeal system in place be declared unconstitutional and that a
declaratory judgment be issued ordering the APS to develop such an
“Dr. Collins got in touch with Defendant Bias in the hope she could
help facilitate the appeal process,” Dr. Owens Collins’ attorney
states. “Rather than doing so, Bias threatened Dr. Collins that if she
proceeded with the appeal she would assure the findings would definitely
be reported to the Medical Board, the Houston Police Department and
Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Sometime thereafter, the
Houston APS Office did change the finding of exploitation to unable to
determine but that finding requires reporting to the medical board and
many other governmental entities.”
Soldiers will serve in nursing homes through the end of the year.
by Rich Nye
FRANKLIN, Ind. — In three waves over the last three weeks, Indiana
National Guard soldiers received training and were assigned to assist
long-term care facilities throughout the state. The final wave started
working in nursing homes Monday. Each facility receives between 1-3
"Our guardsmen are reacting very well,” said Brig. Gen. Dale Lyles,
Indiana National Guard Adjutant General. “As a matter of fact, it's been
a very unique experience for them and a very broadening assignment for
them, and they are enjoying what they are doing because they feel like
they're making a difference."
The Indiana National Guard is now deployed to every long-term care
facility in the state, 534 in total. Soldiers will serve in nursing
homes through the end of the year. Most are assigned to facilities
within 50 miles of their home.
Two guardsmen started working Monday at Otterbein SeniorLife in
Franklin. The facility has about 450 residents. Sixty residents have
tested positive for COVID-19 and 18 have died. Currently no residents
are positive, but four staff members are out with COVID symptoms. So,
the assistance from Sgt. Justin Rector and Specialist Josue Reyes is
"We definitely embrace it and we're appreciative,” said Rob Newcomer,
executive director of Otterbein Franklin SeniorLife. “They are two fine
young men. They're very respectful, very polite and actually they're
almost like one of our employees now."
Temperature check being done at Otterbein SeniorLife in Franklin, Indiana.
The soldiers monitor the front doors at Otterbein and screen everyone
coming into the facility for COVID symptoms. Soldiers do not provide
care for residents but handle other duties to allow staff to focus on
care. Other facilities are using soldiers to take PPE inventory,
sanitize entrances and common areas, and monitor outside visits for
More than 400 members of
the Indiana National Guard trained at Camp Atterbury to help long-term
care facilities with the pandemic.
"With the guardsmen and the time that they're putting in, that's
essentially 16 hours that I can redeploy that employee and have them do
something else that benefits the residents,” Newcomer said.
More than 1,300 soldiers are now serving in nursing homes throughout Indiana.
New Jersey's health commissioner urged families not to take residents
out of long-term care facilities for the holidays -- and warned that
they might not get right back in if they do – as the number of COVID-19
cases statewide continue to spike.
Guidelines issued by Health
Commissioner Judith Persichilli include a mandatory 14-day quarantine
for any long-term care resident, either in their own room or in an
observation room, once they return to the facility after a family visit.
For that reason, Persichilli urged the facilities to create
a “reservation list,” as well as a waiting list, based on the number of
residents who can be quarantined at a time.
Administrators were also told to tell families that residents who leave
without a reservation or while on a waiting list “may not be guaranteed
readmittance to the facility at the end of their visit.”
“We remain concerned about the number of outbreaks we are seeing in
long-term care,” Persichilli said, “so we need to be especially vigilant
to protect this population.
“Small family gatherings are a significant driver of increasing
cases, and bringing your loved ones home could put them at risk,” she
Residents of these facilities “are being treated for
conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to suffering the most
serious complications of COVID-19 infection, including death,” the
commissioner wrote in a letter to facility administrators across the
“To protect the health of this vulnerable population,” she
“strongly recommended” that families not take residents out of the
facilities for “holiday celebration events or gatherings.”
Instead, Persichilli recommended “visitation outdoors or possibly
indoors in facilities that meet the requirements for indoor visitation.
Long-term care facilities also should “plan to accommodate increased virtual communications for residents,” she said.
facilities “need to develop a plan for holiday visits and gatherings”
that estimate the number of residents who can be placed into a 14-day
quarantine from Nov. 25 through Dec. 31, the commissioner added in her
They should also “create a reservation process tied to the number of
individuals the facility can quarantine on their return,” she wrote. “A
waiting list should be created once the reservation list is full.
residents and families should be informed that residents who leave
without a reservation or while on a waiting list may not be guaranteed
readmittance to the facility at the end of their visit.
and families must certify that they will follow masking, social
distancing and hand hygiene practices, and that they will notify the
facility if anyone who attended the holiday gathering tests positive for
COVID-19 or exhibits symptoms of COVID-19 within 14 days of the
resident’s visit/stay outside the facility,” Persichilli added.
A court-appointed professional guardian used her position to steal from 11 vulnerable adults.
