Saturday, February 5, 2022

Over 30 States Legally Allow Forced Sterilization | Opinion

by Ma’ayan Anafi

Singer Britney Spears arrives for the premiere of Sony Pictures' "Once Upon a Time. .. in Hollywood" at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Calif. on July 22, 2019. VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images

Last summer, Britney Spears stunned the public when she revealed that her father, acting as her conservator, prevented her from removing her IUD. What shocked many people wasn't only the blatant disregard for her right to make decisions about her body: it was that it was perfectly legal for her conservator to take that decision away. Propped up by laws all over the country, guardianship systems (sometimes called conservatorships) deprive primarily disabled people from making some of the most basic decisions about their lives.

The horrifying truth is that Britney's experience under guardianship and its legality is just the tip of the iceberg. Quietly embedded in legal codes across the country, many state laws grant courts a draconian power: the power to order disabled people to be permanently sterilized against their will.

I recently authored a new report that exposed just how far-reaching these threats to disabled people's reproductive rights are. The report, released by the National Women's Law Center with contributions from the Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network, detailed how the majority of states—31 states in addition to Washington, D.C.—explicitly allow court-ordered sterilization of disabled people.

These laws are not fossils of a bygone era. States have passed new forced sterilization laws well into the 21st century, including two laws passed as recently as 2019.

Under these laws, a court can order the forced sterilization of people who—according to the judge—cannot make an informed decision for themselves. When disabled people like me are empowered and supported, we can make our own decisions about sterilization. But those who end up before a judge are rarely given that support; many are not even given the chance to try at all. Disabled people—particularly those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and often but not always those under guardianship—may find themselves declared "incapacitated" with little fanfare and as a matter of course.

What makes these laws even more insidious is that courts purportedly order the sterilization for the disabled person's own good. The judge, often with broad discretion, can force someone to be sterilized on the grounds that it is in their best interest. Based on little more than speculation and stereotypes, judges have claimed that having a baby would be a tragic burden for a disabled person, a burden the courts are benevolently alleviating by having them sterilized.

The paternalism undergirding these laws—the belief that disabled people can't or shouldn't make their own decisions about their bodies—is painfully familiar to many disabled people. It echoes the paternalism on display in the early 1900s, when states forcibly sterilized nearly 70,000 disabled women, women of color and other "undesirables"—often with the same claim that it is for their own good. It's the paternalism we see in routine interactions with health care providers, in court rulings that deprive parents of custody based solely on their disability and in laws that grant guardians barely-fettered powers to make decisions about our reproductive futures.

On the surface, forced sterilization laws seem designed to protect disabled people. These laws require a special process and a judge's green light before the extraordinary step of forced sterilization. But procedural safeguards do not transform a forced sterilization into a voluntary one. They do not change the fact that these laws take the decision out of disabled people's hands and put the state's seal of approval over the violation of our bodies. Special procedures for forced sterilization do little to give disabled people more control over our futures. For that, we need large-scale reform, starting with dismantling the guardianship system as it currently stands.

Britney Spears' case was unusual—not because of her conservatorship or her forced IUD, but because she had the platform to share her story, generate public outcry and ultimately win control over her body. There are many more people whose stories have gone unnoticed. These stories demand change. They demand a world where no one—not a guardian, nor a judge, nor a doctor—can force someone to be sterilized.

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Geriatric Emergency Rooms: Better Care, Better Value and Becoming More Common

Geriatric ERs are game-changers in health care. Here's why older adults need them and how they have evolved.
 
By Nora Macaluso

A hospital's emergency department is not always the best place for older people. The problems that bring these patients in may be complicated or made worse by long waits, lack of food and even some standard procedures, doctors say.

An older adult laying in a geriatric emergency room before getting treatment. Next Avenue, geriatric ED, geriatric emergency department
Credit: Getty

While younger people generally go to the emergency department after one-time crises, older adults more often show up because of exacerbating events related to underlying conditions, such as a frailty-related fall or shortness of breath due to congestive heart failure, said Dr. Ula Hwang, professor of emergency medicine at Yale School of Medicine and a key researcher in geriatric emergency medicine.

"It's not like we're going to fix [the condition] and they're never going to have it again," Hwang said.

Medical centers around the country are taking note, setting up separate emergency departments or instituting separate policies for emergency geriatric patients. It's improving care and saving money, and the value will become even more evident as the population ages, hospital administrators say.

Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, Md. opened an acute care unit for older patients in 2013, said Lillian Banchero, senior director for the medical center's Institute for Healthy Aging.

"In these few short years, we have gone from an average age of patients of sixty-five to an average age of eighty-five," Banchero said. "Up to a hundred and two is not uncommon here."

A Collaborative for Change

Anne Arundel is part of the Geriatric Emergency Department Collaborative, an initiative designed to better serve older Americans in the emergency department led by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), American Geriatrics Society, Emergency Nurses Association and Society for Academic Emergency Medicine. It's supported by the John A. Hartford Foundation (a funder of Next Avenue), and the Gary and Mary West Health Institute.

Yale's Hwang is also involved with the collaborative.

"Emergency room practices have changed," Banchero said. In the past, "it didn't matter what you had, when you came in the door, you got IVs and a full catheter, maybe some anti-anxiety medication," she said. "We're just not doing that anymore."

Instead, patients are evaluated individually and there's an effort to involve families and caregivers, she said.

The hospital last year hired its first geriatrician, which is "a dream come true," Banchero said. Having that person on staff "will make all the difference," she noted.

Geriatricians are "few and far between," Banchero said, adding that it's important to have someone who understands the unique needs of older adults, just as it's important to have pediatricians to address the way children present symptoms and deal with the stress of being in the hospital.

