Saturday, February 18, 2023

They lost everything. New measure would prohibit nursing homes from preying on residents.

Peter Bonanno (l.) and Suzanne Araneo, who both signed a durable power of attorney that handed full control of their savings, money and assets to a man they never met.Photo of Bonanno courtesy of Lauren Irwin-Szostak/Araneo photo by Patti Sapone | NJ. Advance Media for

By Ted Sherman

What happened to them was “just awful,” said state Sen. Joseph Vitale.

One woman said she returned to her home in Keyport from what she expected would be a brief period of rehabilitation in a Hazlet nursing home, only to find it emptied of everything. Her bank accounts had been cleaned out. Her car was gone. What had not been sold off had been tossed in a dumpster.

She had not been burglarized. It was all taken away by someone working on behalf of the long-term care facility that had been caring for her, after she was encouraged to sign a power of attorney giving him full authority over her assets and finances.

The same fiscal agent moved tens of thousands of dollars out of the joint savings held by another nursing home resident with his sister, causing her to default on the property taxes for the small house they once shared, according to documents sent to prosecutors who have yet to take any action. That resident had also signed away control of whatever he had, including his pension, through a power of attorney.

On Monday in the wake of those stories brought to light by NJ Advance Media, Vitale — who serves as chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee — introduced legislation in Trenton that would set restrictions on the ability of nursing homes to manage the financial affairs of their residents.

“There has to be some sort of mechanism so that when somebody needs help, we’re not going to drain their bank accounts,” said Vitale, the Middlesex Democrat who has long pushed for reforms to protect residents in the state’s nursing homes.

Under the legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Robert Singer, R-Ocean, no owner, administrator, officer or employee of a nursing home — or any entity affiliated with a long-term care facility — would be permitted to manage the affairs of a nursing home resident absent a court order appointing that individual as a guardian. A companion measure was introduced in the lower house by Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr., D-Burlington.

Specifically, the bill, S-3606 in the Senate and A-5194 in the Assembly, would prohibit anyone associated with a nursing home from managing the affairs of a resident “except pursuant to an order of the Superior Court appointing that person as guardian.”

At the same time, the legislation would prohibit nursing home owners or their employees, from acting under a power of attorney on behalf of a resident, as was alleged in the cases that were the focus of the NJ Advance Media investigation into Future Care Consultants, a Brooklyn-based company that provides financial services to the long-term care industry, and its CEO, Shmuel “Sam” Stern.

“There’s clearly a policy that enables this kind of behavior,” said Vitale. “We’re going to fix that.”

State Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, who introduced legislation on Monday that would set restrictions on the ability of nursing homes to manage the financial affairs of their residents.Michael Mancuso | NJ Advance Med

The accounts of those alleged abuses included the nightmare that Suzanne Araneo recounted after signing a power of attorney while under heavy medication. The document gave Stern — who has ties to a number of New Jersey nursing homes, federal records show — the authority to sell, transfer or dispose of her assets, according to a lawsuit still being litigated.

Araneo later returned home to find her home completely emptied of all its possessions, including her family photo albums, her televisions, her furniture and all her clothing. All of it was either sold off or thrown in a dumpster while preparations were made to sell her house, she said. Even her car was taken away.

Two days after her story appeared on in August, inspectors from the New Jersey Department of Health went to the nursing home where she had been living to inquire into the matter, according to documents filed by the agency. It cited the facility for alleged deficiencies in connection with the incident.

In a similar episode, authorities were alerted to the tug-of-war over Peter Bonanno’s assets after he was admitted to a Passaic County nursing home in early 2019. Not long after arriving there, legal documents show that with his sister already holding control over his assets, Bonanno signed a new power of attorney handing that control over to Stern.

Attorney David Fassett of Arseneault & Fassett in Chatham, who was working on behalf of a close friend of Bonanno, alerted the Passaic County Prosecutor’s office that Stern allegedly soon liquidated four bank accounts that the then-67-year-old man held jointly with his sister, moving their money into the nursing home’s accounts. The facility then billed him at a higher private pay rate rather than the less-profitable Medicaid rate as a result of the joint funds to which it had no claim, the attorney noted to prosecutors

Bonanno’s sister would not learn their savings was gone until bouncing numerous checks and defaulting on their health insurance premiums and property taxes, the attorney told prosecutors, who did not respond to requests for comment.

Stern has not responded to requests for comment, although his lawyer said of Araneo’s case that “there’s a lot of stuff out there that really does not fit the facts as she alleges them at this time.” He characterized the complaint regarding Bonanno and Future Care as an issue that had been “part of a collection process.”

Nursing home administrators in both matters have not returned calls or emails seeking comment.

Vitale’s bill would invalidate any power of attorney executed by a nursing home resident naming an owner, administrator, officer, or employee of that facility — as well as any entity affiliated with the nursing home that stood to benefit financially from that relationship.

The legislation would require the appointment of a guardian in consultation with the state’s Office of the Public Guardian for Elderly Adults, meanwhile, setting new protections in place.

Guardianships, which require a court’s review and approval, typically are invoked to protect those incapable or incompetent to handle their affairs. A judge must make the call whether it is in the best interest of an individual.

In the cases of Bonanno and Araneo, however, there was no such determination. Instead, they allegedly signed away their rights to Stern under a power of attorney, with no one to question whether someone else should be handling their affairs. Legal experts say the assumption is that anyone signing a power of attorney is competent to make that decision.

The two each put signatures on legal agreements that were simply witnessed by members of the nursing home staff, giving Stern complete control over the disposition of their assets, their lawyers said. They added that neither ever met Stern.

