Saturday, October 30, 2021

Amanda Bynes' Fans Are Calling For Her Conservatorship To Come To An End

by Jess Hardiman  

Fans are calling for Amanda Bynes' conservatorship to come to an end as the star was seen out walking with fiance Paul Michael earlier this week in West Hollywood, California.

The former Nickelodeon star, 35, was first placed under a temporary conservatorship in August 2013, following mental health issues and struggles, substance abuse and legal problems - including being detained in July 2013 after allegedly starting a fire in a stranger's driveway.

Her mother received conservatorship again the year after, and in 2018 paperwork was submitted for it to continue until 2020.

Last month, it was confirmed that it had been extended to March 2023, although her lawyer David Esquibia later clarified that the conservatorship is 'open day to day'.

In a statement to People, he explained that a status report - rather than an extension as such - had been scheduled for 2023.

He said: "A status report regarding her health and welfare was recently filed and approved by the court. By law, the next status report is due in two years. Her conservatorship will terminate when it is no longer convenient for Amanda."

After Bynes was photographed enjoying a walk with Michael, fans have been using the #FreeAmandaBynes hashtag to campaign for the end to her conservatorship, with one tweeting this week: "Let's not forget that this poor woman is also under a strict conservatorship. Her rights were taken away from her and she can't decide anything. #FreeAmanda#FreeAmandaBynes."


A third wrote: "Amanda's Bynes situation deserves way too more recognization. Let her have her freedom, she is an adult woman! #FreeAmanda#FreeAmandaBynes."

A fourth added: "We need to save Amanda Bynes next she's been under a conservatorship just like Britney was, poor girly."

TMZ also recently reported that Britney Spears supporters have now turned their attention to Bynes, having spoken to a number of #FreeBritney campaigners outside the courthouse when Jame Spears' fate was being decided.  (Click to continue reading)

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Embattled Orlando attorney permanently disbarred by Florida Supreme Court

Justin Infurna accused of violating 92 rules of law

The Florida Supreme Court suspended the law license of Justin Infurna on December 28, 2020.
The Florida Supreme Court suspended the law license of Justin Infurna on December 28, 2020. (Courtesy: Florida Bar)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Ten months after several clients lodged complaints against him, Orlando attorney Justin Infurna has been permanently disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court.

Infurna’s license to practice law was first suspended in December 2020 after 37 clients complained to the Florida Bar.

Some claimed he accepted payment for services and did not follow through in court. Some say he stopped responding to them.

In all, the Florida Bar accused Infurna of violating 92 rules.

In the ruling issued Wednesday, the court wrote: “As a sanction, Respondent is permanently disbarred from the practice of law in the State of Florida. Respondent is currently suspended; therefore this permanent disbarment is effective immediately.”

Infurna was also ordered to pay $10,911.95 to recover costs.

Infurna was allowed to file a motion for a rehearing on the matter.

Clients who feel they may be affected by this case were urged to contact the Florida Bar’s Client Security Fund for possible, partial reimbursement.

News 6 contacted Infurna for a comment, and he has not responded.

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Bruising, alleged neglect drives daughter to move mother from Colonial Heights nursing facility

by: Kerri O'Brien
COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. (WRIC) — Fearing for her mother’s health and safety, Hazel Drumgoole said she has pulled her mother out of Colonial Heights Rehabilitation and Nursing Center and filed complaints at both the state and federal level.

8News has found that the facility has a history of problems.

Marie Drumgoole was transported to the Colonial Heights health care center to rehab after a stroke. Her stay, lasting just three weeks after a her daughter noticed bruising on her mom.

“A large bruise on the left side of her stomach and a large bruise on her thigh,” Hazel Drumgoole said.

Hazel Drumgoole claims the nursing center couldn’t explain what happened to her mother.  She has her own ideas. 

She said, “I’ve taken care of my mother for years, I never bruised her. I am thinking unnecessary roughness.”

She shared photos with 8News to prove it. 

Her 94-year-old mother arrived at the Colonial Heights nursing center with a heart monitor but Hazel Drumgoole said it was never connected.

“She was here two weeks and they did not know she had a heart monitor” Hazel Drumgoole said. “It’s neglect, I think it’s neglect.”

Hazel Drumgoole said her mother couldn’t even talk to her family over the phone for her first ten days at the center.  

She said, “The receiver was missing from the phone.”

Hazel Drumgoole wasn’t permitted to visit her mom in-person at first because of COVID-19 restrictions but she demanded a compassion visit. She said when she got inside, it was clear to her no one had washed or combed her mom’s hair.  

“Her hair was all tangled in the back,” she said.

In addition, a packed suitcase with personal belongings was empty.

“All her clothes and her shoes were missing,” Drumgoole said.

Eventually, a pair of her pants were found in the laundry room and an outfit and shoes were found in the roommate’s closet. However, Hazel Drumgoole said the majority of her mom’s belongings are still unaccounted for.

It’s not the first time the facility had been accused of losing personal items. 8News found an investigation into a complaint last year determined facility staff failed to investigate a concern for missing hearing aids.