"Over the years, we've developed policies, procedures and best practices about how to care for the elderly," Banchero said. "Delirium is one thing we've worked hard on. Up until two years ago, we weren't focused on screening for delirium. Yet it's present in almost sixty percent of our patients."

Education Is Key

Before the hospital started focusing on geriatric medicine, delirious patients were dismissed as "sundowners" (a dementia sufferer who is negatively affected after sunset) and not treated. Now, they get early intervention to prevent the syndrome, Banchero said.

Diversion activities keep patients occupied, preventing them from panicking or from falling as they try to get up, she added.

"The biggest thing we did was education," Banchero said. That includes sending leaders to education courses and getting them certification through programs such as Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystems Elders, she said.

In the ER, the hospital puts together "delirium carts" for patients, with amenities like crossword puzzles, reading glasses, hearing amplifiers and phone chargers — "things that enhance their stay" — Banchero said. "Somebody comes in, they get Grandma into an ambulance, and she's forgotten her glasses, her walker, or her charger. When they get [to the hospital], that's what they want."

Providers are also trained to talk to patients with more of an understanding of their lives, Banchero said.

Many patients "have already articulated what their plan for the rest of their life is," she said. "We need to be present and talk to the patient about what they want," whether it's palliative care or more aggressive treatment.

For some people, the goal might be to make it to a grandchild's wedding a week away, "so then you change the plan of care," Banchero said.

Accredited Geriatric ERs

Anne Arundel's Institute for Health Aging has Level 3, or bronze, certification from the American College of Emergency Physicians, meaning it has at least one doctor and one nurse trained in geriatric emergency medicine, provides access to mobility aids and round-the-clock food and drink, and has taken a "geriatric emergency care initiative" such as a catheterization policy.

Level 1, or gold, certification goes to hospitals with several specific policies and procedures in place, including at least 20 age-specific protocols and staffers dedicated to geriatric patients.

There are more than 280 accredited geriatric emergency departments in 41 states and four countries, and the goal is to have 500 by the end of 2022, said Dr. Kevin Biese, chair of ACEP's geriatric accreditation board of governors. By contrast, there are about 5,000 emergency departments in the United States, he said.

ACEP started its accreditation program about three years ago in response to a system that "wasn't designed optimally for the needs of vulnerable older adults," Biese said.

The idea was to standardize the guidelines and approaches hospitals were taking to provide better care for that population. ACEP has three levels of accreditation, each with a greater set of "best practices" for hospitals to follow, Biese said.

"Whole health care systems are really leaning in" to the concept, he added. Participating systems include the Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, Northwell and academic centers including the University of California, San Francisco.

The Veterans Administration recently announced plans to establish 70 geriatric emergency departments by December 2022 through a partnership with ACEP, the John A. Hartford Foundation and the West Health Institute. Nearly half of U.S. veterans are over 65 and account for more than twice as many emergency department visits as older adults nationwide, the VA said.

States are also embracing the idea. Biese noted initiatives from New York and California: New York's 2017 Age-Friendly Health System Initiative calls for 50% of health systems to be age-friendly within five years and includes the establishment of age-friendly emergency rooms. California's Master Plan for Aging includes support for expanding geriatric emergency department certification.

What's more, Biese said, insurers — including Medicare — are taking note.

A study published in JAMA Network Open in March 2021 found that Medicare beneficiaries treated by transitional care nurses or social workers in the emergency department cost Medicare as much as $3,000 less than those treated at hospitals without geriatric emergency departments.

"It makes the health care system more sustainable," Biese said. "The traditional emergency department does a really good job of fixing you after you fall. The geriatric emergency department helps you not fall again."

Fall prevention, dementia screening, "medication reconciliation" (putting together a list of all the medications prescribed by a patient's various doctors) and delirium evaluation are among the major benefits a geriatric emergency department can provide, according to Biese.

While the department doesn't diagnose dementia, staffers can provide referrals and make sure family members or caregivers are aware of the process, he said. Staffers are also trained to spot signs of possible elder abuse or neglect and help families cope.

A geriatric emergency department can pull in specialists like social workers, case managers and physical therapists, setting patients up with services and releasing them safely, rather than admitting them to the hospital where their frailties may worsen, said Hwang.

"Emergency medicine's not really geared to that," she said.

Creating a 'Senior Emergency Center'

Hospitals don't have to "hire a whole new team" to set up an effective geriatric emergency unit, though, Hwang said. Leveraging the social workers and therapists who are already in the hospital and bringing them to the emergency department for assessments is an "ounce of prevention" that may allow a patient to go home earlier and avoid future hospitalization, she noted.

That's the philosophy at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md., said Scott Graham, director of emergency preparedness. Holy Cross' "Senior Emergency Center" is a separate area of the emergency department with softer lighting, less noise, slip-resistant floors and other features making the experience less stressful for older patients, Graham said. 

Doctors and nurses are trained in geriatric care and communication and "everything is self-contained," so patients can see what's going on and health care providers can see them, he said.

Care managers in the department assess patients' needs and "try to get a picture of the home" to make sure each person is sent home with appropriate support and potential hazards are addressed, Graham said.

Creating a successful geriatric emergency department "doesn't happen overnight," Hwang said. "It takes a lot of working with the other disciplines" and coordinating resources, she said. That's challenging at a time when hospitals are crowded and short-staffed, she added.

"I think people in their own communities should know where geriatric emergency departments are," and if one is not nearby, encourage the local hospital to become one, Biese said.

"I think it's something that communities should ask for, or demand, of their local hospitals," he said. "If you had a child at home, there's a good chance you'd know where the pediatric emergency department was," he added, saying the same should hold true for older adults.  

