Saturday, June 25, 2022

Loss of autonomy: how guardianships threaten people’s rights

The system intended to protect vulnerable people can leave them powerless. Advocates are pushing for reform.
by Melissa Hellmann

Supporters of the FreeBritney movement rally in support of Britney Spears for a conservatorship hearing outside the courthouse in Los Angeles on Nov. 12, 2021. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

From Britney Spears to Wendy Williams, financial guardianships and conservatorships have entered the limelight as legal tools with the potential for abuse. 

These high-profile cases have led to growing calls for reform. Disability rights organizations also have long advocated for less restrictive alternatives to guardianship for people with disabilities. Guardians, in some states called conservators, impact a large swath of the population: In 2018, there were an estimated 1.3 million active guardianship or conservatorship cases nationwide, according to a National Council on Disability report

While the systems vary by state, a guardian or conservator is a court-ordered representative who makes financial or healthcare decisions for a person deemed incapable of properly caring for themselves. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the elderly or those who have experienced traumatic brain injuries are most likely to have guardians appointed.

A National Center for State Courts study of Minnesota’s conservatorship system found that women were disproportionately exploited by their conservators, and that the majority lived in assisted living, memory care or skilled nursing facilities. Most of the cases involved people taken advantage of by their own family, primarily their children, and half the affected people were under 65, the study found. 

Nina Kohn, a Syracuse University law professor and a distinguished scholar in elder law at Yale Law School, spoke with the Center for Public Integrity about abuse in conservatorship, reform efforts and how people can protect themselves. 

The interview with Kohn has been edited for length and clarity.

Nina A. Kohn 
(Syracuse University)

Q: Who is disproportionately impacted by financial guardianships? 

We know that some guardianships happened very early in life. Historically, guardianship has been treated almost like a rite of passage for young adults with intellectual disabilities, who were assumed to be incapable of making decisions for themselves.

Increasingly, today there is recognition that that’s not proper and that even individuals with substantial cognitive and intellectual disabilities can make decisions for themselves, especially with support.

Another category of people you often see this with are people with dementia who have progressive cognitive decline that’s making it harder and harder for them to manage their own affairs. And then a third primary category is individuals who are experiencing some level of mental illness or non-progressive cognitive challenge acquired later in life, and that could be through a traumatic brain injury. 

A common pattern you see with petitions for conservatorship or financial guardianship is that you have an individual who has substantial funds and other people are expecting to benefit from those funds. Then the individual does something, which puts those who would be beneficiaries on edge, and they become concerned that those funds they were expecting to benefit from won’t be there for them. Often these are family members expecting to inherit from an older family member.

Legally, nobody has a right to inherit from you, except for some very limited protections for dependent children and spouses. 

You also sometimes see that with non-family members outside of an inheritance concern. That could be business partners, it could be service providers.

The fact that you’ve been the victim of one thing [like a financial scam] doesn’t mean that you don’t have the ability to make decisions for yourself. And when it starts to be treated as enough to show that a guardianship has to be imposed, you risk double victimization. First the individual is victimized by being exploited and then they’re victimized by having their rights removed as a consequence of victimization. 

Q: Is there any data that shows the demographics of who’s vulnerable to financial guardianships? 

We have woefully inadequate data in the United States on this issue. There is no national source of guardianship data. Many states are not keeping data on who’s under guardianship, how many people are under guardianship or why they’re under guardianship — it’s a major problem in terms of understanding this issue.

We do know that guardianship is a common intervention offered by Adult Protective Services. Guardianship is sometimes the right choice. It’s rarely the right choice, but sometimes it is.

So older people with progressive cognitive decline and individuals who haven’t done advanced planning are at increased risk.

Let’s imagine that I developed dementia in my 60s — will I need a guardian? That’s going to depend on what else I’ve put in place to handle my affairs. If I have a power of attorney in place or a trust in place — things that are adequately taking care of making decisions for my body and my property — I don’t need a guardian.

Individuals who haven’t done that advanced planning, which is disproportionately going to be less privileged members of our country — think about just access to legal services — are more likely to be at risk of having a guardianship imposed. 

Unlike advanced planning tools, in which the person isn’t giving away the right to make decisions, once a guardian is put in place, the individual loses the right to make any decision and the only way to reverse that is to go to court.

And we know that courts are doing, unfortunately, a highly inadequate job by and large at monitoring these arrangements, making sure the guardians are making the decisions that are right for the individual, that are sensitive to that person’s preferences, wishes, values, culture.

Q: What are some other ways in which a financial guardianship can be abused? 

A guardianship being imposed where it is not in fact necessary to meet the person’s needs or where a guardianship is imposed that is broader than it needs to be.

Let’s imagine a hypothetical person who has lots and lots of money. If they are put under a broad financial guardianship, they may lose the right to manage any money whatsoever. For this individual, $1,000 a week may be chump change. And thus putting a guardianship into place that doesn’t even allow them to spend smaller amounts of money, or control things that don’t put them at risk, should be seen as abusive.

And for your lower-income individual, there may still be an amount of money that they could manage without any substantial risk of undermining their ability to meet their own needs. 

Then there’s the bad acts by guardians category. For example, laws will typically require the guardian to make the decision the person would make if able. If the guardian says, “I’m just going to make the decision that I think’s best, regardless of what you would have wanted,” or “I’m going to make whatever decision is easiest for me,” that could be abuse.

And then another category of abuse is a guardian charging unreasonable fees.

Q: Are there ways in which the laws or the rules of different states exacerbate these abuses? 

This is an area where substantial law reform is needed urgently. 

One issue where there’s a need for reform is the standard for appointment of a guardian or conservator in the first place. Every state in the nation allows for limited guardianship, which is a guardian appointed to only make some decisions and not all decisions a guardian could be appointed to make under state law.

But many states don’t prohibit courts from imposing plenary [or absolute] guardianships, even when a limited guardianship would meet the person’s needs. So we need to make sure that it is unlawful for courts to strip more rights than is absolutely needed.

