Saturday, October 28, 2023

Alaska turned to a private guardianship agency to care for some of its most vulnerable residents. The result: dysfunction and debt.

By Iris Samuels

Some of Alaska’s most vulnerable residents were left ailing, indebted, at risk of losing their housing and with their public benefits lapsed — including Social Security payments and Medicaid — after dozens of guardianship cases were transferred from a public agency to a fledgling nonprofit.

The state Office of Public Advocacy petitioned to transfer 45 guardianship cases to the care of Tom McDuffie in 2022, despite early warnings from people familiar with his work that McDuffie and his organization, Cache Integrity Services, were not adequately prepared to care for them, according to a review of court filings by the Anchorage Daily News.

OPA is charged with making decisions on behalf of guardianship clients. In seeking the transfers, OPA cited its growing caseload, a shortage of public guardians and the resignation of one of its experienced staff members.

OPA violated the law by failing to guard the interests of some of its clients, a state judge in Anchorage ruled last month.

In February, Kodiak Magistrate Judge Dawson Williams found that in another case, Cache Integrity “did not fulfill its duty.” The judge removed McDuffie’s organization as guardian and said the court “will review any future requests to appoint Cache Integrity Services with heightened scrutiny.”

But courts continued to appoint McDuffie, leading to a peak caseload of more than 110 Alaskans in his care this fall.

In the meantime, some of McDuffie’s clients accrued debts totaling tens of thousands of dollars amid unfilled benefits paperwork. Assisted living facilities went unpaid.

McDuffie acknowledged in an interview this week that he failed to meet some of his mandated duties, including allowing months to go by without communicating with some of his clients. But he says OPA is refusing to take back the cases that were transferred.

OPA director James Stinson said the agency’s actions were “a purely pragmatic last resort to prevent the system from imploding.”

On Tuesday, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Thomas Matthews ordered a hearing “on the common question of the fitness of Cache Integrity Services and Thomas McDuffie to serve as guardian or conservator.”

A new option

Alaska’s Office of Public Advocacy turned to McDuffie in 2021 at a time when public guardians were buckling under the weight of their caseloads.

By his own account, McDuffie’s resume is eclectic: Before becoming a guardian, he had been a youth minister and an accountant, worked night shifts at hotels and at an assisted living facility, and began working in 2020 as a representative payee — handling far simpler Social Security benefits. McDuffie lives in Wasilla, and Cache Integrity Services is based there.

Public guardians are appointed by courts as a last resort for people who are unable to manage life decisions independently. Guardians are responsible for making major decisions for their clients — about housing, medical care and finances.

When a family member or friend is available and willing, they are appointed to serve as guardians. If an individual can afford it, a private guardian can be appointed, sometimes at a cost of thousands of dollars per month. OPA serves as the safety-net option for those without other choices. Most people who need a public guardian rely on benefits such as Social Security payments and Medicaid to cover their needs. Some struggle with homelessness.

Beth Goldstein, who is in charge of OPA’s public guardians, has said the guardians are “overburdened.” Each is assigned around 80 cases — and sometimes more than 100 — resulting in a workload that exceeds national guidelines.

The number of public guardians employed by the agency was down from 24 in 2021 to 16 this month, after two recently resigned, according to Stinson. The staff that remains is carrying just under 1,600 cases. All but two of the guardians handle 80 or more clients.

The National Guardianship Association standards instruct guardians to limit caseloads “to a size that allows guardians to accurately and adequately support and protect the person, including a minimum of one visit per month with each person, and regular contact with all service providers.”

“Since the start of 2013, the caseload has steadily increased totaling an additional 285 clients annually,” OPA reported in a budget document this year. In April, OPA announced that it could no longer take new guardianship cases.

[State agency serving vulnerable Alaskans declines to take new cases amid staffing crisis]

McDuffie discussed with Goldstein creating a new option that did not exist in Alaska before 2022: a nonprofit private guardianship agency to take on cases that would otherwise be assigned to OPA, partially privatizing a public function. Until then, private guardianship services had been offered in Alaska only by individuals, not an agency, and private guardians had never taken en masse the type of indigent clients that make up much of OPA’s caseload. The number of private guardians had always been limited; as of October, only 19 private guardians were licensed in the state.

McDuffie’s plan, shared with Goldstein in October 2021, was to take on clients who had the means to pay for a private guardian, while also offering a “pro bono” option to take on indigent clients who would have otherwise been assigned to OPA. McDuffie planned to charge every new client $1,000 upfront — an initiation fee that the state does not levy.

Goldstein’s response to McDuffie’s plan was, “Tom, this is exciting.”

McDuffie said it was evident from his conversations with OPA staff that there was a need to be filled given the unsustainable caseloads of public guardians.

“We were truly trying to figure out a way to unburden some of the responsibilities of the state,” he said.

In a later email, Goldstein said she would assign McDuffie’s organization 45 wards because a public guardian with a caseload of 80 was about to leave the agency. She filed a court motion in May 2022 to transfer 45 guardianship cases to Cache Integrity Services.

“OPA was concerned that it would breach its ethical obligations if it tried to absorb all of the cases” of the public guardian who had resigned, said Stinson, the agency’s director.

By OPA’s standards, it takes around two years to fully train a public guardian. McDuffie had received a temporary license in 2021. His permanent license was processed just the day before OPA’s motion was filed.

None of his employees at Cache Integrity Services had guardian licenses at the time they were hired. In the past two years, at least five guardians have left Cache for various reasons after only a few months on the job.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge William Morse signed off on the transfer May 4, 2022. There is no written agreement between OPA and Cache Integrity, and never has been. Once the courts transferred cases to Cache Integrity, OPA had no oversight or responsibility for the clients.

Court filings show this was not the only time OPA petitioned the court to have some of its cases transferred to Cache Integrity. McDuffie said he took over OPA clients as late as June of this year.

To launch his new services, McDuffie received $100,000 in grant funding from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and more than $50,000 from the Mat-Su Health Foundation.

Goldstein wrote a letter of support for McDuffie, which was included in a grant application.