As the population ages, demand for better geriatric emergency care will continue to grow, experts believe.

"We all need to be striving to really focus on geriatric care," Banchero said. "This is not just something fleeting in the night. This is reality."

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Columbia man arrested on charges of deceptive business practices

By Emma J. Murphy

Blake Mahoney, the owner of MO State Construction, was arrested Thursday morning and charged with deceptive business practices and the financial exploitation of elderly and/or disabled people.

Mahoney, 28, and his construction company are accused of failing to follow through on contracted work despite receiving money upfront for the jobs.

The Better Business Bureau has received eight complaints over the past three years about Mahoney and MO State Construction’s failure to deliver on its promised services. Four of these complaints have been in the past 12 months.

According to Better Business Bureau files, a Columbia woman reported that she hired the contractor in 2020 to replace her roof and siding. She paid $8,000 to the business in two installments, but the woman said the project was abandoned after she submitted the second check.

A woman from Gravois Mills told the Better Business Bureau she hired the company in 2019 to build a garage and do excavation work on her property near the Lake of the Ozarks. She paid the company $25,000, but only some excavation work was done before the builder left and kept the down payment.

Complaints to the bureau reveal a pattern of taking payment from clients for materials that were never delivered, failing to communicate and not issuing refunds.

In February 2021, the bureau gave MO State Construction the lowest grade available: F. It has warned Columbia residents to avoid using Mahoney’s services because of the history of unfinished construction projects.

Mahoney’s next hearing is scheduled for Feb. 7. He is being held in the Boone County Jail, and his bail has been set at $100,000 cash.

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Friday, February 4, 2022

As­sem­blyman in­tro­duces leg­is­lation to curb con­ser­va­torship misuse

In this Sept. 14, 2017, file photo, Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, R-San Diego, speaks before the Assembly in Sacramento, Calif.

By City News Service Sacramento

LOS ANGELES (CNS) — With the Britney Spears case playing out in Los Angeles civil court, an assemblyman Wednesday introduced legislation aimed at reforming state conservatorship laws to limit abuses of the system and provide alternatives for conservatees.

Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, D-San Diego, says AB 1663 — The Probate Conservatorship Reform and Supported Decision-Making Act — will ensure probate conservatorships are used only a last resort, due to the potential for exploitation of those the appointments are intended to serve.

The legislation would support alternatives that provide greater agency to conservatees, require courts to consider other alternatives first, make conservatorships easier to end and require conservators to make decisions "aligned with the conservatee's wishes or previously expressed preferences."

In a statement, Maienschein said that prior to his legislative career, he clerked for a San Diego Superior Court judge and "saw firsthand the role that the court plays in establishing probate conservatorships and how the system could be abused and misused."

Though state law holds that conservatorships should only be used if they are the least restrictive alternative, Maienschein said they are often granted without consideration of other options and with few re-evaluations of the conservatees' ableness. 

"It's time that we take action to reform the probate conservatorship system in our state," Maienschein said. "It is reform that is long overdue."

In a statement announcing AB 1663, the assemblyman highlighted the highly publicized case of Spears' 13-year conservatorship, which the pop star was only recently able to have terminated.

A post-conservatorship hearing was scheduled for Wednesday in Los Angeles in the Spears case.

AB 1663 has garnered support from disability rights groups, as well as the #FreeBritney movement that emerged amid reports of Spears' efforts to end her conservatorship and allegations of wrongdoing at the hands of her conservators.

"We started our movement for Britney Spears, but we quickly learned that conservatorship abuse is rampant across the state of California and beyond," said Leanne Simmons, Free Britney L.A. organizer. "The successful termination of Britney's conservatorship helped to shine a light on the problems with conservatorships, but there is much work to be done."

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Ex-judge disciplined over daughter’s basketball controversy plans to sue cops

Theresa Mullen testifies in Superior Court in Newark in this August 2017 file photo.(NJ Advance Media)

By Kevin Shea

A former Superior Court judge in Union County who was charged with violating judicial rules, and who a panel recommended removing from the bench, has filed a notice to sue the town of Kenilworth and its police department.

Kenilworth is where Theresa Mullen’s legal troubles started during the 2016-2017 school year, when her daughters attended a Catholic school there and while Mullen was a sitting judge. (Her judgeship ended in October 2021 after Gov. Phil Murphy did not renominate her.)

Mullen’s husband had taken legal action against St. Theresa School for several grievances. One was to put their then 13-year-old daughter on the boys basketball team, after there were not enough girls to form a team. It was successful, the daughter played and the case received significant media attention.

Early the next year, however, the school expelled the children for bringing the school into a legal matter, resulting in another civil lawsuit, and an escalating legal battle between the parents, the school and Archdiocese of Newark.

During a highly-charged confrontation in February 2017, Mullen went to the school and refused to leave while arguing with school officials and Kenilworth police officers - egging them on to arrest her. They did not, but the school filed a defiant trespassing complaint.

A Superior Court judge found her guilty of the trespassing charge in early 2018 following a trial. The state’s Appellate Division later upheld the case.

The incidents also kicked off an investigation by the state’s judicial authorities, the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct (ACJC), which in February 2021 recommended Mullen be removed from the post.

That panel said Mullen abused her position in legal proceedings, violated court orders, obstructed proceedings, and displayed a “demonstrable and pervasive dishonesty.” Given the totality of her conduct, the panel found “no remedy short of removal will properly safeguard the public’s confidence in our system of justice.”

The New Jersey Supreme Court filed notice in September 2021 to move forward with Mullen’s removal, a process which is ongoing and unaffected by her failure to be renominated, a judiciary spokesperson said Thursday.