“It was total neglect here,” Drumgoole said.

8News requested an interview with management at the Colonial Heights Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.  They declined but we were told in a statement:

“We are very sorry to hear of the issues alleged by the family of our former resident. The quality care and wellbeing of our residents is always of utmost importance to everyone at Colonial Heights Rehabilitation Center. We are fully committed to our residents and hold ourselves to the highest of standards always. We are unable to comment further, due to HIPPA and privacy practices for the former resident and family.”

-Tyler Mackall Administrator, Colonial Heights Rehabilitation and Nursing Center

8News found the nursing facility gets a much below average rating from the federal government and at the height of pandemic, the center had a COVID-19 outbreak resulting in 24 deaths.

Hazel Drumgoole urges others with loved ones in a nursing facility to check in on them and request a compassion visit to see what is going on inside.  

She said, “A lot of patients here, they are non-verbal they can’t express, they can’t talk, they can’t tell their story. Family needs to visit them.”

Medical experts tells us sometimes medical details like a heart monitor can get lost in transit if not noted by a doctor. So, it’s important to ask questions and make sure the doctor and facility have communicated.

If you are having an issue with a facility and want to file a complaint, you can do so fill out a Nursing Home Complaint Form and send it to the Virginia Department of Health.

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Friday, October 29, 2021

Man charged with fraud, exploitation, banned from doing business in state


A man facing criminal charges in McLean County of construction fraud and elderly exploitation has been ordered to stop doing business in North Dakota.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has issued a cease-and-desist order banning George Williamson Stewart. The state says Stewart, who uses addresses in Minot and Mesa, Arizona, does not have a contractor's license and has violated the state’s consumer fraud and contractor licensing laws.

Stewart, who does business as Stewart Home Improvements, is charged in McLean County with felony construction fraud and seven felony counts of exploiting adults in the age range of 72-87. He also faces misdemeanor counts of not having a contractor's license or a transient merchant's license. The fraud charge carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison; the other felonies a maximum of five years apiece.

Stewart is accused of soliciting advance payments from elderly people in North Dakota to treat their roofs with sealant, and then using a different product than advertised.

"Stewart’s claims about the product he was hawking and the duration of the supposed protection varied depending on the amount of advance payment he was able to take from the victim," the Attorney General's Office said in a statement.

Court documents indicate Stewart allegedly defrauded people out of as much as $50,000 in total. Investigators allege he has run similar scams in other states, Canada and New Zealand.

Stewart was charged Wednesday, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Court documents do not list an attorney for him, and a telephone listing for his company couldn't immediately be found. 

Separately, Stenehjem issued a cease-and-desist order banning John Moser III, of Minot, from conducting further business in the state. Moser does business as J3 Construction.

The attorney general's Consumer Protection division has obtained civil judgments against Moser banning him from engaging in contracting work or obtaining a contractor’s license, but defrauded consumers remain unpaid, according to Stenehejem. Court documents don't list an attorney for Moser.

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Senior Security

By Kathleen Maloney

Making sure that older Americans are of free from abuse, scams, and poor administration of their finances and health isn’t a new pursuit. But as the nation ages, aid from the legal system becomes more critical.

Two adult daughters turned to the legal system this year because they were troubled by how their father’s finances were being handled. Their father has dementia and his friend, an accountant, had authority, through a financial power of attorney, over the father’s money. The daughters believed the friend wasn’t keeping up adequately with the finances.

The situation led the women to Judge Dixilene Park’s courtroom in Stark County Probate Court in late September. They asked to be named guardian of their father’s “estate,” or property, which included his finances, and as guardian of their father himself.

Convinced of the daughters’ concerns, Judge Park terminated the accountant’s power of attorney and appointed one of the daughters as guardian.

It’s an example of the issues confronting those with aging parents, relatives, neighbors, and friends.

Need for Protection, Assistance Likely to Climb
As the population in the United States grows older – and it’s happening at a rapid rate – expect such worries about the care and safety of elderly family and friends to escalate. Each day, 10,000 people in the country turn 65 years old, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 1900, the number of people 65 and older in the United States was 3.1 million – about 4% of the population, but by 2000 it had grown more than tenfold, to 35 million, which was roughly 12%.

Bar graph representing U.S. Population Age 65 and Older: 1900 to 2019

The number of people age 65 and older in the United States has climbed significantly since 1900 – from 3.1 million that year to approximately 51 million in 2019. Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

In 2019, those 65 and older made up 16.5% of the population.

Guardianships are one tool for assisting people with personal and financial decisions and for protecting them from abuse, neglect, or scams, some of which have resulted in the loss of life earnings. In Ohio, probate courts appoint guardians for adults who are determined to be “incompetent.” For an older person or a disabled adult, that means they need help because they are incapacitated in some way and can’t manage certain aspects of their lives. Family members don't need an attorney to request a guardianship in court.

Judge Park said she considers an array of options when someone’s competency is being questioned, pointing out that Ohio’s rules for probate courts mandate that judges first look at alternatives less restrictive than guardianships. Those options could include appointment of a power of attorney for finances or a power of attorney for healthcare.

