Saturday, February 13, 2021

Britney Spears’ Conservatorship Could Violate Her Civil Rights, According To the ACLU

by Gina Ragusa 
Britney Spears‘ conservatorship may be in violation of her civil rights, according to an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). 

Britney Spears attends the announcement of her new residency, “Britney: Domination” at Park MGM on October 18, 2018 | Gabe Ginsberg/FilmMagic

Following Spears’ request to have her father Jamie Spears removed as conservator, ACLU attorney Zoe Brennan-Krohn shared that the strict conservatorship Spears is under may not support her wellbeing or be in her best interest.

‘Conservatorships should be viewed with skepticism and used as a last resort,’ according to the ACLU

Brennan-Krohn said Spears’ conservatorship should be examined and questioned.

“So while it’s possible that this is an example of a thoughtful conservatorship that was implemented as the last resort and is being reviewed carefully, thoroughly, and regularly, that is not the norm for conservatorships,” she remarked in an ACLU report.

“And it appears inconsistent with what we see of Britney publicly,” she added. “Our view is that in general, conservatorships should be viewed with skepticism and used as a last resort.  In most cases, it’s done routinely and without substantive engagement.”

Britney Spears could have options beyond conservatorship

Brennan-Krohn added that a slew of alternatives exists beyond a conservatorship.

“We don’t know all of the risks and benefits at play, so we can’t speak to the specifics of her case,” she commented. “But we do know that the conservatorship itself also has risks. The risks in conservatorship can include financial, physical, and emotional abuse.”

“And even when there is no abuse, conservatorships limit a person’s ability to advocate for themselves, learn from their decisions and mistakes, and grow and develop,” Brennan-Krohn added.

“There is a risk in being told that your opinions, your likes and dislikes, don’t matter — it makes it harder to stand up to abuse or neglect,” she asserted.

“So in any conservatorship, including this, we would want to know that the real risks (and benefits) of both conservatorship and its alternatives have been seriously weighed.” The #FreeBritney movement has suggested that Spears is not in control of her social media or public comments.

Getting her rights back can be difficult

Spears’ father placed her under a conservatorship in 2008 after she displayed erratic behavior. Brennan-Krohn shared people end up in a conservatorship if a court deems them as having disabilities. This includes physical, mental, and psychiatric disabilities.

“This is not to say that all conservatorships are bad or wrong or unnecessary — conservatorships are complex and individual processes,” she said. “But the ease with which disabled people can be stripped of their rights, and the extraordinary difficulties they face getting those rights back, is a systemic disability rights issue about which we have serious concerns.”

Britney Spears arriving at the Los Angeles County Superior courthouse for a hearing regarding visitation rights for her two sons | Gabriel Bouys /AFP via Getty Images

Brennan-Krohn said she isn’t privy to Spears’ diagnosis. “But by virtue of being under a conservatorship, we know that the court has determined that she is disabled,” she said. And has stripped away her civil rights because of that disability. So it’s inherently a civil rights/civil liberties issue,” she said.    

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COVID-19 Deaths in Nursing Homes and Long-Term-Care Fa­cil­ities Closer to 15,000, New Data Shows

By Zack Fink

The overall picture of how COVID-19 devastated nursing homes in New York is growing grimmer. It comes after the Cuomo administration quietly released new data late last week that included deaths of residents who were in long-term care or assisted living facilities. 

“The number of hospital deaths of long-term-care facility residents was 1,500. Over 1,500. So that number went from being 200 to 1,700 overnight,” explained Bill Hammond, a senior fellow of health policy for think tank Empire Center.

As a result of the revised figures, the total number of nursing home and long-term-care facility deaths went from 9,154 last month to 14,933. That’s an increase of 5,778, or 63%.

The new numbers only came out because of a lawsuit from the Empire Center.

“We filed a FOIL request,” Hammond said. “They delayed responding. Because of that delay, which we thought was not in keeping with the law, we filed a lawsuit. And the judge agreed with us. She said the flats by the Health Department was unreasonable and not within the law. She found three in violation of the law.”

The reason for the discrepancy is that the Cuomo administration was not counting deaths of nursing home residents or long-term care-facility residents who died in hospitals. Nor were they counting probable COVID-19 deaths as part of the overall total. Critics say the obfuscation seems purposeful.

“Administration, the Department of Health, have only released this information after being forced to by a judge and after being shamed by a report from their own Democratic Attorney General,” said Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt. “So, there is no question they were construing this data differently to paint a different picture than the one that is real. And that is what’s most troubling.”

We reached out to the Cuomo administration for a response and they referred us to an older statement from Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, which said, “New York State Department of Health has always publicly reported the number of fatalities within hospitals irrespective of the residence of the patient, and separately reported the number of fatalities within nursing home facilities and has been clear about the nature of that reporting.”

Zucker is expected to testify before the legislature later this month. Republicans are asking that he appear on multiple days, to allow for more questions, rather than just that one day.

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6 Signs of Caregiver Burnout

by Anne-Marie Botek

Chances are, if you’ve been a caregiver for more than a few weeks, you’ve experienced a certain degree of caregiver burnout—an overwhelming feeling of being unable to cope with the responsibilities of providing care.

The demands involved in caring for an elderly loved one can add up quickly, leaving you exhausted and stressed out. Over time, the cumulative effect of caregiver stress can wreak havoc on your physical and mental health.

Be on the lookout for the following six signs of caregiver burnout so you can work quickly to reduce some of the burden. If you find yourself thinking, doing or saying any of these things, take action to reduce stress, find respite care and seek help from your doctor to protect your own well-being.

6 Signs of Caregiver Burnout

  1. Isolation & Withdrawal

    "I just don’t feel like talking to or seeing anyone today—even my friends and family." If you discover that you consistently don’t want to interact with people, especially close family and friends, it could be a sign that caring for your elderly loved one is becoming too draining.
  2. Loss of Interest in Activities

    "I used to really enjoy reading mystery novels, but even a thrilling whodunit doesn’t seem to hold my interest anymore." If you’ve lost interest in your favorite hobbies and pastimes, it may indicate that you need a break from caregiving.
  3. Feeling Overwhelmed & Hopeless

    "Sometimes taking care of Mom is too much. I feel like I want to end it all." Thoughts of hopelessness, suicide or hurting your elderly loved one are dangerous warning signs of extreme burnout and probable depression. You should immediately seek help from a mental health professional if you find yourself having violent thoughts. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 and provides free and confidential support and resources to individuals in distress.
  4. Change in Eating Patterns

    "I’ve been eating weirdly lately."Abnormal eating patterns—whether it’s eating too much or not enough—can be symptoms of extreme stress. Many caregivers experience emotional eating and reach for comfort foods as a way of soothing negative feelings. Others are so wrought with stress that they lose their appetites and hardly eat at all. Digestive issues may accompany changes in appetite as well.
  5. Change in Sleep Patterns

    "I’ve been sleeping weirdly lately." If you have trouble falling asleep at night, difficulty staying asleep or a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, you may be feeling the effects of caregiver burden.
  6. Changes in Health

    "It’s been several weeks, and I still can’t seem to shake this cold." Stress can devastate your immune system, especially over the long term. Illnesses that last longer than they should are a sign of compromised immune function that could be due to your caregiving duties. In addition to drawing out temporary illnesses, chronic stress can also contribute to serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and gastrointestinal disorders.

