Saturday, June 8, 2024

Disenfranchised For Disabilities: Arizona’s Guardianship Law Is a Voting Rights Nightmare

by Julia Métraux 

A voter drops off her ballot at a drop box in Arizona.Matt York/AP

When Becky King’s daughter Beth Papp turned 18, she couldn’t register to vote in her home state of Arizona. Five years later, she still can’t.

Papp is autistic and nonspeaking; when she was in her teenage years, King was advised that placing her daughter under full legal guardianship, a process she applied for when Papp was 17, was the right thing to do. Various frameworks for guardianship, or conservatorship, exist in all 50 states—in all cases stripping both minors and adults of a variety of rights then granted to a third party.

“Nobody told me specifically what the implications would be,” King said. “It didn’t even occur to me that anything else would be an option.” 

King was far from the only parent to receive such guidance. Sey In, a staff attorney for Disability Rights Arizona, calls it the “school to guardianship” pipeline.

“Many schools are telling parents that guardianship is the only option,” In told Mother Jones. “Parents aren’t really apprised of other alternatives, like a power of attorney arrangement.”

In Arizona, a contentious swing state, people placed under full or plenary guardianships are unable to participate in a central part of democracy—casting a vote—regardless of their age or the specifics of their condition. That can include people with intellectual disabilities like autism, as well as those with mental health conditions like bipolar disorder. As is typical with guardianship data throughout the US, the number of people under full guardianship in Arizona isn’t clear. (Adults in Arizona under limited guardianship can vote if their guardian requests it.)

Since she turned 18, Papp’s ability to communicate has improved. She’s still nonspeaking, but now uses text-based assistive technology to share her thoughts with those around her. In early 2023, Papp told her mother about changes she wanted to make in her life—among them, wanting her voting rights restored.

“The reason voting is important,” Papp said through her assistive technology, “is that I’m a citizen of this country and I matter.”

King was “determined to help her get” that right. But trying to change Papp’s guardianship, even with the full support of her mother, has been a challenge. 

The disenfranchisement of disabled people highlights how restrictive the guardianship system can be, said Zoe Brennan-Krohn, the head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s disability rights program. And for something as serious as taking away people’s civil liberties, there isn’t a lot of information available: “We have no idea how many people in this country have lost their voting rights because of guardianship,” Brennan-Krohn said.

The National Council on Disability estimated that, as of 2018, there were 1.3 million people under guardianship in the United States. Guardianship laws vary by state on voting and other rights: In some, all people in guardianship can vote; in others, voting rights can be taken away; some states force people to petition a court for the right to vote, and in seven states—Utah, Missouri, Lousiana, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia and South Carolina—people under any type of guardianship cannot vote at all. 

A complete ban on voting for people under guardianship stands at odds with recent Justice Department guidance on protections for disabled voters through laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act. “Our position is having that categorical ban on voting for people under full guardianship violates the ADA,” In, the attorney with Disability Rights Arizona, said.

In late May, the Arizona Court of Appeals agreed that a total ban on voting for people under full guardianship violates due process. But the judges also wrote that a trial court would have to establish that the specific individual would have the capacity to vote, rather than automatically granting everyone currently under guardianship that right.

Though voting is central to American citizenship, losing voting rights isn’t even mentioned in some guardianship hearings. “Guardianship hearings and determinations rarely include inquiries into a person’s understanding of voting issues,” Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law attorney Monica Porter Gilbert said. “Often, neither the person being considered for guardianship, nor the person who might be seeking guardianship, is even aware that the right to voting is at stake.”

King and Papp stood in front of a Maricopa County judge in March of last year to try and modify Papp’s guardianship, after filing the associated paperwork—but the request was rejected.

“The court did not recognize her communication method as valid,” King said.

A few months later, in June, Arizona joined states including California and Virginia in adding supported decision-making as an alternative to guardianship after a bill was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs.

As its name suggests, under supported decision-making, people with disabilities work with a chosen person in their life to make important decisions around, for example, healthcare and living situations—and they retain the right to vote in elections. 

King and Papp are looking into moving from guardianship to a supported decision-making process, but are concerned about running into another wall. Experts I spoke to agree that it’s still going to be difficult to make the transition.

“To undo a guardianship, you need to show that there is a change in the individual’s condition,” In said. Whether a person’s communication improving through assistive technology could constitute such an improvement is up to individual judges’ discretion. 