In her her Jan. 20, 2022 tort claim - a required precursor to filing a lawsuit against a public entity in New Jersey - Mullen names former Police Chief John Zimmerman and three officers.

Each was mentioned several times in the ACJC presentments, which faulted Mullen during their confrontations. Zimmerman is now a Kenilworth councilman.

In the tort filing, Mullen lists a multitude of harms she says she’s suffered, which have ruined her personal and professional lives. Mullen says she suffered financially, starting on Oct. 22, 2021, her last day as judge, as her salary had increased annually over the past several years.

Mullen also accuses Kenilworth police of functioning, “as private security guards and who conducted police business entirely on non-recorded lines.”

Mullen herself signed the tort notice. She could not immediately be reached for comment.

Kenilworth’s administrator also could not immediately be reached, but towns routinely do not comment on pending or forthcoming suits.

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Ex-judge disciplined over daughter’s basketball controversy plans to sue cops 

Woman scammed out of $20,000 urges SC banks to use new fraud prevention law

by: Diane Lee

OCONEE COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – Financial fraud can hit anyone, but all too often seniors are targets.

In South Carolina alone, consumer analysts with Comparitech found 3,700 cases of elder fraud in 2019, with a loss of $67 million. And that is why SC lawmakers have recently given financial institutions the power to protect vulnerable adults from exploitation.

Polly Fehler, in Oconee County, is the type of woman to pay off her credit cards every month, and even make extra payments on her mortgage.

“I thought I was pretty smart to not spend any money and not being foolish and not falling for anything and I didn’t just fall, I went down to hell with this,” said Fehler.

It all started back in April of 2021 when the Seneca senior was on public Wi-Fi and got an alarming pop-up on her computer.

“I saw a triangle that was orange with an explanation beside it that said computer compromised, with a phone number below,” she said.

Fehler now understands the hackers, claiming to be with Microsoft, gained remote access to her computer under the guise of fixing the issue for a few hundred dollars. Over the next two months, they were watching her every move including online banking.

Then in June, they went in the for the kill.

Fehler said the bogus company had called to say they couldn’t fix her problem after all and offered a refund.

“All of these things on the screen kept flipping through. All of a sudden, my checking account appeared, and I had $6000 in it and all of a sudden it says $26,000. And I said how did that get there. And he said we returned it the way you sent it,” said Fehler.

As the scam goes, they claimed to have accidentally put in too many zeros and insisted she pay them back, telling her to wire the money immediately.

“I pay my bills, I didn’t know what else to do, and if there’s $20,000 in an account that’s not mine, I don’t want it there,” she said.

Her bank helped her wire that money despite red flags like the destination, which was Vietnam.

It’s because of stories like Fehler’s that this past year South Carolina lawmakers passed the Protection of Vulnerable Adults from Financial Exploitation Act. It allows banks to halt transactions that seem suspicious so they can be investigated.

Susan Ingles, the Senior Staff Attorney with SC Legal Service, said she was surprised Fehler’s bank, USAA, approved the international wire transfer.

“You would hope that any institution would utilize this law to stop a transaction that looks this strange,” said Ingles.

But Ingles added that the law, which had been in effect for one month at the time of Fehler’s wire transfer, also states banks cannot be held accountable for scams that slip through the cracks.

USAA sent us a statement that reads in part:

“Members are informed of the fraud risk, particularly in the case of an international wire transfer, and they are asked a series of questions about the purpose of the transfer and the recipient in order to help identify fraud and other criminal activity. We confirmed that our processes were followed in this instance.”

Still, part of the problem is that scammers know banks become suspicious and they tell their victims exactly what to say. And while victims don’t realize why, financial institutions that see so many scams can include this reality in their training so that employees can help unravel the answers that scammers tell their victims to say.

The law gives financial institutions immunity from holding the transaction if the bank acts on good faith and its decision is based on the evidence it has at the time. Those who do halt transactions must report it to Adult Protective Services or law enforcement to investigate.

Scam Twist

But what about the $20,000? You may be as shocked as Fehler to learn the funds came from her own home equity line of credit. It had a zero balance for over a decade, but the hackers tapped into it and transferred the money into her checking account. Now she’s on the hook.

Fehler admits she fell victim to the scam, but we also asked her if she felt her bank dropped the ball.

“Yes, I felt they should have supported me. They should have let me know, an email, notice, or something, a call that they were approving a $20,000 loan into this account that I didn’t use,” she said.

“I think this is a perfect example of an account that has maybe been dormant for a long time and all of a sudden this big amount of money should come out of this dormant account, wait a minute, let’s talk to the customer and inquire a little more, or just go ahead and put a hold on the account because that’s strange,” said Ingles.

Now Fehler is worried about losing her home.

“It’s devastating to have something happen like this, and that’s a lot of money,” she said.

For the last few weeks, 7NEWS has been talking with USAA about the status of her case. We will keep you updated on whether anything changes.

All she can do is warn others about the scam and hope financial institutions will make full use of the new law, knowing its protections are only as good as the systems in place to spot the red flags.

So, what are the red flags?

  • Computer pop-ups
  • Impersonating a well-known company
  • Pressure to act fast
  • Requesting a wire transfer

On that last note, any caller that requests a wire transfer or payment through some type of gift card are only looking for one thing, money that is untraceable.


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Thursday, February 3, 2022

California Is Fighting to Make It Easier to Put People Under Conservatorships

By Henry Grabar

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Jcomp/Getty Images Plus and ENTphotography/Getty Images Plus.

Clio Sady doesn’t remember how many times the police took her to the hospital. They’d find her, loaded down with plastic bags, bantering with strangers or taking off her clothes, and bring her to the ER in a spit hood. There she would be strapped down, forcibly injected with a “booty shot” of anti-psychotic drugs, and detained for days or weeks under California’s conservatorship law.