The keys to combatting caregiver burnout are self-awareness and self-care. Both you and your care recipient will suffer if you’ve lost the interest or ability to provide quality care. Start by developing some self-care strategies to help you de-stress and prioritizing respite care so you can take breaks from caregiving. After all, caregivers need care too.

Read: A Self-Help Approach to Coping with Caregiver Stress

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Friday, February 12, 2021

Britney Spears' father loses bid to retain control of delegating her investments

The joint conservatorship powers were debated in court Thursday amid intensified scrutiny over James Spears' control of his daughter's estate.

Britney Spears attends the announcement of her new residency, "Britney: Domination," at Park MGM on Oct. 18, 2018, in Las Vegas.Gabe Ginsberg / FilmMagic

By Doha Madani

Britney Spears’ battle to remove her father’s conservatorship over her estate continued Thursday as a judge denied her father's objections to how her conservatorship will be delegated.

Britney Spears filed a petition with the court last year to remove her father and to place a financial institution as the sole conservator over her estate. Her attorney, Samuel D. Ingham III, argued last year that the singer was afraid of James "Jamie" Spears and would rather a professional financial institution take over her estate.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny denied the singer’s petition last year but appointed Bessemer Trust as a co-conservator along with James Spears.

Objections raised by James Spears' attorney, Vivian Thoreen, on how the co-conservatorship would be delegated were rejected Thursday. One objection raised by Thoreen asked that James Spears have the power to delegate investment powers, an issue that was a point of debate between the two attorneys Thursday.

Ingham told the court that the nature of a co-conservatorship is that James Spears' powers as sole conservator, appointed by the court in 2019, would be reduced. Thoreen argued that the court orders should be consistent with the 2019 order that gave him sole conservatorship.

"There's no intent or desire to create unequal power or decision-making as between the two, your honor," Thoreen argued. "This is a way to make it consistent and to not take away powers that Mr. Spears as a conservator had."

Thoreen also denied a concern raised by Ingham that James Spears would delegate the investment powers to a third party, stating that her client simply wanted "to be able to delegate the investment decision making authority to Bessemer."

The objection was denied by the judge. Both James Spears and Bessemer Trust are expected to work together on a budget and investment proposal for Britney Spears' estate following Thursday's hearing.

“My client looks forward to working with Bessemer to continue an investment strategy in the best interests of his daughter," Thoreen said in a statement after the hearing.

"My client Jamie Spears has diligently and professionally carried out his duties as one of Britney’s conservators, and his love for his daughter and dedication to protecting her is clearly apparent to the court," the statement said.

Another hearing on the conservatorship is scheduled to take place next month.

The pop star’s legal struggle is under new scrutiny following the New York Times’ release of “Framing Britney,” a documentary that followed Britney Spears’ rise to stardom and the media pressure that’s often blamed for her public breakdown in 2007.

James Spears has been her legal conservator for 12 years.

Fans of the singer launched a #FreeBritney movement amid the legal battle, alleging that James Spears has abused what was meant to be a temporary conservatorship. “Framing Britney,” released last week on Hulu, interviewed a number of the activists behind the movement, as well as Britney Spears’ former assistant.

Junior Olivas, a fan who credited Britney Spears’ for helping him through difficult times, was among the #FreeBritney protesters who demonstrated in front of the Los Angeles courthouse while her case was being heard.

“My heart said, ‘No matter what, you’re taking your butt there, and you’re going to help her just the way she helped you,'” Olivas said in the documentary.

A number of celebrities have posted support for Britney Spears following the release of the documentary, including Bette Midler and actress Sarah Jessica Parker.

James Spears defended his conservatorship to Page Six last year, telling the tabloid that he loved his daughter.

“All these conspiracy theorists don’t know anything,” James Spears said. “The world don’t have a clue. It’s up to the court of California to decide what’s best for my daughter. It’s no one else’s business.”

Sam Asghari, who has been dating Britney Spears since 2016, criticized his girlfriend’s father in an Instagram Story on Wednesday and said he had “zero respect” for the man.

“In my opinion, Jamie is a total d---,” Asghari said. “I won't be going into details because I've always respected our privacy but at the same time, I didn't come to this country to not be able to express my opinion and freedom."

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Columbia SC lawyer disbarred by State Supreme Court for multiple misconduct offenses

By John Monk

Mark Schnee listens to testimony during the trial of Lorenzo Young and Trenton Barnes for the 2013 murder of Kelly Hunnewell. Schnee represents Young. 11/13/2014

Read more here:

A Columbia lawyer has been disbarred by the S.C. Supreme Court for numerous legal ethical violations, including making false statements in court, not showing up for hearings, mishandling client money and failing to provide competent representation to clients.

Mark Schnee, who has handled cases in state civil and criminal court, lost his license to practice law Wednesday in a high court opinion signed by all five Supreme Court justices.

It is rare for the Supreme Court to disbar a South Carolina lawyer. Even in seemingly egregious cases, the Supreme Court’s sanctions often involve long suspensions of a law license.

Schnee not only committed “numerous instances of misconduct,” he deceived clients, judges and the judicial disciplinary body investigating his transgressions, the high court said in an 11-page opinion. He also had prolonged periods where clients could not get in touch with him, the high court wrote.

Schnee is a 2006 graduate of the University of South Carolina Law School and was admitted to the bar that year, according to the S.C. Bar, the statewide lawyers’ association. Over the years, Schnee has been appointed to defend indigent clients in a number of criminal cases. Schnee also worked for several years with the Richland County Public Defender’s Office.

Schnee could not be reached for comment.

In recent years, Schnee was appointed to be a lawyer for 35 indigent clients in criminal cases and paid a total of $32,100 in tax money in advance for providing their defense. But in fact, Schnee did not do defense work and now has been ordered to repay the money, the opinion said.

In one example of misconduct cited by the high court, Schnee created “a false story about being a whistleblower in a federal investigation in an attempt to be relieved from his appointed cases and avoid returning the unearned fees,” the high court said.

