Saturday, April 10, 2021

Governor Authorizes Measure Strengthening Guardian Oversight To Protect Vulnerable Adults In New Mexico

Submitted by Carol A. Clark

SANTA FE — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday signed into law extensive guardianship reform legislation, creating much-needed oversight of legal guardians and conservators that control medical, financial, residential and other major life decisions of more than 6,000 New Mexicans who are aging or living with disabilities.

Inadequate oversight of guardianship and conservatorship cases have left many of the most at-risk adults in this state susceptible to abuse, neglect or exploitation.

Sponsored by Rep. Marian Matthews and co-sponsored by Rep. Joanne Ferrary, Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, Sen. Linda Lopez and Sen. Katy Duhigg, House Bill 234 establishes a court visitor pilot project, a partnership between the courts and the Developmental Disabilities Council’s Office of Guardianship to provide eyes and ears on the ground for judges to monitor guardianship cases.

The goal of the pilot project is to build a program that will allow judges to assign volunteer court visitors to meet with and submit a report about every person under guardianship in New Mexico at least once a year.

The bill also establishes the Working Interdisciplinary Network of Guardianship Stakeholders program, or WINGS, based on a national model that studies and implements best practices in guardianship and alternatives to guardianship.

“This legislation will help ensure that our guardianship system provides adults with the least restrictive alternatives to managing and living their lives,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. “We must commit to the ongoing work of reforming and evolving beyond guardianship. Through the WINGS program, we will bring to New Mexico the most innovative ideas from around the country on how to best protect the rights of people who are subject to guardianship and ensure that they and their families have a voice.”

House Bill 234 requires the Office of Guardianship, Administrative Office of the Courts and Office of the State Auditor to oversee and monitor guardians and conservators in meaningful ways. Specifically, the bill requires the Office of Guardianship to conduct annual comprehensive reviews of state-funded guardianship services, as well as welfare visits of protected persons receiving those services.

Additionally, the bill requires the Administrative Office of the Courts to establish a guardianship annual report review division and authorizes the Office of the State Auditor to review annual conservator’s reports, access financial records in conservatorship cases, and conduct full audits, if necessary.

“For too long, the guardianship system in New Mexico has been paternalistic, overly restrictive, and unexamined,” said Executive Director Alice Liu McCoy of the New Mexico Developmental Disabilities Council. “HB 234 will hold everyone in the guardianship system accountable – which include not only guardians and conservators, but legal professionals, state agencies, and the courts. Most importantly, it requires everyone in the guardianship system to continually seek the least restrictive options to meet the protected person’s needs.”

The bill requires the Office of Guardianship to publish an annual report about publicly funded guardianship services in New Mexico, which will increase transparency and support evidence-based policy recommendations to improve the guardianship system. The bill also requires the head of the Office of Guardianship to be an attorney licensed in New Mexico.

The number of guardianship cases is expected to increase significantly, as pandemic complications arise and the state’s population ages rapidly. The Office of Guardianship’s wait lists have dramatically increased in the past year.

Full Article & Source:

Wyoming Supreme Court disbar former tribal court judge sentenced for drug trafficking on Wind River Reservation

By Brendan LaChance 

(File photo, Trevor T. Trujillo; Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming Supreme Court has disbarred attorney Terri V. Smith of Arapaho, Wyoming, the Wyoming State Bar said on Wednesday.

“The order of disbarment stemmed from a 2019 felony drug arrest which ended with Smith pleading guilty to two felonies and being sentenced to six months in prison, to be followed by six months of home confinement, to be followed by three years of supervised release,” the Wyoming State Bar said. “Smith stipulated to the disbarment, which was presented to the Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR).”

“In approving the BPR’s recommendation for an order of disbarment, the Wyoming Supreme Court ordered Smith to pay an administrative fee in the amount of $750.00 and costs of $50.00 to the Wyoming State Bar.”

T order of disbarment is available online.

Smith, 35, was sentenced by Federal District Court Judge Alan B. Johnson on Oct. 6, 2020 for “conspiracy to distribute oxycodone and distribution of cocaine,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming.

“She received six months of imprisonment, to be followed by thirty-six months of supervised release, and ordered to pay community restitution in the amount of $500.00 and a $200.00 special assessment,” the release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming states.

She was sentenced to six months imprisonment to be followed by 36 months of supervised release. She was formerly a Wind River Indian Reservation Chief Tribal Court judge.

Smith’s sister, Jerri Lee Smith, 35, was sentenced for “conspiracy to distribute oxycodone, conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine, and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.”

“She received fifty-one months of imprisonment, to be followed by forty-eight months of supervised release, and ordered to pay community restitution in the amount of $400.00 and a $300.00 special assessment,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming said.

The investigation into suspected drug activity and trafficking in Fremont County and the Wind River Reservation began in 2018 “after several traffic stops by the Wyoming Highway Patrol led to the discovery of quantities of methamphetamine, oxycodone, and cocaine,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming.

Agents with the FBI, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation participated in the investigation.

“A variety of investigative resources were used to determine that Jerri Smith and Terri Smith had been obtaining oxycodone in Utah and were selling them in Fremont County and on the Wind River Indian Reservation,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming said. “Additionally the investigation uncovered that Jerri Smith was also obtaining methamphetamine and cocaine in Utah then distributing and selling it in Wyoming.  At the time of the investigation, Terri Smith was the Chief Tribal Judge on the Wind River Indian Reservation. She later resigned from her position.”

When the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming announced the sentencings in Oct. 2020, FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Michael Schneider said: “Today’s sentencing of Tribal Judge Terri Smith and her sister is a step forward in identifying public officials and private citizens who commit federal crimes and victimize the community members of the Wind River Indian Reservation. Public officials who engage in violations of federal law, to include drug trafficking, erodes the public’s confidence in government. Investigating these individuals is one of the FBI’s top criminal priorities. The FBI Denver Division would like to extend its appreciation to the Rocky Mountain Safe Trails Task Force, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, and U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Wyoming for their invaluable assistance in this investigation.”