By Krystle Holleman
LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Thursday the
Michigan Attorney General’s office announced they had filed a total of
12 charges against Jessica Englebrecht for allegedly abusing her
Englebrecht, 33, of
Scottville, faces eight felony counts, one high court misdemeanor and
three misdemeanors for embezzling from 11 vulnerable adults she was
appointed to act as guardian of by the Mason County Probate Court. She
was arraigned in Mason County 79th District Court on Friday, Nov. 13 on
the following charges:
Eight counts of
embezzlement from a vulnerable adult - $1,00 or more but less than
$20,000, a five-year felony and/or a $10,000 find, or three times the
value of the money or property involved, whichever is greater;
count of vulnerable adults-caregiver commingling funds/obstructing
investigations , a two-year high court misdemeanor and/or a $2,000 find,
or three times the value of the money or property involved, whichever
Three counts of embezzlement from a
vulnerable adult - $200 or more but less than $1,000, a one-year
misdemeanor and/or a $2,000 fine, or three times the value of the money
or property involved, whichever is greater.
like this are precisely why my office has a unit specifically charged
with evaluating reports of elder abuse and why there are a number of
assistant attorneys general and investigators assigned to pursue bad
actors,” said Nessel. “It is appalling that someone the court trusted to
look after the finances of these vulnerable adults may have taken
advantage of their positions, and I am grateful to the Michigan State
Police and especially Trooper Kelsey Case for her perseverance and
commitment to finding out the truth. Michigan’s Elder Abuse Task Force
has recommended the certification of guardians to ensure they are
qualified to serve the individuals under their care, and I am fully
supportive of that measure.”
investigation of Englebrecht by the Michigan State Police began in 2019
following a referral from Adult Protective Services. Allegedly,
Englebrecht embezzled more than $20,000 from the 11 vulnerable adults
total. She was appointed as a guardian and/or conservator for the
victims from 2017 to 2019 and allegedly used her position of power to
take control over the finances of the clients.
General Nessel made elder abuse a top priority for her administration
to tackle, assisting in the creation of the Michigan Elder Abuse Task
Force, which outlines recommendations to improve protections for elderly
Michiganders. There are currently no qualifications or training
necessary to be a guardian, simply an appointment by a judge.
Information on the task force can be found HERE.
Robert Corry admitted to violating 13 rules of professional conduct
By Shelly Bradbury
A Denver attorney who was arrested at least four times in 2019 was
suspended Friday from practicing law for one year and one day.
Robert Corry admitted to violating 13 rules of professional conduct
and was suspended by Presiding Disciplinary Judge William Lucero.
The prominent Denver attorney and legal marijuana proponent was
disciplined for committing a criminal act that reflected poorly on his
fitness to be a lawyer, for charging unreasonable fees, mishandling
client funds or property, failing to promptly and effectively
communicate with clients and representing clients despite conflicts of
interest, among other professional violations, according to the judge’s
Corry declined to comment on the suspension Monday.
Corry was among the most prominent marijuana attorneys in the state,
helping to draft Colorado’s successful marijuana-legalization ballot
initiative and representing marijuana advocates in several significant
He will have 14 days to notify his clients of the suspension, which began Friday, according to the order.
Tenn. (WMC) - A Memphis caregiver was taken into custody Wednesday for
allegedly exploiting and defrauding an elderly client.
investigation headed by the Special Agents with the Medicaid Fraud
Control Division of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation led to the
arrest of Gloria Hoskins.
received a referral from the Adult Protect Services of the Tennessee
Department of Human Services calling for an investigation into a
complaint of financial exploitation by a personal caregiver.
to TBI, Hoskins provided home care for a client in Memphis from July to
September. During their investigation, they were able to find that
Hoskins was gained information from the victim to several of his/her
financial accounts, purchased items using the victim’s name and even
facilitated the sale of the victim‘s home, according to the TBI.
is charged with financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, theft of
property between $60,000 and $250,000, forgery, and identity theft. She
is in the Shelby County Jail East on a $100,000 bond.
Anyone can file a guardianship application, and anyone can contest a guardianship application as well.
A guardianship case is initiated when someone files an application for
guardianship in the appropriate court, such as a probate court.(Courtesy / Getty Images/iStockphoto)
By Virginia Hammerle
Recipe for a contested guardianship: Take
one senior, add a dash of dementia, mix in a dollop of assets, simmer
with decades of resentment and hurt feelings, and garnish with one or
more disgruntled family members.
Guaranteed to cook up into a gut-wrenching and costly guardianship case.
guardianship is a court proceeding that is initiated to have a person
(the “ward”) declared legally incapacitated, take away one or more of
that person’s rights, and have a guardian appointed.
There are two types of guardianships in
Texas. A “guardian of the person” handles personal decisions regarding
the ward, such as where the ward lives and the medical care a ward
receives. A “guardian of the estate” handles the ward’s finances. The
detailed scope of a guardian’s duties is determined by a judge on a
guardianship case is initiated when someone files an application for
guardianship in the appropriate court, such as a probate court. Ten
counties in Texas have designated probate courts. In the other 244
counties, a guardianship would usually be filed in a county court.
can file a guardianship application? Anyone. That encompasses the
loving adult child, the exploitive neighbor and the local UPS driver.
Who can contest a guardianship application? Anyone.
The only restriction is that the person
filing or contesting cannot have an interest that is adverse to the
proposed ward. The courts are still working out what constitutes an
adverse interest. Frankly, guardianship law in Texas has undergone a
mini-revolution since 2010 and there remain a few bugs in the system.
may be the time to disclose an endearing quirk. In Texas, a court with
guardianship jurisdiction can start a guardianship action on its own
initiative. This plays out when the court becomes aware, by fair means
or foul, that someone may need a guardianship. The court opens an
investigation and then, if it deems it necessary, authorizes someone to
file a guardianship action.)