Schnee also has been involved in a number of high profile cases and has had several well-known clients, including former Columbia police chief Randy Scott after Scott faced drug charges. Schnee also represented one of the defendants charged in the 2013 slaying of Columbia bagel maker Kelly Hunnewell.

In its opinion listing Schnee’s offenses, the high court said its disciplinary arm originally began investigating allegations against the lawyer in 2017. In 2018, the court was going to suspend Schnee for three years when it received a fresh set of allegations alleging numerous more instances of legal misconduct.

Until it received the new set of allegations in 2018, the high court said it was only going to impose a lesser sanction of a three-year suspension for Schnee’s first set of infractions because he had expressed remorse and because his house had burned down in 2012 and destroyed all his legal papers.

In Wednesday’s opinion, the justices said they were disbarring Schnee because of all charges against him in the last three years. Justices said Schnee admitted all the 2017 allegations and did not contest the later allegations against him, the opinion said. Schnee’s failure to contest the later misconduct allegations means the Supreme Court will regard those charges as “(having) been admitted,” the Supreme Court said.

Among the examples the Supreme Court cited in disbarring Schnee were:

After being appointed to represent a mentally ill client, Schnee failed to meet with the client for a total of more than two years and also failed to take several actions vital to her case. Schnee also “lied” to a state judge about having submitted a crucial order in the case and about work that he had done but did not do.

In 2016, after several taxi owners paid Schnee $3,000 to represent them in a dispute with the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, Schnee filed a civil lawsuit. But after the airport got the case transferred to Lexington County (the location of the airport), Schnee “stopped communicating with his clients,” the opinion said.

In 2014, Schnee was one of a team of lawyers who successfully represented Occupy Columbia activists who camped out on State House grounds to protest Wall Street corporate influence in politics. After 14 activists were arrested, Schnee and other lawyers representing them filed a lawsuit against the State of South Carolina and reached a $192,000 settlement. Activists had claimed their civil rights to peacefully protest were violated and that the government had not specific rules against camping out.

Schnee has also attracted attention for unusual legal stands he made.

Once, in a Richland County murder case case involving a home invasion, Schnee represented an intruder who had shot and killed the man whose property he was on. Schnee tried to claim the killer-robber was eligible for immunity from prosecution for murder because he had shot and killed his victim in self defense.

But in a 2013 opinion, State v. Isaac, the State Supreme Court ruled that Schnee’s client, Greg Isaac, was not eligible for a “stand your ground” defense because Isaac was the intruder and the law was not designed ‘‘to protect intruders and [afford] any immunity or protection to intruders or those who might enter the dwelling of another to commit a criminal act.’’

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More Than Half of American Adults with Multiple Sclerosis Report Mistreatment by Caregivers

by Aislinn Antrim
A new study has found that nearly half of people with advanced multiple sclerosis (MS) have been emotionally abused by a caregiver, whereas others reported financial exploitation, neglect, physical assault, or sexual assault.

According to a press release, 4 in 10 reported emotional abuse, 1 in 4 reported financial exploitation, 1 in 6 reported neglect, 1 in 9 said they have been battered, and 1 in 12 said they have been sexually assaulted by a caregiver.

“We knew we would find some level of abuse and neglect, but we were surprised by how prevalent it is,” said study leader Elizabeth Morrison-Banks, MD, MS Ed, in a press release. “The findings of this study represent a collective cry for help from so many families affected by multiple sclerosis across the United States.”

MS is an autoimmune disease affecting more than 2.3 million people worldwide. As a degenerative condition, it can periodically shutter communication between the brain and other parts of the body, resulting in symptoms such as numbness and tingling in the arms and legs, as well as blindness and paralysis. Morrison-Banks said some patients can live with MS for many years with milder symptoms and they may never need a caregiver; however, many patients may need more help.

“Others are less fortunate and develop neurological disability that can make them vulnerable to abuse and neglect if they are unable to move around independently, take care of their own finances, or get away from the situation when family conflict escalates,” Morrison-Banks explained. “These problems are compounded if the person with MS and family lack financial resources.”

According to the press release, the research paper is the first published survey documenting the nature and extent of caregiver mistreatment for adults with MS in the United States. The preliminary study found that nearly 55% of respondents disclosed undergoing some form of mistreatment since they started receiving care from a family member or friend.

Morrison-Banks said that paid caregivers may not be an option for many patients, so they may rely on family members or friends who are also balancing work, childcare, or health concerns of their own. These challenges can increase the risk of mistreatment, although Morrison-Banks emphasized that the majority of family caregivers do not mistreat those they care for.

The investigators said they do not fully understand all of the risk factors for mistreatment, although the survey found that family members who had to be the primary caregiver every day were at higher risk of mistreating the person with MS. Other risk factors included the person with MS having higher levels of cognitive impairment or fatigue, the caregiver having a mental health diagnosis, alcohol use by either the caregiver or the person with MS, and lower levels of social support within the family.

The press release said they were surprised to find no published studies documenting how many people with MS have experienced mistreatment. Community service organizations, such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, and local organizations, also provide support and services for families in need.

“Our study is a good reminder for all that mistreatment is occurring out there for people with MS and other disabling conditions,” Morrison-Banks concluded. “Health care professionals should maintain a high index of suspicion. We can’t assume that all people with advanced MS are living in safe situations, even if they don’t bring up their concerns on their own.”

More than half of American adults with advanced multiple sclerosis report mistreatment by caregivers [news release]. UC Riverside; October 27, 2020. Accessed February 8, 2021.
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Thursday, February 11, 2021

Houston probate judge sued for estate trafficking, racketeering and abuse of 91-year-old

By David Yates

HOUSTON - The Honorable Judge Michael Newman turned a blind eye to the alleged estate trafficking and elder abuse of a 91-year-old woman who was under a court-appointed guardianship when she died, according to an amended complaint submitted by her physician daughter.

“The temporary guardian [Dana Drexler] stated publicly that her goal was not to return Hattie Owens to her home as promised but to put her in a nursing facility and sell her house with attached attorney fees,” stated Dr. Sheila Owens Collins in her revised Feb. 5 lawsuit. “Judge Newman aided and abetted this scheme by approval of excessive fees and fees that were for personal use by the temporary guardian.”

As previously reported, Owens Collins named Harris County Probate Judge Michael Newman in her complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Texas, alleging he violated her mother, Hattie Owens’ rights under the U.S. Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Judge Newman refused to allow testimony on the specific lack of performance of job responsibility that was attached to the contest of the fee schedule,” Owens Collins wrote in her complaint. “He expressed a greater interest in protecting Associate Judge that presided at the start of the guardianship proceeding, which severely hampered mounting a sufficient argument that the fees should not be paid.”