Full Article & Source:

ALERT: Connecticut considers bill to legalize doctor-assisted suicide

Adult residents who are deemed mentally competent and have been diagnosed by their attending physician with a terminal illness ‘may request aid in dying by making two oral requests and one written request to such patient's attending physician.’

By Calvin Freiburger

CONTACT YOUR CT LEGISLATORS: Oppose legalized euthanasia and HB 6425!nbsp;Click to contact your Legislators, now.

HARTFORD, April 8, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Medically-assisted suicide could become legal in Connecticut if the state legislature approves a Democrat-backed bill that would allow adults suffering from a terminal illness to take lethal medication to end their lives.

House Bill 6425 says that adult residents who are deemed mentally competent and have been diagnosed by their attending physician with a terminal illness “may request aid in dying by making two oral requests and one written request to such patient’s attending physician.” The two oral requests must be made at least fifteen days apart, and the written request must be made in the presence of at least two witnesses attesting to the patient’s soundness of mind and that he or she is acting voluntarily. The request may be rescinded at any time.

Notably, the bill says that the “person signing the qualified patient’s death certificate shall list the underlying terminal illness as the cause of death,” rather than the lethal drug.

If signed into law, it would take effect starting in October 2021, but many are speaking out in hopes of preventing that from happening. Hartford area disability-rights advocate Lisa Blumberg said it “defies imagination that Connecticut is contemplating legalizing assisted suicide when COVID-19 deaths have exceeded 500,000 nationwide,” and that enacting the bill “would increase the shredding of the social fabric” by offering death as a solution to depression.

Calling HB 6424 “nothing more than a license to kill,” the Connecticut Freedom Alliance submitted written testimony warning that the bill “allows only the patient’s health care providers to make the determination as to the patient’s mental competency to take his or her life, without any input from the ones who know the patient best — close family members”; and noting that “where assisted suicide (the more accurate title for this legislation) has been legalized, unimaginable horrors have ensued.”

“The Netherlands allows children as young as 12 to end their lives through euthanasia, and in 2017 alone, 6,585 people legally died this way in the country,” the group continued. “In 2014, Belgium became the first country to remove any age restriction on assisted suicide, so that children of all ages may now elect to end their own lives. And just two years after Canada legalized assisted suicide for adults, doctors at the world-renowned Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto are now calling for legislation that would allow children to end their lives without parental knowledge or consent.”

LifeSiteNews is currently running a Voter Voice campaign in hopes of making the public’s opposition to HB 6424 clear to Connecticut lawmakers. Readers can click on this link to easily send their elected representatives a pre-written message or write their own.

Full Article & Source:

Friday, April 9, 2021

Guardianship: It’s an Emergency and I Care a Lot…About Your Assets

by Stephanie Henrick

I recently watched the 2020 Netflix film “I Care a Lot”, the story of a professional court-appointed guardian (played by actress Rosamund Pike) who bilks the assets of dozens of elderly wards. As a Pennsylvania estate planning attorney, I regularly represent family members, alleged incapacitated individuals (AIPs), and guardians. And nothing makes my blood boil more than discovering someone has taken advantage of an elderly or disabled individual via guardianship.

Pike’s character, Marla Grayson along with the help of a crooked doctor, has elderly individuals declared incapacitated, that is, unable to take care of themselves. Grayson is appointed as legal guardian and subsequently drains her wards’ assets for her own personal gain. Unfortunately, the exploitation of the vulnerable occurs more than we care to admit.

Does Guardianship Fraud Happen a Lot?

Well, it doesn’t quite happen according to the film. Director/writer J Blakeson took liberties with the legal requirements, but this isn’t a courtroom drama. Plus, Blakeson needed to make room for the sub-plot of the retired Russian Mafioso (played by my favorite Game of Thrones actor, Peter Dinklage). I’ll leave it at that before I give away any spoilers.

So then how is one appointed a legal guardian In Pennsylvania?

A petition must be filed for adjudication of incapacity and for the appointment of a guardian. Under Pennsylvania law, the petitioner “may be any person interested in the alleged incapacitated person’s (“AIP”) welfare”. This is a fairly broad definition and may include family, neighbors, area agency on aging, healthcare provider or other professional with a relationship to the AIP.

Here, Grayson’s relationship to Dianne Wiest’s AIP character, Jennifer Peterson, is unclear. Marla doesn’t appear to be representing anyone (agency or otherwise) interested in Jennifer’s welfare. As an aside, I would challenge standing, but where is the entertainment value in that?

In a real life situation, the petitioner must prove by clear and convincing evidence to a Judge that the AIP is incapacitated to become a guardian. There need to be specific findings of cognitive incapacity that has impaired the person’s ability to understand information, to make reasoned decisions, to effectively manage their financial resources or assure their own physical health and safety.

In the movie, Grayson submits a report by the crooked doctor (Dr. Amos, played by Alicia Witt) to prove incapacity. While this is permissible under Pennsylvania law, the “clear and convincing” part is skipped over in the film. The judge states the court would “let it slide” because it was an emergency hearing without questioning why the matter was an emergency. In PA, an emergency hearing is proper where it is apparent that the AIP is at imminent risk of irreparable harm, including severe financial exploitation, medical risk or risk of homelessness.

In Pennsylvania, Grayson would also be required to show that there is no less restrictive alternative to the guardianship. For instance, does the AIP have a Power of Attorney? If not, is she able to execute a Power of Attorney? Does she have support in the community?

Certainly, Ms. Peterson would argue she has the support of the Russian mafia to handle her affairs, and she appears quite capable of executing a Power of Attorney. In reality, a guardianships is a last resort because it deprives a person of his/her legal rights and restricts their rights to autonomy and self-determination.

In Pennsylvania, there are two types of guardians:

  • a guardian of the person is responsible for making personal, residential and medical decisions for the AIP.
  • a guardian of the estate is responsible for financial decisions, managing income and property.

