Saturday, July 31, 2021

More New Yorkers are ‘Aging in Place’—But Growing Older at Home Isn’t Easy

by Gail Robinson

City residents looking for alternatives to nursing home care, particularly those with limited incomes, confront an array of hurdles: lack of affordable housing, a shortage of safe and  accessible apartments, not enough home health care aides and waiting lists at many programs.

Adi Talwar

Centenarian Emilia Lopez at the ArchCare Senior Life Center in Harlem, where she has been a regular for the last three years.

One festivity was not enough for Emilia Lopez when she turned 100 this spring. She had three parties—and an excursion to an Atlantic City casino where she won $300. And no wonder. Lopez had a lot to celebrate: Not only had she reached the century mark, but she attained it while still living alone in the west side apartment she has occupied for decades.

Vivacious, scrupulous about her appearance and eager for activity, Lopez is adamant about her independence. “I can do almost everything,” she says, emphasizing that she lives alone in her own home, doing her own cooking.

Not everyone likes to cook, but by most accounts the vast majority of older people—particularly in New York—are aging in place like Lopez. The COVID pandemic spurred a 15 percent decline in nursing home occupancy in the U.S. in 2020, but even before it, New York State residents were among the least likely in the country to be in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Nursing home occupancy rates across the state fell to 88 percent in 2020, the lowest level in more than a decade, according to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation. With about 1.2 million New York City residents 65 and over—and 162,000 who are 85 and up—only 41,000 people live in nursing homes in the five boroughs.

But New Yorkers looking for alternatives to nursing home care, particularly those with limited incomes, confront an array of hurdles: lack of affordable housing, a shortage of safe and  accessible apartments, not enough home health care aides and waiting lists at many programs. All but the affluent must navigate a patchwork of programs with varying criteria and benefits. Without major policy changes, the increase in the city’s 65 and older population—projected to surpass 1.4 million over the next two decades—will almost certainly make it harder for New Yorkers to age in their homes and get the help they need.

Who pays for what

Unlike many countries, the United States does not have a long-term care system, says Ruth Finkelstein, executive director of the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging at Hunter College. “We didn’t ever give it any kind of concentrated thought.”

When most Americans think of healthcare for seniors, they think of Medicare, the government health-insurance program for people aged 65 and over. But while Medicare pays for nurses and therapists providing aid, it does not cover the more routine help given by home health care aides or long-term care in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. People needing these services either have to pay for it themselves or qualify for Medicaid, the medical program for low-income people of any age. About one-fifth of Medicare recipients also meet the stringent requirements for Medicaid.

Medicaid then determines whether people are eligible for long-term care and/or other services. Those who are can go into a care facility that accepts Medicaid. If they want to remain at home, like Lopez, they can get home health aides and other care in New York, which is more accommodating than many other states. Unless a person is in a facility, though, Medicaid does not provide rent assistance or food.

Howard Gleckman of the Brookings Institution has estimated that only 15 to 20 percent of Americans receiving long-term care are in a nursing home or an assisted living facility. But, he said in an interview with NPR, “People are driven to nursing homes by the Medicaid payment system. If you need long-term care, Medicaid will pay for your room and board in a nursing home. It will not pay for it anywhere else. So that’s an incentive for people to use nursing homes.”

Those who don’t qualify for Medicaid have to pay for their long-term care—wherever they receive it—themselves. Many are forced to deplete their savings, borrow money or rely on family to do so. Assisted living in New York City costs almost $6,000 a month, and a nursing home almost $13,000 a month, while day service (not including housing expenses) comes to about $1,950 a month.

Another problem is ensuring that the person actually gets the care he or she needs. The state requires that people who qualify for Medicaid and Medicare enroll in a managed long-term care plan, many of which are run by for-profit companies. The system, some say, has led to cost overruns and some advocates question whether the for-profit companies have an incentive to skimp on services.

Despite the complications of providing care in a person’s home or close to it, experts say it is worth the effort for several reasons.

One is cost. Though estimates vary, most find that it costs more than twice as much for someone to live in a private room in a nursing home in New York than to stay in their own home with a home health aide.

Another is personal satisfaction. It’s a cliché that nursing home residents complain about the food, but their discontent often goes beyond that, says Dheki Dolma Lama, director of transition programs for the Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY. Patients in nursing homes, she says, often find “their personal choice gets lost. They lose control. …Their quality of life is totally controlled by the nursing home.”

‘A nursing home without walls’

COVID highlighted the shortcomings of institutions, such as the difficulty of containing infections in them, says Meghan Parker, advocacy director for New York Association on Independent Living. People are told they will be safer in a home, she says, but “in reality there are supports and services available in the community that can help people remain at home and they are often safer and happier.” The problem, she says, is connecting people to the services they need: “It can be very overwhelming.”

Lopez says her daughter was navigating that maze for her when she found PACE—short for Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly—a federal program for low-income people 55 and over who qualify for nursing home care. Medicaid pays for her home health aide, who does a variety of tasks that make it possible for Lopez to remain in her apartment, including accompanying her to the grocery store and doing her nails.

Lopez spends part of the week—these days about 12 hours—at the ArchCare Senior Life Center in Harlem. The center, run by ArchCare, the Continuing Care Community of the Archdiocese of New York, offers camaraderie, lunch and activities such as bingo, along with a clinic and services like occupational therapy. ArchCare also connects Lopez and her fellow residents with other services they might need and keeps track of their prescriptions.

“We make all arrangements. We try to provide everything you can imagine,” says James Williams, ArchCare’s director of enrollment and member services, who likens the program to “a nursing home without walls.”

Lopez says she and her daughter are happy with the program. But they are among the fortunate ones.“There are a lot of people who would benefit from this program but might not qualify,”  because they are not considered eligible for a nursing home or have too much money, Williams says. And there are not always enough spaces even for those who are eligible.