“Having an organization such as CIS to work jointly and in conjunction with the public guardian system will serve to only benefit the vulnerable adults of Alaska,” Goldstein wrote.

Early concerns

By the time the transfer of cases to McDuffie was completed in June 2022, several people had reached out to OPA to raise concerns about McDuffie’s new operation.

Sheila Shinn, a court visitor, wrote in May 2021 that Cache Integrity “is a sinking ship” and that three cases handled by the organization were behind on rent and facing possible evictions. Shinn said court visitors “are fielding a lot of complaints about Tom (McDuffie) and his business practices.”

Court visitors like Shinn are appointed to review guardians and conservators and make recommendations to the court when a petition is filed.

“I’ve already let him know I will not recommend him to anyone again. People are going without income for months,” Shinn wrote to Elizabeth Russo, a supervising attorney at OPA.

Stinson said the concerns reported to OPA at the time about McDuffie were in line with “the normal obstacles and challenges associated with new guardianship cases.”

Erin Espiritu, another court visitor, wrote in a May 2022 email to Goldstein that an assisted living administrator she worked with had “lost her mind when she found out” Cache Integrity would take guardianship of a resident. The administrator, Lucy Bauer, “had several very negative remarks about her experience with them. She said that she has one person with them and they haven’t paid her in a year and will not respond to her and fix the issue.”

Bauer said she would not keep another client if Cache Integrity became their guardian “because she absolutely refuses to work with them,” according to Espiritu.

Brian Hafferman, the OPA guardian whose resignation precipitated the case transfer, said in a May 2022 email that “judging by their webpage and the resumes of their board members I don’t have much faith in their success but hopefully they prove me wrong.” Hafferman also wrote that OPA management was “aware of these concerns.”

Responding to a court visitor, Goldstein wrote that she planned to move forward “because these are established cases and we will be available to answer questions and help if needed and the case can come back to us on a petition for review if there are issues.”

Stinson now says OPA does not have the capacity for the cases to “come back” to the agency.

No procedural safeguards

Last month, another Anchorage Superior Court judge found that the state had violated the law when it petitioned for the transfer of wards from its public guardians to Cache Integrity Services. Judge Una Gandbhir wrote that the state didn’t assign the wards an attorney nor adequately explain the change and its implications.

The decision came in a lawsuit filed in 2022 by the Northern Justice Project, an Anchorage civil rights firm, on behalf of Nick Harp — one of the people whose guardianship was transferred.

“The fact that Alaska’s Public Guardian is acting to effectively ‘privatize’ its functions and a nonprofit act as the guardian for Alaska’s most vulnerable citizens, and is doing so in violation of the law, raises important public policy concerns,” attorney James Davis wrote in the complaint.

In her decision, Gandbhir wrote that OPA “did nothing to ensure … procedural safeguards” for Harp, who was not represented by counsel when the guardianship was changed, was not notified of his right to counsel, and received no written notice about the possible consequences of the proposed changing of his guardian.

Northern Justice Project attorneys are seeking to certify their case as a class-action lawsuit. If that happens, the state could be forced to pay damages to dozens of affected clients.

A list of allegations

By summer 2023, McDuffie and his agency had amassed a caseload of over 110 guardianships and conservatorships. As the caseload grew, relatives of his wards, court visitors and attorneys increasingly questioned his practices.

In June, Anchorage attorney Caitlin Shortell, representing another of McDuffie’s conservatorship clients, filed a lawsuit against Cache Integrity and McDuffie, alleging he failed to submit timely applications for Medicaid and other benefits, failed to file and pay taxes, overbilled and placed the client’s funds in a single account with the funds of over 100 other wards.

The lawsuit lays out a long list of allegations against Cache Integrity, including that it falsely claimed the client was provided a monthly allowance of $100, though no allowance had been disbursed for at least seven months; that the client incurred a large debt when she was placed in an assisted living facility that cost $5,300 per month without using the client’s long-term care insurance; and the client was billed more than $9,000 in unauthorized fees beyond what was approved through their contract.

McDuffie denied the allegations in a court filing. The case remains open.

Other family members of people who were under McDuffie’s care made similar allegations, but attorneys familiar with McDuffie’s work said that many of his clients have no relatives or friends to sound the alarm.

In 1991, Susan Pacillo met an Anchorage resident with a developmental disability who had experienced chronic homelessness. Over the years, Pacillo became his volunteer advocate and personal friend.

In summer 2021, the man was appointed a conservator — McDuffie — to oversee the public benefits on which he relied to meet his basic needs, according to Pacillo.

But Pacillo says McDuffie delayed setting up a trust for Social Security payments and allowed fraudulent charges to accrue on a debit card in the man’s name. When his health deteriorated and doctors recommended he be moved into an assisted living facility, the $5,000-per-month cost had to be paid out of pocket because a Medicaid application had not been completed, she said.

“If a state agency is going to hand clients to another agency, there should be some oversight. There should be follow-up,” said Pacillo.

In March, Pacillo finally decided to become the man’s guardian as worries mounted over McDuffie’s handling of funds and benefits. But even then, Pacillo said McDuffie did not provide her with a clear accounting of how her friend’s public benefits were spent during the time McDuffie was in charge.

“I’m concerned about my friend ending up on the street. I still don’t know where his money went,” Pacillo said.

‘Public and legal pushback’

In July, McDuffie wrote a letter to the courts, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and the Mat-Su Health Foundation defending himself in response to what he described as “public and legal pushback.”

“As with any systems change, the implementation of this model has been successful in some areas but not so much in others,” McDuffie wrote, adding that he “recognizes the wait times and lag in completing paperwork, filing for benefits, and obtaining Social Security for clients has taken longer than expected.”

In an interview this week, McDuffie said he believed 80% of his cases were appropriately handled, leaving more than 20 clients whose needs weren’t met.

“We thought outside the box. Should all of our heads be on a roll for that? I don’t think so,” he said. “This wasn’t done out of any malicious intent.”

“I feel that we have done what we can with the manpower we’ve had. We’ve got almost everyone caught up,” McDuffie said. “I want to make people feel like they’ve had a good experience with us. And that hasn’t always been the case.”