State inspectors, meanwhile, found that Araneo’s signature on the power of attorney documents was notarized by someone who was not in the room when she signed it, nursing home administrators told them, according to a health department report.

“This legislation is designed to protect the assets and well being of unsuspecting residents from unscrupulous or criminal activity,” said Vitale.

Araneo’s attorney, Deborah Gough of Hackensack, applauded Vitale’s proposed legislation.

“Every day, nursing home residents who are incapable of caring for themselves are being financially victimized by predatory nursing homes and the companies with whom they associate. These practices will not stop without oversight from the justice system,” she said. “The laws proposed, if enacted, are our best hope to safeguard our most vulnerable citizens and punish bad acting nursing homes when they break the law with abusive conduct.”

Full Article & Source:
They lost everything. New measure would prohibit nursing homes from preying on residents.

CMS Proposes Rule Requiring More Nursing Home Ownership Transparency, Including REIT and Private Equity Disclosures

By Zahida Siddiqi

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced Monday a proposed rule to require nursing homes to disclose more information regarding their ownership and management, including information related to assets held by real estate investment trusts (REITs) and private equity firms.

Nursing homes will be expected to disclose this information as part of the Medicare and Medicaid enrollment process,enabling government agencies and the public to more easily determine whether nursing home owners are private equity investors or real estate investment trusts.

In addition to these disclosures, CMS shared that the proposed rule would provide definitions of “private equity company” and “real estate investment trust” to assist nursing homes when reporting this data. 

The move garnered mixed reactions from industry professionals. They generally applauded the effort to increase transparency, but some also expressed concerns about the approach being taken. American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) CEO Mark Parkinson said that the focus on REIT and private equity ownership is a “red herring.”

This proposed rule is just the latest step that CMS has taken to increase transparency of nursing home ownership, which was identified as a key priority of the comprehensive slate of reforms floated about one year ago by the Biden Administration.

In the wake of the Biden proposals last year, nursing home industry leaders pushed back against the way various types of ownership groups were being described and classified. 

For example, private equity firms, private capital firms and REITs were being referred to all but interchangeably, even though they are distinct types of companies with very different structures and ability to influence operations, Rick Matros, CEO of Sabra Health Care REIT (Nasdaq: SBRA), said at the SNN RETHINK conference last year.

Defining REITs, private equity

However, Matros is in support of greater ownership transparency and is glad to see that CMS intends to define private equity and REITs as part of this latest move.

“It’s about accuracy,” he told SNN in an email. “Hopefully their work will lead them to distinguishing between private equity and private capital.”

The definitions of private equity and REITs contained in the proposed rule are broad. For instance, this is the language regarding private equity:

“A private equity company would be defined as a publicly traded or non-publicly traded company that collects capital investments from individuals or entities (that is, investors) and purchases an ownership share of a provider (for example, SNF, home health agency, etc.).”

CMS is soliciting feedback on these definitions and in particular requested input on whether publicly-traded private equity companies should be included in the definition.

“These key definitions will lead to the disclosure of whether direct and indirect nursing home owners are private equity companies or real estate investment trusts via an updated nursing home enrollment application expected to be ready for public use in the summer of 2023,” CMS said in a press release, citing research that private equity investment has been associated with decline in quality of care as well as an increase in Medicare costs.

“By making facility ownership and oversight more transparent, nursing home residents and their families will be more empowered to make informed decisions about care,” CMS said of the new proposal.

The proposed rule would require nursing homes enrolled in Medicare or Medicaid to disclose additional information regarding owners, operators, and management. This could help shed light on how “related parties” benefit from shared ownership interests in a nursing home or chain of nursing homes.

If the proposal is cleared, nursing homes would be required to share information such as that on providers of administrative services or clinical consulting services to their nursing homes in addition to names of lessors, who may be working under a different corporate name, CMS noted.

‘Distraction from the real issues’

Mark Parkinson, President and CEO of The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted (AHCA/NCAL) also applauded the move for transparency but targeting ownership and private equity is misleading, he said in an emailed statement to SNN.

“We support transparency and appreciate the Administration’s efforts to assist families in making more informed decisions. However, focusing on ownership and private equity is a red herring. Less than 5% of nursing homes are owned by private equity firms and roughly 12% are owned by a REIT, an entity that typically has no influence on daily operations,” Parksinson said. “This has become a distraction from the real issues that impact the majority of providers, like Medicaid underfunding and workforce shortages. If we truly want to improve America’s nursing homes, we need policymakers to prioritize investing in our caregivers and this chronically underfunded health care sector. Together, we should focus on meaningful solutions that can strengthen delivering the quality of care and services that our nation’s seniors deserve.”

The exact percentage of nursing homes owned by private equity firms is a subject of debate. The CMS proposed rule issued Monday stated that about 70% of nursing homes were for-profit facilities with about 11% owned by private equity in 2021, although the agency noted that “estimates vary.”

LeadingAge, which represents 5,000 nonprofit aging services providers, cheered on the proposal, with CEO and President Katie Smith Sloan calling it a step toward ensuring that “owners or associated businesses” do not put profits over care quality.

She also emphasized the rules and frameworks that nonprofit organizations in the sector already must adhere to.

“Nonprofit providers have always disclosed ownership information as required by federal tax law on Form 990s that are open to public inspection,” Smith Sloan said. “The corporate structures of LeadingAge members promote longevity of ownership through governance by community boards of directors, and are financially sustained through public bond offerings and donations from philanthropists and foundations—though government support is often needed to cover the rising costs of caring for older adults.”