Once a guardianship application is filed, the judge appoints an attorney ad litem to
represent the proposed ward. Of course, if the proposed ward has
capacity then he or she could hire a private attorney to fight the
So what determines
the need for a guardianship? The Estates Code requires that a
guardianship cannot be granted unless the court finds the proposed ward
is "an adult who, because of a physical or mental condition is
substantially 1) unable to provide food, clothing or shelter for himself
or herself; 2) care for the person’s own physical health; or 3) manage
the person’s own financial affairs. The court must also find that there
are no lesser restrictive alternatives, like a power of attorney or a
trust, available to the proposed ward.
cases go smoothly with everyone working in the best interest of the
ward. Other cases, however, turn into a pitched battle over capacity,
adverse interests, guardian qualifications or less restrictive
alternatives. These are contested guardianships and may include
allegations of theft, exploitation, neglect and abuse of the proposed
ward. The judge may remove the ward from the home and appoint
Pandemic creates new issues in personal care homes, highlights old ones, experts say
by Caitlyn Gowriluk
Sharon Webb pulled her grandmother, Mary Goertzen, out of Winkler's Salem Home this summer. (Sharon Webb/Submitted)
On a hot July day that was supposed to be one of her last, Mary
Goertzen's grandchildren climbed one by one up a ladder to say goodbye
through the window of her Winkler personal care home.
visitor restrictions in place to stop COVID-19 from making its way into
Salem Home, it was the only way most of Goertzen's family could see her
for the last time.
"Everything about it was wrong," said Goertzen's granddaughter, Sharon Webb. "It was heart-wrenching to watch."
Days later, the care home's rules tightened again to only allow
Goertzen one visitor every 12 hours. That meant her family would need
to work in staggered shifts, keeping a meticulous schedule to make sure
the 85-year-old wouldn't be alone.
But Webb saw another option.
She and her husband decided to bring her grandmother home to live her
last days with them — but what happened when she got there, Webb said,
was nothing short of miraculous.
"Mentally, emotionally, spiritually, she just completely turned around," she said. "[She] just had this will to stick around."
four months earlier, Lois Coleman Neufeld made the same decision for
her mother, just as sites across Manitoba started restricting visits
when the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in the province.
one of their weekly Sunday outings — spent at church then at her house
for lunch — Coleman Neufeld was walking her mother back into Parkview
Place when a worker at the Winnipeg care home stopped them.
"[They] said, 'You can't come in. We're in lockdown,'" Coleman Neufeld said.
we started asking questions about, 'Well, would we be able to come and
visit tomorrow? Would we be able to take her out again?' And of course,
it was new for everybody, so nobody had any answers."
meantime, she decided to bring her mom home to live with her. But over
the next few days, it became clear what the new rules would mean for
someone with dementia.
"I knew that if I left mom there, it would be like condemning her to a slow, painful death," she said.
within a month of having her mom back at home, Coleman Neufeld said she
also started seeing changes. The 91-year-old who could once only walk a
few hundred metres before getting tired was now some days walking well
over a kilometre.
It was a stark change from the woman living in
Parkview Place who, unable to participate in most activities, was left
in her room, discouraged and depressed.
"For the first time in
years and years and years, I saw her cry. She's a very strong woman. She
doesn't cry," Coleman Neufeld said, voice trembling. "So the question
of taking her out wasn't a huge issue, in a way, to resolve. The biggest
issue was, can I manage it?"
A difficult decision
the improvements Webb and Coleman Neufeld saw were undeniable, so were
the challenges they faced — and the sacrifices they had to make.
Webb, who is self-employed as a wedding planner, was able to take time off to become her grandmother's full-time caregiver.
while she initially set her grandma up on a bed in her living room so
she could spend her final days with a view outside, it eventually became
clear that the arrangement needed to be more permanent. Webb and her
husband moved to their basement while Goertzen moved into their upstairs
Meanwhile, Coleman Neufeld was already on long-term
disability, and her partner went down to part-time work to help her
manage the new role. The shift also means she has less time for things
that were usually part of her life, like camping, volunteering and
seeing her grandchildren.
think acknowledging the difficulty is a really important step," said
Coleman Neufeld, "and to always try to keep your pulse on the issues or
the developments or how you're feeling, how the caregiver is feeling."
The decision to pull out of a care home
As care homes across Manitoba report COVID-19 cases, and as some report outbreaks
and deaths, pulling family members out can seem like a good option —
but not everyone is equipped to do that, said Michelle Porter, director
of the Centre on Aging at the University of Manitoba.
is really important for people to be — if they are going to contemplate
making this decision — that they are [as] informed as they can be in
making the decision so that they are able to handle the load," Porter
There are many factors to consider before taking that step, Porter said.
Those include considering
whether a family or individual can provide the kind of care needed,
whether their home is safe and whether — if things don't work
out — they'll be able to readmit their loved one to their place of
Care home beds in the Winnipeg area, for example — where
Coleman Neufeld's mother's former care home is — are only held for
social leaves, not full discharges, said a spokesperson for the Winnipeg
Regional Health Authority (though clients are given a long-term care
contact who will try to help facilitate readmission to their facility of
choice if a bed is available).
In the Southern Health region —
where Webb's grandmother's former care home is — social leaves are
allowed for up to 21 days, a spokesperson said, but after that the
person would have to restart the panelling process to be placed back in a
The pandemic has also shone a light on longstanding issues in
long-term care, said Porter, including shared rooms that have made
infection control nearly impossible and inadequate staffing that means
many residents aren't getting the level of care they need.
there's no comparing the care a person would get in a facility to the
one-on-one attention they might get at home, the current recommendation
of 3.6 care hours per resident should be increased to 4.1, she said.
certainly know that staffing should be changed so that we can have more
full-time positions that are better paid that would enable people to be
working in one place, building relationships with residents," she said.
they're running from one place to another because they can only get so
many hours at each place, that's obviously not good for the staff, but
it's also not good for residents."