You may be more familiar with the 14-year conservatorship of Britney Spears, which was ended in November by a Los Angeles County judge. The saga has drawn the country’s attention to the opaque process by which Americans can be compelled to forfeit their liberties, including choosing their own medical treatment, because a judge has decided they are unfit to care for themselves. The #FreeBritney movement was international news. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bob Casey demanded national data on conservatorship, and journalists told stories of abuse. Free Britney, reformers said. Free them all.

In California, however, the wind has been blowing the other way. Prompted by the growing number of homeless people in visible mental and physical suffering, lawmakers have been trying to make it easier, not harder, to force residents into the state’s care. Under that controversial process, which begins with the kinds of police-initiated hospital stays that Sady endured, a court can appoint a guardian to compel medical treatment, including placing a person in a locked psychiatric unit for periods of months or years. It is the state saying: You are unable to take care of yourself, so we are going to do it for you.

The year Sady’s episodes started, 2016, California initiated more than 200,000 of those short-term “holds”—known as 5150s (72 hours) and 5250s (two weeks), for their numbers in state statute. Sady’s experience was typical in that many people are detained over and over again. That is evidence of something that just about everyone in California agrees on: The nation’s largest state is failing its citizens.

What to do about it is another story. Public anxiety about homelessness and mental illness in California is at an all-time high, and the crisis at the intersection of the two issues is particularly acute. They’re linked by what some psychiatrists call a “never-ending loop” in which homelessness and mental illness reinforce each other. It’s harder for someone to take care of themselves when they don’t have a safe, warm place to sleep every night, and it’s harder for someone to find and keep a job and an apartment when they don’t have access to the medication they need. Thanks to a dearth of such support, plus easy access to drugs like alcohol, meth, and heroin, the inescapable distress and misery on the streets of California cities has become the state’s great shame.

Some politicians, physicians, and homeless service providers say these revolving-door cycles of arrest and hospitalization show that it needs to be easier to convert short-term “holds” of disabled, homeless Californians into long-term conservatorships.

“Conservatorship allows us to provide the wraparound services needed to stabilize people suffering from severe mental health and substance use issues, and help them begin their recovery to get their lives back on track,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said in 2019. “Allowing them to deteriorate on our streets when they are incapable of caring for themselves is not humane.”

Civil rights advocates and many people with disabilities counter that long-term conservatorship is unethical and illegal, particularly in the absence of voluntary access to housing, medication, and drug treatment. Susan Mizner, the director of the disability rights program at the ACLU, has said that conservatorship is America’s “most extreme deprivation of civil liberties, aside from the death penalty.” But even practically, she told me, studies have shown that coerced treatment is not better than voluntary treatment. “We haven’t provided them the support. If we’d spent six months saying, ‘Here’s housing, here’s support,’ and that has failed? Then we can discuss.”

Sady has her bipolar disorder under control now, thanks to regular access to medication in her Oakland neighborhood. But she did not mince words when she talked about the state’s psychiatric “holds” that kept her confined in the hospital for days on end. “I would not wish it on my worst enemy,” she said.

***

Legally, Britney’s conservatorship was in a different category from the more common procedure for Californians suffering from a “grave disability” or deemed to be a danger to themselves or those around them. Spears was under a “probate conservatorship,” a court-mediated arrangement begun and managed by family for someone thought to be unable to handle their own affairs. Conservatorship under California’s Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, by contrast, often starts with short-term psychiatric holds initiated by police but must be ultimately initiated by a county judge.

Ethically, however, the questions are not so far apart. When does a person lose their right to care for themselves? At one time, it took as little as a parent’s affidavit to have a kid committed for life. The enduring document of midcentury America’s approach to mental health is Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which depicts an asylum of abusive authority figures and patients with varying degrees of mental divergence. In California, reformer Frank Lanterman recalled in 1982, the average court hearing for committing a person to a psychiatric institution lasted five minutes.

The backlash to that system came to California in 1967 with the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which established the process of short- and long-term holds as a precursor to eventual conservatorship for people who are “gravely disabled.” Its civil rights protections were a direct reaction to what had come before, and part of the national trend of “deinstitutionalization” that diminished the size and importance of state mental hospitals.

Many advocates hoped state asylums would be replaced by community facilities where patients could get more flexible treatment, but budget cuts and a shift toward the private sector meant that the per capita number of long-term beds for psychiatric care plummeted from its midcentury high and never recovered. Instead of a victory for civil liberties and community care, deinstitutionalization came to be associated with the withdrawal of public aid.

In a landmark study of the NYC homeless in 1983, the sociologist Frank Lipton declared the movement a failure: “We should not continue to deceive ourselves that we have deinstitutionalized these patients; rather, we have created a new institution—an asylum without walls in which the homeless psychiatric patient is disgracefully abandoned to meander like a vagabond.”

Fifty years after LPS, the pendulum has swung back. Jocelyn Wiener, a journalist with CalMatters, has written a series of heartbreaking stories on families’ fruitless quest to get the state to take responsibility for its disabled citizens. One of her subjects is a man named Mark Rippee, who received a traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle accident decades ago and is now homeless. Unable to have him conserved—entrusting his care to a public guardian—his sisters rely on a 2,000-person Facebook group devoted to keeping them aware of his whereabouts. Elsewhere, parents are forced to call 911 on their own children and exaggerate their conditions to persuade police, hospitals, and courts to bring them into the system.

In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law that was supposed to ease the path to conservatorship in the state’s largest cities, where homelessness has both exacerbated mental illness and made it highly visible. In the three years since, San Francisco has used its new authority to conserve just two people. Advocates always knew the bill would target a relatively small number of people with serious problems, among the larger homeless population. But not that small.