In addition, Brennan-Krohn said, “the whole concept of guardianship is premised on this idea that capacity is a ‘yes, no’ premise,” when it’s in fact much more nuanced. Most states also allow a trusted person or election volunteer to help a disabled voter, meaning people under guardianship could be held to higher standards than other voters.

While trying to help her daughter reestablish her civil rights, King hopes that other families will also learn about alternatives to full guardianship—a system she described as “very antiquated, and not useful for the people it’s supposed to protect.” 

Full Article & Source:
Disenfranchised For Disabilities: Arizona’s Guardianship Law Is a Voting Rights Nightmare

Flint woman to stand trial for alleged embezzlement from elderly man

By DeJanay Booth-Singleton

A 67-year-old woman will stand trial for allegedly embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from an elderly man she had a relationship with, the Michigan Attorney General's office announced.

Constance Marie Roberts, of Flint, is charged with four counts of failure to file taxes/false tax returns and four counts of embezzlement from a vulnerable adult of $100,000 or more.

State officials allege Roberts was in a long-term relationship with the man, who was married and 20 years older than her. She also advantage of the gifts and money she was receiving and obtained vehicles and large amounts of money when the man began experiencing cognitive decline, according to a news release. from the AG's office.

Officials say between 2018 and 2021, Roberts collected about $3 million combined after taking from the man's checking and saving accounts and failed to report the money on her taxes.

"Many older adults have saved for retirement their entire working lives, and sadly they must also plan to protect their assets from people in their lives who would take advantage of them," said Attorney General Dana Nessel. "My office will continue to investigate and prosecute complaints of financial exploitation committed against seniors and other vulnerable adults." 

Full Article & Source:
Flint woman to stand trial for alleged embezzlement from elderly man

Join the walk Greensboro & Winston-Salem: Triad Elder Abuse Awareness Event June 15, 2024

Elder abuse is most often financial, like fraud, scams, or financial exploitation.

Author: Tanya Rivera

GREENSBORO, N.C. — When you hear or see the words 'elder abuse' I think your mind immediately goes to a physical situation. But more often than not the abuse is financial.  

"The abuse of older adults often are scams, fraud, and financial exploitation. The thing about older adults, is they are very trusting, and now with so many things you receive on email and phone calls, they con people into giving away their money," said Mark Hensley, Associate State Director, Community Outreach, AARP NC. 

AARP says elder financial exploitation in the U.S. amounts to more than $28 billion each year. Sadly, the majority of the losses come from people the person over 60 years old knows, versus $8 billion from stranger incidents. How do you combat a lot of this? Education and awareness.

June 15, 2024, is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Here in the Triad, AARP and other sponsors are putting on the Triad Elder Abuse Awareness event at Triad Park in Kernersville.  Starting at 9 am, there will be vendors set up and music. The opening ceremony and the walk is at 10:30 am on that Saturday, June 15.

The event also includes a free shred of documents and a medication disposal drop-off. Vendors will be there set up to help educate folks and their families on age-appropriate issues. 

"Shredding your documents is the best way to protect yourself from having that sensitive financial information get out to the wrong place. These vendors and this event is all about a heightened awareness of all the resources, and services in the Triad that strive every day to protect older adults and their families," said Hensley. 

Full Articles & Source:
Join the walk Greensboro & Winston-Salem: Triad Elder Abuse Awareness Event June 15, 2024

Friday, June 7, 2024

Guardianship: For Far Too Many, It’s a Nightmare


Elderly man falls, hits head, goes to hospital with severe concussion. His memory is fuzzy. By the time this daughter finds out, he’s at assisted living. She wants to bring him home. 

But, no. A woman explains she’s been appointed by a probate court as his guardian. He can’t go home with his daughter, she says. He can’t leave the facility. He can’t do anything without the guardian’s permission. He can’t make his own healthcare decisions. He can’t spend his own money. His daughter does her best to fight the system and free her dad, but meanwhile, he gets put on more and more drugs.

That’s the basic plot for “The Bad Guardian,” a new film now streaming on Lifetime that aims to encapsulate all that can go wrong with guardianship — a system that strips individuals of their money, their rights, their freedom to make any decisions affecting any corner of their life.