And we need to make sure that, before any rights are stripped, all less restrictive alternatives have been ruled out as possibilities. Another thing we need to do is really make sure that there are good due process protections in place for individuals.

Typically, states will provide a hearing, a notice and evaluation before a guardian is imposed. But often, a lot of those critically important civil rights protections can be circumvented by requesting a temporary guardianship, or sometimes it’s called an emergency guardianship. And so the individual can be stripped of the right to make decisions before those important due process protections are provided. That is especially a problem if the standard for appointing emergency guardianship is too lax, or the emergency guardianship can trundle along for a long time.  

Court monitoring is a huge issue. What are courts doing to make sure that guardians are doing the right thing by those that they’ve been appointed to protect and to make sure that abusive practices aren’t happening? 

Right to counsel is another tremendously important issue and something I think the Britney Spears case showed people. Some courts are denying individuals the right to choose their own counsel.

Another problem is around restoration of rights: Once you’ve been stripped of your right, what do you have to show to get it back? 

There is model legislation that would address each of these concerns: The Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship and Other Protective Arrangements Act created by the Uniform Law Commission. I served as the reporter for that act, which means I was the principal drafter. 

Q: That leads me into my next question, which is on efforts to improve the system. Could you talk more about this model legislation and any other state efforts to try to improve the system? 

At least since the early ’80s, we’ve seen efforts in place to try to improve guardianship. Initially, we saw an effort to try to change the rules, and increasingly, I think we need to change systems and incentives within the systems. My work really focuses on trying to realign incentives so that it’s easier to do the right thing and harder to do the wrong thing.

The most significant efforts, right now, are around adoption of the Uniform Act on guardianship, an act that was created with input from all the major stakeholder groups —  entities representing older people, people with disabilities, judges and state courts, attorneys, family members aggrieved by guardianship. 

The U.S. Senate [Special] Committee on Aging has recommended its adoption. The barrier to adoption is … that some of the reforms would take additional money or court time, and courts typically don’t want anything that’s going to take additional time and money unless they’re going to get a lot of money to do it. And then I think often people don’t understand why these changes are necessary.

Because guardianship has gotten, in some cases legitimately, a bad rap, sometimes the advocates say, “Let’s just get rid of all guardianship.”

I understand that perspective, but unfortunately sometimes the desire to abolish gets in the way of true reform.

Q: You mentioned that service providers have triggered guardianships. Are there examples of financial institutions doing this? 

I teach a case that is really egregious where an attorney petitioned for guardianship over his own client, and his evidence was that his client had fired him, and “who could possibly fire me?” Bad decision-making isn’t a basis for guardianship. We get to make really bad decisions. Guardianship is only when we’re at real risk because of those bad decisions and we don’t understand that we’re at risk.

One of the issues here in trying to understand the guardianship system is that many of these cases are under seal.

This can be very stigmatizing and traumatizing, and putting out all this really private information can benefit fraudsters, who can then use it to engage in exploitation. But it also makes it really hard to get visibility and accountability.

If you can’t see what the courts are doing, how do you hold the courts accountable?

As the person on the street, it is really important to put in place advanced planning documents. The most important one is called a power of attorney for health care, or sometimes called a health care proxy, that says who will make health care decisions for you, if you can’t make them for yourself. It’s a very low risk document because it’s only used when you lose capacity. Unlike a power of attorney for finances, it can’t be used until you lack capacity.

There are major racial gaps on who completes advanced directives. In part, that’s consistent with distrust of health care providers, often well-founded.

This is one sort of advanced planning tool that has low costs and can be done by lay people that can avoid guardianship. For older adults, or people who are anticipating more decline in abilities in the near future, then a power of attorney for finances may also be a very good idea. Putting that in place and trusts are good ways to avoid guardianship. Trusts tend to be for higher-net-worth individuals who are typically middle class and up. 

Q: Is there anything else about financial guardianships that you’d like our readers to know? 

If these issues concern you, I really encourage people to reach out to their state legislature.

I think we’ve seen enough problems to know that we need to fix the systems, and we need to change the incentives so that individuals aren’t stripped of their basic liberties unnecessarily. To the extent that seeing some of these horror stories can be a call to action, maybe there’s a silver lining.

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Mobile Sheriff's Office seeks man for theft and financial exploitation of the elderly

by Keith Lane
Mobile Co Sheriff's Office posted on Facebook Thursday attempting to locate Sonny Mitchell:

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Friday, June 24, 2022

Northern Michigan woman accused of embezzling thousands from vulnerable relative

By Amber Ainsworth

ROSCOMMON COUNTY, Mich. (FOX 2) - A northern Michigan woman is accused of embezzling thousands of dollars from a vulnerable adult relative she had guardianship of.

Kelly Marlynne Haynie-Ulrech, 41, of Saint Helen, is charged with embezzlement from a vulnerable adult $50,000 to $100,000.

Police said Haynie-Ulrech was granted guardianship of the victim in June 2017.

Another relative had concerns about the misuse of money in the victim's bank account, and petitioned for a reevaluation of the need for a guardian in December 2021. After a hearing in February of this year, guardianship was terminated.

After the hearing, Michigan State Police troopers obtained bank records, credit card statements, monthly bill statements, copies of checks, deposit slips, withdrawals, and tax information, and the victim was interviewed.

Troopers turned their evidence over to the Roscommon County Prosecutor’s Office, who issued an arrest warrant on June 1. Haynie-Ulrech turned herself in the next day.

Haynie-Ulrech's bond was set at $25,000, 10% cash/surety. She is due in court July 13.

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Former Newton client hoping attorney's disbarment ends term on Rockdale board

Sherri Washington
by Tom Spigolon

COVINGTON, Ga. — A Newton County resident says she was glad to hear about the state Supreme Court's ruling today, June 22, that a Rockdale County commissioner can no longer practice law in Georgia because she "failed to act diligently" for clients in time-sensitive cases. 

Tracy Belcher told The Covington News Wednesday she hoped the Georgia Supreme Court's ruling that Commissioner Sherri Lin Washington be disbarred and surrender her law license will lead to her being removed from the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners.