“There’s a continuum,” said Judge Park. “Some people are a little forgetful. They don’t need a guardian, but just a little help.”

Besides powers of attorney, courts also may consider a trust, a joint account, a designated payee for certain benefits, or protective services.

Experts Advocate for Elder Bill of Rights and More
Weighing alternatives to guardianships was a centerpiece of this year’s National Guardianship Summit. The organizations, advocates, judges, lawyers, scholars, and others who participated focused on practices to establish effective guardianships and reforms. This summit’s theme emphasized maximizing the autonomy of those for whom guardians are appointed and ensuring the accountability of the guardians overseeing them. Participants offered 22 recommendations.

Among their recommendations is a bill of rights for adults helped by guardians to ensure their dignity, privacy, autonomy, and full participation in decisions. Also endorsed:

  • Guardianship diversion programs
  • Supported decision-making, which is assistance with making and communicating decisions about one's life to others
  • Tailored and limited guardianship orders
  • Opportunities to modify or terminate guardianships when circumstances change.

As Judge Park mentioned, Ohio has aspects of these proposals already built into probate court rules. “Best interest,” for example, is defined as “the course of action that maximizes what is best for a ward, including consideration of the least intrusive, most normalizing, and least restrictive course of action possible given the needs of the ward.”

Diane Robinson of the Center for Elders and the Courts at the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) agrees that the summit recommendations aren’t new topics of discussion within guardianship circles.

“But I think these ideas are gaining ground with the public,” Robinson said. “I never thought I’d say this, but, ‘Thank you, Britney Spears.’”

Pop star Spears has been the subject of extensive recent media coverage as she tried to extract herself from a “conservatorship” set up in California in which her father had control over her money and many of her personal and medical decisions. A California conservatorship is similar to a guardianship in Ohio. The topic generated so much public attention that the U.S. Senate held a hearing in late September on “toxic conservatorships.”

It seems clear that two goals are in play with guardianships – to assist and protect individuals, while simultaneously keeping the oversight from going too far. And in rare instances, measures need to be taken to make certain that the guardians themselves aren’t causing harm.

Those the court appoints guardians for are people who are most vulnerable in the community. We want to be sure they’re taken care of.
Judge Dixilene Park, Stark County Probate Court

‘Court Angels’ Mobilized to Check on Wards and Guardians
Judge Park notes that nearly all people for whom guardians are appointed, sometimes called “wards,” have positive relationships with their guardians. But courts want to know when there are problems. To safeguard older adults and to avert abuse, neglect, and exploitation by guardians, courts have implemented monitoring programs, Judge Park said.

“It serves as a deterrent to abuse,” she said.

State probate court rules require guardians to see their wards at least quarterly. In Stark County, Judge Park requires guardians to visit wards at least once per month. The court also recruits volunteers who agree to check in on wards and their guardians and observe how they interact. Called the Court Angel Program in Stark County, senior citizens and college students often volunteer.

Judge Park wants to thwart situations like one she encountered years ago in which an 84-year-old woman was crawling on the floor of her home to get around. The woman couldn’t use her walker in the small spaces of the home, so her daughter, who was her guardian and had to work, would leave food on the floor for her mother. The mother lost 16 pounds in a short timeframe. Visitors checking on the woman rang the alarm bell, and the court appointed another guardian and moved the woman to a facility that could provide more consistent care.

Sometimes courts discover that family members are stretched too thin to give the care that’s needed. At an NCSC webinar on reforming guardianships, Judge Michael Long, an associate judge of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians in northwestern Michigan, notes that, generally, the first thought is to appoint family members as guardians.

“For a variety of reasons, though, family dynamics might not allow this to occur,” he said. “And, further, we find that many individuals are working later in life, so to seek out a guardian to protect our elders we need to make sure that they have time to do it.”

A visitor program goes beyond paper reports required by probate courts to interact with a ward face-to face and find out how the guardianship – whether handled by a family member or another person – is working. A recent tally indicates that six of the state’s probate courts have launched visitor programs to check regularly on wards. This summer, the Ohio Supreme Court released a toolkit to assist courts in setting up these programs. Community partners, civic service groups, and faith-based organizations can help identify volunteers for the court and spread the word about the opportunities and need. Thorough training and ongoing support from the court for volunteers are key for building a strong monitoring program.

“I would love to see more courts establish active monitoring of guardianships – actually laying eyes on the person, making sure they’re OK and that the guardianship is still appropriate,” said Robinson of the Center for Elders and the Courts.

“Those the court appoints guardians for are people who are most vulnerable in the community,” Judge Park said. “We want to be sure they’re taken care of.”

It’s a question of looking at the individual and tailoring a guardianship to that person’s needs.
Diane Robinson, NCSC Center for Elders and the Courts

Dispute Resolution Can Be Effective in Elder Cases
Along the continuum of options to aid the older adults in her community, Judge Park leverages informal and formal strategies to divert from unnecessary guardianships. Informally, she has had her staff dig into details of a family’s circumstances before the court makes any competency determination that would lead to a guardian being appointed.