And while Manitoba now seems to be taking steps to address some
of its more glaring issues within long-term care, it remains to be seen
whether those efforts will be adequate, said Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO
of CanAge, a national seniors advocacy group.
"Do I believe that
the Manitoba government, over the course of this first wave and now
entering the second wave, knows the ingredients in the recipe for
change? I do. The question is: will they actually move quickly enough?"
"Every day that these issues are not addressed are
days that lives are lost. It is, in my view, the most urgent situation
that we have in Canada in the time of COVID-19."
Politicians 'shrug their shoulders'
their family members out of care didn't solve everything: Webb's
grandmother still sees a palliative home care nurse and gets regular
care for bedsores, and Coleman Neufeld's mother still requires help with
things as simple as eating. But the thought of what may have happened
otherwise is enough to make them grateful they were in a position to
make that choice.
"Had we not pulled my grandmother out, I know
she would not be here today. And I think it would have wrecked all of
us," Webb said. "I think we would have just all been so wounded by that,
I don't know as a family where we would be today."
Coleman Neufeld, whose mother lived in a care home that has since become the site of Manitoba's deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, is also haunted by what might have been.
think about it all the time. When the news came out, I felt so bad for
the staff members and I felt bad for the families as well as the
residents, that they're being isolated, that families feel abandoned,
not being able to do what they feel is their responsibility to care for
their parents," she said.
"I think I would have died.... I can only imagine the angst that families are feeling."
Both Webb and Coleman Neufeld are frustrated — even angered —
by what they see as a general indifference from the people who are
supposed to be solving problems in long-term care.
don't have any easy solutions, but neither do I hear discourse in
amongst the politicians or in the care home setting," said Coleman
Neufeld. "They mostly shrug their shoulders. 'Well, what can you do?'"
Reflecting on stories she's heard from families across the province, Webb agrees.
don't think the general public has even a glimpse of the things that
are happening right now," she said. "And if we knew, nobody would want
to put their loved one in a care home."
Patricia Hodges, 75, wanted to move Graham, 83, to another home after being denied visits
Patricia Hodges outside Wayside House in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. She was unable to see her husband from March to October.
Photograph: Andrew Fox/The Guardian
by Robert Booth
A care home called the police when a woman who had been denied visits
to her 83-year-old husband for eight months amid the Covid pandemic
sneaked in to get him out.
Patricia Hodges, 75, used to visit her husband, Graham, daily at
Wayside House in Bromsgrove, where he was being cared for with Lewy Body
dementia. But her anguish at being prevented from seeing him from March
to October, and a row over fees, sparked an attempt to move him to
another home, she said.
The incident on 28 October followed a dispute between the Hodges and
the care home, which began with requests for visits being denied. It
ended with the home’s owner being accused of “holding” Graham Hodges
over missing fees, which the home strongly denies.
Wayside House granted Patricia a visit the day before she tried to
enter the home – the first in 221 days. By then the family had booked a
new home and they were fearful of further isolation in the second wave
of the pandemic.
The dispute highlights a dilemma facing care homes being asked to
balance infection control with the mental health of residents and their
Last week a woman was arrested
when she tried to release her mother from a care home in Humberside
which had also stopped normal visiting. MPs are set to debate the issue
in parliament on Wednesday.
“I rang the doorbell and I wasn’t going to be let in,” said Patricia,
describing how a handyman had left a side door open and she entered to
get her husband out. She was confronted by the care home owner, Rakesh
Kotecha, who warned she was a Covid risk and subsequently called the
police. Officers eventually asked her to leave the building where she
was staging an impromptu sit-in.
In the car park, the Hodges argued to police that the home
was exceeding its rights. Officers spoke by phone to social services and
other professionals, who said there was no reason not to let Graham
leave. He was finally allowed to move the next day.
“When Graham came out to get into the wheelchair taxi, he let out a
loud cheer and then started weeping when he saw Bethan [his daughter]
and the grandchildren and told them he loved them all and would be able
to give them a kiss now,” said Patricia.
Kotecha said staff and residents could not be put at risk for one
family to be able to visit, and that strict visiting restrictions and
policies were needed to keep the home Covid-free.
“Of course we would love to have families visiting,” he said. “In the
pre-Covid world we had no restriction on visiting hours at all.” He
added that the home has now started allowing visits in a specially
In June, Gethin Hodges, the resident’s son, had asked for a
five-minute visit for his mother. He wrote: “My father is very frail and
I don’t believe he will have many months ahead of him and it may well
be the last chance my mum gets to see him.”
The home replied that only end-of-life visits would be possible and
offered to facilitate video calls. It said: “Our concern is that if
there is a second pandemic that by reopening our doors too soon, [we]
might allow the virus into the home.”
The dispute developed when the Hodges declined to pay a 20% fee
increase which the home said was to reflect increased costs from Covid
such as for PPE.
In August, increasingly concerned about Graham’s wellbeing without
visitors, the family gave the home a month’s notice. Kotecha said he
wouldn’t allow an assessment of the resident’s health to be made by the
new home because of £12,000 in owed fees. But he denied the family’s
claim he was trying to “hold” Graham until he received payment.