Belcher said Washington never paid her after a Rockdale County court ruled in August 2021 after the Covington resident sued the commissioner for return of the $3,000 fee Washington charged her for a case on which she took almost no action.

"I am so happy," Belcher said.

Belcher said she hired Washington after she successfully represented her in a previous, separate case. She also was told any other attorney would have needed only a few months to do what it had taken Washington five years to complete.

Then in 2019, neighbors repeatedly complained to police that Belcher's mother and father — who both suffered from dementia — often roamed their neighborhood and sought entrance to others' houses. She was forced to quit her job as a medical assistant and move in with her parents to take care of them. 

Belcher also said she needed an attorney quickly to avoid the courts taking action to take custody of her parents. She paid Washington in 2019 to do the legal work needed to become her parents' guardians and was told it would take about 30 days to complete. 

Washington then never returned calls or communicated about the status of the case and Belcher ultimately was unable to be appointed as custodian, she said. Luckily, her parents stopped leaving their house and it eventually was not an issue.

She later sued Washington's Conyers law firm, The Washington Law Group, for return of her fee. A judge ordered her to pay Belcher $3,096 in August 2021 during a hearing at which Washington failed to appear, according to court records.

Washington, however, did not pay as ordered and Belcher said she filed a complaint with the Bar Association. 

Her interactions with her clients — detailed in the Supreme Court's ruling — correspond to actions Belcher said Washington took in her case.

The Supreme Court's unanimous ruling upheld a State Disciplinary Review Board recommendation that Washington be disbarred "for her multiple violations of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct in connection with three separate client matters." 

The Court said Washington "failed to abide by her clients’ decisions, desires and directions regarding the scope and objectives of the representations; she failed to act diligently in filing, pursuing or responding in any of these clients’ matters; she failed to communicate or consult with these clients (or respond to their inquiries) about matters of importance in, or even the status of, their cases; and she failed to properly and timely respond to the personally served notices of investigation relating to each of these matters."

Among the claims cited by the Disciplinary Review Board in its recommendation was one from March 2017 in which a woman hired Washington to represent her in a divorce case. Washington did not file it quickly as requested, did not file a protective order, failed to keep the client advised about the case, and other items associated with the case. 

The client said she ultimately lost her health insurance coverage on her husband’s policy, was denied an equitable division of marital assets, denied alimony and required to pay her former husband $5,000 in attorney fees.

Other instances included Washington accepting a $515 fee to appeal a child molestation case, missing the appeal deadline and not returning the fee; and the attorney taking a $3,000 fee for a lawsuit against a building contractor, taking no action and not returning the fee until a Bar Association investigation began.

Washington finally was served with a formal complaint and "failed to timely answer or otherwise respond." That led to the Board's appointed special master finding the county commissioner was "in default such that the factual allegations and the disciplinary violations charged in the formal complaint were deemed admitted," the ruling stated.

Washington was admitted to the Georgia Bar in 2007. She was elected to an at-large seat on the three-member Rockdale County Commission in 2016 and reelected in 2020. 

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Redding man arrested after stealing grandma's car and evading arrest

by Karena Infante-Ysit

SUSPECT: Jackson Wright, 25, of Redding (Redding Police Department)

REDDING, Calif. — Early Sunday morning, officers from the Redding Police Department (RPD) arrested a man for stealing his grandmother's car and evading arrest.

According to RPD, late Saturday night around 11 p.m., officers responded to a disturbance call in the area of Sutterwood Drive. When they arrived, officers say they saw a newer model Honda driving away without its lights on.

Officers tried to pull the Honda over, but the driver -later identified as Jackson Wright, 25, of Redding- took off at high speed going Northbound on Victor Ave.

Instead of chasing him, RPD says the officers canceled the pursuit because of the potential risk to public safety on the city streets.

Later on, in the early hours of Sunday morning just before 2:30 a.m., officers say they received information that Wright had returned to his grandmother's home.

When they arrived at the house, officers say Wright attempted to flee out of the back but was stopped before he was able to. Wright was arrested without further incident. According to RPD, Wright admitted to stealing his grandmother's car as well as evading officers.

Wright was booked into the Shasta County Jail on several charges including theft of a vehicle and elder abuse, as well as felony evading in a vehicle.

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Thursday, June 23, 2022

Grifting granny: Elderly Bronx lady bilked government out of $650K, blew it at the casino: officials

By Larry Celona and Evan Simko-Bednarski

Carmen Soto is accused of swiping more than $650,000 off of two false government IDs since 1994. Getty Images/Glowimages RF

A grifting granny from The Bronx bilked the federal government out of more than $650,000 — then blew most of it at the casino, authorities said Tuesday.

Carmen Soto, 77, had apparently been plotting the scheme since 1960, when she applied for two phony Social Security cards and began collecting benefits off the bogus government IDs around 1994, according to the Bronx District Attorney’s Office.

She was finally busted this year after a trip to the state Department of Motor Vehicles — where facial-recognition technology blew the lid off the illicit venture, officials said.

Soto, who had a third Social Security card in her real name, had applied for government benefits using the other two IDs with the aliases Gloria Sanchez and Carmen Maldonado — in what Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark called a “carefully orchestrated scheme” to bilk the system.

Over nearly three decades of collecting dough from Social Security and the city’s Human Resources Administration, Soto conned well over half a million dollars, authorities said.

Each of Soto’s identities had a bank account, driver’s licenses or non-driver ID, a passport and a P.O. box, according to prosecutors.

But the wealth of supporting documents was her undoing: Soto was nabbed while trying to renew a driver’s license — and the DMV’s facial-recognition technology matched her face with three separate IDs.

Soto pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny in May.

She was sentenced to five years’ probation and is also on the hook for the money — most of which she already lost gambling, prosecutors said.

“This sentencing should stand as a warning to those who are thinking of defrauding the Social Security Administration to receive benefits – we will hold you accountable,” Sharon MacDermott, head of the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General in New York, said in a statement.

