Saturday, January 21, 2023

Feds to investigate nursing home abuse of antipsychotics


FILE - Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, the Administrator for the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services, poses for a photograph in her office, Feb. 9, 2022, in Washington. The federal government is cracking down on nursing homes' abuse of antipsychotic drugs after an investigation in 2022 revealed an overwhelming majority of their residents are prescribed the medication. The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services will begin sending investigators to certain facilities in January 2023 to audit nursing homes' diagnoses of schizophrenia in patients.(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government says it will begin a targeted crackdown on nursing homes’ abuse of antipsychotic drugs and misdiagnoses of schizophrenia in patients.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is launching investigations this month into select nursing homes, aimed at verifying whether patients have been properly diagnosed with the psychiatric disorder.

Evidence has mounted over decades that some facilities wrongly diagnose residents with schizophrenia or administer antipsychotic drugs to sedate them, despite dangerous side effects that could include death, according to the agency.

“No nursing home resident should be improperly diagnosed with schizophrenia or given an inappropriate antipsychotic,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement Wednesday. “The steps we are taking today will help prevent these errors and give families peace of mind.”

Some facilities may be dodging increased scrutiny around gratuitous use of antipsychotic medications by coding residents as having schizophrenia, even when they do not show signs of the extremely rare disorder, a government report last year found. Less than 1% of the population is believed to have schizophrenia, which is marked by delusions, hallucinations and disordered thinking.  

In 2012, the federal government began tracking when nursing homes use antipsychotics on residents — doing so can impact the facility’s quality rating in a public database — but only for those who have not been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Antipsychotics for those nursing home residents has dropped to under 20% in recent years, according to federal data.

A November report from the HHS Office of the Inspector General, however, revealed that the number of residents reported as having schizophrenia without a corresponding diagnosis skyrocketed between 2015 and 2019, with 99 nursing homes in the country reporting that 20% or more of their residents have the disorder.

“The number of unsupported schizophrenia diagnoses increased and in 2019 was concentrated in relatively few nursing homes,” the report concluded.

Nursing homes have worked on other ways to treat residents, especially those with dementia, and trained staff to use alternative methods, said Katie Smith Sloan, the CEO of LeadingAge, an association of nonprofit aging service providers.

“Much has been achieved since the program’s start in 2012, and nursing homes deserve a lot of the credit for the progress,” she said in a statement.

CMS will start targeted audits to ask nursing homes for documentation of the diagnoses in the coming days, focusing on nursing homes with existing residents who have been recorded as having schizophrenia.

The rating scores for nursing homes that have a pattern of inaccurately coding residents as having schizophrenia will be negatively impacted, CMS said in a statement released Wednesday, stopping short of threatening to levy fines against facilities.

Dinging nursing homes’ public ratings will be effective in some cases, said Dr. Shekinah Fashaw-Walters, a researcher at the University of Minnesota who has found that schizophrenia diagnoses have risen in Black nursing home patients compared with their white counterparts in recent years.

She is hopeful that the CMS audits will help to narrow that racial disparity and said that it’s “about time” for CMS’ plan.

“It’s time to do this and really hold nursing homes accountable for providing high quality care,” she said. “I’m thrilled to see that they are taking these steps, and I think they’re very warranted.”

The agency does not have plans to immediately intervene in the patients’ care directly or notify relatives of residents who have been wrongly coded or given antipsychotics, according to senior HHS officials who insisted on anonymity to brief The Associated Press on the matter on Tuesday.

CMS will monitor the facilities to make sure the issues are corrected, officials said.

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Feds to investigate nursing home abuse of antipsychotics

'I'm Not Your Real Mom,' Paralyzed Lady Says to Son Who Tends to Her for 13 Years — Story of the Day

By Tsholofelo Phaho

When Jessica reveals a difficult truth to her son, Richard, she fears losing him forever. But he sticks by her side regardless, and their bond grows even tighter.

All Richard knew about his mother and father's relationship was that he treated her poorly. Beyond that, Richard only ever cared about his mother's well-being.

She always believed in tough love, and as a child, Richard felt that she could be mean at times. But he reached his teenage years, Richard realized that she only ever wanted the best for him. "You're not gonna end up being a deadbeat like your daddy," Jessica told him. 

As he got older, Richard realized that his mother had always dreamed of being a musician but decided to take a steady job so that she could take care of him. Jessica had always taken him to watch their town's local orchestra play. He made a choice to take care of her no matter what.

"Hey, mom. Can we watch that old video together? The one where you were teaching me how to walk?" Richard asked on his 16th birthday. "Sure thing, kid. Did you forget how?" Jessica joked.

"I just wanted to finally make her dream come true."

Together they sat and watched the video for what must have been the 100th time. Little did they know the significance it would have years later. Because of the way he grew up, Richard worked tooth and nail to make sure that he got himself and his mother into a better neighborhood.

He got straight As in school and managed to earn a scholarship to a great college just out of town. He ended up becoming a financial advisor and earned a steady salary. Everyone at his company respected his work ethic, but he always kept to himself at the office.

One day, Richard received a call from a number he didn't recognize."Hi, is this Jessica's son?" a woman asked him."Yes, this is Richard. What's wrong?" He replied.

"Your mother had a stroke at home. Once you can, please come to the hospital," the nurse told him. Richard immediately left the office to be at his mother's side. The doctor let him know that Jessica would need extensive treatment and constant attention to make a full recovery.

Richard immediately applied for leave from work and spent every day tending to his mother's needs. Her stroke had left her paralyzed from the waist down, and although he had the means, Richard refused to hire a stay-in nurse for his mother. He didn't want his mother to think that he would abandon her in her time of need.