More formally, she has referred cases to eldercare coordination, a dispute resolution process especially for high-conflict cases.

“It’s a way to try to avoid guardianships, but still focus on the older adult’s safety, best interest, and making sure they have their needs met,” Judge Park said.

In one family that went through eldercare coordination, the mother had received a substantial inheritance, but the three adult sons didn’t get along and couldn’t agree on the care for their mother. One of the sons lived with his mother but did little to assist around the house, Judge Park said. For the mother to be able to stay in the home, she needed help.

Through the dispute resolution process, the siblings agreed to pay the son living at home to take care of specific tasks, such as making sure his mother ate meals. The family would hire professional services for other needs. As a result of the agreement, the mother didn’t have to be moved to a facility, Judge Park said.

Best Plans Depend on Thorough Medical Assessments and Customized Care
By devising guardianships that are limited to only what is needed, courts can ensure that people who require a specific type of help still can retain their autonomy.

“It’s a question of looking at the individual and tailoring a guardianship to that person’s needs,” Robinson said. “There have to be real checks and balances between maintaining independence and protecting the individual.”

Probate courts rely on competency evaluations, also called capacity determinations in some parts of the country, when deciding to appoint a guardian. Robinson notes that these assessments from physicians or psychologists are essential to courts in making the best decision for someone.

“It’s important to get a good capacity evaluation – something more than a brief report from a general practitioner,” she said. “A more detailed evaluation from a gerontologist or a practitioner who specializes in geriatrics will provide specifics to better enable the court to set up the guardianship as narrowly as possible.”

Judge Long stated in the guardianship reform webinar that when judges are confronted with a case involving a person they’re told has dementia or other disabilities, they at times overcompensate, with the best of intentions.

“The first thing you want to do is protect that individual,” he said. “The easy way to do that is to strip them of all authority and place them with this other party. We’re learning that this doesn’t need to happen, that we can have narrowly tailored orders.”

Dallas County Probate Court Judge Brenda Hull Thompson, who also spoke at the webinar, agreed, stating that a limited philosophy is practiced in Texas.

“Creating guardianships is not a license for taking rights away from people,” Judge Hull Thompson said. “We want to craft a guardianship that meets needs. We don’t want to infringe on individual rights and liberties.”

Judge Park points out that wards typically continue to hold many rights, such as the right to vote, to drive, to marry and divorce, and to practice their religion.

“Just because you’re a guardian, you don’t get to dictate everything,” Judge Park explains. “You’re not taking over the individual’s life. You’re just making sure they’re OK.”

Creating guardianships is not a license for taking rights away from people.
Judge Brenda Hull Thompson, Dallas County Probate Court, Texas

Scams, Financial Abuses Often Targeted at Elderly
Financial exploitation of older adults is another area of concern that attracts widespread public attention.

Earlier this year, stories splashed across national media about Beverley Schottenstein. Her late husband, Alvin, and his brothers built well-known furniture and retail chains in central Ohio. When two of Schottenstein’s grandsons joined JP Morgan Chase & Co. in 2014, she entrusted about $80 million to them as her financial advisers, a Bloomberg News article stated. Over time, Schottenstein, now in her mid-90s, became suspicious about how her money was being managed. According to a 2019 independent review, account statements were missing, Schottenstein’s money had been placed in inappropriate and risky investments she wasn’t told about, she was charged large commissions, and mysterious charges appeared on her credit card, the Bloomberg article stated. The grandsons said they acted according to her wishes.

In February of this year, Schottenstein won a $19 million ruling in an arbitration before the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which found Chase’s securities unit and the grandsons liable for abusing their fiduciary duty, making fraudulent misrepresentations, and elder abuse.

Her story doesn’t involve a guardianship, but Schottenstein said on a Columbus radio show that friends as well as strangers have thanked her for shining a light on elder abuse, which some had experienced themselves and that can happen to anyone.

Line graph representing the steady increase in Ohio adult guardianships from 2011 through 2020

Guardianships approved by Ohio probate courts may stay open for years. The number of ongoing adult guardianships in the state has risen from about 42,000 in 2011 to 49,000 in 2020 – with roughly 6,000 to 7,000 new applications for guardianships of adults submitted annually. Source: Ohio Supreme Court, Case Management Section.

Financial exploitation of vulnerable individuals is seen in Ohio courts as well. Judge Park described a widow in Stark County who was struggling after her husband’s death and began drinking heavily. During this time, an online “boyfriend” bilked her of $400,000. The court appointed the woman’s daughter as guardian to deal with the financial troubles.

Judge Park mentioned the story also as an example of how guardianships can be temporary and situational, rather than an all-or-nothing approach. Two years after the court appointed the daughter as guardian, the widow had become sober and was going to Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, and a family member had moved in with her. The court was able to terminate the guardianship because it was no longer necessary.