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Georgia Supreme Court disbars attorney Sherri Washington, who also serves as a Rockdale County commissioner

By Alice Queen

Sherri Washington
CONYERS — The Georgia Supreme Court released an order Wednesday disbarring attorney Sherri Len Washington, who also serves as a member of the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners.

The disbarment appeared before the high court at the request of the state Disciplinary Review Board of the Georgia Bar Association, which recommended Washington be disbarred for multiple violations of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct in connection with three separate client matters. Washington was served with the formal complaint but did not respond, which is tantamount to admitting to the allegations of misconduct brought by the Disciplinary Review Board.

The Review Board appointed a special master in April 2021, who then presented its recommendation to the Supreme Court this spring. The Supreme Court’s decision was unanimous.

Washington, who was a general practice attorney, was first elected to the Rockdale Board of Commissioners in 2016 and won re-election in 2020. She was admitted to the Georgia Bar in 2007.

According to the Supreme Court’s ruling, Washington initially hired an attorney to represent her in the disbarment proceedings. The attorney filed objections and initiated a “late defense” before the Review Board, but later withdrew. Washington filed no further objections.

The Disciplinary Review Board found that in March 2017 Washington was retained to represent a woman in a divorce case. Washington failed to file the divorce quickly, as requested by her client, and failed to file a request for a protective order, also requested by the client. As a result, the client lost her health insurance coverage under her husband’s policy, was denied an equitable division of marital assets, denied alimony and required to pay her former husband $5,000 in attorney fees.

The court ruling further found that “Washington failed to keep her client advised of the status of the case, failed to respond to court notices, failed to exchange mandatory discovery, failed to attend the pretrial status conference, failed to provide the required domestic relations financial affidavit, failed to complete the consolidated pretrial order required by the court, failed to respond to requests from opposing counsel for this information, and failed to participate in a conference call with the court on the subject of outstanding discovery and the incomplete pretrial order. Eventually, the case was set for trial on Oct. 27, 2017, but neither Washington nor her client appeared for the court date. The trial court granted the divorce on terms which were very unfavorable to Washington’s client.”

During this time, Washington’s client was unaware of the status of her divorce case and only learned of the ruling against her on the clerk’s website.

Washington attempted to amend the situation by filing a motion to reconsider the divorce judgement. That motion was denied.

Furthermore, she told her client and the court that she had been sick on the evening the trial notice was sent to her. However, the evidence showed that her client had found pictures of her on Facebook attending a sorority function the night she claimed to be sick.

The client ultimately was awarded a malpractice judgement of more than $50,000 against Washington, but the judgement has not been paid.

In a second instance of misconduct, Washington accepted a fee of $515 from a client who had been convicted of child molestation in 2011 and re-sentenced in 2015. Washington was asked to pursue an appeal of the new sentence. However, she stopped communicating with her client and his family and the deadline to file the appeal expired. Washington did not return the fee.

In the third case of misconduct, Washington was hired by a woman to file suit against a contractor for insufficient work on her bathroom. The client paid Washington a retainer of $3,000.

Washington subsequently failed to take any action on behalf of her client, and the woman eventually sent Washington a certified letter asking for a refund. Washington reportedly refused to accept the certified letter and did not return the money until after the Bar Association began its investigation.

A lawyer who has been disbarred must immediately stop practicing law and notify clients of the discipline. A disbarred lawyer may not practice law again without going through the entire Bar admissions process, including taking and passing the bar exam.

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Bucks County case highlights potential for abuse in senior care facilities. Here's how to protect loved ones

by Christopher Dornblaser

Memory care units and other specialized senior housing is meant to keep those with dementia or Alzheimer's safe.

But advocates say family members and other loved ones need to be aware that abuse can happen and that they need to be mindful of signs that could show reason for concern.

Elder abuse in general is under reported, and abuse of those suffering from cognitive disorders such as dementia can go even further under the radar, senior advocates say. “Too often different kinds of abuse don’t get reported," said Lori Smetanka, executive director of Consumer Voice, a nonprofit advocacy organization for those in long-term care.

Last month in Bucks County, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office charged two former managers of an Upper Southampton senior care facility with failing to report that one of the residents sexually abused three other residents. All four residents suffered from dementia.

The AG's office said that the two managers were required by law to report the first incident to authorities, and had that happened, the later two incidents most likely would not have occurred.

Statewide, there were 34,742 investigations of elder abuse, with 13,265 of them being substantiated, between July 2020 and June 2021, according to the state Department of Aging. In Bucks County, there were 1,531 investigations of elder abuse, with about 31% of them being substantiated, according to William McTigue, deputy director of public affairs for the Bucks County Area Agency on Aging,.

Advocates say it is important for people to be vigilant with their loved ones and be aware of possible resources available to them.

Stopping and responding to the abuse, Smetanka said, continues to be a real problem. But there are things the facilities, staff members or guests can do to crack down on the abuse.

Dementia is a general term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other abilities, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Alzheimer's Disease is the most common cause of dementia, according to the association.

Smetanka said loved ones visiting their relatives at facilities should keep an eye not only on them, but others to see if there are any signs of abuse. Residents of these facilities who are not suffering from cognitive disorders are encouraged to do the same.

“Having more eyes and ears on what’s happening ... often generally just benefits everyone involved," she said.

Signs of abuse among that population could include a change in demeanor, such as if a resident appears withdrawn or afraid.

“That’s often an indication that something has happened or that something is wrong," Smetanka said.

Julie Schoen, deputy director of the National Center on Elder Abuse, said looking into possible abuse should go beyond talking to a caretaker, but also speak to the residents themselves and look for signs.

“We need to get people to take that extra look and talk to them," she said.

Additional checks on residents may be necessary in these cases.

“It’s better to try to get to the bottom of it and find out what’s happening," Smetanka said.

She noted there was an incident at a different facility where a patient claimed her "boyfriend" was coming into her room every night, something that staff members did not believe. It turns out someone with a cognitive disability was going into that resident's room and abusing her, according to Smetanka.

“We have to take things seriously," she said.