"I'm gonna take care of you, whether you like it or not," he told his mother.

Richard's wife, Leah, became frustrated with his absence and threatened to leave him. "I have something to show you, Leah. I know I've spent a lot of time taking care of my mom, but just watch this," Richard pleaded.

He then showed her the video of his mother teaching him how to walk.

"I'm all she's got," Richard told her. He and Leah cried together as they watched the video. Richard explained that because his mother raised him alone, he felt that he owed her a debt.

He would always give everything to his family because of how hard his mother worked. Jessica gave up her dreams for Richard's sake, and he would do the same for her regardless of the cost. Leah realized that Richard was working himself to the bone to provide not only for her but his mother's medical bills as well.

"I don't know how long I have left, so it's time that you learned the truth."

"I'm with you no matter what, Richard. I just thought that I was losing you. But I see now that you're working for all of us," Leah told him. They decided to move into his mother's home so that they take care of her together. This allowed Richard to return to work as he could split time with Leah.

They had to teach Jessica how to walk again. Things became difficult when Leah fell pregnant, but they soldiered through. Jessica was always grateful for how hard her son worked. She knew that he didn't ever ask why it was so difficult for them growing up.

He never even asked about his father. The day after Richard and Leah's son, Freddy, turned one, Jessica suffered a second stroke. Fearing for her life, Jessica decided that she needed to reveal a secret that she had been keeping from Richard.

"I don't know how long I have left, so it's time that you learned the truth. I was always so hard on you, but you never complained. This is the hardest thing I've ever had to tell you, but I'm not your real mother," Jessica told Richard.

"What do you mean?" Richard replied.

"You won't remember this because you were still a child. But your nanny, Elizabeth, was actually your birth mother. Your father, Anthony, cheated on me with her. I decided to raise you as my own. After Elizabeth was killed in a car accident, I left your father. I'm sorry that I kept this from you for all of these years. I just didn't know if you would still love me," Jessica told him.

Richard began to cry as Jessica told her story. After a few minutes, Richard replied, "You're the only mother I've ever known. That hasn't changed at all. I'll always love you the same."

After they took her home from the hospital, the entire family watched the timeless video of Jessica teaching Richard how to walk. Years later, Richard saved up enough money to buy his mother a piano, but when he returned home, Leah told him that Jessica had passed away in her sleep.

Devastated, Richard told Leah, "I just wanted to finally make her dream come true."

When Freddy turned 6, he began to play the piano that Richard had purchased for Jessica. Freddy joined a youth orchestra and played at the same theatre that Jessica had always taken Richard to watch.

Full Article & Source:
'I'm Not Your Real Mom,' Paralyzed Lady Says to Son Who Tends to Her for 13 Years — Story of the Day

Friday, January 20, 2023

Investigation finds concerning link between guardianship lawyers, case workers and judges

By Kristin Thorne

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Eyewitness News found in its six-months-long investigation of the guardianship system in New York City that guardianship lawyers, law firms or people who deal with guardianship cases who donated to judges' election campaigns were awarded guardianship appointments by those same judges in subsequent years.

Eyewitness News used the state's public database of guardians to look up guardians or people involved in guardianship cases and compared their names to donations made to guardianship judges in New York City. The donations are listed on the New York State's Board of Elections public website.

For example, according to the databases, Judge Charles Troia on Staten Island received $17,091 in campaign donations in 2021 from 27 guardianship lawyers, guardianship law firms or people who serve as guardians and awarded those same people or law firms a total of 83 appointments in 2022.

Judge Charles Troia received $17,091 in campaign donations in 2021 from 27 people involved in guardianship cases & awarded them 83 appointments. Photo courtesy: Facebook.

In one instance, Troia received $500 from law firm Carasaniti & Andreo and subsequently awarded one of their attorneys Margaret Andreo nine guardianship appointments.

Eyewitness News contacted Carasaniti & Andreo to inquire if they believe the donation was a conflict of interest.

Before 7 On Your Side Investigative Reporter Kristin Thorne was even able to ask a question, a secretary at Carasaniti & Andreo hung up on her. Thorne called back again and left a message and then followed up with an email directly to Margaret Andreo. She did not get back to us.

According to the public databases, Judge Matthew Titone on Staten Island received $4,425 in campaign donations from 2018-2019 from nine guardianship lawyers, law firms or people involved in guardianship cases and subsequently awarded those same people or law firms a total of 11 appointments.

Queens judge Judge Wyatt Gibbons received $2,000 in campaign donations in 2019 from nine guardianship lawyers, law firms or people involved in guardianship cases and awarded those same people or law firms 22 appointments in 2022.

In 2021, Judge Rosemarie Montalbano in Brooklyn received $6,745 from six guardianship lawyers, law firms or people involved in guardianship cases and gave out 11 appointments to those same people or law firms in 2022.

Judge Rosemarie Montalbano in Brooklyn received $6,745 from people involved in guardianship cases and gave out 11 appointments to those same people. Photo courtesy: Facebook.

For example, attorney Daniel Antonelli donated $500 to Judge Montalbano's election campaign and received four guardianship appointments in 2022.

Eyewitness News contacted Antonelli to ask him if he considered the donation a conflict of interest. He did not get back to us.

Manhattan judge Judge Lisa Sokoloff received $5,720 in campaign donations from 2019-2022 from 20 guardianship lawyers, law firms or people who deal in guardianship cases and awarded those same people or law firms 62 appointments in 2022.

Judge Lisa Sokoloff received $5,720 in campaign donations from 20 people involved in guardianships & awarded those same people 62 appointments in 2022. Photo courtesy:

One of the lawyers who donated to her was Paul Mederos. In 2022, he donated $1,000 to Sokoloff's election campaign. Sokoloff gave Mederos seven guardianship appointments in 2022.