In his letter, he blamed delays in processing claims on the Social Security Administration, the Alaska Division of Public Assistance, Veterans Affairs and various pension administrators.

He also blamed his employees, several of whom have left Cache Integrity to launch their own businesses, or to leave guardianship altogether.

“Never was the plan for me to be working cases and running the company. However, that is precisely what happened in January of 2023 when all three of the guardians chose to leave,” McDuffie wrote.

One of those former employees, Trudy Storch, said that McDuffie took on more cases than staffers could handle, forcing them to leave the agency rather than take on an untenable number of guardianships.

Storch, who was hired in July 2022, didn’t receive her guardian license until November 2022. For months, McDuffie expected her and other employees to handle cases without ensuring they had met the legal requirements to do so.

Storch “kept telling him, ‘You’ve got to slow down. We need to catch up. We can’t serve all these people. Half the people on my caseload I haven’t even met or talked to on the phone,’” she recalled in a September interview.

McDuffie said the pilot program he had proposed dictated maintaining a certain caseload.

All the while, mandatory reports to the courts — due every year in guardianship cases to ensure wards’ needs are met — were regularly filed late. Storch said she had created a document to track when reports were due. Storch said McDuffie told her, “‘Oh, it can be late, you know, it’ll be OK.’”

When a court visitor warned Storch she could face legal trouble for failing to meet the needs of people she had been appointed to care for, she decided to resign, she said.

“There’s too many cases, and I think he spent too much time out of the office,” said Storch, adding that McDuffie “just didn’t really completely know what he was doing.”

When Storch quit, her colleague was expected to pick up her 40-client caseload — so she quit too less than a week later. McDuffie said Storch and her colleague left work unfinished when they departed, exacerbating the problem.

“What I am sick of hearing is that I’m the only one that dropped the ball. Because I hired people to do the job. They did not do it, and it got stuck on me to fix it,” said McDuffie.

‘Came up short in most areas’

In September, McDuffie asked the court to transfer more than 60 of his current clients to another guardian, including the vast majority of cases that had been reassigned to Cache Integrity Services from OPA.

McDuffie said he intends to keep around 40 cases — focusing on individuals with fewer complex problems and more assets that would allow him to charge higher fees.

Guardianship is “not doable in the private sector,” said McDuffie. “You do not have the state backing us like you have with OPA, so we have to be more diligent about who we keep.”

McDuffie still doesn’t have certified guardians on his payroll. His original goal had been for each of his employees to carry a caseload of 40 to 50 cases. Now, he is carrying all the cases, and they are not as simple as he had expected.

He thought most would be what he called “rinse-and-repeat” clients — where benefit eligibility is established and his agency would just have to pay bills and complete simple tasks.

But he said OPA had chosen some “very difficult” cases to be transferred to Cache Integrity. At least a quarter of clients transferred from OPA to Cache Integrity had experienced homelessness, by McDuffie’s estimation. Stinson said that OPA sought to transfer “stable cases” and to keep the more difficult ones.

Storch, now working independently, has 23 guardianship clients and fields calls from court visitors asking her to take on more.

“I’ve been told there isn’t anywhere for them to go unless a family member pretty much steps up,” said Storch.

“I get court visitors that call me all the time begging me, ‘This person is going to be homeless if you don’t take them,’” she added. “And it’s like, ‘I’m sorry. I cannot be responsible for another individual until I feel like I’m caught up on the ones I already have.’”

Meanwhile, Stinson said OPA is “working diligently to reduce the caseloads” and does not have the ability to take back the cases that McDuffie can’t handle. OPA has not proposed an alternate solution, but both OPA and McDuffie contend that in some of the cases, a family member can be found to take on guardianship duties, or a less restrictive solution can be sought. Ultimately, it will be up to Anchorage Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth to decide the future of McDuffie’s current clients.

“Accepting an appointment when we know we can’t meet a person’s most basic needs is unethical, and would require us to make a misrepresentation to the court,” said Stinson. “It does nothing to provide the protection that a guardianship and conservatorship appointment is meant to provide.”

The agency has created waitlists and will begin accepting new cases only when individual public guardians have 65 cases or fewer, Stinson said in an October email. There are currently 14 clients waiting to be served by public guardians, divided into region-specific waitlists.

On Friday, OPA informed Alaska courts it had the capacity to take on new cases for the first time since declaring a moratorium in April — but only three, and only if they are located in Kenai, Homer or Seward.

In the interim, “less restrictive means can be employed” to meet the needs of other would-be clients, Stinson said, including relying on power of attorney to complete urgent tasks.

“That does not mean the person won’t need a guardian in the long run. But it does mean that issues like making sure benefits don’t lapse can be addressed,” he said.

McDuffie said he is willing to keep his full caseload while a solution is found, but not forever.

“A small nonprofit cannot fix a Grand Canyon-size problem,” he said.

 • • •

Do you have additional ideas for coverage on this topic? Have you experienced problems with guardianship issues in Alaska? Do you have experience that could help us understand the issue more deeply? We want to hear from you. Email reporter Iris Samuels at

Full Article & Source:
Alaska turned to a private guardianship agency to care for some of its most vulnerable residents. The result: dysfunction and debt.

Rep. Filler: House approves guardianship reforms needed to protect vulnerable adults

|October 24, 2023
Contact: Graham Filler

State Rep. Graham Filler today helped lead the House in approving a bipartisan plan to improve protections for vulnerable adults in Michigan.

Filler, R-Clinton County, is leading the effort to improve the state’s guardianship and conservatorship system to make sure Michigan seniors and other vulnerable adults are not taken advantage of by the people who are trusted to care for them.

“In Michigan, there are countless guardians and conservators who work tirelessly to protect the rights and assets of their wards,” Filler said. “But sadly, there are also some who have exploited vulnerable individuals, taking advantage of people who cannot defend themselves. This is a disgrace, and we have a duty to put an end to it.”

House Bills 4909-12 will offer several new protections within the guardianship and conservatorship system, the process used after a court decides an individual is not capable of making their own legal, medical or financial decisions. The plan will provide procedural safeguards for the appointment of guardians, require guardians to take special precautions to protect people’s property and increase transparency about the way a ward’s property is being used.