Here on Mad in The Family and Mad in America, none of this is surprising. We’ve read first-person accounts by family members recounting such nightmare scenarios — including Marian Kornicki’s story from 2022 and Poppy Helgren’s from December of last year. Most recently, Duane Farrant described losing his mother to conservatorship and all the horrors that followed. And former MITF editor Miranda Spencer has written extensively about Britney Spears and the #FreeBritney movement that rallied for her release. 

Spears, who was freed from conservatorship in November 2021, has received the most attention in mainstream coverage of such issues, although other celebrities occasionally bubble up into the public consciousness. But by and large, besides the #FreeBritney campaign, most people outside the MIA/MITF community have barely an inkling of the outrages that can occur under guardianship and conservatorship. 

To be clear, not all guardians are abusive; as author Diane Dimond explained in We’re Here To Help: When Guardianship Goes Wrong, family members often fill the role with loving responsibility. But as she made clear in both the book and in my MIA podcast interview with her last year, others exploit and abuse those in their care. As she said during our conversation: 

“Every year in this country, state courts hear guardianship cases. The targeted person is declared an incapacitated ward of the court. They are stripped of their civil rights. In most states, the vast majority of states, they can’t even hire a lawyer to defend themselves because they’re incapacitated. These state courts then confiscate the money, property, investments of all the wards and put it in the name of the guardian. . . . It’s just a playground for predators. That is what it’s become.”

And that, in essence, is the message of “The Bad Guardian,” which was inspired not by one specific story but by the experiences of countless people. Playing the daughter, Melissa Joan Hart embodies the bafflement and frustration of those who, trying to advocate for their loved ones, bump up against a system purportedly designed to aid people but routinely dehumanizes and hurts them. 

As executive producer Elizabeth Stephens told an investigative reporter at a ABC Action News in Tampa Bay: “Every single turn of events is true. It’s all real. And, you know, it’s shocking. . . .  What happens is they get into the system, and then, as you know, it’s almost impossible to get out.”

That could well be the biggest horror of all — the legal cage that traps the vulnerable. In his recent piece for MITF, Farrant unspooled a gut-wrenching story of his “stolen” mother’s own cage. While trapped inside the system, she lost her health. Her teeth. Her ability to make any decisions. Her liberty in every sense. And he could not get her out. 

“People in this system of ‘care’ lied, cheated, and stole, ignoring my mother’s health, desires, and well-being until it killed her,” he wrote. “This is what happens—not just to her, but to many.” 

Far too many. 

—Amy Biancolli, Family Editor 

Full Article & Source:
Guardianship: For Far Too Many, It’s a Nightmare

Comedian Carol Burnett’s Estranged Daughter Scores Small Victory in Fight to Regain Visitation of Son

by Ryan Naumann

Comedian Carol Burnett’s estranged daughter Erin received good news in court this week as part of her effort to regain visitation with her teenage son — months after being accused of “erratic behavior," In Touch can exclusively reveal.

According to court documents obtained by In Touch, Jodi Montgomery, the guardian appointed by Carol, 91, and her husband, Brian Miller, to take care of Erin’s son Dylan, signed off on Erin visiting her teenager. Erin will be allowed one monitored lunch visit with Dylan. The date and time have yet to be determined. A monitor will be present during the 1-hour visit.

Jodi said the deal would be off if Erin attempted to contact Dylan before the scheduled meeting.

“If all goes well with the visitation then, in the Guardian’s sole and absolute discretion after consulting with [Dylan], [Dylan’s] counsel, the monitor, among others if needed, further visitations can be scheduled before [Dylan] leaves California for college,” Jodi said.

Back in 2020, Carol and her husband filed to be named co-guardians of Dylan. The couple claimed Erin had struggled with addiction issues for years and was unable to properly take care of her son. “In the past 19 years, Erin has been in and out of rehabilitation centers and has been institutionalized a total of eight times for a minimum of 30 days each time,” Carol said in her petition.

The couple said Dylan’s father was also not a suitable guardian. The court approved the petition. A couple of weeks later, Carol and Brian appointed Jodi to take over their roles. As part of the guardianship, Erin was required to follow a strict set of rules to communicate with her son. Last year, a court-appointed lawyer accused Erin of breaking the rules by “accidentally” running into Dylan when he was out with his father.

Carol Burnett's Estranged Daughter Scores Small

The court-appointed lawyer demanded visitations be suspended due to Erin’s “erratic” behavior. Earlier this year, Erin claimed she had been clean from drugs for months. The court recently shut down her plea to attend Dylan’s graduation despite her emotional plea.