Bucks County Deputy District Attorney Mary Kate Kohler, who is on the DA's Elder Abuse Task Force, said signs of physical abuse can be unexplained injuries or repeated bruising. Signs could also be sexually transmitted diseases, unexplained discomfort or bruising in private areas, or the victim being withdrawn, embarrassed or depressed without a logical explanation.

If a caretaker is the one talking for them and not leaving when a loved one is around, that could also be a sign.

Kohler also encouraged people to err on the side of caution and report suspected abuse to either an area agency on aging or local police department.

Loved ones should check in with their relatives, because that establishes to potential perpetrators that this person has someone they can confide in, according to Kohler. It also establishes a baseline behavior for that person should something seem off.

Staff should be trained, respected, advocates say

Smetanka said facilities should have policies in place for staff to be able to handle incidents like the ones at the Upper Southampton facility. It is crucial, she said, that staff members are trained to spot and handle abuse when it happens.

They should also be aware of protecting and preserving evidence if they do suspects abuse so they do not clean the scenes of any abuse and potentially get rid of key items.

“Which then prevents any sort of action from taking place," Smetanka aid.

Low staffing levels can exacerbate the issue, as nurses and other staff members may not be able to see everything that is happening.

“That increases incidents of abuse," Smetanka said.

Schoen sand Smetanka said the COVID-19 pandemic "decimated" staffing levels for senior living facilities. There was already high turnover for the job before the pandemic, Schoen said.

“They’re not paid well, they’re not given the respect we should give people caring for our loved ones," she said.

Giving staff proper training and higher pay, elevating their position, she said, would go "a long way."

The ones who are at facilities are typically handling many residents and can't always have eyes on everyone, they said.

If nurses and care facility staff see abuse, they should be reporting it. In some cases they are mandated to do so. In the case of the Upper Southampton facility, staff anonymously reported the incidents to the state after the managers allegedly failed to do so.

McTigue, of the Bucks County Area Agency on Aging, said protective services can get involved if someone reports the abuse.

“Anybody who reports in that system, their name is strictly confidential," he said. "It’s almost impossible for anybody to get it."

Schoen noted that said some staff may feel like their jobs are at risk should they report abuse. She said while anonymous reporting is not as effective as putting a name to it, any report will help and prompt a visit from the necessary entities.

Another crucial component of abuse prevention is an ombudsman, a state-certified advocate for residents at senior living facilities

Schoen said residents most likely are not aware that they can contact an ombudsman to help with a variety of issues. They also make unscheduled checks of facilities to make sure they are doing things appropriately and residents are not having problems.

They inform residents of their rights, work with residents to resolve issues about their quality of care and help with appeals to changes in services, transfers or discharges, according to Bucks County.

Preparing to move to an assisted living facility

People should be educated about where they or their loved one could be moving into, Schoen said. She encouraged people to look at reports on nursing homes online, and compare facilities.

If possible, try to volunteer at one before deciding on a location, to see what it would be like to live there. Schoen also said going in during lunch time to see how residents are being treated can also be helpful.

“It takes some work, it takes some research," she said.

She recommended people start planning for moving to a facility ahead of time, if possible.

Kohler said if possible, people should insist on a facility whose policy it is to not allow one-on-one care during bath time and/or in areas where there are no cameras, such as in the room. She recommended looking into a facility that has cameras and does background checks on all staff.

Kohler said residents should look into whether personal cameras are allowed in loved ones rooms, if that loved one agrees to it, to monitor all interactions.

Anyone who witnesses or suspects elder abuse can call the Elder Abuse Hotline at 1-800-243-3767.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Britney Spears is sued by her father for defamation

The problems in the Spears family they do not have when to reach their end, now with a new chapter, with another lawsuit in between.

It’s been a while since the name of Britney Spears it is more associated with his scandals than with his performance on stage. The singer has already sued James Spears for the controversial guardianship in which the artist saw how her father deprived her of basic freedoms. Justice agreed with Britney, who is now being sued by James.

Apparently, the father of the singer, not being satisfied with the sentence of the trial, in which that “abusive” guardianship about Britney Spears, has taken action on the matter. Now, he is the one who accuses her daughter of “ruining” her name and has filed a lawsuit for defamation, according to the portal TMZ.

For a while, Britney Spears He has no relationship with his family and, in fact, he did not invite anyone to his recent liaison with Sam Asghari. However, despite their attempts to get away, justice finds them again. James Spears has already presented the necessary papers to start the process and the singer is expected to receive the pertinent notice in the near future.

Instagram texts and a book, reason for the conflict

One of the reasons for James Spears’s anger are his daughter’s comments on his Instagram profile. She also doesn’t like that Britney is going to throw a book in which he recounts in detail some of his experiences under the guardianship of his father. Specifically, the artist narrates that her father forced her to take off eight tubes of blood a week for medical tests or prevented her from taking painkillers, even when she needed them most. In addition, he denounces that he took away his driving license.

James Spears’ attorney, Alex Weingarten, accused Britney of posting “content on her social media that contains outrageous accusations.” A few words that found the answer of Matthew Rosengart, the artist’s lawyer. For the lawyer, the singer’s father “continues to dishonor himself”, in addition to denouncing that her statements are “riddled with errors and falsehoods”.

Photo: Reuters

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Britney Spears is sued by her father for defamation

Suspect arrested for downtown Berkeley attacks

by: Adelmi Ysita

BERKELEY, Calif. (KRON) – On June 17, two individuals were assaulted by a 34–year old man in downtown Berkeley and a nearby business was damaged, the Berkeley Police Department said. Police arrested the suspect after the second incident and the Alameda County District Attorney’s office charged him with robbery, vandalism, and elder abuse causing bodily injury on Monday, June 20. 

At noon on Friday, officers responded to an assault and robbery incident inside a McDonald’s. The suspect had taken a customer’s eyeglasses and cell phone, then proceeded to punch her in the face after she attempted to regain possession of her belongings, BPD said. The victim was able to retaliate before the suspect ran from the establishment.