Mederos told Eyewitness News the donation was not a conflict of interest. He said he has known Sokoloff for 29 years and has always supported her career.

"I'm very proud of her," he said.

Judge Lisa Ottley in Brooklyn received $1,300 in donations from three guardianship lawyers in 2018 and each of those lawyers received appointments in 2022 totaling 10 appointments.

One of the donations came from lawyer Michael Benjamin who Ottley later appointed as the broker for the sale of a townhouse in Cobble Hill. The owner of the home was under a guardianship. Benjamin netted $210,000 in the $3.5 million sale of the home.

Benjamin and a spokesperson for the New York Court system told Eyewitness News the donation was not a conflict of interest.

Eyewitness News investigative reporter Kristin Thorne first started looking into the donations while researching Ottley's assignment of Benjamin to a guardianship case. She found Benjamin had donated $500 to Ottley's election campaign three years prior.

When Thorne contacted a spokesperson for the New York Court system about Benjamin's donation to Ottley and if the court believed it constituted a conflict of interest, Lucian Chalfen, a spokesperson for the court system replied, " Judges do not know what attorneys, lay persons, any individual for that matter may or may not have contributed to their campaign. Appointments are based on performance and availability."

However, if Eyewitness News was able to find who contributed to judges' campaigns, judges can as well.

When Eyewitness News sent the information we had gathered related to the six New York City guardianship judges and the donations they received from guardianship lawyers to Chalfen.

"It is incumbent on elected and appointed Judges to follow and comply with the rules governing judicial conduct," Chalfen said. "We hope and believe that they do, and if an instance of inappropriate conduct is brought to our attention, it can be referred to the proper authority for investigation."

Eyewitness News brought the donation data to New York State Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), the chair of the senate's Judiciary Committee, who called the information "concerning."

"You can't draw a straight line between political donations and public policy - it's never that clear," he said. "But I will tell you this - it is concerning."

See the entire list of donations to New York City guardianship judges and the subsequent guardianship appointments that Eyewitness News uncovered.

Full Article & Source:
Investigation finds concerning link between guardianship lawyers, case workers and judges

See Also:
Eyewitness News investigation finds alarming issues in Tri-State's adult guardianship systems

Judge suspended for 1 week in disciplinary case

By The Princeton Clarion 

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Supreme Court ordered a seven-day unpaid suspension from office from Jan. 30 to Feb. 6 for Gibson Circuit Judge Jeffrey Meade, after finding that he engaged in judicial misconduct.

The Indiana Supreme Court’s judicial discipline action published Thursday says Meade engaged in judicial misconduct by making intemperate comments from the bench; by conducting an off-the-record and unrecorded Child in Need of Services hearing where he ruled on substantive motions; and by failing to provide all parties in the CHINS case with sufficient notice in order to fairly participate in the hearing.

The finding stems from charges filed in December by the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications, alleging misconduct related to the handling of specific paternity and Child in Need of Services cases from 2015 to February 2022.

According to the court, Judge Meade agreed that his conduct was prejudicial to the administration of justice, and in a conditional agreement, he accepted responsibility for conduct, expressed remorse, cooperated with the commission, completed an eight-session coaching intensive for judicial officers, and is engaged in counseling services.

Other mitigating factors, according to the finding, included the appointment of a new magistrate to serve Gibson County’s Circuit and Superior courts and to handle many family law matters. The local circuit court also has updated technology to better accommodate remote hearings on the record.

No aggravating factors were cited beyond previous caution letters in 2008 and 2019 and a deferred resolution in 2017 for “demeanor issues” and “non-judicious behavior,” according to the finding.

The full finding is published at

Full Article & Source:
Judge suspended for 1 week in disciplinary case

HB woman held for elder abuse

A HUNTINGTON BEACH woman has been arrested on charges of financial elder abuse (Shutterstock).

Sally Nava Kanarek, 76, of Huntington Beach, was arrested Thursday on multiple felony counts of financial elder abuse, grand theft of an elder, and forgery after a Department of Insurance investigation found she allegedly defrauded an elderly client, who did not have the capacity to consent to her actions, out of $90,995.

Kanarek worked as a licensed life insurance agent between 2018 and 2021. She moved into the victim’s home in 2020 as an alleged roommate. After learning of the victim’s medical condition, she gained control of their finances, while posing as their “health care manager.” Kanarek received more than $90,000 from the victim, including some checks which appear to have been forged.

Kanarek sold the elderly victim two annuities totaling more than $580,000. The sold annuities were against the victim’s financial interest and allowed Kanarek to collect more than $7,800 in commission. Kanarek also attempted to withdraw more than $110,000 from the victim’s IRA and to sell the victim’s home.

Orange County Adult Protective Services and the Orange County Public Guardian assisted in representing the victim’s interests and petitioned for a conservatorship of the victim and their estate in Orange County Superior Court. A conservator has been appointed by the court to better care for the victim.

Kanarek was arrested by the Newport Beach Police Department and booked into the Orange County Jail. Bail was set at $50,000. This case is being prosecuted by the Major Fraud Unit of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

The Department revoked Kanarek’s license on Dec. 29, 2022. The Department also imposed an industry ban against Kanarek.

Full Article & Source:
HB woman held for elder abuse

Thursday, January 19, 2023

These photos show a dramatic role reversal millions of people have experienced

Photographs by Anna Rathkopf and Jordan Rathkopf
Story by Deblina Chakraborty, CNN
Published January 13, 2023

It was a small gesture — holding her mother’s hand — that opened photographer Anna Rathkopf’s eyes to the uncomfortable way in which her world was shifting.