Courts and Partners Work Together to Fight Problems
Probate courts don’t work in a vacuum in their efforts to protect and assist older adults. In some counties, court staff join local teams with prosecutors, local aging agencies, adult protective services, sheriff’s departments, banks, and Social Security representatives to engage in an ongoing dialogue to tackle these issues. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has an Elder Justice Initiative, which works with organizations and communities to investigate elder abuse cases and improve services.

The Franklin County Probate Court has established a county guardianship service board with the county Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board and the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities to pool resources to appoint a “public guardian” when individuals have no other adult or organization available or appropriate to be guardian. The board is staffed with social workers to provide guardianship services. Fairfield County also has created a guardianship board, and the Delaware County Probate Court plans to launch its board in January.

These collaborations reflect a concerted focus to identify and address situations where vulnerable older adults aren’t being cared for with dignity and respect or are experiencing neglect, abuse, or exploitation. As Judge Long of Michigan noted, citing a 1977 quote from Hubert Humphrey, the former U.S. senator and vice president:

“The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

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Jones County woman charged with exploitation of a vulnerable adult

by: Kaitlin Howell
JONES COUNTY, Miss. (WHLT) – A Jones County woman has been charged with exploitation of a vulnerable adult.

Investigators said Kelsey Bradshaw was a caretaker of an elderly person. She allegedly used the person’s credit card for unauthorized purchases.

According to deputies, Bradshaw charged more than $6,000 on the victim’s credit card over the last several months. She was arrested on October 22, 2021.

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Thursday, October 28, 2021

A struggling veteran was found dead in an S.F. park ravine. Could conservatorship have helped prevent his death?

by Mallory Moench

For five years, Alexandra Siliezar tried to keep her older brother alive.

Abraham, an insatiable reader and adoring uncle, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in the Marines, turning to alcohol to escape. And when the San Francisco resident sustained a brain injury in a street attack in 2015, he developed dementia and seizures.

The siblings spoke almost every day, Alexandra reminding Abraham to eat or to take his medicine. They sat together at church in the Mission. They celebrated holidays at Alexandra’s home, where he would squeeze her daughter in bear hugs. Their phone calls ended with “I love you.”

On nights when she didn’t hear from him, Alexandra would call hospitals, which he cycled through with alarming frequency — and often tried to leave, against doctors’ advice. Alexandra, a mental health therapist, knew he was losing weight from chronic vomiting and missing doctor’s appointments, leaving pill bottles unopened and sometimes eating rotten food.

Alexandra believed her brother couldn’t care for himself. So she asked his doctors to evaluate his mental capacity. She needed a specific document to ask a judge to appoint her as his conservator, giving her the power to make medical decisions for him, even if he was resistant. She believed he didn’t understand how sick he was, an issue echoed by some of his health care providers.

But as time passed, those providers were split over whether Abraham needed a conservatorship. In July 2020, a doctor and a social worker agreed that Abraham needed additional support, but said her brother didn’t qualify for one type of conservatorship, while the other type available might not give Alexandra the help she sought.

“I always told them: When is it going to be bad enough — when he’s dead?” Alexandra said.

In August 2020, Abraham disappeared after leaving his supportive housing unit in downtown San Francisco. A month later, U.S. Park Police found his body. He was in a ravine off a trail at Lands End near the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where he was often treated. He was 56.

Standing in the ravine four months after he disappeared, talking about her brother, Alexandra choked up.

“I wanted to apologize and tell him, ‘I’m sorry I was not there to take care of you when you died,’” she said. “I fought so hard for five years to prevent this.”

There’s no way to know whether conservatorship would have saved her brother. But Alexandra is convinced it would have helped.

The story of Abraham, a miltary veteran whose body was found in a San Francisco ravine near Land's End after his sister Alexandra sought unsuccessfully to place him under a conservatorship. Video: Lea Suzuki The Chronicle

Abraham’s plight reveals how challenging and complicated it can be for loved ones to find the best care for people who become mentally impaired. It also highlights an intensifying debate about whether California’s laws on conservatorship, made stricter half a century ago to prevent mass institutionalization, are too narrow.

The issue is particularly fraught in San Francisco, where thousands of people who need treatment for mental illness or addiction are unhoused, and where available services can be limited or expensive. Judges have approved around 1,300 new conservatorships in the city over roughly the past five years.

Critics of conservatorship complain that forcing people into treatment can strip them of their civil rights, and that caregivers too often turn to conservatorships when they should be pursuing less invasive options. California law allows a court-appointed conservator to compel treatment only if someone is “gravely disabled” or cannot care for themselves.

Those concerns have been animated most recently by the fight over pop star Britney Spears, who was conserved for mental health issues. After she argued the arrangement was abusive, a judge suspended her father as conservator. Advocates for reforming conservatorships view that case as an outlier.

Abraham had housing, health insurance, concerned relatives and a team of VA social workers and doctors. Still, Alexandra believes a fractured health care system, insufficient social services and gaps in conservatorship laws failed him. His death, she argues, was avoidable.

Exactly why Abraham died is unknown, as is the reason he ended up in the ravine, according to the city medical examiner and park police. Investigators ruled out foul play.  (Click to continue reading)

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Former Rockland lawyer admits to stealing more than $1 million from elderly clients

WABI) - A former Rockland lawyer has admitted to stealing more than $1 million from three elderly, incapacitated clients.