“It is a gross dereliction of civic duty,” says Rafael Mandelman, a San Francisco supervisor, of what he sees on the streets of his city. “We are not conserving a whole bunch of people who we should.” Conservatorship is personal to him: His mother suffered from psychosis and spent time homeless before ending up conserved. “It left me with a real impatience for people unwilling to acknowledge that we have folks who need that higher level of care,” he said. “I have confidence that we’ll expand [conservatorship law]. It will take more than a decade for reform, and thousands of people will go without the help they need.”

Mandelman argues that San Francisco General’s many repeat customers—during one four-month period, nine people visited the psych ER 168 times—are evidence that long-term conservatorships are too hard to establish: “If interactions with law enforcement are traumatizing, and I have no doubt they are, they’re being subjected to constant trauma—the worst things you’d be concerned about with involuntary treatment, without any of the benefits.” (Or possibly even worse: As state Sen. Scott Wiener, who sponsored the 2019 conservatorship measure, put it a few years ago, “We do have a very large conservatorship program in California—it’s called jail.”)

***

Why does the state’s program fall short? One of the experts on California’s conservatorship is the sociologist Alex V. Barnard, who teaches at New York University. Barnard has spent years talking to people up and down the conservatorship chain, and his report on the subject is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the byzantine process that ends with involuntary medical treatment in a locked bed.

One answer is a predictable one: A lack of resources shapes decision-making, from crowded long-term care institutions to overworked public guardians to frenetic hospital emergency rooms to worried parents. Many on the pro-conservatorship side want to lower the bar for what constitutes a “grave disability.” And it’s true, Barnard said, that the bar can be very high: “In some counties, if you can open a water bottle, if you can pitch a tent, if you are able to get a sandwich to your mouth, you’re not getting conserved.”

But it’s not judges, for the most part, who are rejecting conservatorship candidates. Rather, this winnowing is the function of a highly stressed system, Barnard observed, in which a strained supply of long-term care beds pushes nondecisions down the chain. “The placement tail ultimately wags the conservatorship dog,” he writes.

The court knows the public guardian will have nowhere to put a conserved man. The hospital, facing pressure from the insurance company, puts that man back on the streets instead of sending him to court. The police will have foreseen all this and will not bother to take the man into the hospital, and a worried neighbor who knows the drill won’t make a call. There is no oversight, and no one person or agency that has responsibility for the system from start to finish. And so the revolving door of psychiatric holds spins on.

Opponents of conservatorship say politicians and public health officials are leaping to implement an extreme solution because they have failed to provide more fundamental services. “People are taken away from their home, their community, and their support system, and that’s another form of displacement happening alongside the eviction crisis,” said Raia Small, an organizer with Senior and Disability Action in San Francisco. How much of this debate would be superfluous had the state properly addressed people’s need for housing, psychiatric care, and drug treatment years ago? Or if it did so tomorrow?

Many anti-conservatorship advocates also express concerns about the quality of care in the private institutions whose beds house conserved patients. They point to a 2020 California audit of Lanterman-Petris-Short, which concluded that the problem was not a reluctance to conserve, but a broken and underfunded system. The number of facilities with inpatient psychiatric beds has fallen by 20 percent since 1995, even as the state’s population has increased.

And the most vehement arguments in favor of conservatorship make it seem like a tactic to institutionalize the homeless for the crime of being unable to afford an apartment. “If homeless people will not voluntarily walk through the many doors open to assist them, it’s time to drag them in,” Robert Austin, a retired lieutenant with the Sacramento Police Department, wrote in 2020.

It’s hard to dispute that California has failed to offer some pretty basic aid to people living on the street, from a safe, warm place to sleep to food itself. But those who work most closely with mentally disabled homeless people say that failure is many years in the making, almost intractable. “We need an extreme step right now if we truly care about the 70,000-plus people suffering the devastation and death of homelessness,” said Andy Bales of the Union Rescue Mission on Los Angeles’ Skid Row, the 54-block area that is home to one of the largest concentrations of homeless people in the world. (The most recent survey of Los Angeles County, from nearly two years ago, counted more than 66,400 homeless individuals.) Bales said: “That anti-conservatorship argument seems like a smoke screen. It’s not talking about where do we go from here. It’s easy to say, ‘Well, if we would have done it right from the beginning … ’ ”

In other words, affordable housing and accessible health care might indeed have kept many people off the path toward conservatorship. But that’s not the path we took. And here we are, said Bales, with tens of thousands of people living on the streets of Los Angeles, a number that is growing even as four of them die every day.

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Support bill making financial exploitation of seniors a crime


I applaud the Iowa State Senate Judiciary Committee for advancing Senate File 522. This important legislation would create a criminal offense of "financial exploitation against an older individual" and would treat assault or theft against older Iowans as serious crimes. Elder abuse takes many forms, but financial exploitation is most prevalent.

Perpetrators are sometimes strangers, but abusers are more often known and trusted, including family members. Please join forces with law enforcement, financial institutions and long-term care associations.

Please send a note to your state legislator to support legislation to impose criminal sanctions for financial exploitation against older individuals, something Iowa lacks. 

Help keep the momentum on this important legislation. This is a nonpartisan issue. We can work together to protect our most vulnerable Iowans.

Lois Stork, New Hampton

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"I DECIDE FLORIDA" - Supporting Supported Decision-Making Bills in Florida


WE BELIEVE People with disabilities deserve to decide where they live, who they love, who their friends are, and what kind of life they want.

A Supported Decision-Making Law will let people with disabilities choose, and keeps loved ones involved.