The physician executive daughter further accuses the Honorable Judge Michael Newman of recklessly awarding without justification some $90,000 to the court-appointed guardian and attorneys who allegedly looted her mother’s estate with excessive legal fees.

“The defendant recklessly approved all of the fees and closed the guardianship without giving notice to the plaintiff, leaving unsettled bills and without providing findings of fact and conclusion despite two requests, which decreases the transparency and trust in the judicial system by the lay community that it supposes to serve,” Owens Collins stated.

Among the causes of action are violations of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which includes abuse of the vulnerable, and violations of Canon 1 and 2 of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct upholding the integrity and independence of the judiciary and avoiding impropriety.

“There was important evidence [the Defendant did] not allow to be presented,” Owens Collins alleges. “Dana Drexler was the most toxic and sociopathic of the appointed attorneys. There was a conflict of interest as [Drexler] is a former board member of Adult Protective Services, which was investigating the plaintiff for false allegations made by her niece, Aisha Ross.”

The Texas physician isn’t the first to sue over the court-appointed guardianship of an elderly or disabled individual. Other plaintiffs in Texas as well as plaintiffs in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, California, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio have increasingly cried afoul in recent years. In response, U.S. Representatives Darren Soto, Charlie Crist, and Gus Bilirakis of Florida as well as Debbie Dingell of Michigan introduced HR 4174 in 2019 to assist states in guardianship oversight but the bill was not enacted into law.

“Mrs. Hattie Owens was the victim of elder trafficking perpetrated by stakeholders in the Harris County guardianship and probate court system,” Owens Collins wrote.

The plaintiff seeks punitive damages, costs of the suit, and interest on costs of the suit as well as a judgment in her favor on all the causes of action in the suit.

“Attempts to promote good health and well-being by the plaintiff for her mother were communicated to the tribunal as interference and evidence of unsuitability,” Owens Collins said. “As a guardian, the extent that Dana Drexler went to paint this false narrative is nothing short of pathological.”

Litigation is currently pending with Magistrate Peter Bray and U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes who was appointed by former President Ronald Reagan.

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95-year-old charged with first-degree murder in Lafayette assisted living shooting

by Julia Cardi

FILE - This booking provided by the Boulder County Sheriff's Office shows Okey Payne, a 95-year-old resident of an assisted living facility accused of shooting and killing a maintenance worker. Payne has been charged with first-degree murder, on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. .

Okey Payne, the 95-year-old man accused in the fatal shooting a maintenance worker at the Lafayette assisted living facility where he lived, appeared Wednesday in court in Boulder County to face charges of first-degree murder and felony menacing. 

The murder charge could bring a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole if Payne is convicted.

Payne has a preliminary hearing to air evidence in the case scheduled for May 5.

He claimed he shot Ricardo Medina-Rojas because he took $200 from Payne’s wallet, a probable cause arrest affidavit states.

During his interview with police, he made a number of allegations against employees at the facility, saying they had been stealing from him for more than a year and that he believes his ex-wife has been working with employees to steal from him. 

Payne also claimed he woke up with needle marks in his big toe and said employees were trying to drug and kill him, court papers said. 

His claims have not been confirmed by investigations by Lafayette police and Adult Protective Services.

An attorney for the nominated guardian referenced a doctor’s letter attesting Payne has severe cognitive impairment.

“We feel the need for an emergency appointment, which under the statute can go for no longer than 60 days, arises out of the abrupt change in circumstance for Mr. Payne from the matters being addressed in the criminal case,” said attorney Brandon Fields.

He referenced Payne’s advanced age and his sudden change in living circumstances.

“And it seems unlikely he'll be able to return to his assisted living in light of the allegations and events that have taken place, and he may not have access to the same health care providers, and he may need other assistance with decision making,” Fields said.

Kay Jones, who serves as a guardian professionally, was nominated as Payne’s emergency guardian. She has had medical power of attorney for him.

But attorney Martha Ridgway, who appeared on behalf of the person requested to serve as Payne’s special conservator, said she believes a guardian for Payne is needed because Payne can revoke Jones’ power of attorney at any time.

Attorney Christina Ebner was nominated as Payne’s special conservator. 

By law, emergency guardianships and special conservatorships last up to 60 days. Ridgway said she intends to petition for a permanent conservatorship for Payne.

Public defender Kathryn Herold, one of Payne's defense attorneys, objected to the appointment of a guardian, saying Payne is receiving good-quality medical care in the Boulder County jail by being housed in his own module and given around-the-clock care by two trustees.

She said she is concerned appointment of a guardian could negatively impact his criminal case.

“I do appreciate that everyone is here to help Mr. Payne, but not everyone is as well-versed in the criminal law, and that's where my specialty comes in and my concerns come in,” she said.

Hartman said he will issue a written order on the emergency requests.

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Rainsville woman arrested on charges of financially exploiting the elderly

Debra Lynn Credille, 45, of Rainsville

A Rainsville woman was arrested on charges of financially exploiting the elderly.

Officers with the Scottsboro Police Department recovered an antique coin collection at a residence during a search warrant on Monday. As a result of the investigation into the coin collection, it was determined to have been stolen from a residence in Hollywood, AL.

Debra Lynn Credille, 45, of Rainsville, was arrested and charged with Financial Exploitation of the Elderly 1st degree and possession of drug paraphernalia. Davey Allen Campbell, 44, of Scottsboro, was also arrested and was charged with Receiving Stolen Property 1st degree.

The investigation is ongoing and more arrests are expected.

Hollywood Police assisted Scottsoboro in the investigation.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Walt Disney’s grandson fights to save family Wyoming ranch

by Vince Bodiford

The Code of the West says, “Remember that some things aren’t for sale,” but Disney heir’s California trustees have different designs on the ranch

(CHEYENNE, WY) A picturesque 110-acre Wyoming ranch in Teton County is at the center of a multi-million-dollar battle by Walt Disney's grandson, Bradford Disney Lund, to secure control of the inheritance put in trust for Lund by his mother, Sharon D. Lund.

The Code of the West seems to elude Lund, who hopes that the Wyoming ranch will continue to be retained by the trust as was intended for use and enjoyment by him and his family. Lund is ensnarled in California's notoriously abusive-prone probate system. As full as Walt Disney was with imagination, he likely would have never dreamt that such an unhappy circumstance would unfold for his grandson.

Hanging in the balance is "Eagle South Fork," the family ranch that is located in Wilson, Wyoming, in Teton County, in the shadow of Grand Teton, not far from Jackson Hole. It's been a Disney family treasure for decades.