“I am hardly a danger to my child. I have been drug/alcohol tested consistently since moving back from Hawaii and I work with people in treatment and I must remain completely sober in order to keep my job. I love my job and I love being sober,” Erin said. Erin claimed her famous mother had iced her out completely.

“I miss my son terribly, and I feel that this is a punitive situation brought on by people trying to keep me away from my son until he moves out of state. There has been no attempt from my family members involved in this court case to get to know who I am today. I am not the same person that I was,” she said.

“I have reached out consistently to my mother telling her how I’m doing and although I respect and understand her decision to not be in my life, it is punishing to both Dylan and myself. I have a sponsor in AA and I also sponsor three women. I am an active member in this 12-step program and I take my sobriety seriously.” Carol has yet to respond in court.

Full Article & Source:
Comedian Carol Burnett’s Estranged Daughter Scores Small Victory in Fight to Regain Visitation of Son

See Also:
‘Flagrantly Violated’: Lawyer Fighting Carol Burnett’s Daughter Erin’s Plea for Visitation With Son Despite Claims of Sobriety

Carol Burnett’s Daughter Accuses Comedian of Refusing to ‘Get to Know Who I Am Today,’ Icing Her Out Despite Being Sober

Former Spears Figure Named Permanent Guardian for Carol Burnett's Grandson

Carol Burnett,Husband Nominate Key Spears Figure for Temporary Guardianship

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Judge dismisses guardianship case filed by Huntington businessman after woman's death

By Chris Dickerson

WAYNE – A guardianship and conservatorship case filed by a prominent Huntington businessman regarding an elderly woman has been dismissed following the woman’s death.

Wayne Circuit Judge Jason Fry entered the order to dismiss May 30 in the case filed in March by Marshall Reynolds and Kaleb Cihon.

Ben Coffman Jr. had filed the motion to dismiss April 2 in Wayne Circuit Court in response to the petition filed last month by Marshall Reynolds and Kaleb Cihon. In the original petition, Reynolds and Cihon sought the appointment of a guardian and/or conservator for Melanie Coffman, the alleged protected person in the case.

Coffman Jr., who is Melanie Coffman’s only living child, had filed a motion to dismiss the case, and the parties had a hearing April 9 before Fry, who agreed to continue the case. But Melanie Coffman passed away April 30, rendering the matter moot.

At the April 9 hearing, Fry agreed to continue the case after Ben Coffman Jr., appearing via telephone, said he had yet to obtain legal representation and that his mother was unable to travel to attend a hearing. That was after Fry emptied the courtroom prior to the start of the hearing, removing both a writer for The West Virginia Record and Cihon's wife as well as other individuals waiting for a child adoption hearing.

Reynolds and Cihon were represented by Matthew Ward of Dinsmore & Shohl in Huntington. Ward also refused to speak after the April 9 hearing, saying he was told not to speak to The Record.

In his original petition, Cihon listed him as the proposed guardian and Reynolds as the proposed conservator. It listed Cihon as Melanie Coffman’s “unadopted son” and Reynolds as a “family friend.”

But in his motion to dismiss, Coffman said he is the only surviving child of Melanie and Ben Coffman Sr. and had been their acting guardian and power of attorney since early 2022 when the health of both of his parents began failing and official power of attorney since August 17, 2023.

Coffman’s father attended Vinson High School in Huntington with Reynolds. His father later played basketball at the University of Kentucky for legendary coach Adolph Rupp.

Coffman’s father passed away in February, and Coffman said he and his wife Kate had been providing full-time care to his mother at his home in Cincinnati.

“At that time they made me an owner or beneficiary of their accounts and assets and I also started managing their medical, home and life needs,” Coffman wrote in his pro se motion. “In addition, my mother resides in my home in Cincinnati, Ohio. All of her life needs including insurance, doctors, finances, family and friends, et al. are in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“This is where she was born and raised and has lived much of her life. All of her family is located here as well. Me, my wife Kate Coffman, my five sons (her grandsons) and one great grandson.”

In the original petition, Cihon listed himself as a de facto guardian, conservator, medical power of attorney, representative or appointed surrogate responsible for Melanie Coffman’s care or custody and said no one else had been designated as a surrogate decision maker, but it did say Cihon believed Ben Coffman Jr. is a duly appointed power of attorney for his mother.