So how does a person get deemed incapacitated and appointed a guardian against his or her wishes, without even being present in court? Fiction aside, in an emergency hearing, the 20-day notice period is typically waived, but required for the plenary hearing. The AIP has a right to counsel and if they can’t afford one, counsel will be appointed by the court. In an emergency hearing, there usually isn’t time to appoint counsel until the plenary hearing. The AIP is also required to attend the hearing unless there is a sworn statement by a physician that the AIP’s physical or mental health would be harmed by attending.

In this movie, all of this plays perfectly to Pike’s game. While we don’t get to the plenary hearing in the movie, one can assume that Pike’s character would manipulate a loophole in the law, and have the crooked doctor friend testify that the AIP would be mentally harmed, legally excusing her from participating at the hearing.

One would hope that this Judge would follow suit with Montgomery County Pennsylvania’s Orphans’ Court, and appoint a well-vetted experienced Orphans’ Court attorney to represent the AIP. That is the only way to ensure that their voice will be heard by the Judge.

How can you avoid guardianship scams like the ones in “I Care A Lot”?

Have a current complete well-drafted estate plan, with financial and healthcare Powers of Attorney. Choose your agent under Power of Attorney wisely. Make sure it is someone you trust implicitly and then name a backup agent, just in case. While I can’t promise that you won’t end up in a guardianship proceeding if you have a POA (your agent could go rogue, fail to act, or die and there is no backup named), the chances are extremely low if you have the proper documents in place.

You can find “I Care a Lot” on Netflix now.

Full Article & Source:

Orleans magistrate commissioner disciplined by Supreme Court for forging client’s signature

by Nicholas Chrastil

Orleans Magistrate Commissioner Albert Thibodeaux was formally disciplined by the Louisiana Supreme Court following an investigation into allegations that, while working in private practice, he forged a legal client’s signature on a court pleading, notarized it, and filed it into the court record, according to a ruling handed down on Wednesday. 

Thibodeaux — who admitted that he violated legal ethics rules, according to the Wednesday ruling — was given a six-month suspension from practicing law, but that suspension was deferred “in its entirety” unless Thibodeaux engages in any further misconduct during that period. One of the justices, Jefferson D. Hughes III, thought the deferred suspension was not a harsh enough measure, and in a dissent said that he would have imposed a period of actual suspension.

It is unclear whether or how the disciplinary action will affect Thibodeaux’s role as commissioner in Orleans Parish Magistrate Court, where once a week he presides over first appearances and makes bail determinations for criminal defendants, among other duties. Commissioners are allowed to continue to practice civil law while presiding, but are barred from practicing criminal law. 

Reached on Wednesday, Thibodeaux said he was unable to discuss the court’s decision, and directed inquiries to his attorney, Harry Rosenberg. 

Rosenberg was not immediately able to be reached. Rob Kazik, the judicial administrator, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The ruling says that following an investigation into the allegations, Thibodeaux and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel — which serves as the investigative and prosecutorial arm of the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board — filed a “joint petition for consent discipline” in which Thibodeaux admitted he violated two Rules of Professional Conduct.

One of the rules states that “a lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client” which “requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.” The other makes it misconduct for a lawyer to “engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”

Thibodeaux is one of four magistrate commissioners, and was appointed by the 12 criminal court judges and the magistrate judge in 2014. 

Full Article & Source:

Florida long-term care residents can enjoy family visits, complete with hugs

Federal and state restrictions loosened this month to allow more normal visitation after more than a year of pandemic-induced lockdowns  

On July 17, 2020, Margaret Choinacki, 87, who has no other family members left because her husband and daughter have died, blows kisses to her friend Frances Reaves during a drive-by visit at Miami Jewish Health in Miami. [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]
By Bailey LeFever

The state Agency for Health Care Administration announced on Tuesday that it was removing restrictions on residents of long-term care who want to visit with their loved ones.

The move came more than a year after the coronavirus pandemic forced nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to close their doors to the outside world. The state restrictions were put in place in March 2020, with the goal of keeping the disease out of care centers, and were loosened later in the year to allow socially distant visits from loved ones.

For many residents and their families, this news means everything, said Louise Merrick, administrator of Gulf Shore Care Center, a nursing home in Pinellas Park. Residents had been making the best of the pandemic-induced lockdown with window visits, phone calls and FaceTime.

“None of that is the same as holding the hand of your loved one,” Merrick said.

Limiting visitation has helped keep residents safe, but isolation has left its toll on residents and their families, the state health care agency said in the release. “Moving forward, all long-term care facilities should strive to help alleviate the burden caused by separation of residents from their loved ones.”

Nursing homes must adhere to revised federal visitation guidelines and “core principles of infection prevention,” according to the release. Other long-term care centers must follow state and federal recommendations and “industry best practices for visitation, infection prevention and the screening and triage of everyone entering a facility for signs and symptoms of COVID-19.”

This week’s changes follow guidance issued March 10 by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that nursing homes should permit “responsible indoor visitation at all times for all residents,” the Tampa Bay Times previously reported. The move comes after millions of coronavirus vaccines have been administered to residents and staff of these facilities.

The federal guidance still limits visitation for the following nursing home residents: those who are unvaccinated and live in a county with a coronavirus positivity rate greater than 10 percent or in a home where less than 70 percent of residents are fully vaccinated; those who are infected with COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status; and those who are in quarantine, regardless of vaccination status.

The guidance also states that “compassionate care” visits for those whose health has declined should always be allowed, regardless of vaccination status.

The state Agency for Health Care Administration cited a 90 percent decline in coronavirus cases among residents and staff in the past 60 days. In addition, “current COVID-19 long-term care cases represent less than 1 percent of residents and staff,” according to the release.