He told the family: “It is the norm in the sector that another
provider would not take a resident who has outstanding fees, as the new
provider would not want to end up in the same position.”
Kotecha said the money “was not an issue as the care and safety for
our residents is first and foremost … A move from his home was not going
to be in his best interest as his health may well deteriorate”.
A fortnight later, Kotecha informed the family their August notice
had “expired” and the home needed a new notice period to consider moving
Graham. The family said it provided this on 1 October but Kotecha said
he never received it. In late October, when the family said they were
coming to collect him, the home said it still needed a period of notice.
“We had written to the family on several occasions asking them to
provide a rolling notice which would have taken care of this issue,”
Kotecha said. “They failed to do so. They were sent a reminder on 6
October that if they still wished to move [their] dad then they needed
to provide a notice, which there was no response to.”
The family said it consulted Worcestershire county council social
services and a solicitor who advised that the home had no rights to hold
him, if it was doing so. Graham has now moved into a new home and is in
a period of isolation before visits can begin.
LONGWOOD, Fla. — A Florida senior citizen speaks out after she was
released from court-ordered guardianship and had her rights restored.
very scary to think that we’re in the United States, and this is
happening to us,” said Jan Garwood, who was placed in professional
guardianship in 2017 after she was involved in a car crash while
grieving the death of her son.
Garwood, 70, was found to be
incapacitated and stripped of her rights. That included her right to
vote, choose her home and social environment, and control her money and
In Florida, a court can appoint someone to make decisions for another
person if that person is found to be incapacitated by a panel of
Anyone can file a petition seeking to place
another person under guardianship. Usually, those cases are brought by
family members, social workers or guardians themselves.
are compensated at a rate of up to $95 an hour and are paid from the
assets of those under guardianship. Guardians’ attorneys can be paid
more than $400 an hour.
“All our rights. All our privileges, all the things we’ve worked all these years to keep. What’s going on?” Garwood said.
Reaching out on social media from dementia unit
first contacted the I-Team in April from the locked-down dementia unit
of the Palms of Longwood Assisted Living Facility in Seminole County.
She first contacted us via Facebook with follow-up calls using the Facetime app on her secret cell phone.
hard to put a word on it. Heartbreaking, frustrating, challenging.
Trying to get past people. Hiding my phone so I can get out and call
people and try to get help,” Garwood said.
Her son snuck a cell phone into her room, which Garwood kept hidden from her guardian.
“There shouldn’t be anybody that should be able to have 100% control over anybody’s life,” she said.
A judge initially appointed disgraced former guardian Rebecca Fierle to care for her.
new guardian took over Garwood’s case. Garwood said when the woman
wouldn’t help her get her rights restored, she took to social media.
“I put my ad on Facebook and said ‘somebody help me,’” Garwood said.
reform advocate Hillary Hogue responded and visited her at the assisted
living facility where her guardian had placed her. Believing Garwood
didn’t belong in guardianship, Hogue helped Garwood get in touch with
attorney Vito Roppo.
Lawyers and doctor help get rights restored
filed a motion to be appointed as her counsel at her request, and I put
in there that I thought she should be re-examined,” said Roppo.
Voices for Seniors held a rally at Kennedy Plaza in Long Beach on
Saturday to demand answers and reform regarding the way their loved ones
were treated in nursing homes during the pandemic.
Credit: Kendall Rodriguez - CLICK TO WATCH VIDEO
By John Asbury
More than a dozen protesters stood in front of Long Beach City Hall
on Saturday seeking nursing home reforms on visitation policies,
admission of COVID-19 patients and proper care and treatment of elderly
patients during the pandemic.
the nonprofit group, Voices for Seniors, called on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo
and state legislators to take additional measures to protect seniors
from COVID-19, monitor their care and allow family members access to
visit their loved ones in nursing homes and adult rehabilitation
"Maybe some people
think we’ll go away but we’re still speaking up because our seniors
deserve it," Voices for Seniors co-founder Vivian Zayas of Deer Park,
Zayas said she lost
her mother April 1 after she tested positive at a West Islip facility.
She said her mother was undergoing physical therapy when she was
infected with the virus and died after she was transferred to the ICU.
criticized a March 25 state directive that allowed nursing homes to
accept COVID-19 patients if they had adequate care, personal protective
equipment and staffing. The guidance stated, "no resident shall be
denied admission solely because of COVID positive status," but did not
require those patients to be admitted.
Protesters held a banner that said, "Cuomo, how many seniors died?"
State officials said the
state Health Department was following CDC guidance and a report in July
indicated COVID-19 was already present in more than 300 facilities, or
98% of nursing facilities from community spread or asymptomatic staff
members before COVID-19 patients were admitted.
pandemic, while sadly still being politicized, is far from over. The
Department continues to assist facilities statewide that are currently
managing COVID-19 clusters and preparing for a second wave," Health
Department spokesman Gary Holmes said in an email Saturday. "Our
decisions will continue to be driven by data and science, and now is not
the time for anybody to let their guard down. While we understand the
challenges this pandemic has caused nursing home residents and their
families, the state remains committed to protecting nursing home
residents and front line workers from this unforgiving virus."
Miller (R-Atlantic Beach) attended the rally and said she is concerned
about neglect and abuse in nursing homes where seniors and special need
adults are not being monitored or only allowed limited visits from
The state resumed
visitation at nursing homes in July at facilities that have been
COVID-19 free for 14 days and visitors can show a negative test in the
past seven days. Some visitations have been restricted in facilities
outside Long Island where clusters of cases have been reported.