In his motion, Coffman said a guardian hearing requires the alleged protection person – his mother in this case – be there in person or have an evaluation done. He said that couldn’t happen because his mother was “unfit to travel at this time.”

But Cihon’s petition disputed that claim by checking a box that said she has no incapacity that kept her from attending. It also claimed Melanie Coffman had not nominated a different guardian or conservator.

Coffman’s motion, of course, disputed both of those claims.

“The court cannot conduct a hearing on the merits of this petition without the presence of the protected person unless one of the following is submitted to the court at the beginning of the hearing,” the original court filing said, listing the acceptable submission as a physician’s affidavit, qualified expert testimony or evidence that the person refuses to appear.

Cihon’s petition also said Melanie Coffman “suffers from severe dementia and is unable to fully care for herself or finances.”

And in a separate motion for leave to file the petition without evaluation report, Cihon said he “does not possess a power of attorney or medical power of attorney to authorize the physician to execute the required evaluation report” and said he sought an order from the court authorizing Melanie Coffman’s physician(s) to “conduct and complete the necessary evaluation report.”

In a separate matter, Ben Coffman Jr. said a caregiver who had been taking care of his parents’ former home in the Westmoreland section of Huntington refused to move out, so Coffman filed a motion to evict her. The caregiver appealed, but the eviction was upheld.

Full Article & Source:
Judge dismisses guardianship case filed by Huntington businessman after woman's death

See Also:
Judge continues guardianship case involving elderly woman filed by Huntington businessman

Huntington businessman files for guardianship of elderly woman, but her son wants it dismissed

After state settlement, disabled people stuck in nursing homes hope to find homes of their own

One of Lorraine Simpson’s favorite things to do is cook curry chicken. But for the past three years, she hasn’t been able to do that. Her room at Hermitage HealthCare nursing home in Worcester doesn’t have a kitchen, and she can’t go to the store.

Her situation is an example of what can happen to too many people with disabilities: unable to find a place or the resources to live on their own, they end up “warehoused” in a nursing facility. Simpson was a plaintiff in a federal class action lawsuit, which argued that the state was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act by allowing this practice to become commonplace.

“There are a lot of people, a lot of our clients, who are in nursing facilities, who could be managed in the community and maybe never should have been placed in the facility to begin with because there should have been community-based programing that could have supported them,” said Simpson’s legal guardian Sara Spooner.

Thanks to a recent settlement, the state will set up programs to help people like Simpson transition into living in the community. Starting this summer, the work will be underway to move each of the thousands of residents covered by the settlement into housing that’s tailored to their needs.

Finding her independence

Many people with disabilities fall into a gap in services, unable to find a living situation that will meet all of their needs. Simpson experienced that firsthand. Before living at the Hermitage, she spent periods unhoused. Then she was hospitalized.

“There were not, at that time, programming available that she could then transition into from the hospital setting. So she ended up in the nursing facility setting,” Spooner said.

Simpson recently got good news: In a few weeks, she has plans to move to a shared group home. She told GBH News that she had a lot to look forward to.

“My grandkids can come over. I can cook for myself. I can clean my whole house. I can do everything,” she said.

“This case is really about dignity. It’s about autonomy, and it’s about equity for older adults and people living with mental illness.”
Kristyn DeFilipp, attorney with Foley Hoag

The home in Shrewsbury will be staffed all day, where someone will be able to help with her medication, get to medical appointments and go food shopping. And there will be a kitchen.

It will be quite a shift from the Hermitage. On a recent spring day, her lawyers and advocates met with Simpson at the nursing facility to talk about her move.

“There are a couple of chairs right outside the front door. But people very rarely can even use those chairs. So the individuals who are here are pretty much locked in all the time,” said Steven Schwartz, a lawyer at the Center for Public Representation, who represented the plaintiffs in the class action suit.

“Today’s a really beautiful day. 75 degrees, and sunny, but they won’t have any opportunity to enjoy that,” he said.

Simpson said she has gotten good care at the facility, but still wants to leave. During an interview, Simpson, who is originally from Jamaica, started to sing a song of freedom: “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley.

‘I want to get out of here’

The path to independence is more complicated for people like Richard Caouette, another plaintiff in the lawsuit.

In his room at the Bear Mountain nursing facility in Worcester that he shares with a roommate, he has some Patriots posters and signs thanking him for his military service in Iraq, but that’s about all there is to make it feel like a home. All around him are the hums of medical machines, beeping and disruptions from other residents.