The two women were at NYU Langone Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, where Rathkopf’s mom, Helena Světlá, was receiving treatment in 2021 after a stroke and subsequent colon cancer diagnosis days later.

Rathkopf had already taken charge, packing clothes for her mom and handling the medical paperwork. She spoke for Světlá as well: Both women are from the Czech Republic, and Rathkopf’s mother, who is now 69, does not speak much English. But when their hands were touching, Rathkopf realized how much her mom, and their relationship, had truly changed.

Holding her mother’s hands in the hospital reminded her of her grandfather, Rathkopf said. “Their hands are so similar, hands that had years of use in them from creating things with their hands.”

“Her hands actually started to remind me of my grandfather's hands. That was her father, with the veins and everything,” said Rathkopf, 43. “And I'm realizing that my mom is my grandfather, for me … that we are moving in the roles. And Jesse (Rathkopf’s son) is me. It's really weird in that way that you realize, OK, now I'm my mom. I'm the mom.”

She captured the moment as part of a deeply personal photo series documenting Světlá’s journey through surgery, treatment, and the ups and downs that followed. Taking pictures was a way to cope with the hard truths of their new reality, Rathkopf said, including finding herself in a caregiver role she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted.

“It's really hard to see your parents aging. It's not fun, because they're not supposed to age. They're supposed to be here for us,” she said. “Mom will cook for me, right? I'm not supposed to be the one that's supposed to do the dinners for everybody. … It sounds selfish and egotistical. But I guess that's how we are as kids.”
Rathkopf, right, prepares a meal in the kitchen with her mother, Světlá, and son, Jesse Rathkopf.

The number of people in Rathkopf’s position has been growing — about 53 million adults in the United States were unpaid family caregivers in 2020, up from 43.5 million in 2015, according to a report by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. Around half of those were caring for a parental figure, said Scott Beach, a social psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh.

“A lot of folks don't really think it's going to touch them,” said Beach, director of the survey research program at the school’s University Center for Social and Urban Research. “All of us at some point are either going to need care or maybe help provide care or something.”

Rathkopf, who received a shocking diagnosis of her own in December 2016, has been on both sides of that dynamic.
“I rested often in bed with Jesse while going through chemotherapy treatments,” said Rathkopf, shown with her son. “At that time, Jesse started to crawl in the bed whenever I was laying down, and it was our time together. I noticed that he still does it whenever I don’t feel well.”

Light in the dark
Learning she had breast cancer fell on Rathkopf like a huge weight; it was also a catalyst. Her hopes of having a second child began to fade as she worried about how long she would be around to raise her first, Jesse, who was 2 at the time. The situation gave her the nudge she needed to leave her steady job and join her husband, Jordan Rathkopf, in doing freelance photography full time.

Their commercial work spans industries — including law, education and health care — but Anna Rathkopf said everything they do revolves around emotions and connecting with people.

“The emotions have to be there. And the feeling of realness,” she said. “Even if you do it with lights, even if you do a really big production … we’re always focused on the emotions between the subjects. And I think that's what pulls people in.” 

Světlá rests her hand on Rathkopf’s forehead during chemotherapy in 2017.

Rathkopf waits in a hospital bed for a lumpectomy to remove a breast cancer tumor in 2017.

That approach, of course, took on a different tenor when the photographers became their own subjects and a loved one’s health was the focus. Emotions — sadness, fear, love, anger — were abundant. But the scenes, shot by both Jordan and Anna, were also far from Instagram-perfect: They included hospital rooms and doctor’s offices, post-surgery pics and close-ups of an allergic reaction.

The moments captured were some of the toughest, both mentally and physically, of Rathkopf’s life so far. Rather than an intrusion, the camera at those times could be a welcome distraction for the family, another way of caring for one another. Often just the click of the shutter could lighten the mood, interrupting tears and bitter “Why me?” inner monologues, dragging them back to the present.

“In certain moments, (Jordan) would pull out the camera, and I would be crying, but it always made me laugh,” Rathkopf said. “And he also used it as kind of pulling me out of really dark moments. Because he would (joke) like, ‘Oh, you should cry more. This doesn't look big enough.’”

“I was looking at (my husband) Jordan after a moment of reflection on my cancer journey and very angry about everything I was going through and what (lay) ahead,” Rathkopf said, looking back at this 2017 photo. “I still struggle with this anger.”

Levity continued to be a lifeline when, not long after Rathkopf started feeling better, her mom fell ill. Světlá had been living with the family since Jesse was born and provided essential support — cooking, cleaning and taking care of her grandson — during Rathkopf’s illness. As they dived into navigating yet another treatment plan, visits to the doctor and hospital stays, taking the camera along was “like muscle memory,” Rathkopf said.

“She would start telling me ‘Oh, no, I can't believe you're taking pictures right now. I'm in the hospital,’” Rathkopf recalled. Ultimately, though, Světlá allowed a surprising level of access.

“I knew you let yourself be photographed, too, so I didn’t mind,” said Světlá, addressing Rathkopf in a video interview in which they were both present. CNN has translated Světlá’s responses from Czech.

Světlá showers in the hospital while recovering from a stroke in 2021. “My mom always spent a lot of time in the shower,” Rathkopf said. “She loves the water. It calms her mind.”

Family history
Even the bathroom wasn’t off-limits. Rathkopf’s uncle Pavel Hečko is a well-known Czech photographer, so her mom, who is a painter, was used to being in front of the lens. And her health problems left little headspace for other concerns. “I was so wrapped up in myself, I didn’t notice (being photographed),” Světlá said.

Still, Světlá laughed in disbelief when Rathkopf brought her camera into the hospital shower one day. Rathkopf said it was a strange moment for her, too, seeing her mom so vulnerable.