The legislation addresses specific problems identified by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office and the state’s Elder Abuse Task Force, a group of about 55 organizations and more than 100 individuals that worked on the issue for more than two years. However, Filler said the appeal for reforms has been building for nearly two decades.

“We can’t stand by while bad actors prey on vulnerable people who can’t defend themselves,” Filler said. “Michigan seniors deserve better – they deserve respect, care, and protection, and we’re going to make that happen.”

House Bills 4909-4912 now advance to the Michigan Senate for further consideration.


Full Article & Source:
Rep. Filler: House approves guardianship reforms needed to protect vulnerable adults

Friday, October 27, 2023

Lawmakers eye tighter oversight on guardianships

By Samantha Hogan

Committee holds meeting after Monitor reports about eight unexplained deaths of adults in public guardianship. 

State lawmakers are considering more intensive oversight and frequent reviews of guardianships after eight adults in state care died in unexplained ways.

Members of the Health and Human Services Committee questioned state officials with the attorney general’s office, medical examiner’s, disability services and a probate judge about changes needed in the state’s guardianship system during a 3 ½ hour meeting in Augusta on Wednesday. 

Leaders across the agencies said better communication between Adult Protective Services and the probate courts when there is a suspicion of abuse, neglect or exploitation, training for guardians, time limits on guardianships, and more frequent reports would be most helpful.

But the lawmakers said the eight deaths that occurred in public guardianship did not need further review.

“I’m satisfied with what we heard today from both the attorney general’s office and from the department,” said co-chair of the committee Rep. Michele Meyer (D-Eliot) in an interview after the meeting.

The hearing was held after The Maine Monitor reported that eight adults under public guardianship died in unexplained ways in the past three years. 

State medical examiners said the deaths had “undetermined” circumstances, while noting that over-medication was the cause of several of those deaths. Among them is a woman whose death was deemed a “homicide” by medical examiners. The state attorney general’s office has decided not to prosecute anyone for her death.

The unexplained deaths were part of the Monitor’s ongoing investigation into Maine’s part-time probate courts.

State lawmakers responded to the article with alarm and frustration that they had not been informed about these deaths. Sen. Joe Baldacci (D-Bangor), who also chairs the committee, said the eight deaths show a need for more oversight of the state’s public guardians, who are appointed and overseen by 16 part-time, elected probate judges. 

Public guardians are a “last resort” for people that cannot safely make decisions on their own and have no family to care for them, Director of the Office of Aging and Disability Services Paul Saucier told lawmakers on Wednesday. 

In 2022, there were 1,368 adults under public guardianship of the state. The majority of the people had multiple chronic conditions, and 60% were age 59 or older, Saucier told lawmakers.

Their care is overseen by public guardians, who are employees of the Department of Health and Human Services — or DHHS. The guardians make medical, financial or social decisions for people who are incapacitated by age or because of disability. 

“We recognize the pain and grief that the deaths of these individuals have caused to those who knew and cared for them,” Saucier told lawmakers.

He acknowledged the role his office plays in protecting the health and safety of adults under public guardianship.

State medical examiners identified the eight cases while stepping up their review of deaths of adults with public guardians between 2018 and 2023. DHHS was reporting an increasing number of public guardianship deaths at that time. Medical examiners deemed most of the more than 200 deaths in that period to be natural or accidental.

DHHS by law is supposed to tell lawmakers on the Health and Human Services Committee each time it reports a death to the medical examiner’s office, but that has not happened in the 26 years since the law took effect, The Maine Monitor revealed in September.

Meyer and Baldacci said in an interview after the meeting on Wednesday they expected DHHS to begin making the required reports to the committee.

In the long-term, Meyer and Baldacci said they may look to shift the responsibility of reviewing public guardianship deaths onto the newly formed Aging and Disability Mortality Review Panel. The panel would review the deaths, look for patterns and include their findings in a yearly report to the committee.

“It makes sense for these reports to go to them, and they can vet it better than us. All they’re going to tell us is how they died, whereas this entity may be able to gather more information and provide some more insight into what happened and to tell us whether or not there’s any red flags that need to be looked at,” Baldacci said.

‘Meaningful and manageable’

Judge Libby Mitchell, of the Kennebec County Probate Court, told lawmakers that more frequent reporting by guardians would improve oversight of guardianships statewide. 

In particular, if Adult Protective Services within DHHS receives a report of possible abuse, neglect or exploitation and the person is in a guardianship, she wants to know about it, Mitchell said.

Guardians are currently required to file an annual report to the probate judge about the care of the person under guardianship. Mitchell suggested public guardians make interim reports or that the reporting window be reduced to more than annually.

Still probate judges will need to find a balance between a burdensome amount of reporting by guardians and being alerted of potential concerns, Mitchell said.

“I don’t want to deal with everyone, every minute, but I do want to know when there’s a suspicion of a problem,” Mitchell said in an interview.

Mitchell, a Democrat, served 18 years in the Maine House of Representatives and six years in the state Senate. She held the top position in each chamber serving as President of the Senate and the first female Speaker of the House. Mitchell was elected in 2016 to replace her husband Jim Mitchell as probate judge of Kennebec County following his death that September.

Saucier said he is open to talking with the probate courts to find a “meaningful and manageable” way to share information between Adult Protective Services and the probate courts.

The state does not routinely share that information with the probate courts currently, Saucier said. 

No further investigation of eight deaths

Over-medication, septic complications of prolonged immobilization, and blunt force trauma were among the causes of death for the eight people under public guardianship that the Monitor reported on.

“We’ve reviewed those eight cases very carefully, and collectively they had serious chronic conditions,” Saucier said. “… The cause of death was ‘undetermined’ and that’s always serious and worthy of further review. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there was any wrongdoing in any of these cases.”

Members of the Health and Human Services Committee said Wednesday they are satisfied with the state’s findings that there was no wrongdoing in any of the deaths. Several lawmakers said no further investigation of the eight deaths was needed.

Rep. Kathy Javner (R-Chester) has served on the committee for six years. During that time, several areas of DHHS have needed better oversight, including public guardianships, she said in an interview. 