Coronavirus cases have dropped in Florida’s long-term care centers since a peak in January, with 358 resident cases out of 138,806 residents as of March 23, down from 3,651 cases on Jan. 17, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Florida’s long-term care centers have been waiting to welcome residents’ families and friends back into facilities, said Kristen Knapp, spokeswoman for the Florida Health Care Association, an industry group representing nursing homes.

Rolling back visitation restrictions is a large step toward normalcy for facilities, said Brian Lee, director of Families for Better Care, which advocates for long-term care residents.

Full Article & Source:

Thursday, April 8, 2021

'Caleb's Law' hopes to make it easier for parents to obtain guardianship of their child

by SBG San Antonio Staff Reports

Family hopes that Caleb's Law will make it easier for parents to obtain guardianship of their child. (Courtesy: The Thompson Family)


Caleb's Law House bill 1675 passed the House on Wednesday and will now be heading to the Senate.


SAN ANTONIO - When a child turns 18, they are considered an adult in the eyes of the State of Texas and can make their own legal decisions. 

But what's the process like for families when children can't make those life-changing decisions?

We talk to a family that's trying to make it easier for parents to obtain guardianship of their adult children with profound disabilities.

From his birth we knew right away he had issues," said D'Anne Thompson, Caleb's mom. "And it was a journey finding a diagnosis which is Lennox-Gastaut."

David and D'Anne Thompson have been on a long journey with their son Caleb. He was born with a seizure disorder that took doctors five and a half years to definitively diagnose.

Days before Caleb turned 18, he was admitted to the hospital.

"Essentially, they shut him down for almost 96 hours," said David.

Caleb turned 18 when he was intubated and ventilated and that's when David and D'Ann's parental rights expired.

Having to prove my parental fitness in a hospital room, or that I am his parent was a little frustrating to me," said D'Anne.

The Thompson's knew they would need to secure a guardianship for their son. They had been going through the lengthy process of nearly six months when Caleb turned 18.

"So the process is file an application, the court does an investigation, that investigation includes medical and financial records," said David.

Ten months and more than $5,000 later, the state granted the Thompson's guardianship, but the fight isn't over.

Caleb will turn 21 this summer and his parents say he's doing great, but they want to change the system to help make it easier on parents.

The Thompson's say the process needs to be changed, and with the help of State Rep. Steve Allison, they are pushing for House Bill 1675 or Caleb's Law, to pass the state legislature.

Right now, in order for parents to obtain guardianship of their child, they must consent to an investigation, an attorney ad litum is appointed to be the child's advocate and parents must undergo an investigation every year.

Caleb's Law would take away some of those steps, like the attorney ad litum step, something the Thompson's say isn't needed.

It would also change the state intervention time period from once every year to not more than once every five years as long as no allegations of child abuse, neglect or exploitation are made.

"We think this bill makes sense for future generations of parents who want to secure their guardianship of their child , their profoundly disabled child, without the intrusive, extensive and costly process," said David.

The Thompson's hope this bill will make it easier for other parents across the state to be able to continue to care for their children.

"I think most parents are good," said David. "Most parents do the best they can. And I know parents have limited energy, they have limited resources, and they're precious and we need to use them on the children instead of on this process."

Caleb's Law is scheduled to be debated on the house floor today.

Full Article & Source:

Nine Judges and Lawyers Disciplined on April List

By Mary Flood

Disciplinary Actions — April 2021 State Bar lists (verbatim from the State Bar of Texas) General questions regarding attorney discipline should be directed to the Chief Disciplinary Counsel’s Office, toll-free (877) 953-5535 or (512) 453-5535. The Board of Disciplinary Appeals may be reached at (512) 475-1578. Information and copies of actual orders are available at The State Commission on Judicial Conduct may be contacted toll-free, (877) 228-5750 or (512) 463-5533. Please note that persons disciplined by the Commission on Judicial Conduct are not necessarily licensed attorneys.

Houston area

On February 10, 2021, Henri M. Cosey [#00783883], 66, of Sugar Land, received a two-year partially probated suspension effective March 1, 2021, with the first six months actively suspended and the remainder probated. An evidentiary panel of the District 5 Grievance Committee found that in representing the complainant in a business financial transaction, Cosey neglected the legal matter entrusted to him. Cosey failed to keep his client reasonably informed about the status of the matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information. Upon receiving funds or other property, Cosey failed to promptly notify the client and failed to promptly render a full accounting regarding such property. Cosey violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), and 1.14(b). He was ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution and $1,500 in attorneys’ fees.

On January 29, 2021, Syria Sinoski [#24079344], 43, of Houston, accepted a public reprimand. An investigatory panel of the District 4 Grievance Committee found that in representing a client, Sinoski neglected a legal matter entrusted to her and frequently failed to carry out completely the obligations that she owed to the client. Sinoski violated Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct Rules 1.01(b)(1) and 1.01(b)(2). She was ordered to pay $1,000 in attorneys’ fees.

Rest of the state

To read the entire public sanctions, go to
On January 21, 2021, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued a public reprimand and order of additional education to Thomas G. Jones, justice of the peace, Precinct 1, Place 1, Dallas, Dallas County. Jones has filed an appeal of his sanction to a special court of review.

On February 23, 2021, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued an order of suspension without pay to Tomas “Tommy” Ramirez III, justice of the peace, Precinct 4, Devine, Medina County.