"I had to help her from the bed to walk to the shower. And like, basically help her taking off her clothing. I never did that before," Rathkopf recalled. "All these feelings are so weird. Because nobody prepares you for that."

Other images of Světlá — showing her slumped in the car or at a table with her head down — illustrate both the exhausting nature of the treatment process and the tension that often goes with the role reversal the women experienced.

Světlá and her grandson, Jesse, rest while on a trip to upstate New York. In these moments, Rathkopf said she sometimes felt the burden of being a caretaker for two people: her mother and her son.

That changing of places, and the awkwardness, frustration and loss that can accompany it, is apparent throughout the series. In a photo from 2017, Rathkopf lies in bed while her mom rests a hand on her head; in a later shot, her mom sits pensively on a bed after arguing with Rathkopf over whether Světlá was following doctors’ advice during her recovery.

“The dynamic is different because she's your mom,” Rathkopf said. “For me, I guess it's easier to receive help, because I'm the daughter, and I'm used to being held by that person. But she is not used to being held by me.”

Světlá recalls the anger during that fight, saying that being told what she could or could not do made her feel “completely incompetent.”

After being released from the hospital, Světlá struggled with extreme fatigue, a common symptom for stroke survivors.
In 2017, Rathkopf rests while experiencing exhaustion after her chemotherapy treatment.

“When our roles flipped, and suddenly (my daughter) started to take care of me, I was uncomfortable. I didn’t want to admit that I was sick,” Světlá said.

A few photos also highlight the parallels between the women’s journeys.

“You tend to compare, subconsciously, what happened to you to what's happening to the person that you love,” Rathkopf said. “That was interesting to see how actually the experience is universal.”

That shared experience is ultimately what Rathkopf comes back to when discussing her relationship with her mom — and how she wants to move forward.

Světlá enjoys a summer night in Brooklyn, New York, in 2018.

Sandwich generation
Before getting sick, Světlá — whom Rathkopf describes as “bohemian” — loved riding her scooter around with Jesse in tow; neighbors recognized her fire-red hair as the duo zoomed around Brooklyn. While both women are in cancer remission now, Světlá’s continuing stroke-related issues led Rathkopf to insist on an end to the scootering, resulting in another blowup. But time has, again, shifted her point of view.

Now, particularly when she looks back at photos of her mother’s illness, Rathkopf said the anger dissipates and all that’s left is empathy.

“Suddenly, she's being hit with this crazy feeling of her body betraying (her), and I knew that feeling,” Rathkopf said. “I’m more in the acceptance (phase) and trying not to be too forceful.”

Světlá and her grandson, Jesse, blow out a candle on her 68th birthday.

Distance has helped provide a little relief for mother and daughter as well. Světlá traveled to the Czech Republic to visit family last summer and started having some back issues while there, but she plans to return to the US when she feels well enough to travel.

“I think this has passed now,” Světlá said, referring to the tension with her daughter.

Reflecting on past dynamics with her own mother, Světlá added, “Coming back to Prague helped a lot. If I didn’t have a place to go to, it would have been a lot worse. I also finally understood my own mom’s feelings, because when I was taking care of her, I too treated her like a child. The distance gave (my daughter and me) a good perspective. My mum wasn’t able to run away.”

The University of Pittsburgh’s Beach has studied sandwich generation caregivers — people such as Rathkopf who support both older family members and children — and said the tactic of stepping away, when a person is able, can be key to coping.

“That notion of respite, taking a break, just comes up constantly, because people feel like they're always on call,” he said.

"This was one of the moments, nearly nine months after her stroke, when my mom started to seem more like herself pre-stroke,” Rathkopf said. “Her energy, mobility and sense of joy were improving.”

In spite of the pain and strife, Rathkopf finds a lot of joy among her images as well. Photos that include Jesse and highlight the connective tissue between all the members of her household often spark that feeling.

“Even when the emotions are really raw, everybody feels like, OK, but we have this little guy,” she said.

But some less obvious moments stand out, too — including one when Rathkopf knew Světlá wanted to “be back”: After a particularly rough period in the hospital, Světlá asked for her signature red lipstick. Rathkopf’s image after its application reveals smiles on both mother and daughter, inching closer to the versions of themselves they once knew.

Full Article & Source:
These photos show a dramatic role reversal millions of people have experienced

Whiskey Creek woman arrested, accused of elderly exploitation

A Whiskey Creek woman has been arrested and accused of exploiting an elderly person she was hired to care for during the pandemic.

According to the Fort Myers Police Department, Patti Newcomer is suspected of stealing more than $63,000 for her personal spree which included grocery runs, a car mechanic bill and many gift cards.

Police say Newcomer did not have the victim’s permission to spend the money.

The investigation lasted a year and a half but it eventually led to her arrest.

Newcomer faces four counts of first-degree of exploiting an elderly person, one count first-degree felony of theft of a person over 65 years of age, one first-degree felony count of criminal use of personal identification information, and one second-degree felony count of criminal use of personal identification information.

Full Article & Source:
Whiskey Creek woman arrested, accused of elderly exploitation

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Eyewitness News investigation finds alarming issues in Tri-State's adult guardianship systems

By Kristin Thorne

NEW YORK (WABC) -- More than 108,000 people in the Tri-State live under court-appointed guardianships and a six-month long investigation by Eyewitness News found that the adult guardianship system in our area is plagued by several concerning issues, including courts not keeping track of guardianship records and guardian commissions, guardians filing incomplete paperwork, courts not having sufficient oversight of guardians and people questioning the power provided to guardians, including the ability of guardians to isolate people from their family and friends.