But the California trustees of the estate have different designs on that ranch and recently sent Lund a letter demanding that he buy the very ranch of which his trust already owns one-half, or they'll sell it to other outside buyers for millions, which would be contrary to his mother's clear intent according to Lund's filings. In that letter, his trustees – who by law should only act in his best interests – gave him just a few days to pay up with his personal funds at a higher price than would be the case if the ranch were restricted to family uses and contrary to what the trustees and his sister had previously agreed.

In an exclusive interview with The Cheyenne Post, Lund said that "the ranch isn't for sale, I don't want it sold," making it clear that he wants the ranch to stay in the family to continue to enjoy, and not break up and develop. The California trustees apparently have never heard of one of the Codes of the West – "Remember that some things aren't for sale."

Concerning the sale of the Wyoming ranch, Lund objects to any such sale, stating that it would be in violation of the family's long history over 40 years of wanting to keep the 110-acre ranch for the children's use and enjoyment during their lifetimes.

So, Lund went into the district court in Teton County to stop the trustees from selling the ranch to outsiders against Lund's wishes. The Trustees attempted to move the case to California instead of Wyoming because they claimed it was more convenient. The trustees apparently believe that a California court might be more friendly and certainly a world away from understanding Wyoming and better to decide the fate of that little patch of Wyoming ground. The court agreed to transfer the case to California and dismiss Lund's case.

However, Lund recently filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment, which would, in effect, allow the judge to take another look at his decision to transfer the case to California. If the judge does not change his transfer ruling, Lund intends to appeal to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

In our exclusive interview with Bradford Lund this week, he shared ranch stories– most stories were happy, and some were sad.

Happy stories recall his father, Bill Lund, developing and building the ranch decades ago, and Lund helped his father set fenceposts (a Wyoming art form), fly-fishing on Fish Creek (the ranch is on the banks of the creek, itself on the edge of Snake River), horseback and ATV adventures and more.

Among the most moving is Brad's desire to establish a permanent memorial for his father on the ranch that Brad says his dad loved so much and always intended to remain with the family. "I'd like for my father's ashes to rest on this ranch (allowed in Wyoming)," Lund said.

Sad stories were – frankly – shocking. Previously able to use and enjoy the ranch whenever he and his family wished, Lund said they have been essentially alienated and deterred from enjoying the ranch due to the trustees' conduct.

"I feel that we were treated viciously by the trustees," he said. Lund also claimed, "the trustees have shown hostility towards me by demanding I move my personal items contained in my bedroom at the ranch to the garage contrary to my custom for the previous 25 years. Also, the trustees ordered that the property of my family, who visit the ranch with me, be removed from the ranch completely. I believe that these actions by the trustees are for the sole purpose of harassing and exerting control over me, demonstrating their consistent hostility towards me. They boxed up all of our possessions and sent them to us."

When Lund tried to place some personal items back at the ranch, "they put my stuff in trash bags and threw it all away."

In my conversation with him that lasted over an hour, Lund very clearly and concisely articulated stories and long-ago memories of enjoying the ranch over the years with his family and the details of his dispute with the trustees that go back years.

"All I want is my freedom, to have what is mine," he said. He clearly has a firm understanding of the complexities of his estate and how he wants to preserve and manage it. Lund said the trustees have kept control of his estate by falsely asserting he isn't competent to manage it himself, despite the fact that an Arizona judge after an extensive trial found that he was competent to handle his personal and financial affairs. This finding was confirmed all the way up to the Arizona Supreme Court. His twin sister Michelle Lund in sworn court testimony, agreed.

When reached by telephone and asked about the issues, Newport Beach, CA. based Douglas M. Strode, one of the trustees, answered questions about the ranch and Mr. Lund with a simple answer, "no comment."

Disney's grandson was recently forced to file court papers in the Los Angeles County Superior Court asking to block his four trustees: L. Andrew Gifford, Robert L. Wilson, Douglas M. Strode, and the First Republic Trust Company, from selling the ranch, according to an attorney representing him - Lanny J. Davis.

For nearly the past decade, Lund has battled estranged family members, trustees, and probate court officials, proving again and again that he ismentally fit to manage an inheritance worth over $400-million. He's had to prove that he doesn't have Down syndrome, as a California judge wrongfully asserted, despite being presented with DNA evidence contradicting his speculation. A court in Arizona even agreed and found Lund capable of handling his affairs.

In representing the Disney heir, attorney Lanny Davis is no stranger to complex legal matters. He served as special counsel to then-President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s and as privacy and civil liberties advisor to President George W. Bush from 2006-2007 and represented President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Davis chose to join the Lund legal team out of his concern for the injustices done to Lund.

Mr. Lund's choice of attorney, also including renowned Scottsdale litigator Sandra Slaton, might alone quash any doubts about his ability to manage his affairs.

According to legal filings, the four trustees themselves agreed that the ranch had special personal value to the Lund family – that it was of a "particular nature" with a "connection to the Lund family."

Lund asserted in his court papers that the new proposed sale would be a violation of a prior deal for him to acquire his twin sister's other half of the ranch share, and the 40-year intent of Mr. Lund's parents to keep the Ranch in the Trust for the children's lifetime use and enjoyment. "Our family has always treasured the pristine environment – the rivers and streams and forests and wildlife – of our ranch over many years. We do not want it to be changed."

In his filings, Lund asserted: "An undeniable benefit will be to the Trustees based upon their Real Estate Fee. The Trustees will receive 2% of the purchase price." The trustees have described this fee as "extraordinary." According to the terms of Lund's and his twin sister's trusts, as explained in the legal filings, neither Mr. Lund nor his sister would personally receive an economic benefit if the ranch were sold at the higher price based on commercial subdivisions of the ranch.

Saving the Wyoming ranch would be one step closer for Bradford Lund toward putting the family disputes the trustees created behind him and living his life in peace and freedom.

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Florida woman, 94, wins $19 million fraud ruling against JP Morgan, grandsons

Beverly Schottenstein, part of an Ohio retail dynasty, had alleged her grandsons had improperly managed her money.


The Financial Industry Regulatory Agency has ruled in favor of a 94-year-old South Florida woman who claims that JP Morgan Securities and her grandsons mishandled her money. [ Photo illustration by ASHLEY DYE and MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
By Jay Cridlin

A financial arbitration group has awarded nearly $19 million to a 94-year-old Bal Harbour woman who claimed her two grandsons, then brokers at JP Morgan Securities, mishandled her money by forging her signature and making unauthorized purchases.

Beverly Schottenstein, whose family fortune came from a string of retail chains, including DSW, American Eagle Outfitters and American Signature Furniture, filed the complaint through the Financial Industry Regulatory Agency, or FINRA, a non-governmental organization that enforces rules and settles disputes involving stock broker-dealers.