Full Article & Source:
CMS Proposes Rule Requiring More Nursing Home Ownership Transparency, Including REIT and Private Equity Disclosures

Atria Assisted Living Worker Accused in Resident's Death Appears in Court

An employee for a Walnut Creek assisted living center appeared in a Contra Costa County courtroom Monday to face charges of felony elder abuse resulting in the death of her 94-year-old patient. Jodi Hernandez reports.

Atria Assisted Living Worker Accused in Resident's Death Appears in Court

Friday, February 17, 2023

Former nursing home owner charged in $6 million employment tax scheme

by Kimberly Marselas

ronstik / Getty Images

A former nursing home owner has been indicted on charges that he willfully failed to pay more than $6 million in taxes that were withheld from employees’ paychecks.

The Department of Justice on Tuesday said Paul Walczak of Palm Beach Gardens, FL, owned multiple healthcare companies between 2009 and 2019, including NuVista, a three-site nursing home company with a checkered past. He also owned Palm Health Partners and PHP Employment Services, a healthcare employment company he founded in 2010.

As the owner of the employment firm, Walczak allegedly exercised control over the businesses’ finances and was responsible for paying over to the IRS employment taxes, including federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes, a press release noted.

A federal grand jury accused Walczak of not paying to the IRS more than $6 million in withholdings he had collected between 2016 and 2019. During most of that time, Walczak was being paid a combined annual salary of $360,000 by the healthcare companies, authorities said.

In addition, he allegedly received significant wire transfers from those companies. Instead of using them to pay employees’ tax obligations as was intended, he used the funds to invest in his businesses, purchase a yacht, lease luxury vehicles and charter private international flights, the Department of Justice said.

Tax issues at NuVista’s skilled nursing facilities had been widely known since at least 2018, when a Palm Beach Post investigation found that a payroll company owned by Walczak and his mother owed $8.3 million to the IRS for back payroll taxes. That figure had grown to more than $10 million by 2019, but the paper reported then that Walczak “mostly blamed changes in Medicare reimbursements for their money problems.”

In that same article, a company that took over at least one of NuVista’s buildings said it spent months trying to win back contracts with hospitals and other medical providers that refer patients to NuVista, as well as vendors that had been paid late while Walczak was in charge.

The Post said Walczak operated NuVista Living in Wellington with his mother, Elizabeth Fago, before the pair were replaced after the property owner went to court to evict them. The mother-son duo also had previously owned a larger Florida nursing home chain, which they sold in 2007.

Fago is a well-known political donor, described recently by the New York Post as having “made a fortune in the nursing home business.” Last year, she sold her Jupiter, FL, mansion for $12.5 million.

Fago was not named in this week’s indictment.

Walczak, however, also was charged with not filing personal income tax returns for 2018, 2019 and 2020.

If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison for each employment tax count and one year for each failure to file a tax return count. He also faces a period of supervised release, restitution and monetary penalties.

Full Article & Source:
Former nursing home owner charged in $6 million employment tax scheme

Disbarred Ellsworth lawyer indicted on felony theft charge

by Bill Trotter

A sign stands in front of Chris Whalley's former office on Pine Street in Ellsworth in this file February 2022 photo. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

A former Ellsworth lawyer who was disbarred in December for allegedly embezzling nearly $190,000 from a client’s estate has been indicted in Hancock County.

Christopher J. Whalley was indicted Friday on a Class B charge of theft. If convicted on the felony charge, he faces up to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

Whalley, 63, had his license to practice law in Maine revoked two months ago after acknowledging misconduct in how he managed the estate of Wilbur Knudsen, a Milbridge man who died in October 2018. His license was suspended a year ago when a Superior Court justice determined that there could be “imminent injury to his clients, the public and the administration of justice” if he continued to practice law.

He was reported in 2019 to the Maine Overseers of the Bar, who oversees the conduct of licensed lawyers in the state. He transferred $189,375 — more than half of the Knudsen estate’s cash assets of $378,336  — to his business bank accounts, according to documents filed with the oversight panel.

“In these actions, Whalley committed a criminal or unlawful act that reflects adversely on his honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer,” Justice Ann Murray wrote in December in Whalley’s disbarment order.

Whalley’s defense attorney, Walter McKee of Augusta, said Tuesday that Whalley repaid all the mishandled money back to Knudsen’s estate last year, plus interest. He declined further comment about the indictment.

Whalley previously was suspended by the overseers in 2003, again in 2007 and a third time in 2021 for unrelated violations of bar rules.

In 2014, he was charged with assault for allegedly punching a client’s boyfriend, but that charge later was dropped by then-District Attorney Matthew Foster, according to the Ellsworth American.

Full Article & Source:
Disbarred Ellsworth lawyer indicted on felony theft charge

Elder abuse lawsuit against Chesapeake councilmember heads to trial

Elder abuse lawsuit against Chesapeake councilmember heads to trial

Thursday, February 16, 2023

NY Judge Beats Suit Over Guardian Talks in Peter Max Case (1)

Artist Peter Max attends Gotham Magazine Celebrates its Summer Issue with Peter Max and The Humane Society of the United States at Loews Regency Hotel on June 25, 2014 in New York City.
Photographer: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Gotham Magazine

by Holly Barker

The Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for New York City Courts has won dismissal of a lawsuit alleging that she allowed judges presiding over artist Peter Max’s guardianship to engage in ex parte communications with court-appointed fiduciaries and counsel in the highly-contested proceedings.

The claim didn’t belong in federal court, and plaintiff Libra Max, Peter Max’s daughter, lacks standing, the US District Court for the Southern District of New York said Monday.