And the person needs a place to live, no small challenge in New York. A 2017 report by the city comptroller’s office found that 39 percent of people aged 65 and over who owned their homes and 60 percent of those who rent had to spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, higher than for the population as a whole.

The state government has funded some senior housing and the de Blasio administration says its Housing New York 2.0 program has produced 7,390 apartments for seniors. But demand still exceeds supply. A study by LiveOn NY found that 44,028 older New Yorkers are on the waiting list for affordable housing in just two Upper West Side community districts. Those waiting lists can be seven to 10 years long.

Not only are apartments expensive, many are not appropriate for aging residents. The same comptroller’s report found, for example, that less than half the city’s housing has a wheelchair accessible entrance. Older housing—and its sometimes poor condition—can make installing even a simple grab bar a major project. Although the city and state have programs to assist with this, the funding has been extremely modest.

This forces many older New Yorkers into nursing homes or poor housing situations. Allison Nickerson, executive director of LiveOn NY, says some city seniors live doubled up, sleeping in bunk beds.

At the Center for Independence of the Disabled, Lama works with people thrust into New York’s crazy real estate market when they try to leave their nursing facility, some after years there.

These people, she says, “say they want to die in their home and it’s their right.”

Making that move can be difficult, though. Housing, Lama says, is “the biggest barrier. The largest percentage of people are waiting because they don’t have a home to go to.” The city could help, she says,  by classifying people seeking to leave nursing homes as homeless, making them eligible for certain housing assistance. So far the city has not done that.

Selfhelp Community Service has housing for seniors – just not enough of it.  The non-profit, originally funded to help people fleeing the Holocaust, is one provider of affordable housing with services, a model LiveOn has praised for improving quality of life while it “deters higher healthcare costs and prevents homelessness.”

Selfhelp operates 11 buildings with more than 1,400 residents, who, the organization says, live independently. The apartments are not furnished, residents prepare their own meals and come and go as they please.

But there are supports. “We believe our housing is not just bricks and mortar but a way to provide services to make a house a home,” says Vice President Sandy Myers.

The buildings feature some community facilities and many are near other programs serving older people, such as senior centers. Perhaps most importantly, each also has a social worker on site who connects residents with whatever other services they need. “They are available to do pretty much anything—even opening a can for a resident, ” says Mohini Mishra of Selfhelp Realty Group/The Melamid Institute for Affordable Housing. Despite that, Medicare does not cover the cost of social workers.

Anyone 62 and over having a low to moderate income and a household of no more than two people can apply for an apartment. The funding for specific buildings may set further requirements—that a person have been homeless, for example. SelfHelp admits people with a range of needs, from those who are almost completely independent to those who require all-day care.

Once again, the problem is supply. The waiting lists are long and only three of the organization’s projects are currently accepting applications.

Programs, policies and proposals

The city and state provide a variety of services that help older New Yorkers stay in their homes. New York City Department for the Aging funds some 250 senior centers across the city, which reopened last month after a long COVID closure. The sites serve lunch—and sometimes breakfast—and offer some health services, workshops and recreational activities. The agency also provides money for services at selected housing developments, or in neighborhoods that weren’t built for seniors but include a high percentage of older people—what it calls a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community or NORC.

Another city program, popularly known as SCRIE, freezes the rent for low-to-moderate income older New Yorkers living in certain types of housing. Mayoral candidate Eric Adams, who recently won the Democratic primary, has pledged to automatically sign eligible residents up for SCRIE if he’s elected in November.

In light of the growing need, governments at various levels are pledging to do more. The city has announced plans to increase the number of senior centers and provide more transportation options.. “New Yorkers need to age in their homes and avoid institutionalization,” Alice Du, deputy director of the city Department for the Aging, wrote in an email.

President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan includes $400 billion over eight years to provide more care for seniors in their homes. The proposal does not go into details, and as far as can be determined does not address the many seniors who do not qualify for Medicaid but also cannot afford long-term care, whether at home or in a facility.

Instead it focuses on improving conditions for home health workers, who are widely seen as vital to any effort to keep older and disabled Americans in their homes. These caregivers—most of them women of color—make an average of $12 an hour in the U.S. and many do not have employer-provided health insurance. Not surprisingly, experts foresee a looming shortage of people willing and able to do this work.

A CUNY report issued in March found a similar situation in New York State, with home health care workers in the city getting an average hourly wage of $15.93. The writers recommend raising the pay to $22 an hour. While this would require additional government spending, they argue that  paying the workers—who are mostly women, immigrants and people of color—would pump money into the economy and save money on public assistance, which many aides now receive to supplement their wages.

The plan would also address the shortage of home health workers, who currently perform taxing work for low wages. “People can do jobs that are much easier, such as work in fast food restaurants, and make as much or more money,” says Parker.

Advocates tried to change this equation in New York this year by promoting the Fair Pay for Homecare Workers bill that would have raised the pay for these caregivers to 150 percent of the minimum wage. The bill did not get included in this year’s budget, but Parker says the effort will continue next year.

Aside from this, advocates have a list of things that might ease the care crunch in New York. Much of it is centered around housing, such as more money for the federal Section 202 program that creates homesfor very low-income older people, rental assistance and making it easier for people to learn about and receive help from the city’s existing rental freeze program.

Advocates would also like to see the system tweaked so that a few people who need part-time care could share an aide. “Now things are so siloed and so individual. Everyone is on their own,” says Nickerson.

In general, says Parker, there is a lot the state could do to help older New Yorkers and others with disabilities live independently, but she says, “We haven’t seen that in the last few budgets.”

Many experts see a larger need to rethink the care system for older Americans and others who need long-term care—for low-income people and also middle-class residents who don’t qualify for Medicaid but still may not be able to get the help they need wherever they prefer to live.

“There needs to be a fundamental rethinking of what care looks like,” says Nickerson. “We have to think of things very, very differently because the model we have now doesn’t work.”

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Helena woman found guilty of elder abuse, identity theft

by Tyler Manning

Cory Ann Rucker
A jury found a Helena woman guilty of elder abuse last week in Lewis and Clark County District Court.