Eyewitness News investigated the guardianship case of Nathaniel LaMar Junior, of Cobble Hill, and found the guardian did not notify the court of LaMar's death until five months after his death.

Nathaniel LaMar Junior, born in Atlanta, was a writer and editor. He lived most of his adult life in Cobble Hill.

Under the law, guardians are supposed to notify the court regarding the death of their ward within 20 days of the date of death.

The delay held up the millions of dollars LaMar had bequeathed to the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust, the Brooklyn Children's Museum, Cambridge University, Howard University College of Medicine - where LaMar's father went to medical school - and Phillips Exeter Academy - where LaMar went to high school.

The guardian also wrote the incorrect date of death for LaMar on the official court filing.


In addition, the death certificate states LaMar's education as "unknown," although LaMar was one of the first Black men to graduate from Harvard University in 1955 and studied at the University of Cambridge where his writing was admired by poet Sylvia Plath. LaMar later edited projects for Martin Luther King Jr.

The death certificate also states that LaMar was not in the armed forces when he had served in the U.S. Army.

The court-appointed guardian, Renee Oppenheimer, told Eyewitness News in an email that the statement of death was delayed because the funeral home had to make several amendments to LaMar's death certificate.

As for the incorrect date of death, Oppenheimer said it was a typo.

LaMar's friends, who had known him for 20 years, approached Eyewitness News investigative reporter Kristin Thorne with concerns about LaMar's care under the guardianship.

"My life would be a whole lot simpler if I didn't have to be involved in this," Larry Gile, LaMar's neighbor and friend said. "But I care deeply for this man. He was a gentleman, a very kind person and I think we owe it to him to just make sure that if there's things that happened in his case that didn't need to have happened or shouldn't have happened that they don't happen to someone else."

Around 2015, LaMar, who had no family, began to suffer the effects of Parkinson's disease and decided he wanted to have a guardian.

In 2016, a judge appointed Oppenheimer, who had been the court evaluator - essentially an overseer of court proceedings - on LaMar's first attempt at getting a guardian to be LaMar's guardian.

Under the guardianship law in New York State, which is governed under Article 81 of the state's Mental Hygiene Law and the New York Court's Part 36 rules, a judge may not promote someone's court evaluator to be their guardian unless it's under "extenuating circumstances."

In 2015, Judge Michael Pesce in Brooklyn wrote he was promoting Oppenheimer from LaMar's court evaluator to guardian because "such appointment is in the best interests of Nathaniel Reed Lamar as he has bonded with Renee Oppenheimer and request she be appointed as his guardian."

Eyewitness News was unable to find any evidence - a signed document or court testimony - that LaMar chose Oppenheimer to be his guardian. The transcript from the court hearing also doesn't mention LaMar stipulating that was his desire.

Oppenheimer told Eyewitness News investigative reporter Kristin Thorne that LaMar had asked her to be his guardian.

In the Tri-State, anyone can become a guardian - you do not have to be a lawyer - and guardians can decide how much they get paid. They are paid by the ward who they are assigned to.

"We're not just stripping people of their rights, although that's a huge deal," Nina Kohn, law professor at Syracuse University, said. "We're also, in many cases, charging them to have their rights removed."

It's not uncommon for guardians to bill hundreds of dollars an hour, some as high as $600-$800 an hour.

The top paid guardian in New York State in 2022 netted $444,492.50, according to the state reporting database. To see the entire list of New York guardianship fees in 2021 and 2022 listed by court-appointed guardian, click here.

All guardians in New York City are required to take a guardianship training course administered by the New York County Lawyers Association.

Eyewitness News requested Oppenheimer's certificate of completion of her guardianship training, but she would not provide it to us.

A spokesperson for the New York Courts said the court system does not maintain a central database of the guardian certifications.

Lucian Chalfen said if a judge asks a guardian for their certification, they must provide it. We asked Chalfen for Oppenheimer's certificate of training, but he would not provide it.

Soon into the guardianship, LaMar's neighbors felt something wasn't right.

"We began to hear from the aides that his health, he was becoming losing weight very rapidly," Julia Lichtblau, LaMar's long-time friend and neighbor, said

Gile and Lichtblau said the guardian isolated LaMar from them.

"One day we were told, we could not, the aides weren't allowed to tell us anything anymore," Lichtblau said.

"I always felt like once the guardian was appointed or shortly thereafter we became sort of outsiders," Gile said.

Lichtblau and Gile said they grew concerned that LaMar, who had an estate worth more than $8 million, was not living the way he could have afforded to. They worried he wasn't eating nutritious food and had concerns about the condition of his apartment - that it was dark and dingy.

"This was a very cultured, very comfortably off man," Lichtblau said. "We began to be concerned that he wasn't as comfortable as he might have been."

They said LaMar's townhouse on Pacific Street - around the corner from his apartment, which LaMar bought in the 1970s - also began to fall into disrepair.

Lichtblau and Gile said the tenants began to complain about rats, broken appliances and peeling paint.

Lichtblau and Gile wrote to Oppenheimer with their concerns. She responded to each one expressing she had dealt with the concerns of the tenants and that LaMar's apartment was clean and he was being cared for appropriately.

"I spent countless hours attending to Nat's affairs and was diligent and attentive to Nat's needs," Oppenheimer said in an email to Eyewitness News. "Although I am only required to visit the ward four times a year, for this case I visited him on average once a week. Between issues related to his assets and his care, I can say honestly that hardly a day went by that I was not somehow involved in some aspect of the case."

Oppenheimer went on to write, "Nat did not consider his neighbors to be his friends. He felt they were nosey and were only interested in meddling into his business."

In 2017, Oppenheimer asked a judge to bill $26,836.73 in fees to LaMar's estate partially because, she wrote, Gile's involvement "resulted in a lot of expended time on matters that would normally not take such effort to complete."