The second assault took place on the 1600 block of Shattuck Avenue shortly after the first incident. A 78-year-old-man was struck in the head by the suspect with a construction hardhat, according to BPD. Responding officers detained the suspect in the area of Francisco Street and Shattuck Avenue. 

Berkeley Police Officers confirmed that the suspect damaged a trash can and sanitizer dispenser at Cupcakin Bake Shop on Shattuck. He also damaged a passing vehicle by throwing a brick at it. 

Alameda County District Attorney’s Office also charged the suspect with several criminal enhancements.   

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Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Altruism in older adults could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease

(Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels)

by Chris Melore

LOS ANGELES — Could altruism be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease? A new study has found a link between older adults who are more willing to give away money and cognitive decline.

A team from the Keck School of Medicine at USC discovered that even seniors with no signs of dementia perform noticeably worse on cognitive tests if they gave more money to an anonymous person during a lab experiment. Researchers believe their findings could explain the apparent connection between older adults falling for financial scams and cognitive impairment later in life.

“Our goal is to understand why some older adults might be more susceptible than others to scam, fraud or financial exploitation,” says study senior author Duke Han, PhD, the director of neuropsychology in the Department of Family Medicine, in a university release. “Trouble handling money is thought to be one of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and this finding supports that notion.”

Although prior studies have tried to examine this potential link between altruism or generosity and brain health, the new report went a step further by using real money in the experiment.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to explore the relationship using a behavioral economics paradigm, meaning a scenario where participants had to make decisions about giving or keeping actual money,” adds Gali H. Weissberger, PhD, a senior lecturer in the Interdisciplinary Department of Social Sciences at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

Should doctors be screening older patients based on their charitable habits?

Study authors gathered 67 adults who had an average age of 69. None of them had any signs of dementia or cognitive impairment at the start of the experiment. The team also collected information on each person’s age, gender, and overall level of education during the study.

During the experiment, researchers paired each senior with an anonymous person, participating in the study online. The seniors also received $10 that they could distribute between themselves and their online partner.

At the same time, the seniors also completed a series of neuropsychological tests, including some that help doctors test for the early stages of dementia. These included story and word recall tests, a category fluency test that has participants list words tied to a specific topic, and several cognitive assessments.

Results show older participants who gave more of the $10 to their anonymous partner scored significantly lower on the neuropsychological tests which scan for Alzheimer’s disease.

The team says larger and more representative samples are necessary to confirm their findings. Moreover, researchers want to collect more data on the behavior and self-reported accounts from the people who give more to others. This may help researchers better understand an older person’s motivations to give more.

“If a person is experiencing some kind of change in their altruistic behavior, that might indicate that changes are also happening in the brain,” Weissberger says.

Study authors add that clearing up this link between altruism and cognition could also lead to a new screening method for people at risk for dementia.

“The last thing we would want is for people to think that financial altruism among older adults is a bad thing,” Han concludes. “It can certainly be a deliberate and positive use of a person’s money.”

The study is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

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Summit County launches new unit to prevent abuse against older residents

Akron Beacon Journal

A new Senior Protection Unit has launched in Summit County with the goal of protecting and fighting for the rights of older residents.

Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh announced the launch of the new unit last week  to combat abuse against adults 60 and older.

Assistant Summit County prosecutors will work with Summit County Adult Protective Services to review and prosecute criminal and civil cases involving abuse of seniors. The Senior Protection Unit will also collaborate with local leaders and organizations to provide safety information, trainings and self-defense classes for the community.

“This unit will ensure that those who take advantage of the elderly will be held accountable," Walsh said. "As a community, we have a responsibility to prevent and report abuse. Seniors should not suffer alone in silence."

According to the National Council on Aging, about one in 10 people 60 or older have experienced elder abuse.

Elder abuse includes physical, sexual and emotional abuse as well as neglect, deprivation, confinement and financial exploitation.

The prosecutor's office urges anyone experiencing, aware of or suspecting abuse, neglect or financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult living in Summit County to call 330-643-7217 or 911.

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Rogersville woman indicted for financial exploitation of elderly woman

By Stephen Gallien

A Lauderdale County grand jury has indicted a Rogersville woman for financial exploitation of an elderly woman. 

Alisha Quinn was indicted on several counts, including 19 counts involving forged checks.

Quinn was arrested last week with bond set at $22,500.

She's scheduled for arraignment Friday.

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Monday, June 20, 2022

Willingness to Give Away Money Among Older Adults Linked to Cognitive Profile of Early Alzheimer’s

Summary: Willingness in older people to give more money away appears to correlate with cognitive decline associated with dementia. The findings may explain why many older adults could be more prone to financial exploitation.

Source: USC

Those who gave away more money performed worse on the cognitive assessments known to be sensitive to Alzheimer’s disease. Image is in the public domain

To help protect older adults from financial exploitation, researchers are working to understand who is most at risk.

New findings from the Keck School of Medicine of USC, published this week in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, suggest that willingness to give away money could be linked to the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Sixty-seven older adults who did not have dementia or cognitive impairment completed a laboratory task where they decided whether to give money to an anonymous person or keep it for themselves.

They also completed a series of cognitive tests, such as word and story recall. Those who gave away more money performed worse on the cognitive assessments known to be sensitive to Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our goal is to understand why some older adults might be more susceptible than others to scam, fraud or financial exploitation,” said the study’s senior author, Duke Han, Ph.D., director of neuropsychology in the Department of Family Medicine and a professor of family medicine, neurology, psychology and gerontology at the Keck School of Medicine.

“Trouble handling money is thought to be one of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and this finding supports that notion.”

Earlier research that tested the link between altruism and cognition relied on self-report measures, such as asking older adults whether they would be willing to give money in certain scenarios. The present study used real money to examine the link.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to explore the relationship using a behavioral economics paradigm, meaning a scenario where participants had to make decisions about giving or keeping actual money,” said Gali H. Weissberger, Ph.D., a senior lecturer in the Interdisciplinary Department of Social Sciences at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and first author of the study.