“I want to get out of here so bad. It’s making me worse, living here,” Caouette told GBH News.

Bear Mountain was the focus of a recent investigation by the Disability Law Center, which found “appalling” conditions and examples of “understaffing, overmedication, and neglect.” In a statement to GBH News at the time of the report, Bear Mountain defended its care for patients, but said that it will work to improve conditions.

Caouette said he’s found the staff to be caring, but he has been there for four years and still wants to get out as soon as he can and get his own place.

“I want to ... eventually get my own apartment if I can afford it,” he said.

A man with gray hair to his shoulders sits on a nursing home bed. The sheets are folded up behind him. A New England Patriots poster is visible in the corner of the room.
Richard Caouette at the Bear Mountain nursing facility in Worcester on May 7, 2024.
Meghan Smith GBH News

Caouette has epilepsy, diabetes, a hearing impairment and several mental illnesses. Before the nursing facility, he struggled to find housing that he could afford and couldn’t access support services without a place to live.

“I was living on the streets. And then I had depression, then I was going to Salvation Army to wash up, shave and shower, eat some food, take my medication,” he said.

Spooner, also Caouette’s guardian, says the fact his psychiatric conditions have been stable during his stay at Bear Mountain is proof he can live independently.

“The fact that he can maintain the stability that he has in such an unstable environment, I think speaks to his ability to be able to be managed in community,” she said.

Caouette has applied to the Moving Forward Program, the same program as Simpson, to find a living arrangement. But he has been denied three times because the program said he needs too much oversight for his psychiatric conditions.

His advocates are appealing that decision, arguing that it’s a violation of the ADA to not make reasonable accommodations that would keep him out of institutions, such as training staff on the communication style that is best for him.

Spooner hopes that the settlement will help Caouette.

“I’m hoping that what it means for him is that the services that he is entitled to, the accommodations that he’s entitled to, will be made available to him under the improved programming through the settlement,” she said.

If he gets housing, Caouette says he wants to get back into his hobbies that he hasn’t been able to do while inside the facility.

“I used to take care of the garden, the flowers and stuff like that,” he said. “I like to bowl. I haven’t been bowling in a long, long time.”

Next steps for the settlement

The state says that, over the next eight years, the settlement will enable at least 2,400 people to move out of nursing homes. New and expanded supports include housing subsidies and rental vouchers, case management and outreach, and support services to help people navigate the transition.

Advocates for people with disabilities are hopeful about the impact of the settlement, even as they say some details are vague and it can’t address all the challenges.

“This case is really about dignity. It’s about autonomy, and it’s about equity for older adults and people living with mental illness,” said Kristyn DeFilipp, a lawyer at Foley Hoag, which helped bring the suit.

The settlement may also save taxpayer dollars, she said.

“Now you’re going to have people who are living in a less restrictive environment. And often that would mean a less expensive environment, as well,” DeFilipp said.

Lisa Gurgone, CEO of Mystic Valley Elder Services, says that the settlement will benefit their Community Transition Liaison Program, which brings staff into nursing homes to help people set up a transition plan.

The program was started with donor money and will now get state funding.

“This will really solidify that funding long term and allow us to keep those staff who ... help people with barriers to going home,” she said.

Last year, they helped 113 people transition out of nursing homes, and Gurgone said they expect to increase that number. She particularly wants the program to help people who face significant barriers like navigating time-consuming housing applications, social security benefits or sealing their criminal records so they can access public housing.

Lisa Felci Jimenez, director of clinical services at Mystic Valley, said that there’s a need for more varied options for housing.

“Really, our nursing facilities have become almost like shelters. We’re housing people that aren’t appropriate. They could step down with support, but they might need more supervision than they could have, like in an apartment,” she said.

Program administrators like Gurgone are waiting on more details from the administration about the settlement. But they say access to housing has to come before some of the agreed-upon changes — like rental subsidies and home modifications — can ultimately benefit anyone.

“I’m sure we’ll be able to help more people. That will be great. But ... it can be an uphill battle,” she said. “There’s a lot of talk about housing, but until we actually have the housing, these people are still kind of waiting. That’s the reality.”