“As far as continuing an investigation into these eight deaths, I would say that perhaps no. Simply for the fact that it seems as if the department has looked at them (and) law enforcement,” Javner said.

Maine State Police have had an open case for 30 months into the death of Laurie Wall, a woman in state care with cerebral palsy and a “profound” mental disability who died from “acute intoxication” of the combined effects of three medications.

Wall died “unexpectedly but peacefully at home,” according to her obituary. The state medical examiners later determined that “the combined effects of levetiracetam, fluoxetine and lacosamide” — three prescription medications — had caused her death. Her death was classified as “undetermined.”

State police’s investigation of Wall’s death is complete and it is finalizing its report, which is not yet publicly available, spokeswoman Shannon Moss wrote in an email on Tuesday.

Among the eight unexplained deaths is also Janice Sirois, 61, who died in a Fort Kent health care facility in August 2022. Medical examiners reported that her death was a “homicide,” records show. 

The attorney general’s office closed the homicide case without prosecution due to insufficient evidence, spokeswoman Danna Hayes said in late August.

Deaths are classified as a “homicide” by medical examiners if a person dies from the willful act of another person, said Office of Chief Medical Examiner administrator Lindsey Chasteen, who spoke to lawmakers on Wednesday. 

“Just because we said it’s a homicide, does not mean that it was a criminal act. And identifying that criminal act might prove difficult,” Chasteen said.

The committee chairs said after Wednesday’s meeting they did not think the eight deaths needed to be investigated further.

“She (Chasteen) answered the question that if there was any kind of foul play or suspicion it would be reported to the attorney general’s office,” Baldacci said in an interview. “I have confidence in the medical examiner following the law.”

A legislative path to better oversight

Maine lawmakers have proposed multiple ways to address the problem of oversight of public guardians by DHHS and the probate courts:

• Baldacci has a bill currently pending with the state Legislature to add to DHHS an independent “inspector general” with the power to investigate complaints, subpoena for records and access DHHS documents. The inspector general would report concerns to law enforcement, the attorney general, or licensing agencies. The bill currently only deals with children in state care, but Baldacci is considering an amendment to add oversight of the approximately 1,200 adults under public guardianship in Maine as well.

• Sen. Lisa Keim (R-Dixfield) has proposed breaking DHHS apart into smaller state agencies. A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers have supported a similar proposal to separate the Office of Child and Family Services from the rest of DHHS. The separation was proposed by then-Sen. Bill Diamond (D-Cumberland) in 2021 following multiple child fatalities and again in 2023 by Sen. Jeff Timberlake (R-Androscoggin). The Legislature may consider Timberlake’s bill in 2024.

• Donna Bailey, former probate judge for York County and current state senator, said lawmakers should consider reestablishing the Office of Advocacy within DHHS. The office, which was eliminated by then-Gov. Paul LePage in 2012, employed a Chief Advocate and a team of advocates who looked out for the interest of people receiving state services.

• Bailey also said it would be appropriate for lawmakers on the Government Oversight Committee to investigate the eight deaths identified by the Monitor.

Unresolved is a half-century old mandate from the voters to overhaul Maine’s probate courts.

Probate judges are the only elected judges in Maine. Each county funds and operates a probate court with an elected register and judge. The probate courts are responsible for estates, guardianships of adults and minors, conservatorships and name changes.

Voters 56 years ago amended the state constitution to set up a new probate court system with full-time judges. The constitutional amendment never went into effect, because it was contingent on legislators passing a plan to transition to a new court system, the Monitor reported.

State lawmakers, probate judges, lawyers and a state supreme court justice undertook a large review of the probate courts in 2021. The study recommended the probate courts be integrated into the state judicial branch with nine appointed judges dedicated to probate. The plan was approved but never funded or implemented. 

​​“At some point the Legislature is going to have to find the political will to do something that establishes a probate court system that hires full-time judges, because that’s what the constitution has told the Legislature to do,” Sen. Craig Hickman (D-Winthrop) previously told the Monitor.

Mitchell, who served on the study group, said the probate courts are working as they are currently structured. The Legislature can work on reforming problems with the current system, rather than the reorganization of the probate courts into the judicial branch, she said in an interview.

“If the Legislature has not acted on it, there’s not a crisis out there,” Mitchell said in an interview. 

Lawmakers may be limited in what they can accomplish to reform the probate courts and DHHS during the 2024 legislative session. 

The constitution restricts legislators to working during the second session to only matters of the: budget, “Governor’s call,” emergency legislation, bills referred to committee for study and report during the first session or by written petition of the electors.

“I’m going to take in all the suggestions, and I need to think about how best to approach it,” Baldacci said. 

Full Article & Source:
Lawmakers eye tighter oversight on guardianships

SOCIAL SECURITY: Minimizing financial abuse for people living with dementia

by Hillary Hatch

Financial crime against older Americans is a growing problem. People living with dementia are at an especially high risk of becoming victims. That’s why we’re committed to combating fraud.

As their memory and other thinking skills decline, people with dementia may struggle to make financial decisions. They may not remember or report the abuse — or understand that someone is taking advantage of them. This abuse can occur anywhere — including at home or in care settings.

Victims of fraud who are 80 years and older lose an average of $39,200 every year. Studies show that financial exploitation is the most common form of elder abuse. However, only a small fraction of these incidents are reported.

You can help protect others by learning to recognize common signs of financial exploitation and abuse, including:

  • Unopened bills.
  • Unusual or large purchases.
  • Utilities being shut off due to unpaid bills.
  • Money given to telemarketers or soliciting companies.
  • Unexplained withdrawals from the person’s bank account.

There are also many simple things that caregivers can do to reduce the risk of financial abuse for people with dementia and similar conditions, like Alzheimer’s. Do your best to make sure they’re involved in deciding which safety measures to put into place.

Some options include:

  • Agreeing to spending limits on credit cards.
  • Signing up for the “Do Not Call” list at
  • Setting up auto-pay for bills instead of paying them by check.
  • Signing up to receive automatic notifications for withdrawals from bank accounts or large charges to credit cards.
  • Requesting electronic bank and credit card statements and watching for unusual purchases or changes in how the person typically spends money.
  • Asking credit card companies to stop sending balance transfer checks and opting out of future solicitations.
  • Creating a separate account where you can keep a small, agreed-upon amount of money that the person can use for recreational activities, meals with friends, etc.