Cory Ann Rucker was found guilty of felony exploitation of an older person and felony theft of identity July 20 in Judge Mike Menahan's court. Per jury instructions, the jury was able to find Rucker guilty of elder abuse or, in the alternative, felony theft for stealing over $17,500 from the victim.

During the trial, evidence included bank statements, ATM withdrawals, video evidence of Rucker withdrawing money from the victim's account, credit card statements and a letter from Capital One banking. Following the jury's guilty verdict, Menahan set Rucker's sentencing date for Oct. 13, 2021. 

Rucker's crimes took place between October 2019 and January 2020. According to court documents, Rucker had the victim living with her in Helena. Rucker was the power of attorney for the victim at the time.

Law enforcement determined that approximately $11,400 was withdrawn from ATMs in or adjacent to casinos. It was determined that none of the withdrawals took place at the bank holding the victim's money. 

Court documents stated the victim was visibly shocked when questioned about the missing $17,000. She told police she was unaware that Rucker had spent so much money from her account. 

Rucker allegedly admitted to spending the victim's money at casinos and agreed that it wasn't reasonable for her to do so. She also told police she was unaware just how much she had spent. 

Despite this alleged admission, Rucker entered a plea of not guilty and maintained that stance for over a year until her jury trial. 

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CMS Reinstitutes Tougher Penalties for Past Nursing Home Deficiencies

July 28, 2021

Earlier this year, the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care (Consumer Voice) and California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR) filed with the assistance of counsel AARP Foundation and Constantine Cannon LLP a lawsuit challenging a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) 2017 directive that weakened the enforcement standards of the Nursing Home Reform Act and put residents at risk of harm.  Last week, CMS reversed course, rescinding the directive and reinstituting stronger penalties for nursing home violations.

The guidance at the center of the lawsuit restricted the use of civil money penalties for past non-compliance to a “per instance” maximum fine rather than allowing fines for each day of noncompliance.  This policy significantly reduced the penalties imposed for violations that placed residents at risk of harm and removed incentives for nursing homes to detect and fix serious problems quickly.  

“This action by CMS will provide incentive for nursing homes to identify and correct problems in a timely manner, as required by the Nursing Home Reform Act,” said Lori Smetanka, Executive Director of the Consumer Voice. “A strong enforcement system is necessary to protect residents from harm. The Consumer Voice commends CMS for this important action.”

In rescinding the guidance, CMS stated “upon further consideration … the agency should retain the discretion at this time to impose a per-day penalty where appropriate to address specific circumstances of prior noncompliance.”

For more information, contact Lori Smetanka,

Read the article on the topic in the New York Times.

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Friday, July 30, 2021

For Tampa Bay’s Free Britney advocates, Spears’ words are ‘a crack in the earth’

The Free Britney movement is “the most public expression and revelation about the horrors of guardianship,” says one Florida advocate.

Britney Spears spoke last month in a California court hearing. Her Louisiana accent tumbled from her mouth, the words percussive and liquid and rolling headlong over one another.

In Tampa, Claire Kelly sat at the bar at Rocca, listening to a live feed through an earpiece and weeping over a plate of ravioli. Her boyfriend handed out cards emblazoned with the phrase “Free Britney” to diners around them.

What she was hearing, said Kelly, 44, was “a crack in the earth.”

June 23 marked the first time Spears had spoken out publicly against the court-imposed conservatorship that for 13 years has put decisions about her finances and health in the hands of others, most notably her father.

She alleged that she’d been strong-armed through tours she didn’t want to do, incapacitated by medication, forbidden from removing her IUD birth control.

“I just want my life back,” she pleaded.

Calls to “Free Britney” have been sounded since the early days of the conservatorship. But the movement has exploded in the past two years: on social media, in the New York Times’ Framing Britney Spears documentary and at rallies across the country. A second Tampa march took place July 10, organized by Kelly and Timothy Rivera, 27, a longtime Spears fan who lives in Texas.

The movement has expanded beyond its central figure and toward a broader critique of conservatorship systems, including in Florida where they’re known as guardianships.

“The Free Britney movement is, to date, the most public expression and revelation about the horrors of guardianship,” said Sam Sugar, a doctor who co-founded South Florida’s Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianships.

Since becoming a star at age 16, Spears has been an American symbol: an inspiration, an icon, a bad influence; a comeback story and a cautionary tale.

Now, in Tampa and across the country, Britney Spears is something else. She’s a cause.

Bijanca Star, 26, of Miami, and Claire Kelly, 44, of Tampa, chant during the #FreeBritney rally at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park on Saturday, July 10, 2021 in Tampa. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]

‘We were duped’

The years before the conservatorship began in 2008 were famously tumultuous for Spears. News media and tabloids salivated over her divorce, child-custody battle and erratic behavior. The conservatorship began while she was under psychiatric hospitalization.

“To be the most photographed person in the world, I don’t know that anyone can truly understand what she went through,” Kelly said.

Over the next decade, Spears put out four albums and performed nearly 250 shows during a four-year Las Vegas residency. But fans were worried by uncanny meet-and-greets, sluggish and tearful performances.

They sifted through court documents and researched conservatorships. What they learned didn’t make sense: Spears was competent enough to perform, but the conservators, who drew their salaries from Spears’ income, said she was still incapacitated.

“We were duped,” Kelly said.

Framing Britney Spears, released in February, exposed the case to a broader audience. An investigation in the New York Times showed that Spears pushed for years to get out of the conservatorship. One in the New Yorker revealed she’d called 911 to report herself as a victim of abuse.

So when Free Britney advocates arrived on the sweltering morning of July 10 at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park — from across Tampa Bay, from Miami, Orlando, Texas and Los Angeles — they felt vindicated.

“People have called us crazy. They’ve called us conspiracy theorists. There’s been a shakeup in the fandom,” said Kelly. “All of a sudden, to hear it directly from her, there’s no denying it.”