On January 22, 2021, Sarah Hoffman [#24075146], 37, of Dallas, received a two-year partially probated suspension effective February 15, 2021, with the first year actively suspended and the remainder probated. An evidentiary panel of the District 14 Grievance Committee found that on November 21, 2017, Hoffman was hired to prepare a will. Hoffman was paid $1,200 for the legal representation. During the representation, Hoffman neglected the legal matter and failed to keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the case. Upon termination of representation, Hoffman failed to refund unearned fees. Hoffman also failed to timely submit a response to the grievance. Hoffman violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), 1.15(d), and 8.04(a)(8). Hoffman was ordered to pay $1,200 in restitution and $1,300 in attorneys’ fees and costs.
On January 22, 2021, Sarah Hoffman [#24075146], 37, of Dallas, received a two-year partially probated suspension effective February 15, 2021, with the first six months actively suspended and the remainder probated. An evidentiary panel of the District 14 Grievance Committee found that on September 6, 2018, Hoffman was hired to represent a client in a probate matter. Hoffman was paid $1,700 for the legal representation. During the representation, Hoffman neglected the legal matter, failed to keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the case, and failed to explain the probate matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions about the representation. Upon termination of representation, Hoffman failed to refund unearned fees. Hoffman also failed to timely submit a response to the grievance. Hoffman violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), 1.03(b), 1.15(d), and 8.04(a)(8). She was ordered to pay $1,000 in restitution and $1,500 in attorneys’ fees and costs.
On January 22, 2021, Sarah Hoffman [#24075146], 37, of Dallas, received a two-year partially probated suspension effective February 15, 2021, with the first 18 months actively suspended and the remainder probated. An evidentiary panel of the District 14 Grievance Committee found that in representing two clients in separate probate matters, beginning January 30, 2017, and October 31, 2018, respectively, Hoffman neglected the clients’ legal matters, failed to keep the clients reasonably informed about the status of their cases, and failed to provide a client with a refund of unearned fees. Hoffman also failed to timely submit a response to the grievance. Hoffman violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), 1.15(d), and 8.04(a)(8). She was ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution and $2,100 in attorneys’ fees and costs.

On January 15, 2021, Joe Luis Luna [#12688900], 62, of Crystal City, accepted a six-month fully probated suspension effective January 15, 2021. An investigatory panel of the District 12 Grievance Committee found that Luna neglected a client’s matters, failed to keep clients reasonably informed, failed to have a written statement in a contingent fee arrangement, represented clients when the representation reasonably appeared to be or became adversely limited by his duties to third persons or by his own interests, failed to make statements or disclaimers required under the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct in the same language as the original solicitation communication, and engaged in conduct involving a serious crime. Luna violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), 1.03(b), 1.04(d), 1.06(b)(2), 7.02(d), and 8.04(a)(2). He agreed to pay $1,750 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.
On January 15, 2021, Joe Luis Luna [#12688900], 62, of Crystal City, accepted a three-month fully probated suspension effective January 15, 2021. An investigatory panel of the District 12 Grievance Committee found that Luna represented clients when the representation reasonably appeared to be or became adversely limited by his duties to third persons or by his own interests and engaged in conduct involving a serious crime. Luna violated Rules 1.06(b)(2) and 8.04(a)(2). He agreed to pay $1,250 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.

On January 29, 2021, David Saenz [#17514700], 70, of McAllen, agreed to a 24-month fully probated suspension effective February 1, 2021. An investigatory panel of the District 12 Grievance Committee found that Saenz failed to communicate with a client and permitted the conduct of a non-lawyer to violate disciplinary rules. Saenz violated Rules 1.03(a) and 5.03(b)(1). He was ordered to pay $1,500 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.

On January 28, 2021, Daniel Robert Thering [#24042023], 44, of Austin, agreed to a 40-month partially probated suspension effective January 15, 2023, with the first 20 months actively served and the remainder probated. An evidentiary panel of the District 9 Grievance Committee found that in March 2018, Thering substituted into a lawsuit involving a real estate dispute as attorney of record for the complainant. On January 14, 2019, the trial court awarded the complainant damages and attorneys’ fees to be paid from the earnest money being held by the title company relative to the underlying real estate transaction. In February 2019, the title company wired the earnest money to Thering’s non-IOLTA account to satisfy the judgment. In April 2019, when the complainant inquired about the funds, Thering indicated that he could not deliver the funds to the complainant. Thering failed to safeguard the funds, failed to promptly notify the complainant upon Thering’s receipt of the funds, and failed to promptly deliver the funds to the complainant. Upon conclusion of the contingent fee matter, Thering failed to provide the complainant a written statement reflecting the remittance of settlement funds to the complainant and the method of the determination. Further, Thering failed to communicate with the complainant and Thering failed to respond to the grievance. Thering violated Rules 1.03(a), 1.04(d), 1.14(a), 1.14(b), and 8.04(a)(8). He was ordered to pay $500 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.
On January 15, 2021, Daniel Robert Thering [#24042023], 44, of Austin, agreed to a 48-month active suspension effective March 15, 2021. The District 9 Grievance Committee found that the complainants hired Thering on March 3, 2016, for representation in a medical malpractice lawsuit against a doctor for injuries that the complainants sustained during a medical procedure on January 30, 2016. On March 19, 2016, Thering filed a plaintiff’s original petition and on March 20, 2016, Thering requested issuance of citation for service on the doctor. Thereafter, Thering neglected the legal matter and failed to have the doctor served with the lawsuit. Further, Thering accepted employment in a legal matter that he should have known was beyond his competence because Thering failed to obtain the necessary medical records and expert reports to prosecute a medical malpractice claim. The complainants made numerous requests for a status of the case, but Thering failed to communicate with them and failed to keep them reasonably informed as to the status of the matter. Further, even though Thering was provided notice of the complainants’ grievance, Thering failed to respond to the grievance. Thering violated Rules 1.01(a), 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), 1.03(b), and 8.04(a)(8). He was ordered to pay $500 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.

On January 7, 2021, Devin Michelle AuClair [#24069065], 34, of Fort Worth, agreed to a public reprimand. An investigatory panel of the District 7 Grievance Committee found that in 2018, AuClair was representing the complainant in criminal matters. The complainant had a court-ordered bond condition of “Do not possess or consume any alcoholic beverage.” During her representation of the complainant, AuClair and the complainant drank alcoholic beverages together on multiple occasions. The complainant had a court-ordered bond condition of “No contact with [victims] in any manner, including third party contact.” During her representation of the complainant, AuClair socialized with the complainant and the victims together on multiple occasions, during which drinking alcoholic beverages by the adults was involved. AuClair assisted the complainant in engaging in conduct that she knew was fraudulent. AuClair engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. AuClair violated Rules 1.02(c) and 8.04(a)(3). She was ordered to pay $500 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.