In its ruling, regulatory agency arbitrators found Schottenstein’s grandsons, Evan and Avi Schottenstein, as well as JP Morgan, liable for fraud and abuse of fiduciary duty. The Schottenstein men were also found liable for elder abuse in the eyes of Florida law.

The case now goes to a court in South Florida, where a federal judge in Miami will turn the ruling into a judgment, unless the case is settled before then.

“Our client is very happy with the award, and we’re happy that we were able to secure this for her,” said Guy Burns, a managing partner with Tampa law firm Johnson, Pope, Bokor, Ruppel and Burns, which represented Beverly Schottenstein. “We’re looking forward to getting it paid promptly and closing this chapter in her life and letting her move on. She’s 94 years old, seems to be in good health and reasonably robust for someone her age. Hopefully she’ll have an opportunity to put this behind her and enjoy life going forward.”

According to the regulatory agency complaint, Evan and Avi Schottenstein began managing their grandmother’s money several years ago — first Evan with Morgan Stanley in 2009, then both when they began working for JP Morgan in 2014.

Beverly Schottenstein alleged that her grandsons made a number of “extremely complex, highly risky” investments worth more than $72 million, which led to losses of more than $10 million, but yielded the men and JP Morgan hundreds of thousands in fees.

Between 2015 and 2018, the claim alleged, the men were responsible for hundreds of transactions worth hundreds of millions of dollars, including many where they and JP Morgan stood to earn a profit as market makers, or broker-dealers that trade particular stocks.

Burns said any trading in Beverly Schottenstein’s name was unauthorized, with her grandsons forging emails in her name in order to get certain trades approved, and later encouraging her to destroy paperwork involving her JP Morgan transactions.

“She didn’t have a computer,” Burns said. “It was clear that they were overreaching and abusing their authority. They didn’t ask for permission for any of these transactions. They were just trading on their own.”

That federal regulatory agency invoked Florida’s elder abuse statue in its ruling opens the case to criminal investigation “if some prosecutor wanted to pick this up and file charges for elder exploitation or wire fraud — which they were, I believe, guilty of,” Burns said.

Emails to Evan and Avi Schottenstein’s attorneys were not immediately returned Tuesday evening. A spokeswoman for JP Morgan declined to comment on the ruling.

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Nursing home legislation set to pass through committee this week

by: Corina Cappabianca

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Legislation is in the works to promote better care at long-term care facilities in New York. A recent report from the State Attorney General’s Office found that many nursing homes did not comply with infection control policies, putting residents at risk. 

Now, several bills to make long-term care facilities safer are expected to head through committee this week. Democrat Senator Rachel May who chairs the Aging Committee says a big issue remains visitation. “There’s evidence that people have died just because they didn’t have family members coming in, paying attention to whether they were eating or whether they were taking care of themselves in the most basic ways or if the staff had been aware of an infection or something like that,” she said. 

May is sponsoring legislation that would allow residents to designate someone for personal care visitation and it would expand compassionate care visits. “We really need people to be able to get back into nursing homes and see their loved ones and so this has been a long time in process, but I’m really excited that it’s coming up in committee this week, and hopeful that we’ll vote on it next week,” May said.

She’s also has a bill to reform the long-term care ombudsman program, and another that has already passed in the Senate to “reimagine” the long-term care task force.

“We’re going to pass a number of bills through committee this week that have to do with oversight of nursing homes, with transparency communication with residents and their families about what’s been going on in nursing homes, infection control, PPE, just the whole gamut and also reporting of both deaths and other outcomes in nursing homes,” she said.

While Republicans have called on May to issue the Department of Health a subpoena over the nursing home deaths, May says, “The subpoena issue I do think is kind of moot at this point.”

She notes one of the bills lawmakers are planning to pass tomorrow through the health committee requires reporting of deaths of nursing home residents, even if they died in hospital, and it’s retroactive to March of last year. 

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Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Bill giving adult guardians authority over final dispositions advances, but with concerns

by Olivia Covington
A bill that would give adult guardians a say in the final disposition of their wards is headed to the full Senate, but a narrow vote in committee likely means the legislation will see further amendments.

Senate Bill 276 is scheduled for second reading in the Indiana Senate on Monday. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 3 advanced the legislation — authored by Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson — on a 6-5 vote.

SB 276 came to the Judiciary Committee from the Probate Code Study Commission. The commission heard testimony this fall about an issue guardians say has become more pronounced during COVID: When a ward dies, guardians’ duties terminate immediately.

According to Rebecca Pryor, a practicing adult guardian and guardianship advocate, that termination presents a problem in situations where an incapacitated adult has no other family or representatives to carry out their final wishes. In those cases, Pryor previously told Indiana Lawyer, guardians must search for family members who may not have been involved in the deceased’s life but who would have the legal right to make decisions regarding final disposition.

To remedy that issue, Lanane’s legislation would amend Chapter 29 of the Indiana Code to give court-appointed adult guardians high priority to make decisions regarding the disposition of the body, as well as funeral and ceremonial arrangements. Specifically, I.C. 29-2-19-7 would place adult guardians second on the priority list, behind only a person given authority in a funeral planning declaration or a Department of Defense form if the decedent died while serving in the Armed Forces.

Under an amendment approved by the committee, additional statutes in Chapter 29 and Chapter 23 would give guardians second-place priority to make decisions regarding other issues such as anatomical gifts and requesting an autopsy.

The Probate Code Study Commission ultimately did not make a recommendation on the issue, which was brought by Pryor on behalf of the Working Interdisciplinary Networks of Guardianship Stakeholders — or WINGS — Indiana Adult Guardianship State Task Force. In addition to WINGS, the legislation received support in the Judiciary Committee from the Indiana Funeral Directors Association, Indiana AARP and the Indiana Association of Area Agencies on Aging, as well as from Anne Poindexter, a probate lawyer with Altman, Poindexter & Wyatt in Carmel.

Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, was added as an author on the bill with Lanane. However, several of her Republican colleagues raised concerns about SB 276 and ultimately voted against it.

Among them was Sen. Aaron Freeman, the Indianapolis Republican who chaired the Probate Code Study Commission. He called the legislation a “fundamental” change to the general premise that an adult guardianship terminates at the time of a ward’s death.

The most frequent concern raised during both commission hearings and in committee was the placement of guardians above surviving spouses on the statutory priority lists. The proposed amendments to the probate code would place spouses fourth on the list, behind those with powers of attorney.

Lanane told committee members that if a court has determined a guardian is necessary, any surviving spouse likely has been determined to not have the capability to advocate for their spouse’s best interests. Sen. Lonnie Randolph, however, voted against the legislation based on that issue.

“I have been married 27 years, and I’m not going to put a guardian above my wife,” Randolph said during the committee vote. “I cannot see a mother being second fiddle to a guardian of an unmarried single son.