To learn more about combating elder abuse, visit our blog at

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SOCIAL SECURITY: Minimizing financial abuse for people living with dementia

Thursday, October 26, 2023

O’Briant enters guilty pleas in theft from 95-year-old law firm client

By Jim Measel

LANSING, MI (WTVB) – A disbarred attorney from Coldwater has entered guilty pleas in Kalamazoo County to four counts of Larceny of $20,000 or More and two counts of Taxes-Failure to File/False Return.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says 63-year-old James O’Briant had access to the victim’s money through his employment under a licensed attorney who had a representation agreement with the 95-year-old victim and agreed to temporarily hold their money in the law firm’s trust account for safekeeping.

Nessel says O’Briant transferred the victim’s money from the trust account to the firm’s business accounts and then withdrew and transferred the money again to use for his own purposes. Those transfers included over $40,000 to O’Briant’s personal investment accounts.

O’Briant did not report the money he stole from the victim on his 2018 and 2019 taxes.

The plea agreement requires O’Briant to pay restitution of over $154,000 to the victim by the end of April, and to agree to pay restitution of over $13,000 to the Michigan Department of Treasury.

O’Briant will be permitted to be sentenced on one count of Larceny $20,000 or More and one count of Taxes-Failure to File/False Return, and the remaining charges would be dismissed only if the terms of the plea agreement are met.

Sentencing is set for May 6, 2024.

Full Article & Source:
O’Briant enters guilty pleas in theft from 95-year-old law firm client

Dujae Richards Convicted of Stealing Elderly Victim’s Identity

New Hampshire
Department of Justice
Office of the Attorney General

Concord, NH – Attorney General John M. Formella announces that Dujae Richards, age 31, has been convicted by a Hillsborough County-Southern District Superior Court Jury of 12 class A felony counts of identity fraud, three class A felony counts of credit card fraud, and one class A felony count of theft by unauthorized taking.

Evidence presented at trial showed that in August 2020, Mr. Richards moved in with T.H., an 88-year-old man who had impaired mobility and vision. Mr. Richards agreed to help T.H. manage his finances. On August 10, 2020, Mr. Richards unlawfully posed as T.H. in order to obtain a credit card associated with T.H.’s American Express credit account. Between October 2020 and February 2021, Mr. Richards unlawfully posed as T.H. in order to obtain more than $125,000 from an annuity and multiple insurance policies T.H. held at New York Life Insurance Company.

Between August 2020 and February 2021, Mr. Richards also obtained funds from T.H.’s TD Bank checking account without T.H.’s authorization. Between August 2020 and October 2020, Mr. Richards used credit cards in T.H.’s name knowing that his use of those cards was unauthorized. In total, the State presented evidence that Mr. Richards unlawfully obtained more than $166,000 from T.H., which Mr. Richards used to pay outstanding personal debts and to travel and stay at a casino in Las Vegas, among other things.

In addition to convicting Mr. Richards, the jury also concluded that in committing his crimes, Mr. Richards intentionally took advantage of T.H.’s age or physical condition that impaired T.H.’s ability to manage his property or financial resources or to protect his rights or interests. As a result, Mr. Richards is subject to an enhanced term of imprisonment on each conviction, up to 10-30 years in the New Hampshire State Prison. Mr. Richards could also receive up to a $4,000 fine on each conviction. Mr. Richards’s sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.

This matter was investigated by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, with assistance from the Nashua Police Department and the New Hampshire Insurance Department. The matter was prosecuted by Senior Assistant Attorney General Bryan J. Townsend, II, of the Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation Unit and Assistant Attorney General Zachary Frish of the Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau, with assistance from Victim/Witness Advocate Sunny Mulligan-Shea.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of elder abuse or financial exploitation, please contact your local police department or the Department of Health and Human Services, Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services (1-800-949-0470).

Dujae Richards Convicted of Stealing Elderly Victim’s Identity

Police looking for man who scammed an elderly person in Burlington

Officers said 48-year-old Elbert Paul Watson is facing multiple charges including exploitation of an elder.

Credit: Burlington Police Department

Author: Teyah Glenn


Virginia man facing multiple charges after scamming an elderly person in Burlington, police say. 

Officers said 48-year-old Elbert Paul Watson has been charged with breaking and entering, exploitation of an elder, uttering a forged instrument, and obtaining property by false pretense. 

An 88-year-old victim said that on October 18, Watson came inside their home, uninvited, using high-pressure sales tactics to convince them to enter a contract to pave the driveway and provide a signed blank check. 

During this time other unknown persons began working on the driveway while Watson filled out the blank check for more than the initial agreed-upon amount and went to a local bank. When he returned, he was able to get another check from the victim and attempted to cash the second check. The bank did not cash the second check. 

Watson has active warrants for his arrest and has not been taken into custody at this time. 

The victim reported the incident on October 21. Detectives with the Criminal Investigations Division have reason to believe that there may be additional victims. 

If anyone believes they are a victim, they should contact the Burlington Police Department at 336-229-3500. 

Full Article & Source:
Police looking for man who scammed an elderly person in Burlington

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Casey, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Bolster Home Care Workforce

October 24, 2023

In a 2022 report, over 70 percent of direct service providers reported they cannot fill staffing vacancies for home care

As a result, 83 percent of providers said they turn away new referrals and 63 percent have discontinued some programs and services

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, led a group of 17 of his Democratic colleagues in introducing the Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) Relief Act, legislation to provide much-needed support to state programs that fund home and community-based long-term care services. Currently, staffing shortages at direct care providers have led to a reduction in HCBS availability, despite growing demand. The HCBS Relief Act would provide dedicated Medicaid funds to states for two years to stabilize their HCBS service delivery networks, recruit and retain HCBS direct care workers, and meet the long-term service and support needs of people eligible for Medicaid home and community-based services. 