Giving and cognition

The researchers recruited 67 adults for the study, with an average age of 69. They collected data about participant demographics and controlled for the effects of age, sex and education level in the final analysis. Participants were excluded from the study if they met criteria for dementia or cognitive impairment.

In the lab, each participant was told they had been paired with an anonymous person who was completing the study online. They were then given $10 and instructed to allocate it however they wished, in $1 increments, between themselves and the anonymous person.

The older adults in the study also completed a series of neuropsychological tests, including several that are commonly used to help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages. The tests included story and word recall tasks where participants are asked to remember information after a short delay; a category fluency test that involves listing words on a specific topic; and several other cognitive assessments.

Participants who gave more away scored significantly lower on the neuropsychological tests known to be sensitive to early Alzheimer’s disease. There were no significant performance differences on other neuropsychological tests.

Clarifying the link

More research is needed to confirm the nature of the relationship between financial altruism and cognitive health in older adults, including with larger and more representative samples. Future studies could also collect both behavioral and self-report data on financial altruism to better understand participants’ motivations for giving.

Han, Weissberger and their colleagues are now collecting data for a longitudinal study using the same giving task, which could help determine whether some older adults are becoming more altruistic over time.

“If a person is experiencing some kind of change in their altruistic behavior, that might indicate that changes are also happening in the brain,” Weissberger said.

Clarifying these details about the link between altruism and cognition could ultimately improve screening for Alzheimer’s disease and help people protect their loved ones from financial exploitation. It can also help researchers distinguish between what represents healthy giving behavior versus something that could signify underlying problems.

“The last thing we would want is for people to think that financial altruism among older adults is a bad thing,” Han said. “It can certainly be a deliberate and positive use of a person’s money.”

About this Alzheimer’s disease research news

Author: Zara Abrams
Source: USC
Contact: Zara Abrams – USC
Image: The image is in the public domain

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Cook County judge removed by voters in 2020 over video wants a return to the bench

Voters dumped Jackie Portman-Brown after video showed her locking up her 6-year-old grandniece to teach her a lesson. “Would I do this again?” Portman-Brown says. “Probably not. But her behavior has been improved since this incident.”
By  Maya Dukmasova | Injustice Watch
Then-Cook County Judge Jackie Portman-Brown as seen on a Cook County sheriff’s security video locking up her 6-year-old grandniece in 2020 as a tough-love lesson.
Cook County sheriff’s office

For the first time in Illinois, a judge who was voted out of office is running to get back on the bench.

In 2020, Jackie Portman-Brown became only the second sitting judge in 30 years to lose a retention election in Cook County.

Her dozen years on the bench ended after she was reassigned to administrative duties following an incident involving her 6-year-old grandniece in February 2020. Security camera footage showed her leaving the young girl for about 10 minutes in an empty, locked cell behind her courtroom at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.

Months later, despite having the support of the Cook County Democratic Party, the county’s voters booted her from office.

Now, Portman-Brown is running in the June 28 Democratic primary for a vacancy on the bench from the fifth judicial subcircuit on the South Side.

Albert Klumpp, a researcher on judicial elections, says Portman-Brown is the first judge in Illinois to lose a retention election and then run again for a judicial seat.

In an interview, Portman-Brown says a “private family moment” was taken out of context and sensationalized.

Her grandniece had been having behavior problems in school, according to Portman-Brown, who says the girl’s father, her nephew, had had a similar “scared-straight” experience as a child. She says the girl’s mother came to ask her for the favor after her court call had ended, wanting her daughter “to know what happens to people who break the rules,” saying, “If she keeps fighting in school and stealing people’s stuff, this is what will happen to her.”

“Would I do this again?” Portman-Brown says. “Probably not. But her behavior has been improved since this incident.”

Portman-Brown previously had drawn criticism for her informal, brash style in the courtroom and her handling of an intensive-probation program called the HOPE Court that the state shut down in 2018. Independent reviews found the program rife with problems, some stemming from Portman-Brown’s leadership.

She says the evaluations didn’t present a full picture of a program that most participants completed successfully.

But it largely was the incident with her grandniece that haunted Portman-Brown ahead of the 2020 judicial retention election. The Illinois State Bar Association and six other lawyers’ groups found her not qualified to continue as a judge that year. Two others — the Chicago Bar Association and Chicago Council of Lawyers — still recommended that voters keep her in office.

Portman-Brown narrowly missed the 60% threshold needed to win another six-year countywide term, getting 59.32% “yes” votes.

She blames the controversy for losing the judicial seat.

Portman-Brown says she decided to run again, even after failing last year to win an appointment as an associate judge, after analyzing the election results and seeing that voters in her home subcircuit — in which she got “yes” votes for retention from more than 68% of those who voted in the race. The subcircuit covers a wide swath of the South Side — from Bridgeport to South Shore, West Englewood to Lake Michigan — and includes nearly 240,000 people.

This time, eight of the 13 bar associations that evaluated her found her not qualified or not recommended, including the Chicago Bar Association, which reversed its favorable rating from two years ago.

She faces three others in seeking the judge’s seat:

  • Timothy Wright III, a lawyer who once worked for former Mayors Harold Washington and Eugene Sawyer, represented Roland Burris amid the controversy that followed his appointment by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill the Senate vacancy left by Barack Obama’s election as president and has been the biggest fund-raiser in the race.
  • Judie Lyn Smith, an assistant Cook County public defender assigned to the courthouse in Markham.
  • And Tiffany Brooks, a lawyer with the Cook County circuit court clerk’s office who has been found not qualified or not recommended by five of the nine bar associations that evaluated her qualifications.

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Miami-Dade fugitive accused of fraud awaits extradition after arrest in Spain

Hadee Toledo was arrested in Spain and was awaiting extradition to Miami-Dade County for charges related to a crime in Hialeah, authorities reported on Friday. (HPD)

by Andrea Torres

MIAMI – A woman who was accused of defrauding a 93-year-old man in Hialeah was arrested in Spain after being on the run for about a year, authorities reported on Friday.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office confirmed the extradition unit was working with the U.S. Marshals and other federal agencies to bring Hadee Toledo back for prosecution.