People with disabilities deserve more options to get the help they need with making decisions and carrying out tasks.

When people with disabilities need support with decisions like choosing where to live or deciding how to spend their money, there are few options. This leads to overuse of guardianship and guardian advocacy, two laws that allow a person's rights to be taken away and given to someone else to exercise for them.

Website Source:
I Decide Florida website

See Also:
READ Senate Bill 1772
READ House Bill 1207

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Britney Spears’ conservatorship documents will stay sealed to protect medical records

Jamie Spears, father of singer Britney Spears, leaves the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Los Angeles, left, and Britney Spears arrives at the Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas in 2015.
(Associated Press)

By Nardine Saad

Britney Spears’ conservatorship is over, but the legal proceedings in its wake have continued. And they’re getting even more contentious.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny granted a motion Wednesday to seal the termination plan of the singer’s nearly 14-year conservatorship to protect her “right to privacy over her private medical information.” Penny also rejected Spears’ father’s request to reserve funds in the conservatorship, according to court documents reviewed Thursday by The Times.

Those decisions were made during a heated hearing discussing finances and accounting, as well as requests made by several former attorneys to collect legal fees incurred.

Going into the hearing Wednesday, the entertainer’s attorney, Mathew Rosengart, who was instrumental in ending her conservatorship in November, rejected the notion that Spears should pay her father Jamie Spears’ estimated $30 million in legal bills while he served as her conservator. Rosengart also fervently shut down Jamie’s attorney’s suggestion to have the entertainer’s medical records unsealed.

In court filings, Rosengart fired off a litany of objections to Jamie Spears’ requests, accusing him of financial misconduct and other improprieties such as reading his 40-year-old daughter’s therapy notes and privileged communications with her lawyers.

The tension continued in the courtroom Wednesday when the attorneys squabbled over purported “lies” that they believe shaped public opinion about the case.

Jamie Spears’ attorney, Alex M. Weingarten, accused Rosengart of planting fake stories in the media, Variety reported, an allegation that Rosengart vehemently denied.

Rosengart reportedly asked that Weingarten be admonished: “He has attacked me. He has attacked this court. And it is intolerable,” Rosengart said.

A lawyer smiles in front of a sign that reads "Justice for Britney."
Mathew Rosengart, attorney for Britney Spears, leaves a hearing that terminated the pop singer’s conservatorship at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Nov. 12, 2021.
(Chris Pizzello / Associated Press)

Indeed, much of the “... Baby One More Time” hit-maker’s case had been shrouded in mystery, but the singer finally spoke up and asserted last summer that she felt constrained and abused under the legal arrangement, which long controlled her day-to-day activities, as well as her finances, for nearly 14 years before it was terminated.

Weingarten in court Wednesday reportedly contended that the conservatorship was put into place because the singer “was irresponsible with her finances.” But Penny shut down that declaration, reportedly saying: “Please, let’s not go there. Let’s not go down that road.”

The process of closing the case still seems far from over. Rosengart has asked for an evidentiary hearing on accounting to be scheduled, and new court dates are to be set for issues involving the singer’s management, Tri Star Sports & Entertainment Group, and other parties.

The next major hearing in the case has been set for July 27. Others have been scheduled for March 16, April 1 and Dec. 2, according to court records.

Prior to Wednesday’s hearing, attorneys for Jamie Spears and ex-wife Lynne Spears filed petitions for payment of attorney fees. Jamie Spears’ legal team had argued that his daughter’s estate should pay for his legal expenses in order to ensure that the conservatorship is closed out properly and because Jamie had engaged in no wrongdoing.

But in a 256-page objection to Jamie Spears’ request filed this week, Rosengart accused Jamie Spears of offenses such as “abuse to conflicts of interest, financial mismanagement and corruption of the conservatorship to implicating state and federal criminal law.”

Jamie Spears, the longtime former conservator of the singer’s lucrative estate, allegedly paid almost $6 million from Britney’s estate to the Black Box Security firm, which obtained private phone records for Britney’s mother and others, the New York Times reported.

It also confirmed media reports that Jamie hired Black Box Security to monitor Britney’s phone, including her communications with her lawyer, secretly recorded her in her bedroom and obtained GPS “ping data” to track the locations of people close to the singer, the court documents said.

Additionally, a declaration filed for Kroll forensic investigator Sherine Ebadi — a former FBI agent retained by the singer’s legal team — corroborated the bombshell allegations made in an FX documentary that Jamie Spears illegally surveilled his daughter and concluded that he could be subject to criminal prosecution. The investigation also identified several instances in which Jamie Spears engaged in financial misconduct, self-dealing and mismanagement as conservator.

In court Wednesday, Rosengart said that the investigation yielded “strong evidence” that Jamie Spears was involved in “very intense and potentially illegal” surveillance of the performer.

The conservatorship case has not only shed light on Britney Spears’ legal arrangement but broader issues revolving around conservatorships as a whole. On Wednesday, disability rights groups and members of the viral #FreeBritney Los Angeles chapter joined California Assembly Member Brian Maienschein to promote legislation they say will prioritize less restrictive alternatives to conservatorships and establish greater protections for conservatees.

Wednesday’s hearing also took place amid an escalating media feud between Britney and her younger sister, Jamie Lynn Spears. 

Rosengart sent a cease-and-desist letter to Jamie Lynn, 30, on Monday threatening legal action if she continues to speak about Britney while promoting her new book, “Things I Should Have Said.”

Britney has already accused Jamie Lynn of hawking her memoir at Britney’s “expense,” while the younger Spears continued to give interviews about the tome. Jamie Lynn has claimed that her book “is not about” Britney, but it still references her repeatedly.