‘A human rights issue’

They came with Britney everything. There was a life-sized cardboard Britney cutout and a backpack covered in faces of Britney. There was a professional Britney impersonator. People chewed watermelon bubblegum, Britney’s favorite.

The crowd swelled to 50 or so. Eye-popping pink dominated the tableau. Hugs abounded.

“What I love about Free Britney is it’s the most non-threatening,” said Bijanca Star, 26, who had traveled from Miami.

Claire Kelly, 44, of Tampa, wears Britney Spears themed shoes during the #FreeBritney rally at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park on Saturday, July 10, 2021 in Tampa. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]

Ralliers handed out postcard-sized fliers that argued for Spears’ competency and suggested six movies to “learn more about conservatorship abuses.”

“#FreeBritney is … A civil rights issue,” one read. “A women’s rights issue. A disability rights issue. A human rights issue.”

Elder and disability rights advocates have tried to shed light on this little-known corner of the probate court system for years. And in Florida, allegations of abuse have occasionally drawn media attention.

The most high-profile may be Rebecca Fierle, who faces aggravated abuse and neglect charges in Hillsborough County. In May 2019, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, she ordered doctors to cap the feeding tube of a 75-year-old man in her guardianship, despite his statements that he wanted to live. He died at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa.

Fierle oversaw 450 guardianships and was accused of signing do-not-resuscitate orders for several of them. The abuse and neglect case, in which she has pleaded not guilty, is ongoing.

Traci Hudson, a former professional guardian from Riverview, faces charges in Pinellas County after being accused of exploiting guardianships and power-of-attorney cases to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Such cases have led to changes in Florida law, including a 2020 bill that mandates court approval for do-not-resuscitate orders and requires petitions for guardianship to have more background information.

Spears’ case has drawn wider calls for reform from Democratic U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Republican Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz and others.

It marks the most sustained media attention on guardianship that Sugar can recall, he said. But it doesn’t reflect most guardianships, which often concern older adults or people with disabilities.

“If every ward of the state looked like Britney Spears and had Britney Spears’ money,” Sugar said, “it wouldn’t be an issue in the state of Florida or anywhere else.”

It’s hard to predict the path of the movement, said Katherine Larsen, an assistant professor at The George Washington University and editor of the Journal of Fandom Studies.

“I would like to say that, yes, they would stay mobilized and focus on this” were Spears’ conservatorship to end, Larsen said. “But I kind of feel that, if it’s not linked to a particular person, that that interest would wane.”

The future could look different, she said, if the Free Britney movement can continue to draw the interest of people beyond Spears’ fanbase.

Timothy Rivera, 27, of Austin, Texas, leads a #FreeBritney rally at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park on Saturday, July 10, 2021 in Tampa.
Timothy Rivera, 27, of Austin, Texas, leads a #FreeBritney rally at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park on Saturday, July 10, 2021 in Tampa. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times]

Some ralliers in Tampa last weekend identified themselves as casual Britney fans compelled by aspects other than celebrity. Jesse Sage, 32, of Sarasota, said she was drawn to the movement because of parallels she saw between Spears and Marilyn Monroe, who at one point suffered harrowing psychiatric mistreatment.

The moment of Spears’ recent court statement that made Sage scream in appreciation, she said, was the star’s implication of a broken system.

“They’ll say ‘Oh, conservatorship is here to help people,’” Spears said. “But then there’s 1,000 conservatorships that are abusive, as well.”

‘We have her words’

Ralliers marched along the Riverwalk and ended at Xochitl Cocina Mexicana, where bartenders wearing Britney shirts served drinks from a themed cocktail menu.

“It’s just so special and cute,” Star exclaimed, “and also, we’re advocating for human rights.”

Kelly stood near the front door, surveying the crowd. She was moved by the turnout, she said, but not surprised.

“We have the black-and-white,” she said. “We have the court documents. We have her words.”

People settled into booths, slugged ice water. Someone propped the cardboard Britney cutout by the wall nearest the entrance, where it could look out over them.

People march along the Tampa Riverwalk at a #FreeBritney rally at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park on Saturday, July 10, 2021 in Tampa. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times]

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Congressman calls for justice for former clients of disbarred attorney Eric C. Conn

Eric C. Conn
By Tom Kenny

WASHINGTON, DC (WTVQ) – Republican Congressman Hal Rogers, of Somerset, sent a letter to the new acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) calling for former clients of disbarred Kentucky attorney Eric C. Conn, to get the disability benefits they’re entitled to that they’ve been waiting on for six years.

Conn had an office in Floyd County lived in Pikeville.  He was once one of the top Social Security disability lawyers in the nation, with a lucrative practice representing thousands of people from Eastern Kentucky.

He eventually admitted he put false evidence in clients’ claims, paid doctors and a psychologist to sign the claims with little overnight, and bribed an administrative law judge to approve them.  He was convicted in 2017 of defrauding the SSA of more than $550 million, which to date, is the largest fraud scheme in the history of the program.

Conn fled the country for several months, but was eventually captured, brought back to Kentucky and in 2018 was sentenced to 27-years in prison.

No evidence was ever presented that Conn’s clients were involved in the scheme, yet for thousands of them, their SSA benefits have been frozen and tied-up in hearing after hearing.  That led to Congressman Rogers letter to SSA Acting Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi, asking him to speed justice for Conn’s former clients.

“The SSA has spent millions of taxpayer dollars trying to deny roughly 3,800 disabled Americans their benefits. This is time and money that could be used to reduce the SSA’s backlog of cases and route out actual fraud that still permeates the system. I strongly support your efforts to end fraud in the Social Security system, but these individuals are the victims of fraud, not the perpetrators, and it’s time for their uncertainty and anxiety to end,” stated Congressman Rogers in the letter.

Congressman Rogers also applauded the work of local pro bono lawyers who have continued to represent former Conn clients through the complex redetermination process.