Miller said she is
sponsoring a bill to assign essential care workers access for each
patient. She said some patients are dying from failure of oversight
leading to neglect and loneliness.
"They’ve given up. They lost their families and they don’t understand it," Miller said.
City View Multicare Center nursing home in Cicero on April 24, 2020. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)
Workers at 11 nursing homes in Illinois are threatening to go on strike
next week unless they are given raises comparable to other long-term
care workers in the state.
Nearly 700 members of SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana, part of the
Service Employees International Union, voted to strike on Nov. 23 if
Infinity Healthcare Management doesn’t meet their demands for higher
base pay and pandemic hazard pay. Strike notices were delivered
Thursday, the union said.
Most of the workers are women, and many of them are Black or Hispanic.
Most of the 11 homes that would be affected by a strike are in the
Chicago area. They include City View Multicare Center in Cicero, which
had 249 coronavirus cases, and Niles Nursing & Rehabilitation in
Niles, which had 54 COVID-related deaths, the most at any long-term care
facility in the state.
Certified nursing assistants, or CNAs, who do most of the hands-on work
with patients at the homes, are seeking a starting rate of $15.50
statewide, while other workers such as housekeepers and laundry workers
are seeking $14.50 an hour outside Chicago and $15 an hour in Chicago,
union officials said.
Infinity facilities received nearly $13 million in COVID-related
economic assistance from the federal CARES Act, the union reported, and
are seeking more.
Infinity did not answer multiple calls and emails for comment. In
general, nursing home administrators have said they are limited by low
Medicaid payments, and need government help to weather the ongoing COVID
Last year, state lawmakers increased Medicaid funding for nursing homes
by up to $240 million — $70 million of which was targeted to address
Statewide, nursing home residents have accounted for more than half of
all deaths of people with COVID. Union workers said they were concerned
that if they go on strike, their patients would be cared for by managers
and contracted outside workers, but put the responsibility on Infinity
to provide them with living wages and adequate protective medical
equipment. Their contract expired June 1.
“Front-line workers are heroes,” U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García said at a
news conference Monday with the workers. “We must provide them with the
wages, benefits and protection they deserve.”
Singer Britney Spears is refusing to perform in response to a judgment against the removal of her father Jamie Spears as a co-conservator.
Singer Britney Spears | Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Judge Brenda Penny allowed Jamie to remain in the position. She suggested the parties re-explore the notion “down the road,” The Associated Press
reports. However, Britney pushed back. “My client has informed me that
she is afraid of her father,” her attorney, Samuel D. Ingham III
announced. “She also stated that she will not perform as long as her
father is in charge of her career. We are really at a crossroads.”
refusing to perform could possibly be the one motivating aspect that
may ultimately inspire Jamie to dissolve his position.
An income reduction could move the case
reasons are typically the crux of a conservatorship. Jamie obtained
control over his adult daughter’s life in 2008 after incidents that led
him to seek a conservatorship. But the arrangement extends beyond the
small moves are tracked in the name of keeping Britney safe. “Her most
mundane purchases, from a drink at Starbucks to a song on iTunes, are
tracked in court documents as part of the plan to safeguard the great
fortune she has earned but does not ultimately control,” according to The New York Times.
a reduction in finances may be a game-changer. Elaine Renoire,
president of the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse told The
New York Times that money is typically the main driver in a conservator
arrangement. Britney’s fortune is worth an estimated $60 million as of
2019, Forbes reports.
long as she is bringing in so much money and as long as the lawyers and
conservators are getting paid, there is little incentive to end it,”
she said. “Usually, the conservatorship just keeps going unless the
conservatee makes a fuss or the family does.”
Britney Spears has been on an ‘indefinite work hiatus’ since 2019
announced she was pivoting to focus on her father’s health in January
2019 and went on an “indefinite work hiatus,” according to The New York Times.
Jamie experienced a ruptured colon, which landed him in the hospital for
28 days. “We’re all so grateful that he came out of it alive, but he
still has a long road ahead of him,” Britney shared on Twitter.
“We have a very special relationship and I want to be with my family at
this time just like they have always been there for me.”
I don’t even know where to start with this, because this is so tough for me to say. I will not be performing my new show Domination. I’ve been looking forward to this show and seeing all of you this year, so doing this breaks my heart. pic.twitter.com/kHgFAVTjNA
health reasons, Jamie appointed Jodi Montgomery to be his temporary
replacement last year. Britney has also requested that Montgomery take
over the role permanently.
asserted he only wants the best for his daughter. His “sole motivation
has been his unconditional love for his daughter and a fierce desire to
protect her from those trying to take advantage of her,” according to
Spears arrives for the premiere of "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood"
at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Calif., on July 22, 2019.Valerie Macon / AFP via Getty Images file
By Chandra Bozelko
Whether it's the #FreeBritney movement's
interpretations of Britney Spears’ Instagram posts or news items about
her father’s rapid-fire legal filings to stay her sole conservator — a
status allowed to continue as of this week — the debate over who should
control Spears’ money and daily existence will seemingly continue for
Spears has some star-spangled
support in either the bid for her freedom or even mere transparency
about the conditions of her ongoing legal status and how she might
emerge from it. Miley Cyrus, Ariel Winter, Ruby Rose, Paris Hilton, Cher, Kacey Musgraves, the American Civil Liberties Union and around 110,000
other people have publicly called for Spears’ release from the
conservatorship. Apparently, they aren’t convinced by the Los Angeles
Times investigation from last year that found no independent evidence that Spears or her financial holdings were being harmed by the arrangement.