The sisters have been trading barbs all week on social media, with Britney lashing out at her sister for publicly discussing their lives and the conservatorship before Britney has had a chance to. (Last week, the Sun reported that Spears might be in talks with Oprah Winfrey for a sit-down interview.)

Rosengart’s letter calls the book “ill-timed” and accuses Jamie Lynn of making “misleading or outrageous claims” about Britney. The letter also demands that Jamie Lynn “cease and desist from referencing Britney derogatorily” during her promotional campaign. If she fails to do so or defames the singer, “Britney will be forced to consider and take all appropriate legal action.”

“Britney has not read and does not intend to read your book, she and millions of her fans were shocked to see how you have exploited her for monetary gain. She will not tolerate it, nor should she,” reads the letter, which was obtained by TMZ and Page Six.

 
Full Article & Source:

Free Marcus Katz - A Curated Collection of Yelp Reviews - A Novel

Woven into his odd, chatty Yelp reviews of restaurants, stores and services, 22-year-old Aspie Marcus Katz chronicles in vivid detail how, after the death of his doting mother, he is railroaded by the Los Angeles probate court into an abusive conservatorship.

When his bullying conservator tries to warehouse him in a run-down, dead-end group home, intending to drain his inheritance, Marcus runs away to Oregon, pursued by his conservator, on a risky, ill-advised road trip to meet up with fellow Aspie Durinda, a devoted fan of his now viral Yelp reviews.

She lives with others also on the autism spectrum on a collective farm in rural Oregon. It is here that Marcus hopes to make a stand and finally take control of his life.

Available through Amazon

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Officials ID woman found outside Iowa assisted living home

Officials ID woman found outside Iowa assisted living home. (Storyblocks)

BONDURANT, Iowa — Polk County authorities have identified a woman who died after she was found outside an assisted living home in sub-zero temperatures.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office says 77-year-old Lynne Harriet Stewart died at a hospital after being found last Friday outside the Courtyard Estates at Hawthorne Crossing in Bondurant.

Officials say the temperature outside when she was found by facility staff members was minus 8 degrees.

A department news release Wednesday said that investigators do not know how long Stewart had been outside when she was found.

The facility, which serves people with dementia, was fined $1,500 in 2020 after a male resident was able to leave the home and climb over a secure fence.

Full Article & Source:

Disbarred lawyer Robert Menard pleads guilty in deal that calls for a three-year prison sentence

by Cary Spivak

Disbarred lawyer Robert Menard pleaded guilty to theft and embezzlement Thursday in a plea deal that calls for prosecutors to recommend the once-prominent lawyer serve three years in prison, followed by three years of extended supervision.

Menard, 59, pleaded guilty to four felonies for bilking four clients, including his uncle, out of tens of thousands of dollars. Menard, who is in Alaska and attended the hearing via Zoom, is scheduled to be sentenced on  April 21.

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Milton Childs is not bound by the recommended sentence and Menard's attorney, Craig Mastantuono is expected to seek a lesser sentence that would not include prison time.

For 25 years, Menard and his then partner Alan Derzon ran the well-known firm of Derzon & Menard. The firm specialized in workers' compensation cases and billed itself as lawyers for the "average Joe" and used the fictional "Joe Bob" as its mascot. 

The partner's breakup became a public feud in 2017 when Derzon sued Menard charging him with stealing from their law firm and pocketing more than $1 million, including funds from Derzon's retirement account, according to the suit filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court and Derzon's lawyer.

Two years later Menard was charged by the Milwaukee County district attorney with stealing more than $700,000 from the law firm and from numerous clients, including his uncle. Additional charges were filed the following year, bringing the total he was charged with pocketing up to nearly $1 million.

In March 2020, the state Supreme Court took the unusual move of issuing an emergency suspension against Menard's license saying his "continued practice of law poses a threat to the interests of the public." The court disbarred Menard two months later.

Mastantuono asked that the sentencing hearing be in April because Menard is working on his mother's farm in Alaska.

"His mother farm requires winter labor that should be over by April and he very much wants to help her," Mastantuono said.

Several of Menard's former clients who were victim's of his thefts will likely testify at the sentencing in April, said Nicolas J Heitman, assistant district attorney told Childs

"There are a multitude of victims in these cases and I know several of them will want to address the court in person," Heitman said. 

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Cops: Neighbor scammed elderly sisters of $90k-plus

by Larry Hobbs

Jan. 29—Police say a Brunswick woman allegedly exploited the long-established trust of two elderly neighbors, stealing more than $90,000 from their bank accounts over a period of more than three months, according to city Police Capt. Angela Smith.

Brunswick police on Thursday arrested Diane Moran, 60, charging her with 12 counts of exploitation of elderly or disabled persons.

Moran remained Friday in the Glynn County Detention Center, where she was being held without bond, a jail spokeswoman said.

The arrest resulted from a six-month investigation by Brunswick police detectives, Smith said.

Smith said Moran was a long-time neighbor and "well-acquainted" with the two women, ages 73 and 81, who are sisters.

"Both women have experienced a cognitive decline, making them vulnerable to financial exploitation," Smith said.

Police began their investigation after family members of the sisters reported their suspicions.

The police department also received a notice from the Georgia Department of Aging about a suspected case of financial exploitation of an elderly person. That case involved a third party withdrawing more than $40,000 from the account of one of the sisters.

As a result of their investigation, police allege Moran stole more than $90,000 from the accounts of both sisters.

Smith urges residents who think an elderly or infirm loved one is being exploited to contact the Georgia Department of Human Services, Division of Aging Services, at 866-552-4464, or the Brunswick Police Department's non-emergency number at 912-554-3645.

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