On February 24, 2021, Stephen Dale Howen [#10117800], 60, of Waco, accepted a public reprimand. An investigatory panel of the District 8 Grievance Committee found that on August 15, 2018, the complainant paid Howen a $500 fee to file a long-term care claim with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on behalf of the complainant’s in-laws. During his representation of the complainant’s in-laws, Howen neglected the matter by failing to file a long-term care claim and failing to keep the complainant informed of the matter, despite the complainant’s requests. Howen also failed to file a response to the complainant’s complaint. Howen violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), and 8.04(a)(8) of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, Article X, Section 9, State Bar Rules. He was ordered to pay $500 in restitution.

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DHEC: All SC nursing homes required to provide visitation with few limitations

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Visitations at nursing homes and long-term care facilities are getting closer to being back to normal for families across South Carolina.

On Friday, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced updated visitation guidelines for facilities in order to better align with new federal guidance that was released last week.

Beginning Friday, all nursing homes and assisted living facilities in South Carolina are required to offer outdoor and/or indoor visitation with few exceptions.

“Residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, as well as their families and friends, benefit emotionally, mentally, and physically from being able to see their loved ones,” said Nick Davidson, Senior Deputy for Public Health. “While visitation limitations were necessary for protecting the health of residents during the pandemic, current recommendations are now to allow for visitation with disease prevention protocols in place.”

While facilities are now required to allow visitation at all times and for all residents, there are circumstances involving a high risk of COVID-19 transmission where facilities could limit indoor visitation for specific residents, as outlined below.

  • Unvaccinated residents: if the facility’s COVID-19 county positivity rate is greater than 10 percent and less than 70 percent of residents in the facility are fully vaccinated
  • Residents with confirmed COVID-19 infection, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, until they have met the criteria to discontinue Transmission-Based Precautions
  • Residents in quarantine, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, until they have met criteria for release from quarantine
  • A new case of COVID-19 is identified, a facility must suspend indoor visitation pending the results of a round of facility-wide testing

Prior to these updated guidelines, there were 177 facilities in South Carolina reporting they were not allowing visitation based on previous visitation guidelines.

The new guidelines also allow for physical touch. They read:

Facilities shall allow fully vaccinated residents the option to have close contact (including touch) with their visitor if they both wear well-fitting face masks, perform hand hygiene before and after, and the visitor is physically distanced (maintaining at least 6 feet between people) from all other residents and facility staff. Visitors shall physically distance from other residents and staff in the facility. Visitors unable to adhere to the core principles shall not be permitted to visit or shall be asked to leave.

DHEC Senior Deputy for Public Health Nick Davidson said the department will follow up on complaints of facilities not following the new rules.

“We do have inspectors, those inspectors will as necessary, visit to ensure compliance,” he said.

He said the focus will likely be geared toward facilities where residents or families express concern.

Compassionate care visits will continue to be required under the rules.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Orange County commissioner wants closer look into guardianship program

by Greg Fox

In March, WESH 2 Investigates detailed the findings in an audit into how the Orange County Clerk of Courts oversees guardianship, the program that appoints people to take care of the medical and financial affairs of the incapacitated, mostly senior individuals, called wards.

Many of the findings highlighted the handling of wards by former professional guardian Rebecca Fierle, who is now facing trial for aggravated abuse and neglect.

"It was very troubling to see the things we found in our investigations," Phil Diamond said.

Comptroller Phil Diamond found a lack of training for deputy clerks in handling guardian cases, missing or inaccurate information in case files, and courts not being consistently notified when guardians fail to follow the law.

Clerk Tiffany Moore Russell defended her office's procedures.

"The recommendations from the audit really tells me that there's a lack of understanding of the comptroller's office of the guardianship law and the roles and responsibilities of the clerk's office," Russell said.

That's not good enough for Orange County commissioner Mayra Uribe.

In this memo, she wrote the audit "highlights a number of problematic procedures, administrative concerns, and shocking outcomes due in part to these issues."

"I was very disturbed at the findings," Uribe said.

She's asking the mayor to schedule an open discussion so all of the commissioners can weigh in with concerns and solutions.

"What are we going to do to improve it? What are we going to do to make sure that that next person is not taken advantage of?" Uribe asked.

Mayor Jerry Demings believes the commission has no say in clerk and comptroller business, but he's scheduling an informational meeting.

Besides the inquiry from Uribe, the Secretary of Florida's Department of Elder Affairs reviewed the comptroller's report, but does not appear willing to act on it.

Secretary Richard Prudom wrote: "While the findings in the recent audit on The Orange County Clerk of Courts Guardianship Program are deeply concerning… the Department of Elder Affairs'… reach does not extend into the operational processes and procedures of county courts."

Fierle is scheduled to be tried this year.

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Local attorney suspended after Florida Supreme Court decision

By James Cannon

A local attorney was recently suspended for three years after a decision by the Florida Supreme Court.

S.A. Siddiqui, of St. Augustine, was suspended for three years effective 30 days following a Feb. 1 court order. He had been admitted to the state bar to practice law in 2005.

In one matter, Siddiqui failed to competently and timely pursue the client’s family law matter and misrepresented to the client the status of the case, according to a recent statement from the Florida Bar.

In a second matter, Siddiqui failed to competently represent the client in his criminal case and failed to appear for jury selection. In a third matter, Siddiqui failed to appear for court and misrepresented to the court that he did not receive notice of the court hearing, the statement continued.

In total, The Florida Bar, the state’s guardian for the integrity of the legal profession, announced the Florida Supreme Court in recent court orders disciplined 17 attorneys, disbarring three, revoking the licenses of one, suspending 10 and reprimanding three.