“Max does not have standing to bring the claims because any injury she has suffered is not fairly traceable to the conduct of the defendant and is not likely to be redressed by a favorable decision.”

Max sued Judge Deborah Kaplan in her official capacity, rather than the four judges who she claims engaged in the one-sided, out-of-court communications in her father’s case, because “they enjoy judicial immunity,” and because her challenge was to the guardianship’s policies and practices more broadly.

But “given that the four Guardianship Court judges have allegedly engaged in substantive ex parte communications that are against the law, it is speculative whether any policy issued by Kaplan would redress the plaintiff’s injury,” the court said.

Even if Libra Max did have standing, Southern District of New York Judge Denise L. Cote said it wouldn’t be appropriate for a federal court to weigh in under principles of abstention.

Max’s lawsuit asked the court to require Kaplan to issue a policy prohibiting ex parte communications between judges and guardians in contested matters. But “such an injunction would be an impermissible intrusion into state guardianship proceedings,” which is an area that is considered to be of “particular state interest,” Cote said.

After granting Kaplan’s motion to dismiss, Cote directed the clerk to close the case.

“No one has denied these secret conversations routinely occur among guardianship judges. The federal court sidestepped the important constitutional issues at play to dismiss the case but did not bless this ongoing practice of secret communications,” said Libra Max’s attorney Andrew Celli, partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP.

“We are appealing and look forward to working to lift the shroud of secrecy over the guardianship system,” he said.

Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP and Jonathan G. Martinis in Stafford, Va. Kaplan is represented by the New York State Office of Attorney General.

The case is Max v. Kaplan, S.D.N.Y., No. 1:22-cv-06156, 2/13/23.

(Updates with comment from Libra Max's counsel in paragraphs 9 and 10)

Full Article & Source:
NY Judge Beats Suit Over Guardian Talks in Peter Max Case (1)

Legislature passes bill designed to protect vulnerable adults’ finances

Senate File 24, a measure to help safeguard vulnerable adults from financial exploitation, was passed Tuesday in the Wyoming Legislature. It now heads to Gov. Mark Gordon for consideration.
Michael Smith/For the Wyoming Tribune Eagle

by Jasmine Hall 

CHEYENNE — Vulnerable adults may be better protected from financial exploitation following the passage of Senate File 24 in the Wyoming Legislature.

State representatives voted down two amendments to the bill Tuesday before approving it 36-25-1 on third reading in the second chamber. Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, signed the legislation later in the day, and it will now head to Gov. Mark Gordon’s desk for consideration.

The bill authorizes banks to put a five-day temporary hold on potentially fraudulent transactions, which gives them the time to investigate whether any asset is being coerced or wrongfully taken from vulnerable adults. This could be through obtaining control of the assets or property or converting them to “deprive the other person of ownership, use, or benefit of possession of the property.”

“It’s just the individual suspicious transaction that might get flagged and interrupted,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Art Washut, R-Casper, during the third reading debate. “As we balance the protection of our seniors and our vulnerable adults with individual liberty concerns, by reducing this bill from what it once was, 14 days, down to five days, I think we’ve really come pretty close to finding that sweet spot for the proper balance between protection and liberty.”

If the financial institution believes there to be an issue based on evidence, they can report the incident to Adult Protection Services to further look into it. The division of the Wyoming Department of Family Services provides social case work or assistance to vulnerable adults and elders who are eligible.

The state agency can inform law enforcement, as well as ensure the money or property stays in the hands of the owner that may have been taken advantage of.

Banks would also be provided immunity from civil liability in SF 24, unless the institution acted in bad faith or for malicious purposes. They are responsible for protecting the confidentiality of personal finance records, but the legislation allows them to share information regarding the exploitation to a third party such as DFS.

This was the final version passed without changes through the House, but there were two amendments brought forward by Reps. Tony Locke, R-Casper, and Christopher Knapp, R-Gillette, that weren’t approved. One would have required the bank to notify the party of the unusual transaction before they hold it or report it to DFS, and the other required specified “documentation of when customers of financial institutions qualify as vulnerable adults.”

Neither passed, and criticisms of the two amendments were heard on the floor. Some said the first would dilute the power of the bill and might inform the perpetrator the banks were concerned, and creating documentation of vulnerable adults in the system may have led to further complications or dangers in the second amendment.

“You can potentially become a vulnerable adult fairly quickly. If someone has a stroke, or other health care issues that happen, (they) could happen right now,” said Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie. “Then, what do we do for folks that then are going to try to cash in on what they might consider an opportunity if they haven’t gone in and figured out that they’re vulnerable at that point?”

Full Article & Source:
Legislature passes bill designed to protect vulnerable adults’ finances

AG: Contractor sentenced to 7 years in prison for defrauding clients

Boone County Sheriff's Office
Blake Mahoney


The Missouri attorney general said Tuesday that a Mid-Missouri contractor who was accused of ripping off his clients has been sentenced to seven years in prison.

Blake Mahoney was convicted of financial exploitation of the elderly and deceptive business practices in Boone and Audrain counties. He was sentenced last week in Boone County to probation. The sentence in his Audrain County case has not been updated in online court records.

Mahoney will also have to pay more than $83,000 in restitution in addition to his seven-year sentence, according to a news release from Attorney General Andrew Bailey.

Mahoney was arrested and charged in Boone County in January 2022 with four felony counts of financial exploitation of an elderly or disabled person, according to public court records. Mahoney was also charged with seven felony counts of deceptive business practice. 