Click here to download a copy of Congressman Rogers’ letter to the SSA. 

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FBI: Albuquerque Couple Sentenced To Prison For Crimes Committed In Connection With Ayudando Guardians Case

FBI News:

ALBUQUERQUE — Susan K. Harris, 74, and William S. Harris, 60, both of Albuquerque, were sentenced Friday in Federal Court for conspiracy to defraud the United States and other financial crimes committed in connection with the operation of Ayudando Guardians, Inc., a non-profit corporation that previously provided guardianship, conservatorship and financial management to hundreds of people with special needs.

Susan Harris was sentenced to 47 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. William Harris was sentenced to 15 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Both will be required to pay the entire amount of stolen funds as restitution to the victims. 

A superseding indictment filed Dec. 5, 2017, charged Susan Harris, William Harris, Sharon A. Moore, 64, and Susan Harris’ son, Craig M. Young, 53, with various financial crimes, including conspiracy to defraud the United States, mail fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering.

Susan Harris pleaded guilty July 11, 2019, to conspiracy, mail fraud, aggravated identity theft, money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. William Harris pleaded guilty June 25, 2019, to conspiracy to defraud the United States and to commit money laundering.

Both Susan Harris and William Harris were originally scheduled to be sentenced March 2, 2020, but failed to appear for their sentencing hearing. A bench warrant was issued for their arrest and the U.S. Marshals Service arrested them April 15, 2020, in Shawnee, Okla., after they fled New Mexico.

According to their plea agreements and other court records, Susan Harris acted as president and was the 95-percent owner of Ayudando, while Moore acted as chief financial officer and was a five-percent owner. They engaged in a pattern of criminal conduct from November 2006 to July 2017 that included unlawfully transferring money from client accounts to a comingled account without any client-based justification.  They wrote and endorsed numerous checks, often of more than $10,000, from these comingled accounts to themselves, family members, cash and other parties where payment would benefit their families.

Susan Harris took steps to maintain Ayudando’s appearance of legitimacy, including submitting a proposal to the New Mexico Office of Guardianship that contained numerous false representations, including a false claim that Young was a nationally certified guardian at the time of the submission.

William Harris, who worked as a guardian, admitted that he knew that Moore was siphoning payments to clients from the Department of Veterans Affairs and Social Security Administration and using the money to benefit herself, Harris, and their co-conspirators. Harris specifically admitted receiving, endorsing, and depositing dozens of checks drawn on Ayudando accounts for his own personal benefit. Harris admitted to his involvement in a money laundering scheme, using an Ayudando corporate credit card for personal expenses, knowing that it would be paid for with client money. He also admitted his role in a loan application for the stated purpose of expanding the Ayudando business with the actual intent of using the money to “pay back” clients whose money had been taken without authorization.

The stolen funds were used to fund an extravagant lifestyle, including the purchases of homes, vehicles, luxury RVs and cruises, as well as a private box at “the Pit” at the University of New Mexico. The stolen funds also were used to pay for more than $4.4 million in American Express charges incurred by the defendants and their families.

“The sentences that the defendants have received today are just, and the defendants are fully deserving of them,” said Fred J. Federici, Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico. “The defendants’ conduct in preying upon individuals with special needs, who they were entrusted to protect, was both loathsome and contemptible. We hope that these sentences serve as a warning to others that we will seek to hold accountable anyone who chooses to violate federal law by abusing any similar position of trust for personal enrichment.”

“Taking advantage of disabled veterans and other vulnerable Americans deserves a harsh penalty, especially when those entrusted with their finances instead use the money for vacations and other expensive perks,” said Raul Bujanda, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Albuquerque Field Office. “The FBI will never stop trying to hold such criminals accountable and making sure their victims get justice.”

“This final phase of the investigation will hopefully give some closure to the many victims who have suffered as a result of the selfish acts of the defendants,” said Sonya K. Chavez, United States Marshal for the District of New Mexico. “We at the United States Marshals Service will continue to work diligently with our partners to protect the citizens of New Mexico, particularly those who are most vulnerable.”

“The criminal actions by these defendants were truly brazen and egregious,” stated IRS – Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Albert Childress. “Instead of helping people who placed their trust in them, the defendants were greedy and helped themselves to their clients’ money. They must now pay the consequences for their bad deeds.”

“Today’s sentencing reflects the egregious crimes committed by the defendants, who not only violated the public’s trust but also the trust of a vulnerable population who relied upon them to manage their benefits. We will continue to join our law enforcement partners in investigating organizations and individuals who misuse Social Security benefits that they agreed to manage on behalf of beneficiaries,” said Adam Schneider, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General, Dallas Field Division. “I thank our law enforcement partners for their outstanding investigative work and the District of New Mexico U.S. Attorney’s Office for their efforts in bringing these individuals to justice.” 

“Criminal acts by would-be fiduciaries are most heinous because they violate veterans’ trust and put in jeopardy the benefits on which they are dependent,” said Special Agent in Charge Rebeccalynn Staples, Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General. “This sentence should send a clear message that the VA OIG will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to ferret out those who would defraud VA and steal the benefits of deserving veterans.”

Young pleaded guilty Nov. 12, 2019, and was sentenced June 11, 2020, to five years and 11 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Young was ordered to pay approximately $6.8 million in restitution to the victims of the fraud scheme.

Moore pleaded guilty July 11, 2019, and was sentenced March 2, 2020, to 20 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Moore was ordered to pay the entire amount of stolen funds as restitution to the victims. 

The Albuquerque Field Office of the FBI and the Phoenix Field Office of IRS Criminal Investigation conducted the investigation with the assistance of the Complex Assets Unit and the U.S. Marshals Service, the Criminal Investigations Division of the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General, and the Dallas Field Division of the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeremy Peña and Brandon L. Fyffe prosecuted the case.