The problem, however, is likely not that her
assets are being actively mismanaged — which should be easy enough for
one of the court's evaluations to uncover — nor that she is being
actively abused. Rather, there are emotional costs of a long-term
conservatorship, especially to an otherwise capable person, and that
damage rarely appears in court evaluations or public records.
courts create conservatorships — in some states it’s called
guardianship — when they rule that an adult is so ill or mentally
unstable that they’re incapable of taking care of their basic needs. The
court appoints another person — sometimes an attorney, sometimes a
family member — to manage that person's affairs. Managing someone’s
assets is called conservatorship of the estate; making decisions about
their health and relationships is called conservatorship of the person.
Spears is subject to both.
are emotional costs of a long-term conservatorship, especially to an
otherwise capable person, and that damage rarely appears in court
The major issue with a
conservatorship is that it strips a person of the legal rights to even
fight it; to hire an attorney, the person subject to a conservatorship
needs permission from the court, but she also lacks standing to bring suit on her own. That’s why most conservatorships survive until death: The people subject to them often lack the legal ability to escape from them.
should know: From 2005 to 2014, both my person and my estate were
legally conserved in the Probate Court of New Haven, Connecticut.
started when my parents disagreed with my decision to fight criminal
charges that were brought against me. (I was eventually convicted but my case remains on appeal.)
For a period of time as part of the conservatorship, I was medicated
against my will, I could not choose my own doctors or lawyers and I had
no right to enter into a lease or even an employment contract of my own
choosing. I was legally considered too disabled to be capable of making
any of my own decisions.
It was one of the worst times of my life — and
there’s stiff competition for that label, given that I served six years
in a maximum security prison. To be told that you can’t be trusted with
money or a car is hurtful. But to be told that you can’t be trusted
with the right to self-determination or your own choices is devastating.
It’s a total negation of your humanity.
To strip a person of her agency can’t help but be abusive, even when fiduciaries are doing their jobs.
there’s no official survey of the number of people living under such
court orders, it’s impossible to tell if such guardianship arrangements
are used in gender or racially disproportionate patterns. The few
studies on it examine the relationship’s effect on the system, not on
the people in these arrangements. Unquestionably, we need more data from
the various guardianship systems to begin to assess whether they are
functioning well for all the people subject to them — but they are
We do know that a good
number of people under the control of conservatorships likely don’t need
to be, and that even more don’t need full guardianship. In 2018,
Syracuse law professor Nina Kohn testified as much to the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
important part of Kohn’s testimony was that often even unintentional
harm comes from these relationships: To strip a person of her agency
can’t help but be abusive, even when fiduciaries are doing their jobs.
So even if Spears' father and long-time
co-conservator, Jamie Spears, isn't doing anything legally wrong, that
doesn’t mean the conservatorship he's overseen honors his daughter’s
dignity. Focus has fallen on Spears’ finances and her mental health status, but many aspects of her life are no longer her own.
For example, she reportedly can’t have an iPhone. And, while the tabloids are often filled with gossip about Spears, her boyfriend Sam Asghari
and whether they might become engaged, they have always missed one huge
point about a conservatorship: While she’s under one, Spears may not
legally be able to consent to marriage without approval. (As a legal matter, it’s not even clear that she, or anyone under a conservatorship, can consent to sexual intimacy without approval.)
Conservatorships’ message is clear: People who are deemed disabled aren't allowed to behave like full persons.
though Jamie Spears isn't doing anything legally wrong, that doesn’t
mean that the conservatorship he's overseen honors his daughter’s
That’s why there’s strong anecdotal evidence that people improve and even thrive when they’re released from conservatorship controls.
The humanizing effect of being granted the authority to make even the
smallest decisions can be drastic. As someone forced into one myself, I
would expect that, with time and some assistance she seeks out of her
own accord, we would come to see a self-possessed woman if Spears'
conservatorship were removed.
It is, of course, fair to wonder why Spears herself hasn’t formally petitioned
to terminate the conservatorship. As her father and his attorney have
noted, she chafes against the arrangement but hasn't asked to be freed.
(She has asked the court to remove her father as her conservator.)
Spears’ conservatorship is anything like mine, it can be — or even just
feel — more punitive than it is protective. In my case, any
disagreement with my conservator landed me in a psychiatric hospital,
even though I became the caretaker for my conservator when he suffered a
stroke and couldn’t drive himself.
Spears, meanwhile, has clearly been competent
enough to complete three years of a Las Vegas residency and serve as a
judge on "The X Factor" — but, like many of us, she might wonder after
years in a conservatorship if she really is capable of deciding matters
herself. Or she may fear seeing her relatively scant privileges revoked
if she speaks up. (Her lawyer, Samuel D. Ingham III — whom she was only
allowed to hire last month — told the court on Tuesday, "My client has informed me that she is afraid of her father.")
and appointing guardians to oversee the affairs of people who can’t
handle their lives without assistance is a necessary part of humane
society; requiring people who truly can’t function for one reason or
another to negotiate their way through daily life would be cruel.