Village Soup reports 76-year-old Anita Volpe of Tenants Harbor pleaded guilty Monday to theft.

Charges of misuse of entrusted property were dropped in exchange for the guilty plea.

Volpe surrendered her license to practice law in 2016 after being accused of mismanaging clients’ money.

She faces up to 10 years in prison.

The judge says sentencing will likely be in February or March.

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New federal funds spur expansion of home care services for the elderly and disabled

by Selena Simmons-Duffin

Expanded funds for in-home care can help seniors and disabled Americans stay in their homes. Here, Lidia Vilorio, a home health aide, gives her patient Martina Negron her medicine and crackers for her tea in May in Haverstraw, N.Y.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

For older people and people with disabilities, solving everyday practical problems can be the difference between being able to live at home or being forced to move to an institution. Sometimes people need help getting dressed or making meals. Sometimes they need help managing medications or shopping for groceries.

Originally, these things weren't paid for by Medicaid, the federal health care program that many low-income and disabled Americans rely on. In recent years, the program has worked to expand coverage of home-based care but it's still optional for states. Some states have adopted it widely, while in others, more care still happens in nursing homes and other institutions.

In April, the Biden administration rolled out funding from the American Rescue Plan to help states boost these services. And Thursday, the federal Department of Health and Human Services unveiled every state's plan for how they'll use the funds. An estimated $12.7 billion dollars in federal matching funds are available to "encourage states to expand home and community-based services and strengthen their programs," according to an agency press release

"More and more people are saying, if I need care, I'd like it to be done at home or here in my community versus an institution or a hospital or a nursing home," says Health Secretary Xavier Becerra. "In the 21st century, we're moving closer to a care model that's based on giving people services in their home."

Becerra adds that his own father spent his last few months in hospice at home. "When he passed, he was in my home, he was surrounded by family," he says.

Medicaid recently surpassed 80 million beneficiaries — the most ever since the program was created in the 1960s. It is the primary provider of long-term care services for older people, since these are not covered by Medicare or private insurance.

The move towards home- and community-based care has been gradual since Medicaid started, says MaryBeth Musumeci, an associate director at the Kaiser Family Foundation's program on Medicaid and the uninsured. "This is really the first new funding that we're seeing for home and community based services really since the Affordable Care Act in 2010," she says.

"Back in 1965, the world was very different, societal expectations were different," she explains. "For example, if you had a child born with a significant disability, it was much more likely that you might institutionalize that child from a very young age. Medical science and technology had also not advanced to the point where it is now."

These days, it's both possible and preferable for everyday help to be provided to people at home, she says.

There are a lot of reasons why the shift towards home-based care is a good thing, says Jack Rollins, director of federal policy at the National Association of Medicaid Directors.

For someone who needs these services, "you can get care from your family [or] from people that you trust in the community who can come into your home," he says. "It generally costs less than providing these services in the nursing home. Folks that receive [these services] are generally happier with them — they prefer it."

He adds that regardless of where states are now in terms of offering these services, this new funding will help move them further along. For instance, he says, "one of the things that generally Medicaid can't directly pay for is internet connectivity — with these dollars, it looks like we can." That means people could get consistent broadband internet access, he explains, which could allow them to use telehealth services.

There's a time limit to this funding boost, though. The money provided by the American Rescue Plan to shore up these services "is a meaningful amount, but the challenging part is it's limited to 12 months," explains Musumeci.

Many Medicaid advocates are hoping that more permanent support for these services will come through in the budget bill getting hashed out in Congress.

"We do remain hopeful that that investment gets through in some form or fashion," says Rollins. "We think it's important."

The health secretary says he thinks so, too. "We're hoping that Congress will continue to provide additional resources so we can make those increased services in home and community based settings permanent," Becerra says. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, he adds, "Medicaid proved its value."

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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Guardianship changes on legislators’ table

– State lawmakers were told that Florida collects little data on guardianships during a Wednesday committee meeting.

A task force is recommending changes, but there are still large holes in the system.

Doug Franks spent years trying to free his mother from guardianship. He succeeded just weeks before she died.

Franks had tough words this summer when he spoke to the state’s guardianship task force.

“Our legal system is broken. And it rewards people who want to extract money from the elderly. There is no oversight. There is still none,” said Franks.

The House Civil Justice and Property Rights Sub Committee heard from experts Wednesday.

One concern is that Florida does not allow courts in other states to talk with Florida courts.

Elder Law Attorney Victoria Heuler spoke about a hypothetical brother.

“He then starts a guardianship up in Georgia. Because he hates my guts and he wants all mom’s money. Now she’s in Georgia. How do I go in Georgia and get her?” said Heuler.

Also clear from the meeting is that there is no data on who, what, or why people are in guardianship.

There’s also no data on guardians who are taking care of what the law calls a ‘ward’.

“The state doesn’t track guardianships. There’s no database that tells us how many cases of guardianship there are. There’s no data that shows us whether there are guardians who are bad actors,” said Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith.