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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Britney Spears Officially Files Petition to Remove Dad Jamie as Conservator, Requests Jason Rubin

By Jeff Nelson and Tomás Mier

Britney Spears has officially taken steps to oust her father from her conservatorship.

On Monday, the pop star's lawyer, Mathew Rosengart, filed a petition in court to remove her father Jamie Spears as her financial conservator and replace him with Jason Rubin, a certified public accountant at Certified Strategies Inc, to manage her estate, which is worth $58 million, according to court documents obtained by PEOPLE.

According to his employer's website, Rubin has practiced as a forensic accountant since 1993 and has testified as an expert witness in hundreds of cases.

"Ms. Spears respectfully submits that the Court should appoint her nominee; in that, it is an objectively intelligent preference to nominate a highly qualified, professional fiduciary in this circumstance," the documents read. "Moreover, Ms. Spears respectfully submits that, given the Court's recognition at the July 14, 2021, hearing that Ms. Spears has sufficient capacity to choose her own legal counsel, she likewise has sufficient capacity to make this nomination."

Spears' next court date is set for Dec. 13.

Britney Spears; Jamie Spears
| Credit: Getty; Shutterstock
This move is the latest in Britney's ongoing 13-year conservatorship saga. After a public breakdown, Britney was placed under a conservatorship in 2008, and a judge then appointed Jamie as both the conservator of her person and the conservator of her estate.

In 2019, Jamie stepped down as the conservator of her person after an alleged physical altercation with Britney and ex-husband Kevin Federline's son Sean Preston, 15. (The exes are also parents to son Jayden James, 14.) At the time, Jodi Montgomery, a care manager, took over as Britney's conservator of her person.

U.S. - Britney Spears at Palms Home Poker Host Launch in Las Vegas
Jamie and Britney Spears
| Credit: Chris Farina/Corbis/Getty

RELATED: Britney Spears Conservatorship Case: Read Her Full Statement 

On June 23, Britney, 39, delivered emotional testimony in court, telling the judge why she believed Jamie should no longer be the conservator of her estate — and revealing for the first time that she wanted the conservatorship to end.

"I've lied and told the whole world I'm okay and I'm happy. It's a lie. I've been in denial. I've been in shock. I am traumatized. Fake it 'til you make it, but now I'm telling you the truth, okay? I'm not happy. I can't sleep. I'm depressed. I cry every day," Britney said in court.

During the same hearing, Jamie's attorney Vivian Lee Thoreen addressed the court to share a statement from her client, saying, "[Jamie] is sorry to see his daughter in so much pain. [He] loves his daughter and misses her very much."

Following Britney's bombshell testimony, several players involved in the conservatorship resigned, including her longtime court-appointed attorney Sam Ingham III.

At a July 14 hearing, Britney scored a major win in her conservatorship case when the judge allowed her to hire her own attorney, former federal prosecutor Rosengart. In the same hearing, Britney — who called into the hearing over the phone — accused Jamie of abuse.

Sam Asghari, Britney Spears, Jamie Spears
Britney Spears and Sam Asghari; Jamie Spears
| Credit: Vivien Killilea/Getty; Alex Berliner/BEI/Shutterstock

"I would like to charge my father with conservatorship abuse," she reportedly said in a tearful testimony. "I want to press charges against my father today. I want an investigation into my dad."

At the hearing, Britney also called her conservatorship "f----ing cruelty" and alleged that she was living with severe limitations, including not being able to drink coffee, saying, "If this is not abuse, I don't know what is," according to CNN. (A lawyer for Jamie did not respond to PEOPLE's request for comment at the time.)

One day ahead of Britney's June hearing, The New York Times published a report citing sealed court documents and transcripts from 2016 between Britney and a probate investigator

"She articulated she feels the conservatorship has become an oppressive and controlling tool against her," a court investigator wrote in 2016, adding that Spears reportedly believed the legal system had "too much control."

"She is 'sick of being taken advantage of' and she said she is the one working and earning her money but everyone around her is on her payroll," the investigator added then.

Britney Spears "Piece of Me" Summer Tour Opener - National Harbor
Credit: Kevin Mazur/BCU18/Getty
Spears also said that her father was "obsessed" with her and wanted to control everything about her life, according to theTimes. The singer alleged she was unable to make friends, was limited to a $2,000 weekly allowance and was not allowed to spend her own money to make cosmetic changes to her home without her father's permission, the Times reported. (That same year, she met her boyfriend Sam Asghari on the set of her "Slumber Party" music video.)

Britney's 2016 sentiments echo what her former lawyer told a judge during a November 2020 court hearing that she was "afraid of her father" when the judge declined Britney's request to make Montgomery her permanent conservator.

"She will not perform again if her father is in charge of her career," he said at the time. (Thoreen, one of Jamie's attorneys, refuted the claim as hearsay.)

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County approves guardianship pay for indigent wards

by Kortny Hahn

At the July 13 Cheboygan County Board of Commissioners meeting, the board approved pay for county guardians who have been appointed to represent wards who are indigent, which means they are suffering from extreme poverty.

This topic was something that had been brought before the county commissioners at the request of Cheboygan County Probate Court Judge Daryl Vizina.

"We're one of the few counties that do not, at this time, pay for indigents, to cover for guardian services," said Cheboygan County Administrator Jeff Lawson. "So if an individual goes from probate court and they can afford to pay guardianship, the individual pays for that. But in the cases where they do not, we have volunteers throughout the years who actually volunteer their time to cover that."

Cheboygan County Administrator Jeff Lawson
Jennifer Patselas
The probate court has indicated to the county administration they are currently having a difficult time finding people to volunteer to offer these services. There are also several people who are currently volunteering and have many different wards of which they are keeping track, some with as many as 10 assigned to them at one time.

This is being done without any sort of compensation.

"The judge asked for the ability to use a portion of his budget this year to cover the rest of the year, to pay $83 per month, per client that is under the indigent standing," said Lawson. "In the future, we would have to work that into the budget."