“A vast majority of seniors and people with disabilities would prefer to receive care at home or in their communities,” said Chairman Casey. “Unfortunately, because of our Nation’s caregiving crisis, home and community-based care has become increasingly difficult to access. By stabilizing and investing in the caregiving workforce, we can better provide seniors and people with disabilities with a real and significant choice to receive care in the setting of their choosing.” 

More than 90% of those eligible for Medicaid long-term services and supports wish to receive those services in their homes. However, HCBS providers are struggling to meet the demand for their services due to extreme difficulty retaining staff and filling new vacancies. Under the HCBS Relief Act, States would receive a 10-point increase in the federal match (FMAP) for Medicaid for two fiscal years to enhance HCBS. Funds could be used to increase direct care worker pay, provide benefits such as paid family leave or sick leave, and pay for transportation expenses to and from the homes of those being served. The additional funds also can be used to support family caregivers, pay for recruitment and training of additional direct care workers, and pay for technology to facilitate services. 

Chairman Casey has a long record of advocating for increased federal support for state-funded home and community-based long-term care services. In January 2023, Chairman Casey introduced the Better Care Better Jobs Act, with 41 co-sponsors, to enhance Medicaid funding for home care services for older adults, people with disabilities, and injured workers to help many of the over 650,000 people on waiting lists nationally finally receive care in the setting of their choice; increase payment rates to promote recruitment and retention of direct care workers, increase wages, and develop and update training opportunities; and provide support to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to conduct oversight and encourage innovation to benefit direct care workers and care recipients. 

In March, Chairman Casey held a hearing to examine the economic benefit of investing in Medicaid home and community-based services (HCBS) as millions of older adults and people with disabilities nationwide rely on caregivers to provide everyday services like help with bathing, eating, and managing medications despite caregivers earning a median wage of roughly $14 per hour and often living in poverty. During the hearing, Casey introduced the HCBS Access Act to address lengthy waiting lists, that sometimes last years and even decades, for home care services as the majority of older adults and people with disabilities contend with being forced to live in an institutional setting to access the services they need due to long wait lists, despite a preference for receiving care at home.  

Read more about the Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) Relief Act here. 


Casey, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Bolster Home Care Workforce

2 arrested in Humboldt County on elder abuse charges

By Kevin Sheridan

OROVADA, Nev. (KOLO) - Two people are under arrest in Humboldt County on elder abuse, drug, and fraud charges.

On Oct. 3, detectives with the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office received information that a 65-year-old man was possibly the victim of financial fraud. After an investigation was launched, it was determined an elderly man was being isolated from his family while being the victim of fraud, elder abuse, and theft.

Police identified two suspects, 56-year-old Dawson Barnes and 36-year-old Savannah Wilson of Orovada.

Around a week later, on Oct. 12, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, along with Nevada State Police, located the elderly man at a residence on South Valley Road in Orovada. Police found the man living in unsanitary and unsafe conditions, in a state of malnourishment, and lacking medical care or personal hygiene.

Further investigation determined he was being isolated from his family for around six months after he was deprived of his cell phone, laptop, and other communication devices. He was taken to Humboldt General Hospital.

A search warrant was subsequently obtained for two separate residences in the Orovada area, which resulted in the seizure of a large amount of methamphetamine, cocaine, stolen property, stolen credit cards and checks, and personal identifying information of the victim, as well as a numerous guns, including a sawed-off shotgun. They allegedly possessed these firearms despite being considered prohibited persons.

Barnes was arrested and booked into the Humboldt County Detention Center on charges of abuse of an older or vulnerable person, being a convicted person who failed to register with local law enforcement, possession of a schedule 1 or 2 controlled substance with intent to sell, and eight counts of owning a firearm despite being a prohibited person, among other charges. His bail was set at $258,780.

Wilson was booked and charged with abuse of an older or vulnerable person, two counts of possession of schedule 1 or 2 controlled substances less than 14 grams, and using personal identity information of another to harm or for unlawful purpose, among other charges. Her bail was set at $58,140. 

Full Article & Source:
2 arrested in Humboldt County on elder abuse charges

Man faces charges of financial exploitation of the elderly in second North Alabama county

Christopher Roper

A New York man faces charges of financial exploitation of the elderly in a second North Alabama county.

Court records show Christopher Roper was indicted in Limestone County.

Back in March, Roper was indicted in Madison County for similar alleged crimes.

That indictment alleges Roper took more than $100,000 from four victims.

Full Article & Source:
Man faces charges of financial exploitation of the elderly in second North Alabama county

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Elderly US Woman With Alzheimer's Survives 6 Days Locked in Garage

Story by Chloe Mayer

An elderly woman with Alzheimer's who went missing days ago has been found alive inside her neighbor's garage after becoming trapped for almost a week.

Margaret Gallaway vanished from her home in Collier County, near Naples, Florida, on Monday, October 16, sparking a huge police search as officers desperately tried to find her.

It is now known that the 80-year-old had wandered into an open garage on her street that afternoon, but was then inadvertently locked inside when the family left to go on vacation. She was eventually found on Sunday after deputies from Collier County Sheriff's Office had a break in the case when reviewing footage from a doorbell security camera which picked up a brief glimpse of somebody entering a nearby garage.

Alzheimer's disease is a condition that affects the brain, eventually leading to the development of dementia which causes catastrophic memory loss. Around 5.8 million adults live with Alzheimer's and other dementias in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gallaway, who is non-verbal according to the Naples Daily News, was last seen by relatives at around 2 p.m. on October 16 in the Crown Pointe area.

A missing person's flyer described her as being "5 feet 8 inches tall and 160 pounds with white hair and brown eyes." It added: "She was last seen wearing a white and pink blouse, pink shorts and white shoes."

There was no further news for almost a week, until an update was posted on the Collier County Sheriff's Office Facebook page on Sunday, October 22, which said: "We are thrilled to report that Margaret Gallaway has been located and is safe.

"Deputies were going door to door today reviewing doorbell footage with Crown Pointe residents when they saw video from Monday afternoon that captured a brief glimpse of a person entering a nearby open garage. They contacted the family of the homeowner, who is out of town, and obtained permission to enter. They found Margaret inside the garage.