Recommendations from a statewide guardianship task force include creating databases, asking judges to consider less restrictive measures before guardianship, and more training for everyone involved.

Doug Franks thinks not all the right people were on the task force.

“Law enforcement. That was huge. They needed to be a part of this because it is a criminal enterprise,” said Franks.

And while Franks was able to free his mother, the committee heard that once someone is under guardianship, few are freed, except by death.

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Las Vegas attorney charged with stealing $150K from client

Scott Michael Cantor

By Glenn Puit

A Las Vegas attorney has been charged with stealing $150,000 from a client, according to Las Vegas police records.

Scott Michael Cantor, 69, was booked at the Clark County Detention Center Oct. 14 on a single felony count of theft $100,000 or greater.

Las Vegas police wrote in an arrest warrant for Cantor that detectives were contacted in January by a male client of Cantor’s, requesting that police investigate the lawyer. The client, who’s name was blacked out in the warrant, said his deceased mother’s home had recently been sold, and that related probate proceedings were finalized in December 2020. The funds from the sale were deposited into Cantor’s client trust account, the client said, but Cantor never delivered the money to the client.

When the man started questioning Cantor as to why the money hadn’t been received, he told the client in a text “that he needed to audit his trust account.”

“After Mr. Cantor’s audit, he told (the client) that there was only $200 in his trust account,” police said. “Mr. Cantor told (the client) that he would make good on the funds, but never paid.”

Police said they obtained text conversations between the client and Cantor in which Cantor repeatedly made excuses for why the money hadn’t been transferred.

“Get on putting that money in my account,” the client texted Cantor.

“I’m on it today,” Cantor responded.

At one point Cantor told the man “I don’t understand how I am short. It shouldn’t be. Either way I have to make you whole. I’m on the line to see if I can secure any funds I’m short.”

Police said in the warrant that Cantor ultimately offered the client “mining contracts as a replacement for the money.”

Cantor, police said, at one point sent the client a picture showing the funds had been transferred from Cantor’s bank account, but when police went to check Cantor’s bank records, they “showed no record of $150,000.00 being transferred.”

Cantor did not respond to requests for comment made Monday by email and phone. His attorney, Ozzie Fumo, declined to comment.

State Bar of Nevada records indicate Cantor has been a member since 1978.

Bar spokesman Phil Pattee Monday that the organization is aware of Cantor’s arrest.

“The matter is under investigation,” he said. “It will be presented to a screening panel for the Southern Nevada Disciplinary Board (of the Bar.)”

Records from the legal profession’s governing organization indicate Cantor was the subject of a disciplinary complaint resolved in 2016.

In a Nevada Supreme Court order, the bar said a hearing panel previously found that Cantor had breached a mentoring agreement by “failing to implement an accounting system” at his law firm.

The panel recommended a stayed three-year suspension of Cantor’s law license, followed by one year of probation. Cantor was also ordered to perform an audit of a trust account at the firm and repay any monies owed.

The nature of the complaint filed against Cantor was not detailed in the order.

“Cantor must implement and use accounting and case management systems for the operation of his law practice,” the Supreme Court wrote in the order.

Court records did not immediately list a future court date for Cantor.

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MDH takes over operations at Minneapolis nursing home to ensure resident safety

by Tommy Wiita

The Minnesota Department of Health has filed for receivership and assumed control of a Minneapolis nursing home to help protect residents' safety and ensure continued care while operations and management issues at the facility are addressed. 

Twin City Gardens Nursing Home has 31 residents and 61 employees. According to a news release, MDH assumed facility management under a receivership order granted Friday by a Ramsey County judge. The department has arranged for Pathway Health, a professional management organization, to serve as the facility's managing agent during the receivership. Residents and staff were notified of the change over the weekend. 

This year, MDH has been on-site to conduct complaint investigations several times at Twin City Gardens. During their most recent on-site visits between Oct. 12-21, department surveyors documented multiple findings regarding patient care and services. In addition, last week, MDH staff found evidence of staff payroll checks being returned with insufficient funds, and unpaid bills for oxygen, insurance and medications.

Concerned that the company's growing list of unpaid bills threatened critical services for residents, MDH petitioned the court for permission to assume control of the nursing home through temporary receivership. 

"This rare step is one we do not take lightly, but the evidence indicated a need for immediate action to ensure that residents are safe and continue to receive essential services," said MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm. "We are focused on a smooth transition that meets the needs of families, residents and staff."

MDH and the temporary management team will stabilize the facilities' operations to support staff and to make sure patients receive quality care.

"We are communicating with family members and residents about the transition as we work to stabilize operations and ease their concerns," said MDH Health Regulation Division Director Martha Burton Santibáñez. "We will work with the new managing agent of the facilities to help residents and employees through this transition."

Receiverships, authorized by state law, allow regulators to assume control of a nursing home in certain situations where residents have serious health and safety concerns. By law, the receivership cannot exceed 18 months. In a receivership, MDH becomes responsible for the operations and finances of the nursing home. MDH typically appoints a managing agent to conduct the daily work of managing the facility.