This additional cost to pay those who are representatives of the indigent wards would be around $6,000 annually. The funds being used would come out of the probate court budget this year and Vizina has asked it be worked into the budget moving forward.

Cheboygan County Board of Commissioners Chair John Wallace said he thought this was a very good idea, for the county to start paying these representatives of the indigent wards.

When Wallace was studying for his social work program, he interned at the Cheboygan County Probate Court. He was charged with reviewing the adult foster care homes in the county and then making a report to the judge. While he was performing this review, he found out there were some guardians who were not receiving any pay for the work they were doing.

"There's some people that are very dedicated and some had maybe 15 different wards," said Wallace. "They're just not being reimbursed for it. It's not fair, I just don't think. They spend a lot of time."

Wallace said he felt it was proper to start paying these people for their hard work.

Many of the counties around Cheboygan County — with the exception of Presque Isle County — have public guardians that are being paid $83 a month to represent the wards who cannot pay for the services themselves. Wards who can pay for these services themselves are charged $83 per month.

In Cheboygan County, until the motion was passed by the board members, they had been doing this free of charge. The duties of this position include attending court, handling finances, applying for medical health care benefits, scheduling doctor and dental appointments and many others, including assisting with criminal, civil and family court matters.

The guardians are also responsible for issues such as getting a storage unit for their wards' personal belongings if they are placed in some sort of a foster care home, filing income tax returns and signing all legal documents on behalf of the ward.

These guardians are on call, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year, in case there is an emergency.

The county commissioners voted unanimously to approve the request to start paying the guardians of the indigent wards at a rate of $83 per month, per ward.

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Trio accused of neglecting 83-year old grandmother, spraying her with air freshener to hide foul smell

One of two recent elder abuse cases in Memphis

by: Melissa Moon 

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Memphis police are investigating two separate cases of neglect of an elderly or vulnerable adult where the victims were left naked and in their own filth by relatives.

Investigators said 83-year-old Lillian Foster was discovered by a home health care worker inside her apartment in the College Park area without any clothes, lying in her own waste.

The health care worker said the apartment smelled of feces and marijuana, and Foster’s grandchildren, who are supposed to be caring for her, were spraying her with some sort of air freshener.

Foster was transported to Methodist University Hospital with a large sore on her heel and wounds to her spine and elbow that were so infected bones, and tendons were showing. A medical social worker for Methodist said it appeared Foster had been without food or water for up to 10 days.

The home health care worker told police she was supposed to treat Foster’s wounds twice a week, but her relatives would not let her inside the home, according to police.

Foster’s grandchildren — Jonathan Foster, 40, Shareon Norman, 20, and Amarienon Abram, 23 — were arrested and charged with aggravated neglect of an elderly or vulnerable adult.

Daniel Baker

In another case, 36-year-old Daniel Baker is facing charges of aggravated of an elderly or vulnerable adult and financial exploitation after his uncle was found malnourished, dehydrated, weak, and confused inside his apartment on Southern Avenue.

A social worker with adult protective services, who was doing a follow-up visit, said Mike Baker was lying in bed naked in his own feces, and there was trash, bugs, and flies all over his home.

The 65-year-old also had open sores and wounds all over his body.

Investigators say Daniel Baker is the victim’s nephew and his caregiver. Police said the nephew was also taking his uncle’s social security money for his own personal use.

The uncle was transported to the hospital in non-critical condition and is now being cared for at a rehabilitation and skilled nursing center. His nephew is locked up on a $50,000 bond.

If you suspect someone is being abused by a relative or caretaker, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Hospital security staff ‘abused’ vulnerable patients

by:  Victoria Macdonald 
       Health and Social Care Editor
Hospital security guards have been accused of abusing vulnerable patients after CCTV footage exclusively obtained by Channel 4 News shows an elderly man locked in a room for 11 hours without treatment, food or water. 

Stepping Hill Hospital, in Greater Manchester, has admitted unlawful detention and assault and settled out of court after a vulnerable man was “abused” and “falsely imprisoned”.

Stockport NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Stepping Hill, told this programme that in the same year there were two other similar incidents and three security guards were dismissed.

They said in a statement: “We took swift action to address those concerns, including informing the police.

“The way the patients were treated was entirely unacceptable. We have sincerely apologised to the patients, and have taken steps to ensure such distressing incidents do not happen again.”

Adult safeguarding expert Margaret Flynn, who led an urgent review into the Winterbourne View abuse scandal in 2011, said it was “shocking” this kind of abuse was happening in acute hospitals and called on the health watchdog to “throw a spotlight on this practice”.


Steven Eddies, who has heart and lung conditions, was taken to the emergency department at Stepping Hill Hospital in 2018.

Mr Eddies was agitated, he complained of chest pains and he was struggling for breath.

CCTV footage of the night, obtained by this programme and Mr Eddies’ lawyers, shows the 67-year-old being pushed into a room by a security guard before the door is then held shut.

He was held against his will in the cubicle without treatment, food or water for 11 hours.

Mr Eddies told Channel 4 News: “Prisoners in jail get better treatment than I got. I was not treated like a human being in any way, shape or form.”

He added: “To this very day I often sit here on my own thinking about the whole issue but then again it’s no good me personally dwelling on it because it’s not going to get anywhere, is it?”

Mr Eddie’s lawyer Mark McGhee said: “Steven was abused. He was falsely imprisoned, he suffered damaging psychiatric harm and he lost his liberty.”

He added: “You’ve got security guards who receive a certain amount of training. Is that sufficient training given the nature of the individuals they are supposed to be protecting?”

No record

Freedom of Information requests, sent by the production company Primate Films, found 4,869 incidents recorded in 23 hospital trusts over the past three years involving “physical interventions” by security staff against patients.

Not all of these patients were vulnerable, according to the FOI responses, and some of the interventions may have been necessary.

However, none of that detail is recorded by the trusts.

Michael, whose name we have changed to protect his identity, worked for a decade as a security guard in hospitals in the south of England. He spent most of his time in A&E.