Mahoney operated Mo State Construction LLC, according to the Better Business Bureau. A spokeswoman said at the time that several Columbia-area customers reported issues with the business, including failing to start or finish projects. The Better Business Bureau issued a consumer warning about doing business with Mahoney in February 2021.

Full Article & Source:
AG: Contractor sentenced to 7 years in prison for defrauding clients

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

4 nursing homes close, citing state’s 2-beds-per-room limit

by Jessica R. Towhey

Four more nursing homes in Massachusetts announced they will close, chased out of the state by a “reconfiguring” reform meant to improve the quality of care but possibly doing the opposite. 

The Northeast Health Group Inc. said it will shutter four facilities in the western part of the state by June 6, according to the Department of Public Health. Local media reports indicate that families were told to move their residents within 60 days. 

The closures add to a growing list of facilities that have shut down lately, said Tara Gregorio, president of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association. Twenty-five nursing homes there have closed since the start of the pandemic, with at least half of those shutting down over the last 12 months. 

The reason for the latest closure: an April 2021 rule from the state Department of Health prohibiting more than two residents per room in long-term care facilities. The restriction took effect in May and it, combined with a severe labor shortage, is leading to an existential crisis for the sector, observers say. 

“The workforce crisis is the single biggest issue directly leading to the current instability throughout the Massachusetts healthcare system and is threatening access to and experience of care,” Gregorio told McKnights Long Term Care News. “Government leaders must prioritize nursing facility care by increasing funding for this vital service, while simultaneously investing in proven workforce development initiatives and adopting smart immigration policies that further expand the number of available workers.”

The Northeast Health Group unsuccessfully applied for a waiver to exempt it from the two-bed rule. Reporting from said the group’s facilities were designed for three and four residents per room. 

McKnights reported in January on a Suffolk Superior County judge’s refusing to dismiss the lawsuit from 31 LTC providers looking to block the capacity mandate. Although private rooms can provide better infection control, providers have said they need help from state or even federal agencies and lawmakers to de-densify facilities. Without the ability to build more rooms or adequately resident current ones, there are few options other than to reduce admissions or even close. 

The four facilities Northeast Health Group is closing are: Chapin Center in Springfield; Governor’s Center in Westfield; and Willimansett Center East and West, both in Chicopee.

According to the draft closure plans filed with the Department of Public Health, the health group made deep cuts to the number of beds in each facility to be in compliance with the two-beds-per-room rule. Governor’s Center went from 100 beds down to 75, Willimansett East went down to 69 beds from 85, and Willimansett West dropped from 103 beds to 74. Chapin Center was the hardest hit, losing 40% percent capacity by dropping from 160 beds to 96. 

“The cost to operate a 160-bed facility with only 96 beds has led to the facility’s financial insolvency,” stated the draft closure plan. The plans for the other nursing homes contain similar language. 

A message left by McKnights at the phone number for Northeast Health Group was not returned.

Full Article & Source:
4 nursing homes close, citing state’s 2-beds-per-room limit

Supported Decision-Making: Protecting Rights, Ensuring Choices, Securing Safety

Event Materials: 

Supported Decision-Making: Protecting Rights, Ensuring Choices, Securing Safety Presentation


Supported decision-making (SDM), which was recently endorsed by the National Guardianship Association as both an alternative to guardianship and a preferred method within guardianship, can increase self-determination and improve both life outcomes and life satisfaction for older adults of all abilities. This presentation will present the theoretical, research, and practical aspects of SDM and how it can be applied.


1. The audience will learn the theories and research underpinning Supported Decision-Making – a decision-making method where people are provided with the information and assistance they need and want to understand the situations and choices they face, so they can make their own decisions

2. The audience will learn how Supported Decision-Making can improve self-determination, life outcomes, and life satisfaction across the life course.

3. The audience will learn about past, present, and future research measuring the positive effect Supported Decision-Making has on self-determination, life outcomes, and life satisfaction.

4. Through presentation and participation, the audience will learn practical uses for Supported Decision-Making and how it can be applied in specific situations.


Preliminary research has indicated that Supported Decision-Making can increase self-determination and improve life outcomes for people of a wide range of abilities and ages. Outcomes presented will include developments in law (cases approving or applying SDM); legislation (laws and policies directing the use of SDM methods); research (preliminary results of efforts to measure the effects of Supported Decision-Making); and publication (research and other articles on Supported Decision-Making). The presenters have appeared at conference across the nation to discuss this issue and, as Principal Investigator and Project Director of the federally-funded National Resource Center for Supported Decision-Making, have sponsored research and been published nationally on this issue.


Tina Campanella, MA, Chief Executive Officer, Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities
Jonathan Martinis, JD, Legal Director, Syracuse University

Hosted by: 

Two Hannibal men allegedly steal money, handgun and more from elderly person

Braden A. Harn and Robert Lee Ledbetter  (Pike Co. Sheriffs office)

By Jayla Louis

PIKE COUNTY, Ill. (WGEM) - Two men were arrested on Sunday after they allegedly stole money, a handgun, watches and other items from a safe at a residence in Barry, Illinois.

The Pike County Sheriff’s Office responded at about 7:12 a.m. on Feb. 12 to a house in the 1000 block of Illinois 106.

The resident reported to police that two men came to their house on Feb. 11 to make an agreement for an asphalting job. They wrote a check to the suspects for the job.

On Feb. 12, the suspects came back to the residence requesting the payment be made in cash. When the resident opened a safe to retrieve the cash, the suspects stole a large amount of money, a Smith and Wesson handgun, watches and various other items.

Police said the suspects fled the scene in a white Ford F-150.

The Pike County Sheriff’s Office alerted local law enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for the truck and suspects.