The last receivership action by MDH was in 2015, according to a release.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS spoke with a resident of the facility, who wished to be identified only as Paula, about her experience there.

"I can't say nothing good about the place," Paula said. "I've never seen so much abuse."

Paula said she has been living at Twin City Gardens for the past three months while recovering from a bicycle crash that required three surgeries on her leg.

"To come into something like this, thinking they're going to take care of me and they don't? It's just really, really sad," Paula said.

She said the care provided at the facility, to herself and others, has been "horrible."

"One of the girls didn't have oxygen the other day," Paula said. "She went through the night without it. I don't know how."

The court order against the nursing home details multiple safety concerns, including "critically low oxygen supplies, nearly resulting in residents being transferred to the emergency room."

Another report in the court order alleges a resident sat in feces for four hours before receiving assistance and was forced to call 911 for help.

According to court papers, staff at the nursing home also shared a blood glucose monitor between residents, including one with Hepatitis C, without properly disinfecting it.

"When something like this happens, it can be very traumatic," said Cheryl Hennen, the state ombudsman for long-term care.

Hennen's role is to represent long-term care residents across Minnesota and make sure their rights are respected.

She said federal law requires owners and operators of nursing homes to ensure the quality of life and quality of care for their residents is optimal. When that does not happen, state agencies intervene.

Hennen is now directly involved at Twin City Gardens, monitoring the care and wellbeing of residents during the receivership process.

"When something like this happens, there are so many questions that enter into my mind. And yes, my heart does break," Hennen said. "As a society, as a community, as a state, we really need to make sure the residents of this home are treated with the utmost level of respect and dignity."

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS found the safety concerns at Twin City Gardens largely stem from financial troubles, according to court documents.

The nursing home switched ownership in October 2020 to PC Hayes Management LLC, whose sole owner and manager is Philip Thompson.

Evidence submitted from the health regulations division at the Minnesota Department of Health shows the nursing home's financial situation has been "precarious," with large past due payments owed to multiple vendors.

For example, court documents show the facility owes $10,638 to Xcel Energy, with an electrical disconnection notice recently sent because of a past due balance. It also claims the nursing home has a delinquent balance of $8,058 to its oxygen supplier, Northwest Respiratory Services. The facility owes $40,900 to US Food, the vendor supplying food for residents. The facility's dietary manager also reported to the state that "Thompson told her he wanted meal costs limited to $5.50 per day for each resident."

Court documents allege multiple employees reported bounced paychecks and that the nursing home is also liable for the past due subcharge owed by the previous owner to DHS, an amount totaling more than $1,430,000.

Residents told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they hope to see major changes in the near future.

"If they can't do it, just give it up," Paula said. "People deserve better care and respect and some dignity. It's just sad. I hope there's some change. I really do."

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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Elder-care advocates say Ohio bill allowing guardians to place cameras in nursing homes should include assisted-living facilities

Photos of Esther Piskor in her older and younger years. Senate Bill 58, Esther’s Law, would allow in-room cameras at nursing facilities. Piskor son caught abuse of his mother on a hidden camera. (Courtesy Steve Piskor)

By Laura Hancock

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A bill that would allow in-room cameras in nursing homes doesn’t include assisted living facilities, a concern for a Cleveland-based group that advocates for the families of older Ohioans who live in congregant settings.

Paula Mueller, founder and executive director of Elderly Advocates, said the legislation should include assistant living facilities because they too are regulated by the state. Elder abuse can happen at assisted living facilities, too, she said.  (Click to continue reading)

 Elderly Advocates’ FB page:
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The Center for Elder Law & Justice awarded grant to end elder abuse in Niagara County

The grant would help fund training for organizations and people that work with the elderly to help spot abuse.


BUFFALO, N.Y. — With the hopes of ending elder abuse in Niagara County, the Center for Elder Law & Justice has been awarded a federal grant.

The Justice Department's Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women awarded a $400,000 grant to partner which the Center for Elder Law & Justice will use to partner with Niagara County Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney of Niagara County, and Pinnacle Community Services. The partnership will provide training for law enforcement, prosecutors, local government, victim service providers to recognize and address elder abuse. 

“This is an important initiative to ensure all the citizens of Niagara County are protected and have a voice. The Law Enforcement community is committed to ensuring our members receive the proper training in assisting the elderly population in every possible way,” Niagara County Sheriff Michael J. Filicetti said.

The program would help develop a community response to bring awareness to the issue of elder abuse and help educate people who see and interact with elderly people on a daily basis. 

More than 30 organizations have signed letters of commitment to participate in the program. This includes higher education institutions, law enforcement, service providers and hospitals.

“The National Institutes of Health reports that 1 in 10 adults over the age of 60 are abused, neglected, or financially exploited. Elder abuse robs seniors of their dignity and security. We commend the Center for Elder Law & Justice and coalition agencies for their leadership and partnership on this effort. Western New York seniors will be better protected and served thanks to this $400,000 federal grant,” Congressman Brian Higgins said.

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