He began taking notes about the incidents he witnessed after he noticed there was an issue in the way security guards treated patients.

He said: “I’ve seen a child handcuffed to a chair in A&E. I’ve seen patients with blankets wrapped around their legs, tight so that they couldn’t walk away.”

He added: “They were treating, say, a 90-year-old or 80-year-old patient as they would a drunk 25-year-old in a nightclub.”

Government guidelines state that restraint should always be the last resort.

However, Michael told this programme it’s often the go-to course of action, because it’s the easiest.

As a result, he says, patients are coming to unnecessary harm on a daily basis and sometimes they are either too young or mentally unfit to “even realise that they’ve been assaulted”.

A spokesperson for NHS England said: “Any abuse of patients should not be tolerated in the NHS and hospitals who manage their security locally are expected to take action where needed to protect their patients and staff.”

‘It’s shocking’

Ms Flynn led an urgent review into Winterbourne View, a home for people with learning disabilities, after filming by the BBC’s Panorama programme exposed workers abusing the patients.

Watching CCTV footage of Mr Eddies’ treatment in Stepping Hill, she commented on the “incredible abuse of power” and “the needless use of seclusion”.

She added: “The contrast is that at Winterbourne View, patients were harmed by nurses and nursing assistants. Here, patients are being harmed by security staff.

“It’s shocking that it’s happening not merely in our specialist hospitals and private hospitals, but also happening in our acute hospitals where we least expect it.”

She told this programme that the health watchdog the Care Quality Commission (CQC) should “throw a spotlight on this practice”, adding: “If it’s happening here, then of course, it’s likely to be happening elsewhere.”

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3 lawyers facing suspensions

Three Hoosier lawyers are facing disciplinary sanctions after the Indiana Supreme Court handed down orders suspending their law licenses.

The high court suspended Byron J. Davis’ license for at least one year without automatic reinstatement, effective July 19. Grant E. Helms was retroactively suspended for 365 days beginning May 20, with 90 days served and the remainder stayed subject to probation and monitoring. Robert E. Love will begin serving his 180-day suspension on Aug. 30.

In Davis’ case, the Muncie lawyer was found to have violated seven Indiana Professional Conduct Rules and five Admission and Discipline Rules. Each of the violations stemmed from a three-count disciplinary action related to Davis’ representation of a personal injury plaintiff. At the same time, Davis’ firm was serving as special counsel in the plaintiff’s bankruptcy case.

Any proceeds from the personal injury case were to be turned over to the bankruptcy trustee. The personal injury lawsuit settled for $68,000, but according to count 1, Davis failed to remit the proceeds for months.

Davis eventually took the money out of his trust account before finally giving the funds to the trustee in July 2019.

The previous April, Davis had made multiple transfers to and from his trust account without adequate documentation. As a result, he did not have sufficient funds in his account on behalf of the bankruptcy case. When asked to provide records for his trust account, Davis handed over records that did not correlate with what was supplied by a bank.

Finally, Davis told the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission that he thought he was allowed to take his fees and costs prior to sending the settlement funds to the bankruptcy trustee. He later admitted that he purposely tried to mislead the commission by submitting inconsistent records.

Davis was found to have violated Professional Conduct Rules 1.15(a), 1.15(d), 3.3(a)(1), 3.4(c), 8.1(a), 8.4(b) and 8.4(c), as well as Admission and Discipline Rules 23(29)(a) and 23(29)(c)(4) – (7). He is also under a separate suspension for his noncompliance with CLE requirements.

His one-year suspension was effective immediately. The case is In the Matter of: Byron J. Davis, 20S-DI-420.

Helms, of Indianapolis, was also already suspended when the justices accepted his discipline agreement July 19.

Helms was arrested in May 2020 and pleaded guilty in January to possession of methamphetamine, a Level 6 felony entered as a Class A misdemeanor. He has been under an interim suspension since May 20.

Helms and the Disciplinary Commission agreed that he violated Professional Conduct Rule 8.4(b). The high court approved the agreed discipline of a 365-day suspension beginning May 20, with 90 days actively served the rest stayed subject to Helms’ completion of 24 months of probation with monitoring by the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program.

While in probation, Helms must

  • Submit to at least one random drug test per month and cannot consume any mind-altering substances unless validly prescribed.
  • Not violate the Rules of Professional Conduct.
  • Report any violations of his probation to the Disciplinary Commission, including providing drug tests results.

Helms can move to terminate his probation if he is fully complaint for 12 consecutive months. If he violates probation, the stay will be vacated and the balance of his suspension will be actively served without automatic reinstatement.

His case is In the Matter of: Grant E. Helms, 21S-DI-262.

Love’s case began in September 2020, when the Commission filed a complaint against the Fort Wayne lawyer. Love did not timely file an answer, and the hearing officer later denied his request to reopen evidence.

At issue was Love’s representation of two plaintiffs in a personal injury case. Love negotiated a settlement, and the defense insurer, The General, issued four checks to Love: $9,000 for one plaintiff, $5,000 to the other plaintiff and two checks for $1,000 payable to Geico, the plaintiffs’ insurer.

Love asked his clients to endorse all four checks and cash them at his own bank. But he failed to tell Geico about its two checks or provide the insurer with the money. Geico later learned about the funds and, after months of trying to contact Love, forced him to admit that he owed the insurer $2,000.

Love did not timely cooperate with the commission’s investigation, according to the Supreme Court’s July 20 order. He has been disciplined twice before, once in 1996 and again in 2014.

Finding that Love violated Professional Conduct Rules 1.1, 1.15(d), 8.1(b) and 8.4(b), the court suspended him for 180 days with automatic reinstatement beginning Aug. 30.

Justice Steven David would have suspended Love for two years, with 180 days actively served and the remainder stayed subject to two years of probation with monitoring by another attorney.

Love’s case is In the Matter of: Robert E. Love, 20S-DI-556.

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