Within minutes of the alert, the Hannibal Police Department found the truck and arrested Robert Lee Ledbetter, 59, of Hannibal, and Braden A. Harn, 20, of Hannibal.

Both men are being held in the Marion County Jail where were charged with residential burglary, financial exploitation of the elderly, robbery, theft between $10,000-$100,000 and unlawful possession of a stolen firearm.

Police said this incident is still under investigation and further charges are pending.

Full Article & Source:
Two Hannibal men allegedly steal money, handgun and more from elderly person

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

ABC10's reporting on California's conservatorship system honored with James Madison Freedom of Information Award

Andie Judson's reporting on the "Price of Care" series led to changes in California's conservatorship laws.

Author: Lauren Walike

CALIFORNIA, USA — ABC10 investigative journalist Andie Judson received the James Madison Freedom of Information Award for her reporting on California's conservatorship system.

"The Price of Care: Taken by the State" is a two-year investigation digging into the legally complex legal tool that gives civil rights and liberties of someone unable to care for themselves to another person or entity. In Season II, Judson and the ABC10 Originals team investigated the state agency responsible for the rights and needs of all Californians with disabilities, including separating families by conserving people with disabilities and cutting all contact and communication with their loved ones.

"Her tenacious and compassionate reporting shows that facilities conserving people with developmental disabilities have gone unmonitored, that staff evaluating conservatorships are grossly underpaid, and how individuals under an inappropriate type of conservatorship can have their rights stripped completely," the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists wrote.

Judson received the award in the television/video category.

The five-episode investigation showed how DDS – a massive state agency – is a conservator to over 400 individuals with disabilities, responsible for their specific needs. The series revealed how after getting conservatorship, DDS then uses its power to separate families and isolate those they conserve in care facilities not regularly checked.

Not only is her award-winning reporting shining a light on the abuse facing some of the most vulnerable Californians, but it's also leading to legislative changes. 

“Reporting by others about Britney Spears was important… but this is the real deal,” said attorney and advocate Tom Coleman. “(Investigative Reporter) Andie Judson has given a voice to the thousands of adults with developmental disabilities ensnared in conservatorships… their cries for help have been shared.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill limiting conservatorships that grant legal guardianship over individuals after the story aired. 

The new law will give potential conservatees preference for selecting a conservator and make it easier to end probate conservatorship.

"For two years now we’ve been digging into California’s complex conservatorship system. To see our journalism change lives and help pass laws is an honor. Thank you to the Society of Professional Journalism for acknowledging our perseverant reporting. We hope our continued coverage will help shine a light on a system that’s been operating in the dark for far too long," Judson said.

The award honors and is shared with the ABC10 Originals team of journalists who worked tirelessly on this investigation. Executive Producer Gonzalo Magana, Photojournalists Rory Ward and Tyler Horst, Producers Sabrina Sanchez and Mike Bunnell and Photographer Xavier Uriarte. Without their drive and passion, this reporting would not have been possible.

This is the second time, Judson has been honored for her reporting on conservatorships. She won the award last year for the first season of "The Price of Care."

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ABC10's reporting on California's conservatorship system honored with James Madison Freedom of Information Award

Did My Aunt Actually Have POA Over My Late Mother?

Q:  How do I find out if my aunt actually had power of attorney over my deceased mother?  

A:  She cannot have a power of attorney over your mother because powers of attorney become ineffective upon the death of the principal. However, she may have been appointed as personal representative of your mother’s estate. This should not have happened without your having received notice. But to be sure, you can check with your local probate court to see if an estate has been opened for your mother and if your aunt has been appointed.

Full Article & Source:
Did My Aunt Actually Have POA Over My Late Mother?

Royal Palm Beach man arrested, accused of abusing, neglecting, kidnapping elderly couple

Royal Palm Beach man arrested, accused of abusing, neglecting, kidnapping elderly couple 

Monday, February 13, 2023

AARP Florida makes guardianship reform a top priority

Bill advocating major changes withdrawn before hearings

Full Story: AARP Florida announced in January that reforming professional guardianship is one of the organization’s top priorities during this year’s Florida legislative session.

By: Adam Walser

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — AARP Florida announced in January that reforming professional guardianship is one of the organization’s top priorities during this year’s Florida legislative session. 

But a proposed bill calling for major reforms was withdrawn from consideration Wednesday before it even came to a vote.

This is an issue the ABC Action News I-Team has been covering for nearly a decade in our ongoing series called “The Price of Protection”.

The Rebecca Fierle trial, which involved the death of a man under the care of a professional guardian, ended in a mistrial in September.


Then in December, we reported how the Pinellas County Clerk’s Office released a scathing report outlining problems with professional guardian Traci Hudson's cases as she awaits trial on multiple felony charges.  

Those are just two recent examples of problems with Florida’s professional guardianship system. 

Florida AARP, the state’s largest organization, which advocates for people over 50, is hoping state leaders will address the problem.

The organization is making guardianship reform a top priority in this year’s legislative session. 

“The standards for guardians need to be scrutinized. And we need to make sure we’re only letting in the most trustworthy individuals who are going to be in these positions of care and responsibility,” said Karen Murillo, a former prosecutor who now serves as AARP’s Assistant State Director.  

About a hundred trained volunteers lobbied lawmakers on behalf of AARP during the weeks leading up to the session.  

“We need to be prioritizing meaningful reform in guardianship and making sure that we’re putting the protections in place to safeguard the rights and welfare of individuals under guardianship because they don’t always have the opportunity to advocate for themselves,” Murillo said.  