Officers arrested Toledo’s son Italo Nelli last year accusing him of working with his mother to steal more than $500,000 from Manuel Toledo.

Investigators accused Hadee Toledo, formerly known as Haidee Hidalgo Pena, of changing her name in 2019 as she preyed on him.

After he recovered from COVID, Manuel Toledo was released from the hospital to the Hialeah Shores Nursing & Rehabilitation Center’s COVID-19 unit on Aug. 19, 2021. According to investigators, a woman later took him to the Sunshine Adult Center ALF.

Detectives accused Hadee Toledo of falsifying documents and of scheming her way into his bank accounts and selling his home, prosecutors said.

Hadee Toledo faces charges of exploitation of the elderly, conspiracy to commit an organized scheme to defraud, forgery, and the fraudulent use of personal identification.  

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Sunday, June 19, 2022

Iowa governor signs elder abuse penalties amid a flurry of new laws

By: Robin Opsahl and Kate Kealey

Gov. Kim Reynolds signs new penalties for elder abuse June 15, 2022 at the Highland Ridge senior care facility in Willamsburg. (Photo courtesy of AARP)

Gov. Kim Reynolds sat down with a pile of pens Wednesday at Highland Ridge, a senior care facility in Williamsburg.

She signed Senate File 522, a bill establishing criminal penalties for elder abuse. It passed unanimously in both chambers of the Iowa Statehouse. Supporters of the bill gathered around the desk where she signed the legislation into law, and proclaimed the week as World Elder Abuse Awareness Week.

“The safety and well-being of older Iowans is so very important,” Reynolds said. “And this bill provides greater reassurance that there will be consequences for those that target and harm them.”

As is the custom of Iowa governors, Reynolds uses multiple pens to sign bills at public events and then gives them to supporters who attend.

The bill was one of Iowa’s many new laws approved by the governor in the days before the signing deadline.

Reynolds has 30 days from the end of the legislative session – June 24 – to sign remaining legislation into law. Among bills yet to be signed include the state budget, changes to the bottle bill, protections for mobile home residents and more.

New laws will be enacted July 1, unless otherwise specified.

Here are some of the notable bills signed so far this week:

Child care and education

Child care aid: Child care providers could receive additional private payments from families currently receiving state aid. The current state assistance program reimburses child care centers  50% to 75% the market rate for care, allowing children to attend at no cost to the family. House File 2127 would allow providers to charge families for the difference between the state assistance and the private pay rate.

Child care workers: Reynolds plans to sign House File 2198 at Thursday’s Iowa Association of Business and Industry conference, according to her public schedule. The bill would increase the amount of toddlers a child care staff member can care for: seven 2-year-olds per staff member, and up to 10 children who are 3 years old. The legislation also allows 16-year-olds to supervise school-age children without adult supervision. The previous age minimum for staff without supervision was 18.

Teacher licensing: This bill eliminates the standardized test required to obtain a teaching license in Iowa. Teachers in Iowa currently must pass a series of standardized tests, which are also used to certify teachers in states like Nebraska and Kansas. The legislation builds on previous efforts to fight Iowa’s educator shortage. Entrance exams for teaching courses were made optional, and required passing grades for the exit test were lowered.

Health care

COVID-19 vaccines: Child care centers, public K-12 schools and Regents universities cannot require students to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in order to attend school. House File 2298 stands until 2029 and will be in effect for the upcoming school year.

Mental health workers: Two new laws were signed Monday to address the shortage of mental health workers. House File 2549 establishes a loan repayment program for psychologists and non-prescribing mental health professionals who agree to practice in Iowa for five years or up to seven years if working part time. House File 2246 allows interns enrolled in a psychology doctoral degree program to seek a provisional license and work under a fully licensed supervisor.

Asthma medication in schools: House File 771, which Reynolds signed Wednesday, allows students with respiratory ailments such as asthma to keep and use an inhaler or other medication in school, with written parental permission and a doctor’s statement. Schools would be allowed to stock the medications and appropriate personnel may administer it to students reasonably believed to be in respiratory distress.


Aircraft taxation: Aircraft owners in Iowa will no longer be required to pay sales tax on parts and labor under Senate File 2370. Aircraft owners could save up to $700,000 a year, according to legislative fiscal analysts.

Home food businesses: House File 2341 broadens the regulation of home-based food businesses from “home bakeries” to “home-based food establishments.” These businesses will be allowed to sell up to $50,000 in perishable food products per year, an increase from the previous limit of $35,000. These businesses can also sell non-perishable, shelf-stable foods online, and ship directly to the consumer.


Unemployment benefits: Iowa workers will have 10 fewer weeks of unemployment benefits under legislation Reynolds plans to sign Thursday. The bill shortens the state’s maximum unemployment eligibility from 26 to 16 weeks, in addition to imposing a one-week waiting period before receiving benefits. It also requires workers to accept lower-paying jobs sooner or risk losing their benefits. Legislators said the bill will “update and repurpose” Iowa’s unemployment system amid the state worker shortage.

Workforce regulations: This “workforce omnibus” bill takes a range of actions, including changed requirements and fees for employment. It waives certain parking fees for veterans and inspection requirements for manufactured housing, and creates reporting requirements for workforce learning programs. Reynolds also plans to sign this at the Iowa ABI conference.

Criminal charges

Elder abuse: The bill Reynolds signed Wednesday enacts more protections for Iowans 60 years or older. The bill would heighten minimum penalties for people charged for assault or theft against older Iowans. The legislation also created new criminal penalties for “elder abuse” as defined by Iowa law, as well as a new criminal charge for financial exploitation of people in this category.

Reproductive fraud: Senate File 529 criminalizes fertility fraud – the use of human reproductive material that the patient did not consent to in writing. Nonconsensual insemination will considered be sexual abuse in the fourth degree, an aggravated misdemeanor. It also changes current law to allow any woman over 18 to consent to their own hysterectomy. Current law states a doctor can require spousal consent.

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