As an official arm of the Florida Supreme Court, the Bar and its Department of Lawyer Regulation are charged with administering a statewide disciplinary system to enforce Supreme Court rules of professional conduct for the more than 108,000 members of The Florida Bar.

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The Benefits of Therapy Animals for Seniors

Anyone who has ever stroked a dog’s soft ears or felt the gentle rumble of a cat’s purr knows the calming feeling an animal can offer. A pet companion presents many health benefits to their owners, like lower cholesterol levels and can even prevent heart attack and stroke.  They can also help fight depression.

For these reasons, more and more often animals are being utilized for therapeutic purposes at senior facilities. Therapy animals are used to promote health and healing for seniors of any age range or health condition, whether they are depressed, chronically ill or have ongoing disabilities.

Pet therapy for seniors, also known as Animal Assisted Therapy, is a technique that uses animals to interact with seniors for numerous reasons to help improve their quality of life. Studies show that just fifteen minutes spent bonding with an animal promotes hormonal changes within the brain. Stress levels drop as the brain produces serotonin (the “feel-good” hormone), along with prolactin and oxytocin. This is why therapy animals are good companions for seniors, because they offer so many amazing health benefits.

Pet Therapy for Seniors

Some assisted living facilities are offering pet therapy because of the numerous benefits interaction with animals offer to seniors.  American Senior Communities are among such facilities.

Seniors suffer from depression usually as a result of loneliness or isolation, either because friends and family members cannot visit on a regular basis, or they aren’t as active as they previously were.   Perhaps a loving spouse has passed away. Contact with therapy animals can bring some withdrawn seniors out of their shells, making them happier and more communicative.

Studies show that seniors who are active and always around others, or who own a pet decline in health far less rapidly than isolated or depressed seniors.

Physical, Emotional and Psychological Benefits of Pet Therapy for Seniors

  • Seniors with heart conditions who own pets tend to outlive those who don’t.
  • Walking a dog provides much-needed physical exercise, which leads to improved mobility and a healthier lifestyle overall.
  • The ability to have something to pet or touch can result in lower blood pressure, normal heart rate and reduced stress.
  • Pets provide emotional stability during stressful situations, helping to reduce anxiety and depression.
  • Caring for a pet helps increase a senior’s self-confidence and self-esteem, providing them a way to feel useful and responsible for something.
  • For dementia patients, animals can be soothing to those who have difficulty using language.
  • Feeding and grooming can help increase seniors’ physical skills and help them become more active.
  • Animals can help improve socialization- they listen without judgment and give unbiased affection, especially when a senior may desire to share the thoughts they may not be comfortable telling family or friends.

Having an animal in a senior’s life can help improve their well-being and give new meaning to their life. Due to the numerous health benefits therapy animals provide, many assisted living facilities are starting to include pet therapy in their regular senior care programs. Being around animals makes people feel better, healthier, and happier.

For more information about American Senior Communities, please visit

Disclaimer: The statements on this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. The author does not in any way guarantee or warrant the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any message and will not be held responsible for the content of any message. Always consult your personal physician for specific medical advice.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Ex-Greensburg attorney disbarred by Pennsylvania Supreme Court

by Paul Peirce

Pennsylvania Supreme Court's chambers in the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg.

A Greensburg attorney who admitted in 2019 to stealing nearly $50,000 from a fraternal organization has been disbarred by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court this week issued a two-sentence order barring Donald Blake Moreman, 60, who lives in Bullskin, Fayette County, from practicing law in the state.

The suspension stemmed from Moreman’s guilty pleas in April 2019 to 75 counts of forgery and four counts each of theft by unlawful taking and theft for stealing $49,595 from the Pleasant Valley Masonic Hall Association, also in Bullskin. Moreman, who was the group’s treasurer, forged signatures on checks and diverted the funds for personal use between June 2017 and August 2018, investigators said.

Moreman was sentenced in Fayette County to intermediate punishment for 36 months, with 18 months on house arrest. As part of the agreement with prosecutors, Moreman agreed to pay back the money to the association. Court records indicate he has.

He was temporarily suspended from practicing law by the Supreme Court in August 2019 after his guilty plea.

Moreman attempted to avoid a state disciplinary board recommendation that he be disbarred and instead filed a brief last year suggesting he receive a public reprimand or one-year suspension from practicing law. According to documents related to the case, Moreman claimed he “only pleaded guilty to avoid incarceration,” made restitution, was remorseful, had evidence of good character and had no history of prior discipline.

Moreman testified at the Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Board hearing, but the board recommended he be disbarred.

“In aggravation, we find that (Moreman) lacked credibility and failed to demonstrate remorse and acceptance of responsibility for his repeated criminal activities,” the board wrote.

Moreman could not be reached for comment. His practice was on South Main Street in Greensburg.

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Former assisted living employee charged with stealing from resident to pay electric bill

WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — A former employee of a Wichita Falls assisted living center is charged with stealing a 92- year- old resident’s credit card and using it to pay for personal purchases and her $509 electric bill.

Rachel Chambers was arrested April 3, 2021, and is charged with fraudulent use of a credit card, with enhanced penalty due to the victim being elderly.

Police said the stolen card was used by Chambers between September 18 and October 10, 2020, and police investigated if it could have been stolen by another resident or a caretaker.

They obtained records from the electric provider where the card was used to pay a $509.74 bill, and it showed the account belonged to Chambers, who had been terminated by the living center but was an employee when the card was stolen.

Also charged to the card were about $215 in charges at local department stores.

Police attempted to locate Chambers at her residence for a statement during the investigation but were unsuccessful.

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Monday, April 5, 2021

Sunrise Hospital accused of overcharging $23.6 million in Medicare claims

by Matthew Seeman

Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas is accused of overcharging $23.6 million to Medicare. (File: KSNV)

LAS VEGAS (KSNV) — Federal health officials say a recent audit found that Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas overcharged Medicare by more than $23.6 million.

The Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services called on the hospital to refund the overpayments in its findings released this week.