“I see the objective,” Randolph continued, “but at this point I can’t support this.”

Freeman and Sen. Mike Young, also an Indianapolis Republican, both raised a related issue: the role of out-of-state family in making final decisions in cases where a guardian has been appointed.

Young presented two scenarios: first, a guardian choosing to spend an excessive amount of money on a funeral, and second, a guardian going against a ward’s religious or personal beliefs on issues such as organ donation. If either of those situations were present, what redress would family members have?

Pryor sought to assuage those concerns by telling Young that generally, if a guardian is appointed and family members have a relationship with the ward, the guardian will work with both the ward and the family on end-of-life decisions. That would include the pre-planning of funeral arrangements and making decisions on issues such as whether the ward wishes to be an organ donor.

Young, however, ultimately did not support SB 276 in committee.

“I think most of them, if they’re good guardians, will try to work these issues out ahead of time,” he said. “But they’re not required to be worked out ahead of time, and I don’t know if I have standing” to challenge the guardian’s decisions as a family member.

In a similar vein, Freeman presented a scenario from his own experience: his grandparents recently died, and while he was not their guardian, he is now serving as the executor of their affairs in Ohio. Under SB 276, Freeman said, his voice in final decision-making would be behind that of a guardian, if one had been appointed for his grandparents.

“You’re not going to get me to sign up for that,” he said.

The Probate, Trust & Real Property Section of the Indiana State Bar Association, represented by Indianapolis probate lawyer Jeff Dible, took a neutral position on SB 276. Dible, counsel at Frost Brown Todd in Indianapolis, said the bar had “technical” concerns about the legislation.

Specifically, Dible raised the issue of SB 276 conflicting with statutes governing health care powers of attorney. It’s not controversial to add guardians to the priority list, he said, but reasonable minds differ over whether guardians should be above POAs on those lists. SB 276 would place POAs third on the list, behind guardians.

Other statutes concerning POAs specifically provide that in situations where both a POA and a guardian are in place, the guardian cannot perform any task under the authority of the attorney in fact without a court order, Dible said. Thus, amending the statutes at issue in SB 276 to give guardianships priority over POAs could create inconsistencies, he said.

The leading case dealing with that issue, Dible said, is Guardianship of Morris, 56 N.E.3rd 719 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016).

Dible also noted that House Bill 1252 addresses the same statute as SB 276, so he cautioned the General Assembly against writing each bill in such a way that would create a conflict. Similarly, Sen. Liz Brown, the Fort Wayne Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee, noted that SB 276 would need to be harmonized with Senate Bill 204, which deals with health care advance directives.

Some Republicans on the committee urged Brown to hold the bill for additional committee amendment, while Lanane offered to amend his bill on the Senate floor. Brown ultimately called for a vote, telling committee members that she was confident Lanane would keep his word to continue working on the bill. Glick, too, told committee members who opposed the measure that they were “overthinking” its impact.

Those opposing SB 276 in committee were Randolph, Young, Freeman and Republican Sens. Eric Koch of Bedford and Mike Gaskill of Pendleton.

The Feb. 3 committee hearing can be viewed online.

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Judge: Defense attorney to pay costs of mistrial

by Seaborn Larson

A defense attorney from Missoula is on the hook for all the costs of a nine-day trial in Libby after the state district court judge ruled the attorney had intentionally caused delays that led to a mistrial. 

Lincoln County District Court Judge Matthew Cuffe issued the order Friday, the ninth and last day of the trial. The defendant, Kip Hartman of Idaho, faces financial and elder exploitation crimes, including conducting insurance transactions without a license, transacting business as an investment advisor without a license, securities fraud, four counts of exploiting the elderly, tampering with witnesses and deceptive practices. The joint prosecution includes the state Commissioner of Securities and Insurance and the Lincoln County Attorney's Office.

It was not immediately clear if prosecutors will seek another trial after Cuffe's order. The Commissioner of Securities and Insurance, Troy Downing, and the Lincoln County Attorney, Marcia Boris, issued a joint statement on Saturday.

“We are proud of our team who performed professionally and diligently. We believe the order speaks for itself. Our offices will continue to vigorously advocate to protect Montanans.”

Shandor Badaruddin, Hartman's defense attorney and the lawyer ordered Friday to pay the costs of the mistrial, did not return an email seeking comment Sunday afternoon.

Prosecutors charged Hartman, 35, in 2019 after a Troy woman told state investigators Hartman had instructed her to sell her father's annuity, which would have brought in a $2 million inheritance, and to purchase an annuity from him while never having a license in Montana to give such financial advice, according to charging documents.

Investigators found Hartman had done the same for Libby and Troy residents from 2015 to 2019, and did so without the proper licenses, according to coverage of the trial from The Western News. Initial charging documents state Hartman made more than $700,000 through advising one client to purchase one of his annuities. 

Hartman's defense maintained during the trial he had not exploited anyone. The Western News reported Badaruddin, in opening statements, said state investigators had pressured Hartman's clients to testify against him. 

According to his Friday ruling, Cuffe noted "concerning behavior" throughout the nine-day trial from Hartman's defense attorney such as wasting time with witnesses on facts that were not in dispute, arriving at the hearings without hard copies of exhibits and bringing witnesses into the courtroom after longer periods of time than necessary.

At the end of the eighth day, according to Cuffe's order, the judge told Badaruddin he had only 15 minutes left for the defense to present its case, but Badaruddin insisted he needed three hours of his client's testimony. Badaruddin, according to the court filing, said his own trial mismanagement should not affect his client's right to testify. 

Cuffe, the following morning, agreed with Badaruddin's position and called a mistrial. Badaruddin then urged the judge to instead let him proceed with his client's testimony, which he now said could be done in 90 minutes, according to the judge's order. Cuffe declined, and ordered Badaruddin pay the costs of the mistrial, including, but not limited to, rental costs of the facility needed to hold the trial due to COVID-19 precautions, jury costs and the court reporter's fee, as well as travel expenses, lodging and meals for those who participated in the trial.

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Two sentenced for exploiting elderly in McLean County construction fraud scheme


Two men accused of using deceptive tactics and intimidation in a construction fraud scheme in McLean County were sentenced Monday to 15 months in prison and have paid more than $700,000 in restitution.

Bartley Gorman Jr., 56, of Minot, pleaded guilty to illegal control of an enterprise and exploitation of a vulnerable adult, court records show. Sean Gorman, 27, also of Minot, pleaded guilty to exploitation, construction fraud and operating without construction or merchant licenses.

The men were charged in late 2019. Authorities said Sean Gorman used deceptive tactics and intimidation to get a Garrison man to pay $42,000 for work he didn't request and that Gorman started without approval.