Guardianship is a legal process in which a judge can strip away a person’s rights if they are found to be incapacitated.  

“We’re talking about the right to choose where you live—the right to choose what health care you receive. The right to choose what property you keep or sell,” Murillo said.  

House bill 297, introduced by Florida Representative Mike Caruso, would “establish the visitation rights of the family of the person alleged to be incapacitated” with “presumption in favor of allowing visitation or other contact with the family.” 

Florida House of Representatives

Currently, professional guardians alone have the power to determine who can and can’t visit people under their care. 

“I never thought anything like this could happen,” said Dr. Lillie Sykes White said in a video shot by her niece Teresa Kennedy. 

In 2020, we told you how White’s guardian hid her and prevented her family from visiting her for years.

White died in January 2021 from COVID-19.

“She dies alone without her family knowing. And two weeks later, we find out,” Kennedy said.  

Caruso’s bill would have also required “full reevaluation of need for guardianship after a certain time” And would have reformed petitions for appointed, verified inventory and annual accounting requirements. 

But the bill was withdrawn Wednesday. Records show that no companion bill had been filed in the Florida Senate.

We contacted Caruso’s office Wednesday but have not heard back.

Despite significant reforms no longer being on the legislative agenda, AARP hopes to continue educating its members about how to avoid guardianship altogether.  

 “We want to make sure that when that’s happening it is the last resort. That we are exploring all the least-restrictive alternatives to that process before we ever get to the point of guardianship,” Murillo said.  

Here are links to find free AARP resources regarding power of attorney agreements, living will, health care surrogacy, and other issues that can help you and your loved ones avoid ending up in a court-ordered guardianship.

If you have a story you think the I-Team should investigate, email

Full Article & Source:
AARP Florida makes guardianship reform a top priority

Sunday, February 12, 2023

La Crescent man accused of raping disabled woman over several years

by Mark Wasson

Feb. 10—CALEDONIA — A 64-year-old La Crescent man is facing felony charges related to repeatedly sexually assaulting a mentally impaired 18-year-old woman starting when she was 13, according to new charges filed in Houston County District Court.

David Lavern Twite is charged with felony third- and fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a mentally impaired of physically helpless victim. Penetration is mentioned in one of the charges.

Twite was summoned to appear in court March 29, 2023.

Most of the sexual assaults occurred in Dakota County, according to the criminal complaint. No charges have been filed against Twite, according to the Dakota County Attorney's Office.

According to the criminal complaint:

Twite repeatedly raped the woman over the course of five years, starting when the juvenile was 13-years-old.

The woman is considered mentally impaired, according to Minnesota Statute, and she has has mild to moderate developmental cognitive disability and is speech language impaired. When she turned 18-years-old, an adult guardianship was granted in Dakota County.

The woman's mother reported the sexual assaults to the La Crescent Police Department on April 22, 2022.

Most of the sexual assaults occurred in Dakota County but one incident occurred in the man's La Crescent apartment.

Police found several sexually explicit text messages and notes between Twite and the woman on her cell phone.

Twite denied sexually assaulting the woman during a May 10, 2022, interview with law enforcement but said he could have accidentally touched touched her inappropriately while wrestling around.

On Nov. 2, 2022, an investigator learned that Twite's girlfriend had contacted the woman's mother to say that Twite was offering the mother $10,000 to "drop the charges."

When the investigator went to question Twite about the bribe at his apartment, he saw the investigator and slammed his door, refusing to come out.

Full Article & Source:
La Crescent man accused of raping disabled woman over several years

House debates financial exploitation protections for vulnerable adults

by Jasmine Hall

Reps. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, and Lane Allred, R-Afton, talk before the morning session Jan. 25 in the House chamber. On Thursday, legislation passed an initial vote that would protect Wyoming’s vulnerable adults from financial exploitation.

CHEYENNE — Legislation that would protect vulnerable adults from financial exploitation passed an initial vote in the House on Thursday but still divided the chamber in the Committee of the Whole.

State representatives in opposition to Senate File 24 questioned the mechanics of the bill — from how and why the Wyoming Department of Family Services would investigate exploitation to whether banks would be guaranteed immunity if they were involved in fraud.

“My understanding is that we’re depending on the institution, financial institutions, to make these decisions as to whether something needs to be looked into or not,” asked Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette. “Are they qualified to make that decision and then escalate it to where we have the state department get involved?”

Inquiries such as these led to nearly an hour of debate and explanation, despite the bill being sponsored by the Joint Judiciary Committee and lawmakers saying it was backed by extensive work done in the interim session.

Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, presented the bill and pushed for its approval. She told representatives SF 24 sets up rules and a procedure to allow banks to put a five-day temporary hold on potentially fraudulent transactions, under which they can investigate and report the incident to Adult Protection Services if necessary.

Adult Protection Services is an agency under DFS that provides services for vulnerable adults or elders who are eligible, such as social case work, home care, physical evaluations, emergency shelter and assistance obtaining guardianship. They would receive the report and could further look into it or involve law enforcement when warranted.

Financial institutions are still responsible for protecting the confidentiality of personal financial records, which is why there is an immunity clause included in the bill.

In order to notify the Adult Protection Services of any concerns, the banks would be provided immunity from civil liability for sharing banking information to a third party. But the bill does add provisions in the immunity clause in case a qualified person or financial institution acted in bad faith or for a malicious purpose.

Oakley said this type of legislation has been considered and implemented in 34 other states, and both financial institutions and constituents have asked for the legislation to provide financial protection..