Judge Michael Pesce denied the request, saying the fees were excessive and the highest ever brought before his bench.

Pesce, who retired in 2019, said in his written response that LaMar did not need a guardian in the first place, although Pesce was the one who assigned Oppenheimer as guardian just two years prior.

He wrote, "It also stands to reason that at its inception, a rational view of this petition would lead anyone with an elementary knowledge of Article 81 of the Mental Hygiene Law to conclude that Mr. Lamar was not incapacitated but one who simply needed assistance in carrying out his wishes and in activities of daily living."

Pesce said Oppenheimer had acted with an "unfettered and extravagant holding of hands," and that Oppenheimer's legal submissions for LaMar's care were "improperly labeled, contain untenable enumeration of time spent on tasks, are inordinately lacking in description of purpose, and most glaringly contains what, to this Court, an excessive amount of time billed and impermissible, improper labeling of 'legal services.'"

In 2017, Oppenheimer moved to sell LaMar's multi-million dollar townhouse located at 138 Pacific Street in Cobble Hill.

LaMar's townhouse when it was put up for sale.

The petition to sell the home contains several factual errors, including the wrong ZIP codes for LaMar's residence and the wrong ZIP code for the townhouse.

When Eyewitness News pointed out to Oppenheimer she had written the wrong ZIP codes, her written response was, "Ok."

Judge Lisa Ottley assigned lawyer Michael Benjamin as the broker to sell LaMar's property.

Benjamin netted $210,000 off the sale of the property. Eyewitness News found that Benjamin had donated $500 to Ottley's re-election campaign a few years before.

Both Benjamin and Chalfen told Eyewitness News the donation did not present a conflict of interest.

According to the New York City Department of Finance, the building was sold to Edge Associates Pacific, LLC and Samuel Kooris. Edge Associates is licensed in Delaware. Sam Kooris is the co-founder of Alchemy Ventures, an affiliate of Alchemy Properties based in Lower Manhattan.

Eyewitness News tried to contact Kooris about the sale of the building. A media representative for Alchemy said Kooris did not want to comment.

Court records show LaMar's townhouse was sold for $3.5 million.

In December 2021, the neighbors wrote to Judge Ottley because they said Oppenheimer was not allowing them to visit or communicate with LaMar.

Lichtblau wrote to Ottley's secretary, "Ms. Oppenheimer has forbidden the caregivers and care manager from giving updates, shutting off the indirect communication that has enabled his friends to keep in touch and monitor his care. It's hard to understand how this benefits Mr. LaMar."

Oppenheimer told Eyewitness News, "There was general concern over visitation during the Covid pandemic and his (LaMar's) doctor did not want him exposed. The neighbors reached out to the Court and after multiple conferences on the topic, safe approaches for visitation were suggested and implemented."

Shortly thereafter, Oppenheimer arranged for FaceTime visits.

In late January 2022, Lichtblau and Gile heard LaMar had been hospitalized. They couldn't find out where.

"You would think at this point, friends would be brought in," Gile said.

Under New York State guardianship laws, guardians are not required to tell family members or friends where their loved one or friend is.

"We did detective work and we found him," Gile said.

LaMar was at a rehabilitation center in the Rockaways. Lichtblau and Gile went to visit him and recorded video of him lifeless in his bed.

"I was not happy with what I saw in that room," Gile said. "If hospice had been an option that could have been more comfortable."

LaMar died a few days later at 88 years old.

Oppenheimer said she was unable to visit LaMar throughout his entire week-long stay at the rehab center due to a Covid concern.

For months, Lichtblau and Gile never knew what became of LaMar's body. Oppenheimer did not tell them, although they wrote to her only days after LaMar died asking to assist with the scattering of his ashes on the River Cam in England, which was LaMar's wish.

In addition, on February 21, 2022, Rebecca Adlington - the daughter of LaMar's late partner - wrote to Oppenheimer expressing her desire and the desire of her sister to be present at the scattering of LaMar's ashes.

"Do let us know if this is something that Abigail and I could carry out, or at least if we could be present when the ashes are scattered. It would mean a lot," Adlington wrote.

Oppenheimer did not write back to anyone.

Eyewitness News confirmed with Kehilla Chapels, based in Brooklyn, that LaMar's ashes were spread over the River Cam.

Eyewitness News also contacted attorney Ariella Gasner, who was appointed as the attorney for LaMar's case, and is named in many of the public documents.

Gasner denied knowing who LaMar was. She said someone else handled his case and then she hung up on us.

Gasner also billed fees for LaMar's case, which Judge Michael Pesce denied. He said Gasner billed excessive fees for travel and he reduced her hours for nearly every line item she had requested.

In one instance, Pesce wrote, "Mrs. Gasner's work on this matter was purely time consuming with little, if any, research, writing and complexities."

After LaMar died, Lichtblau and Gile wrote a letter to Milton Yu, New York State's Managing Inspector General for Fiduciary Appointments, and the only person in charge of hearing complaints related to the state's more than 49,000 court-appointed guardianships.

Yu met with Lichtblau and Gile last summer and told them after reviewing their concerns of LaMar's care and the sale of his townhouse that because LaMar had chosen Oppenheimer as his guardian, he is unable to investigate their complaints.

"Mr. Lamar's nomination of Ms. Oppenheimer rendered her appointment outside the reach of Part 36 rules, and outside the jurisdiction of my office," he wrote in the letter dated September 8, 2022.

Eyewitness News clarified with the court that if LaMar had wanted to remove Oppenheimer as guardian, he would have had to go through the same process as someone whose guardian was appointed.