Sean Gorman and Bartley Gorman “victimized elderly or vulnerable people using residential construction fraud,” an affidavit filed by McLean County State’s Attorney Ladd Erickson states. The two did “deceptive and fraudulent work” on home improvements for an elderly widow, charging her $6,700 for the work. Sean Gorman allegedly attempted to steal $65,000 from another woman, asking for payment after starting an asphalt project she thought was warranty work. Sean Gorman used “threats and extortion,” the affidavit states, in an effort to get the woman to turn over a car and a camper as a down payment.

South Central District Judge James Hill suspended half of the 30-month jail sentence he ordered for each man, court records show. Bartley Gorman paid $63,000 in restitution and Sean Gorman paid $42,000 in restitution as part of the plea agreement. They've also paid $666,000 to McKenzie County victims who were discovered during the investigation.

They must spend two years on supervised probation after their incarceration.

Sean Gorman is charged with five more construction fraud and exploitation felonies in two other cases, court records show. He is scheduled for change of plea hearings on Feb. 12. The restitution agreement also covers those cases.

The two are alleged to be part of a crime ring known as Travelers, Irish Travelers and several other names, according to a McLean County court affidavit. In North Dakota, they've concentrated their efforts on construction scams in the rural areas of oil-producing counties, according to information from North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

Defense attorney James Ochs, who represents Sean Gorman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Jesse Walstad, attorney for Bartley Gorman, declined comment.

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Monday, February 8, 2021

Coronavirus cases show decline at nursing homes, other long-term care facilities

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Coronavirus cases have dropped at U.S. nursing homes and other long-term care facilities over the past few weeks, offering a glimmer of hope that health officials attribute to the start of vaccinations, an easing of the post-holiday surge and better prevention, among other reasons.
More than 153,000 residents of the country’s nursing homes and assisted living centers have died of COVID-19, accounting for 36% of the U.S. pandemic death toll, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Many of the roughly 2 million people who live at such facilities remain cut off from loved ones because of the risk of infection. The virus still kills thousands of them weekly.

The overall trend for long-term care residents is improving, though, with fewer new cases recorded and fewer facilities reporting outbreaks. Coupled with better figures for the country overall, it’s cause for optimism even if it’s too early to declare victory.

“We definitely think there’s hope and there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” said Marty Wright, who heads a nursing home trade group in West Virginia.

Nursing homes have been a priority since vaccinations began in mid-December, and the federal government says 1.5 million long-term care residents have already received at least an initial dose.

Researchers and industry leaders say they are seeing marked improvements after months in which some nursing homes lost dozens of residents to the disease and had to keep others in semi-isolation for protection. Some 2,000 nursing homes are now virus-free, or about 13% nationally, according to an industry group, and many are dealing with far fewer cases than before.

In West Virginia, where about 30% of the state’s roughly 2,080 COVID-19 deaths occurred at long-term care centers, fewer outbreaks are happening and fewer residents are requiring hospitalization, said Wright, chief executive of the West Virginia Health Care Association. Pennsylvania-based Genesis HealthCare, which operates more than 325 nursing homes, assisted-living facilities or senior living communities in 24 states, has seen similar improvements, said spokeswoman Lori Mayer.

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, an industry trade organization, said Thursday that data from about 800 nursing homes where initial vaccine doses were administered in late December offered promising results. Cases among residents fell by 48% at homes where immunizations had occurred, compared to a 21% decline at non-vaccinated facilities nearby. Meanwhile, cases among employees dropped by 33% at vaccinated homes, compared to 18% at non-vaccinated facilities.

After reaching a high of almost 73,600 new weekly cases in long-term care facilities nationwide in mid-December, the number was down 31% by late January, to about 50,000 new cases per week, an Associated Press analysis found. Still, the most recent weekly count is 18% higher than the seven-day period that ended on Thanksgiving, when numbers started climbing.

The weekly count of new deaths remains stubbornly high, with a record 7,042 recorded during the seven-day span that ended Jan. 14 and only a slight decline since. By comparison, for the seven days that ended on Thanksgiving, 3,181 deaths were recorded. More encouragingly, the COVID Tracking Project found that only 251 facilities reported new outbreaks recently, compared to 1,410 in early January.

Dr. David Gifford, chief medical officer for the national association, said the numbers show signs for hope since they indicate vaccines might decrease the spread of COVID-19, a finding not shown in trials.

“If verified with additional data, this could expedite the reopening of long-term care facilities to visitors, which is vital to residents’ health and wellbeing,” he said in a statement.

The ability to visit left Mark Badger and his 91-year-old father Billy, who is in an Anchorage, Alaska, nursing home, in tears. It was the first face-to-face visit in a year. Mark Badger’s mother had died at the home a year ago.

“This is a period when he really needs us,” Mark Badger said. “He’s been lonely.”

Experts caution that only some of the improvement can be linked to vaccines.

Studies from Israel show it takes a patient about 12 days for the first of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to provide meaningful protection, said Roni Rosenfeld, a computational epidemiologist who heads the Machine Learning Department at Carnegie Mellon University. Despite all the long-term care facility residents and workers who have received at least one dose of vaccine, those doses haven’t had enough time to work for most people, he said this week.

“The vaccine likely contributed, but very, very little,” said Rosenfeld.

Health officials say other factors are likely playing a larger role, including an ebb in the post-holiday surge, an ever-larger number of people who are immune because they’ve had the disease, behavioral changes and more abundant protective gear. And they caution that there are still threats lurking, including more contagious strains of the virus and a reluctance by many nursing home workers to get vaccinated.

At Arbor Springs Health and Rehabilitation Center in Opelika, Alabama, where 19 patients died of COVID-19 early in the pandemic, none of the roughly 115 patients are infected now, said Mark Traylor, who heads the facility’s parent company, Traylor-Porter Healthcare.

“We look after each other in here. We take care of each other,” resident Susan McEachern said Wednesday as she and a friend — both wearing masks — sat in a communal room that was recently reopened because many residents had been vaccinated.

Traylor said a better understanding of how to prevent the spread of the virus and how to treat COVID-19 was the difference between “looking into an abyss” during those first weeks of the crisis and visitors now being allowed back on a limited basis.

“We’re going to be in great shape once we get everybody vaccinated,” said Traylor.

PruittHealth, which operates about 100 nursing homes in the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida, has 29 locations that are free of COVID-19 and fewer patients overall testing positive in recent weeks, said CEO Neil Pruitt.

Although more than 70% of PruittHealth’s eligible nursing home residents have been immunized, only 27% of its employees have agreed to be vaccinated, Pruitt said. Without a big improvement in that employee figure, he’s worried cases could spike again once people start traveling over spring break.

“Right now, I’m not confident,” he said.

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