“The banks have no tools to do this. It is against the law for them to hold our account without this piece of legislation,” said Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, another lawmaker who sits on the Joint Judiciary Committee. “And so they’re really coming to us saying, ‘Hey, this is something we can do for our folks back home to protect them, and especially those that can’t protect themselves.’”

Committee members heard testimony from those who have experienced financial loss and tragedies, including a woman who signed over power of attorney to her daughter when she was going to have surgery. Her daughter took an extensive amount of unauthorized assets, and the resident said she would have been protected by a bill like SF 24 because all of her and her husband’s transactions are routine.

The Riverton lawmaker added federal reports revealed Wyomingites were the victims of fraud “to the tune of about $7.8 million in 2021.”

House Speaker Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, shared his own findings that brought up emotions. He spoke in favor of the bill, despite being a past opponent, and said the director of a program that addresses sexual assault and violence told him about an adult who was living in dog feces while the people in the house were spending the victim’s money on drugs.

“You’re going to say we can’t go down a path of trying something,” Sommers pushed near the end of the debate. “What we do is try things. If we screw up, we’ll fix it. That’s what we do.”

It was also mentioned that while agencies and law enforcement can be notified after a case of exploitation or fraud, there is still nothing that can be done to get the money back. This is why representatives argued prevention was the best tactic, because banks can “stop the tragedy before it takes place.”

The monitoring would also not be random or directed at all adults deemed “vulnerable” by the financial institutions.

The bill has strict definitions of vulnerable adults under Wyoming statute, meaning “any person 18 years of age or older who is unable to manage and take care of himself or his money, assets or property without assistance as a result of advanced age or physical or mental disability.”

There is also clarity on what financial exploitation means in the bill, spanning from “wrongful or unauthorized taking, withholding, appropriation or use of the money” to obtaining control of funds “through deception, intimidation, fraud, or undue influence.” And when the financial institution suspects an action such as this on a vulnerable adult’s assets, property or account, it is only the transaction and not the account, that is held.

“That’s a valuable trade-off that protects the vulnerable people who are literally losing everything,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Art Washut, R-Casper.

Full Article & Source:
House debates financial exploitation protections for vulnerable adults

Stubborn 85 Year Old Finally Accepts Change: What It Took

by Carolyn Rosenblatt

Zane is a brilliant man, a former well respected, famous psychology professor who taught at a prestigious university. And he has advancing signs of early dementia. He still has a lot of awareness of what is going on but he is no longer able to safely care for himself or his money.

He has lived alone for the last six months since his wife died. She handled all the finances and paid the bills. She saw to the grocery shopping and cooking. She made sure he took his medicine. She was a wise and forward thinking woman who also ensured that they planned ahead for possible health declines for either of them.

Smart Planning

Their two adult children had never gotten along well. Zane and his wife went to their estate planning attorney in hopes of devising a way to to avoid having their kids fighting if either one or both of the parents could no longer manage independently. They considered what could happen when one passed away and someone had to take over managing the money. They didn’t want it to be one of their children. They named a competent fiduciary they knew and amended their trust, appointing her as the one to be in charge, should the need arise. What would trigger that change was spelled out well in the amended trust.

The meeting

After the evaluation, the fiduciary asked the psychologist to meet with Zane and his daughter-in-law, whom he trusted, to offer him the opportunity to resign. It was a lengthy zoom meeting. Zane had every excuse imaginable to avoid making this important decision. He hemmed and hawed and stalled. The doctor skillfully used their common ground of psychology to gently confront the stubbornness Zane demonstrated and even admitted. “I’m stubborn as hell”, Zane said. But in the end he relented, as he was going to be removed by the legal means the fiduciary had if he didn’t resign. He signed the papers, which had to be notarized. A mobile notary, pre-arranged, was standing by and the notarization was done. It was official. The fiduciary stepped in and took control over the bank and investment accounts to protect Zane from a lurking abuser who kept trying to get access to Zane’s money.

The aftermath

The fiduciary had a long list of things needing immediate attention. As no competent family lived nearby, she had to arrange for in-home care and hire a person to manage it. Zane’s son and daughter-in-law had long offered to take Zane in to live with them. They had a nice place for him on their property, in a state with good weather. He had initially agreed to go visit them to “try it out for a few weeks,” but he would need a lot of help arranging that, packing up and traveling there. There was hope for his moving there permanently which would solve many safety problems for Zane.

The Takeaways

  1. Appoint a fiduciary to avoid family fights. We see a lot of crises related to memory loss and safety at, where we consulted with Zane’s fiduciary. It is rare to see such excellent planning by an older couple who had the foresight to appoint a fiduciary in their trust. That took that potential responsibility for finances out of the hands of their warring kids. Their smart planning stood out. If this sounds like your family, consider appointing a neutral outsider, licensed and competent to do the job and put it in your estate planning documents.
  2. Get a doctor’s evaluation of an elder’s financial capacity. No matter how smart, accomplished or experienced a person is, they can lose the ability to make safe judgments about money as they age. The wise thing to do is to accept this possibility and ensure that their (or our own) estate plan does not create barriers to getting an elder removed from the trust when they become vulnerable to fraud and financial abuse. At least one doctor’s thorough evaluation of financial capacity should be a standard.
  3. Do not let a stubborn elder’s resistance stop you. Zane was admittedly stubborn and didn’t want change. But with skilled and compassionate help, he was able to make a decision to resign from his trust of his own accord. Consider getting such help if you find yourself in this kind of situation with your aging loved one. Above all, do not allow an elder’s resistance as trustee to open the door to exploitation by financial abusers. They are out there, sometimes in your own family.

Full Article & Source:
Stubborn 85 Year Old Finally Accepts Change: What It Took