The report alleges the hospital did not fully comply with Medicare billing requirements for 54 of the 100 claims it randomly selected for review from 2017 and 2018.

OIG Report on Sunrise Hospital by KSNV News3LV on Scribd

Auditors found nearly $1 million in net overpayments for those 54 claims, and they extrapolated to estimate about $23.6 million in total overpayments, according to the report.

Several incorrectly billed claims involved beneficiary stays that didn't meet Medicare's criteria for acute inpatient rehab, the inspector general's office states.

Sunrise Hospital disputed the findings, and the report noted that hospital officials "generally contended that these [inpatient rehab] claims met Medicare requirements."

"We strongly disagree with the OIG’s audit findings related to our [inpatient rehabilitation facility] and because we believe the care we provided to our patients was necessary and effective, we will appeal those findings in due course," Todd P. Sklamberg, CEO of Sunrise Hospital, said in a statement. "We think it unfortunate that the OIG audit process did not take into account the overwhelmingly positive outcomes and the feedback of our patients and their families, all of whom benefited from our IRF services."

The inspector general's office said in its report that while Sunrise disagreed with its assessment, the hospital did not provide additional documentation and the original decision would stand.

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Varying visitation rules at long-term care facilities frustrate families

‘It’s hard emotionally’ one woman says of efforts to see her mother


by Marilyn Parker

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Not every long-term care facility immediately opened its doors after Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted visitation restrictions in Florida.

Families say that makes it difficult because not everyone is playing by the same rules, despite the governor telling them to open the doors.

Some of those families told News4Jax they need all the time they can get with their loved ones because moments are precious when their loved ones are slipping away.

Carrie Farmer and her mother have one 15- to 30-minute scheduled visit a week, and during the visit they’re kept apart and dressed in PPE.

“She keeps asking when can she come home for a visit for a few hours,” Farmer said. “It’s frustrating and it’s hard emotionally because some people are able to get in and see their love ones and be there for them fully.”

Terri Alderfer’s mother, like Farmer’s, suffers from dementia and struggles with isolation. Alderfer recently got to pick her up from the facility.

“I got to take her out. She got to walk outside those doors for the first time in 14 months,” Alderfer said. “It’s just been a long time. But it’s better now. And we’re going to be thankful for what we have.”

DeSantis’ administration lifted visitation restrictions late last month, but not all facilities immediately followed the updated guidelines.

One woman told us a facility in Orange Park suspended visits dues to positive COVID cases. Others say they got emails the same week, saying their facility no longer required appointments or time limits for visits.

Every facility is different, and it’s best to contact them directly for their current rules.

The Agency for Health Care Administration said according to the governor’s order, residents can leave without time restrictions, vaccinations are not required for residents or visitors but are encouraged, physical contact is allowed, and there are no restrictions on the number of visits unless the facility says otherwise.

The facilities still follow CDC guidance and loved ones are encouraged to reach out to AHCA with questions.

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Family reunions in one senior assisted living facility



Sunday, April 4, 2021

Happy Easter

Happy Easter wishes!

MDH: Minnesotans Can Leave Long-Term Care Facilities for Easter, Other Celebrations

(FOX 9) – Minnesota long-term care facility residents can now leave their facilities for less than 24 hours without having to quarantine when they return, giving many Minnesotans the opportunity to visit family and friends ahead of the Easter holiday weekend.

The Department of Health announced the updated guidance Thursday, allowing for one-day outings for holidays such as Easter, Passover, and other celebrations.

Regardless of their vaccination status, in almost all circumstances, Minnesota’s long-term care residents can leave their facilities for fewer than 24 hours and return without having to quarantine as long as they do not come into close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said, however, that residents and their companions should still follow recommendations like wearing masks and social distancing.

Residents that are gone more than 24 hours will be treated as new admissions or readmissions and will have to quarantine, health officials say.

Recommendations related to outings:

  • Residents who are fully vaccinated do not have to quarantine after non-medically necessary outings unless they spend 15 minutes or more in a 24-hour period within 6 feet of someone who can spread COVID-19.
  • Residents who are fully vaccinated may gather indoors or outdoors with other people who are fully vaccinated.
  • Residents who are fully vaccinated can visit indoors or outdoors with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 infection.
  • If the resident is fully vaccinated, they can choose to have close contact (including touch) with the people they are visiting.
  • If a resident who is fully vaccinated chooses to attend a place of worship or other group events, or to shop or eat in public establishments, the resident should follow the core principles of COVID-19 infection prevention. MDH strongly encourages attending places of worship or other group events only when the 14-day county percent positivity rate is below 5%.
  • Unvaccinated residents who leave the building to gather with others may be required to quarantine when they return. At this time, quarantine recommendations remain unchanged for an unvaccinated resident, regardless of the vaccination status of those with whom they gather. 

Recommendations related to facility visits:

Residents should be able to have private visits.

  • If a resident is fully vaccinated, they can choose to have close contact (including touch) with their visitor while wearing a well-fitted face mask (if tolerated) and performing hand hygiene before and after.
  • While taking a person-centered approach, outdoor visitation is preferred even when the resident and visitor are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, because outdoor visits generally pose a lower risk of spreading the disease. Visits should be held outdoors whenever feasible. 
  • Compassionate care visits, essential caregivers, and visits required under state and federal disability rights laws should be allowed at all times, regardless of a resident’s vaccination status, the county’s COVID-19 positivity rate, or an outbreak.
  • Facilities in medium or high positivity counties are encouraged to offer testing to visitors as feasible. Visitors should also be encouraged to get vaccinated when they have the opportunity. While visitor testing and vaccination can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, neither testing nor vaccination should be required of visitors as a condition of visitation, nor should proof of such be requested.
  • Screening questions must now include whether the visitor has had close contact in the prior 14 days with someone who is infected with COVID-19 (regardless of whether the visitor is vaccinated). If the visitor answers yes, the visitor should not be allowed to enter.

For more information on guidance, click here.

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