The process of removing a guardian can be lengthy and involves the filing of many court documents and motions. Most people have to hire a lawyer, while the guardian can use the money from the ward's estate to fight the removal proceedings.

Eyewitness News investigative reporter Kristin Thorne also found in her investigation of LaMar's case that Michael Benjamin - the lawyer appointed to work as the broker for the sale of LaMar's townhouse - received an $18,000 commission for another guardianship case for which he served as the broker that is not listed in the court's public fiduciary database and is also not accounted for in the court's official records, according to the New York State court system.

Chalfen was unable to explain why the commission was not in the court's official records.

Benjamin confirmed with Eyewitness News that he received the $18,000 commission.

Chalfen said, "Michael Benjamin could have been compensated, but the data we have indicates that the judge didn't approve this compensation (there was no UCS 875 Approval for Compensation form filed). The judge may have approved the compensation but it is possible the clerk did not record it."

According to the guardianship laws in New York, if a person has been awarded more than $100,000 in compensation during any calendar year, the person is not eligible for compensated appointments by any court during the next calendar year.

Eyewitness News asked Chalfen how the court can be sure Benjamin did not go over the $100,000 threshold if the court is not keeping track of his commissions. We also asked if the court is concerned other people with guardianship-related appointments may be going over the $100,000 threshold.

Chalfen did not respond.

In 2021, the New York Court system received a $1 million grant to upgrade its online guardianship case management system. Chalfen said the court system is creating a data dashboard for easy reporting and analysis. He said the new data system will allow the court to eliminate county-specific data tracking programs, which he said, "have hindered our ability to compile statewide data." Chalfen said the system should be active by September 2023.

Chalfen said the court system is also using the grant money to revise more than a dozen guardianship forms and motion templates so they're easier to understand by lay guardians, not lawyers. He said the court system is "well on our way" toward building a new website to host all the information. He said they're also creating training and educational materials for lay guardians.

Kohn said the confusion and mismanagement of LaMar's guardianship case is not uncommon.

"It's far too easy to appoint guardians for people and it's far too easy to give those guardians much broader powers than they actually need to protect the individual," she said.

Kohn said legislators have not made guardianship reform a priority.

"You just have to think that these people are worth it and the reality is that legislatures have not treated these people as worth it," she said.

Guardianships occur when a judge finds an adult "incompetent," or "incapacitated." A judge can also appoint a guardian if the judge decides it's in the person's "best interest."

Often described as "civil death," guardianships strip an adult of their fundamental rights. Once under a guardianship, an adult loses the right to make all decisions for themselves, including where they want to live, how to spend their money and even whom they are allowed to see. The guardian is given the authority to make all decisions related to the ward's finances, living arrangements, social life and even their medical decisions, including resuscitation.

"In many states, you can appoint a guardian for somebody who does not, in fact, need that guardian," Kohn said.

Anyone can be subjected to a court-appointed guardian, even those with a power of attorney and health care proxy, although having those two positions filled in a person's life makes it much more difficult for a judge to appoint a guardian.

Marjorie Fister, originally from Oceanport, was taken into a guardianship in 2014 in New York City, despite the fact that her daughter, Ellen Oxman-Fister, of the Upper East Side, was her health care proxy and power of attorney.

Marjorie Fister

Oxman-Fister said it started in December 2013 when she went to visit her mom in a hospital in Manhattan.

Oxman-Fister had removed her mother from her mother's home in New Jersey because she feared her brother was financially exploiting their mother.

"I walked into the facility and there were a stack of documents next to her bed," Oxman-Fister recounted. "I said, what is this? It was an unsigned order to show cause for a guardianship proceeding brought against her in Manhattan Supreme Court. It was brought by my brother. He's not even from New York. How does he bring this against you in Manhattan Supreme Court?" Oxman-Fister recounted asking her mother. "She got upset. I got upset. I said, 'what do I do now?'"

In 2014, Judge Lottie Wilkins appointed a guardian for Fister citing that Fister, "has certain functional limitations both of a physical and cognitive nature which impairs her ability to meet her personal needs and to manage her property and that she lacks sufficient understanding and appreciation of the nature of these functional limitation and will likely suffer harm as a result thereof."

Wilkins revoked Oxman-Fister's power of attorney and health care proxy for her mother.

He appointed attorney Paul Mederos - a complete stranger to Fister - as Fister's guardian.

Judges throughout New York State select guardians from a list of approved guardians.

"I have fought ferociously for my mother's rights and still I couldn't stop this train," Oxman-Fister said. "It's a runway train."

In 2018, the court attempted to remove Mederos as guardian because he didn't file the required annual reports for Fister's case two years in a row - 2015 and 2016.

Mederos came into compliance and was able to stay on as guardian.

Mederos told Eyewitness News he provided Fister "with the best care that I could."

Mederos blocked Oxman-Fister from seeing her mother in a nursing home in the Bronx, where she resided until her death. Mederos told Eyewitness News he did it to protect Fister.

Mederos informed Oxman-Fister by email that her mother had died. The email is dated two days after Fister's death.

"She didn't deserve this," Oxman-Fister said in tears. "She died alone. She must have wondered where I was."


Since the 1980s, those involved in the guardianship system in the United States have been warning about a system that takes away the rights of elderly people - sometimes with little or no evidence - and then doesn't protect them against abuse and theft.

In 2011, the third National Guardianship Summit recommended Working Interdisciplinary Networks of Guardianship Stakeholders (WINGS) for each state. The idea was to organize stakeholders of the guardianship system to draft policies for their states and to address the issues in their guardianship systems.

Connecticut and New Jersey do not have a WINGS chapter. (Click to continue reading)

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Eyewitness News investigation finds alarming issues in Tri-State's adult guardianship systems