But it’s just as cruel to take away the rights
and personhood of a person who merely disagrees on what the right
decision is for them, or makes not-so-great decisions. Spears might have
done some outrageous and dangerous things in the past — driving with a
child on her lap, barricading herself inside her home — and she clearly
had a public meltdown. But that behavior seems to be more of a response
to the trauma of child stardom, young motherhood and relentless
paparazzi. And, like many people in Hollywood, her family's concerns
that people were taking or could take advantage of her wealth, good
nature and mental health challenges aren't without precedent.
Spears hasn’t been allowed the most basic human right: the right to
err, and then grow and improve from that erring. People grow and change
not in spite of their bad decisions, but because of them — if we allow
It's long past time for the Probate Division
of the Los Angeles Superior Court to cut Spears’ conservator cord. Even
if she has ongoing challenges (and who among us doesn't), she's clearly a
competent professional who is capable of making mostly good decisions.
Someone with her wealth — a reported $59 million
— can and will likely hire people of her own choosing as competent as
her conservators to manage her money and schedule anyway; it’s not as if
she’ll proceed through life without assistance.
But she will proceed, finally, on her own. That will likely make all the difference.
Durable power of attorney is one of the most important and useful
documents you will ever sign. It is also one of the most dangerous if it
falls into the wrong hands.
Your will controls what happens to
your money after your death. But the power of attorney can determine
what happens to it while you’re still alive. If abused, there may not be
any money for anyone to inherit.
“It really is essential that the person giving the power of
attorney understand how powerful the document is,” says Vincent Casiano,
a San Diego estate lawyer.
Legally, a person with power of
attorney has a fiduciary duty to serve the best interests of the person
on whose behalf he or she is acting. But the reality is that nobody
polices how most power-of-attorney agreements are used. While the vast
majority are used correctly, estate lawyers say that unscrupulous people
have used the designation to pay personal expenses, move real estate
into their name, or loot the assets of the person they’re representing.
Kerry Peck, a Chicago lawyer who specializes in litigating estate and
trust cases, says his firm handles a half dozen or so power-of-attorney
abuse cases a year. Some involve caregivers who enter into
relationships with ailing clients.
Peck handled a case some years
ago where a well-to-do man in his 70s began going to physical therapy
after suffering a stroke. He soon became involved with the therapist, a
woman in her 40s, and gave her power of attorney. The therapist used the
man’s money to go on a spending spree, including buying a car and
making a down payment on a vacation home. In all, she took close to half
a million, Peck said.
His firm was alerted by relatives and it
eventually got the man placed in a court-monitored guardianship to
safeguard his assets. Peck said lawyers were able to recover only a part
of what the therapist had taken from the man.
“When you pick
your agent under power or attorney, you need to pick someone who loves
you more than they love your money,” Peck said.
Power-of-attorney agreements for various purposes have existed for
centuries, but the durable power of attorney is a relatively recent
development. Previously, if you gave power of attorney to someone to
represent you in financial dealings, the agreement became invalid as
soon as you were incapacitated.
Your financial affairs would then
be handled by court-monitored guardianships, which are still used today
in cases where there is no power-of-attorney agreement. But
guardianships are cumbersome, expensive and can take many weeks to set
up. In the 1950s, states began permitting a durable power of attorney
that would persist even after a person was incapacitated.
say the durable power of attorney is an improvement from the delays of a
court-monitored guardianship. But with greater ease can come greater
abuses—even from trusted loved ones.
Russell, an estate lawyer from Huntington Valley, Pa., was involved in a
case years ago in which an 87-year-old woman who had recently inherited
nearly $1.8 million in assets gave power of attorney to her daughter.
Sixteen months later, the mother had little more than $100,000 remaining
in her account, Russell said.
The lawyer went to court on behalf of the mother to demand the
daughter account for her power-of-attorney transactions. The accounting
showed that the daughter had transferred hundreds of thousands of
dollars to herself, Russell said.
The mother and daughter reached
a settlement in which the daughter transferred back almost $800,000,
Russell said. The rest of the money was gone, and the mother didn’t want
to pursue further legal action against her daughter, he said.
of the experience, Russell now drafts power-of-attorney agreements
mandating quarterly or yearly accountings to other siblings or heirs.
People with power of attorney tend to be more careful if they know they
are being watched, he said.
There are other safeguards that
lawyers use to limit power-of-attorney agreements. Andrew Hook, a
Virginia Beach, Va., estate lawyer sometimes drafts power of attorney
agreements with two agents, so each can keep an eye on the other.
For other clients, he drafts springing power-of-attorney agreements,
which aren’t effective until the client is certified as incapacitated.
Many estate lawyers dislike springing powers of attorney because they’re
more cumbersome, but Hook says some clients want “a speed bump.”
When it comes to his own affairs, Hook has a power-of-attorney agreement without limits for his wife.
been married since 1978,” he says. “My power of attorney is effective
immediately. If my wife was going to run off with the assets, she would
have done this a long time ago.”
frequently occur as siblings quarrel over control of their parents and
their finances. Deborah Tedford, a Mystic, Conn., estate lawyer handled a
case where a brother and sister shared power of attorney for their
father, who was in his 90s and had an estate over $1 million.
Then their younger brother moved in and persuaded the father to
switch power of attorney to him without his siblings’ knowledge, Tedford
says. The younger brother soon became the joint owner of his father’s
bank accounts, effectively disinheriting his older siblings, Tedford
Eventually the brother moved the father out of state, and
his two siblings don’t know where their father is living now or even if
he is still alive.