"Deputies said the garage door was open on Monday afternoon when Mrs. Gallaway went missing but the homeowner later closed it, unaware that Mrs. Gallaway was inside. The homeowner then left Southwest Florida on Tuesday to visit family.

"Mrs. Gallaway has been transported by EMS to a hospital for evaluation.

"We want to thank the many, many first responders and members of the community who participated in this search."

It is unclear how Gallaway managed to survive for so long in the garage, and whether she had access to food or water while she was trapped.

Newsweek has reached out to Collier County Sheriff's Office by email seeking further information and comment.

The story is not the only case of a happy resolution following the search for a missing Alzheimer's patient.

A 5-year-old boy was praised as "a hero" by police in Fayetteville, Arkansas, after helping to find a missing man with Alzheimer's disease in February 2022. Police knocked at Ezekiel McCulley's home as they conducted door-to-door inquiries and the child told officers that he had seen the man heading into the woods near his school earlier that day. Officers were able to track down the missing man following his tip-off.

Full Article & Source:
Elderly US Woman With Alzheimer's Survives 6 Days Locked in Garage

Man suspected of assaulting elderly women in terrifying pair of Long Island home invasions

Story by Carolyn Gusoff

MASTIC BEACH, N.Y. -- Long Island police are looking for a single suspect following a terrifying pair of home break-ins in Mastic Beach

In each case, an older woman was home alone when a man got inside through a window and assaulted her. 

Mastic Beach residents are locking their doors and windows, and turning on their alarms as news of the assaults at homes on adjacent streets spreads. 

One occurred at 4 a.m. on Oct. 10. The other happened just after midnight on Oct. 17. 

"In both incidents a lone elderly female resident was confronted by a male suspect inside her home and physically assaulted. The male then fled the residence without taking any proceeds," said Suffolk County Police Chief of Detectives John Rowan. 

In the first case, the 78-year-old woman's son said the attacker wore a mask, cut a window screen with a knife and sexually assaulted her. 

The woman's son said the attacker accidentally pressed her medical alert button while punching her. It activated an audible alarm, which apparently scared him away. 

One week later, and just one block away, a man broke in through a window at 12:40 a.m. and assaulted a 75-year-old woman. 

Police increased marked and unmarked patrols in the area and provided a sketch of the suspect. 

"Both victims described the suspect as a dark-skinned male, approximately 30 years of age, five foot two to five foot six, with an athletic build," said Rowan. 

Suffolk County Legislator Jim Mazzarella said he's seen an uptick in crime in the area, but these were on a different level. 

"If there's no motivation regarding burglary or anything like that and these are just assaults on innocent victims, especially elderly women, it's actually more concerning," said Mazzarella. 

"This is just terrible. You can't feel safe in your own home," said Jackie Sing. 

Police asked residents to lock doors and windows, leave exterior lights on overnight, trim hedges near windows and check in with neighbors to make sure they're aware. 

Any tips should be directed to Suffolk County Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS.

Full Article & Source:
Man suspected of assaulting elderly women in terrifying pair of Long Island home invasions

Elderly woman loses $200,000 after targeted with these common scams: DA

by: Misha DiBono

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego County District Attorney announced criminal charges against a 22-year-old San Gabriel man on Tuesday in connection to two common, but sophisticated scams that robbed an elderly San Diego woman of her life savings.

The man, Zhi Gao, was arrested in a sting operation at the 65-year-old victim’s home last Thursday and faces charges of attempted grand theft among others.

According to prosecutors, he is accused of being courier for a larger theft ring that defrauded the woman over several weeks by posing as both Microsoft Tech Support and Chase Bank to convince her to pay more than $200,000 in cash to them.

DA Summer Stephan said that the scam included two of the most common ruses encountered by law enforcement: the “tech support scam” and “banking scam.”

The woman was first targeted with the “tech support scam.” According to Stephan, the victim’s encountered a pop-up message from Microsoft on her computer after it froze, directing her to call a phone number to “fix her computer.” Then, a scammer solicited an initial $120 from the victim.

“After believing that she was dealing with Microsoft, the scam then shifted from a tech-support scam for a banking scam,” Stephan said during a conference on Tuesday.

As part of the “banking scam,” those involved in the network contacted the victim once again, but claimed they were from Chase Bank and had identified fraud on her account. According to prosecutors, they instructed her to withdraw her money out of existing bank accounts in cash so it can be secured in a “safe account” while the “fraud division” investigated the case.

Over several weeks, she made several withdrawals between $20,000 and $30,000 that were handed off to a courier for “safe keeping.” She ultimately lost more than $200,000, Stephan said.

It was not until the victim’s family conducted a routine check of her account that they noticed the suspicious activity and reported the case to San Diego police. 

Authorities then worked with the victim and her family to take Gao into custody when he arrived at her residence, allegedly aiming to pick up another package.

“Couriers like Gao pick up the money from victims and then deliver it to another person in the network or convert the cash to cryptocurrency and send it out of country,” Stephan said. “Sadly, the money is lost.” 

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, tech support scams are to blame for the largest number of victims nationwide with the most in California.

This year so far, San Diego County residents have reported losses that have already exceeded $75 million in losses due to financial scams — over $26 million more than was reported in all of 2022, according to Stephan.

The DA’s office wants this case to be a warning to seniors in San Diego, encouraging them to be more vigilant about verifying suspicious information that is prompting withdrawals of large sums of money.

“We are alerting our community about the most common and current scam that is stealing precious life savings from our seniors,” Stephan said. “This egregious case of financial elder abuse is a compelling reminder to seniors and their families to be aware of the warning signs of a scam and reach out for help.”

Stephan also hopes to put these scammers on notice that they will be caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

“We take this very seriously,” she added, “because it affect more than the money.”

Gao has not yet been arraigned in connection to the case due to an issue with the availability of a Mandarin interpreter, the DA added. He is expected to appear in court again sometime in the coming weeks.

According to prosecutors, he could receive up to two years and six months in custody if convicted on all charges that he faces.

Full Article & Source:
Elderly woman loses $200,000 after targeted with these common scams: DA