Full Article & Source:
After state settlement, disabled people stuck in nursing homes hope to find homes of their own

Woman Found Breathing at Funeral Home Has Died

Story by Evann Gastaldo

 A woman in Nebraska who was pronounced dead at her nursing home only to be discovered breathing by a funeral home employee two hours later has died, reports the New York Times. The woman died Monday afternoon, after being transported from the funeral home to a hospital in Lincoln. An investigation into what happened is underway.

A 74-year-old woman who was in hospice care at a Nebraska nursing home was pronounced dead Monday morning and transported to a funeral home—where she was discovered to actually be alive. A funeral home employee noticed her breathing about two hours after she'd been pronounced dead, and called 911 immediately, ABC News reports. Funeral home staffers performed CPR on the woman, and she was taken to a local hospital. She was still alive as of Monday afternoon, Fox News reports.

"It's a very unusual case," the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office chief deputy told reporters. "Been doing this 31 years and nothing like this has ever gotten to this point before." No criminal charges are currently pending, he said. "We have not been able to find any criminal intent by the nursing home but the investigation is ongoing," he added. Since the woman's death was anticipated and not suspicious, the nursing home was not under an obligation to notify local authorities or the coroner's office after her death. 

Full Article & Source:
Woman Found Breathing at Funeral Home Has Died

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Caregiver of wheelchair-bound man arrested in connection to 2020 cold case murder in Chambers County

by Christian Terry

Carroll Richardson (Chambers County Sheriff's Office)

– A man has been arrested in connection to a 2020 murder where a wheelchair-bound man’s body was found dumped in a lake in Chambers County.

According to the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office, Carroll Richardson is charged with murder.

The sheriff’s office said the investigation began when on October 13, 2020, the body of 37-year-old, Daniel Howey, a wheelchair-bound individual with intellectual and developmental disabilities, was found in Dutton Lake on FM 2354. Howey had been reported missing out of Harris County around the time his body was located.

Investigators discovered Howey had been under Richardson’s care at the Caring Hands Group Home in Harris County. Detectives later discovered that Howey had received a large settlement from a personal injury case in May of 2020.

Detectives identified Richardson as a suspect in the case and information found during the investigation revealed that Richardson systematically depleted Howey’s large settlement through various transactions, including large sums of money directed to himself, his associates, and his business.

“Investigators located a witness who provided critical eyewitness accounts leading up to, and during the course of the murder of Howey, which took place in Chambers County, Texas. Detectives developed a motive after discovering that Howey had threatened to report Richardson for the theft of his settlement money. Detectives were also able to identify an accomplice of Richardson, who they identified as Shaun Sandles, of Harris County,” the sheriff’s office said.

Detectives presented the investigation to a Chambers County Grand Jury who indicted both Richardson and Sandles on May 30, 2024 on charges of Murder.

Monday, Richardson was taken into custody while he attended an unrelated court hearing in Harris County.

“Richardson was transported to the Chambers County Jail without incident. Sandles is currently incarcerated at the Powledge Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on unrelated charges out of Harris County,” the sheriff’s office said. “The Chambers County Sheriff’s Office remains committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of all citizens and visitors in our community. Victims of exploitation and abuse are encouraged to come forward and report their experiences.”

Anyone with any additional information on the case is urged to contact the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office at the attention of Sgt. C. Hudson or Lt. L. Clement at the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigation Division at 409-267-2500.

Full Article & Source:
Caregiver of wheelchair-bound man arrested in connection to 2020 cold case murder in Chambers County

Caregiver arrested for abuse of disabled adult: HCSO

by: Garrett Phillips

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A woman who worked with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities was arrested for abusing a disabled adult, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said Friday.

Angela Mercado, 43, who works as a Day Program Supervisor at the non-profit Sunrise Community Facility, was arrested on May 17 after a witness said she became angry with and pushed a victim with cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities because he was “moving too slowly.”

Credit: Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office

Mercado reportedly pushed the victim into a doorway and repeatedly kicked him, deputies said.

“It is sickening that someone in a position of trust, meant to help others, would use such violence against a vulnerable person,” said Sheriff Chad Chronister. “There is no place for abuse in our community. Our detectives will continue to work to ensure that every individual, regardless of their background, is protected.”

Mercado has been placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation at the Sunrise Community Facility.

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Caregiver arrested for abuse of disabled adult: HCSO

Attend this free elder fraud workshop in Westfield on June 10 I What's the Deal?

Scams targeting people 60 and up caused over $3.4 billion in losses in 2023.

Attend this free elder fraud workshop in Westfield on June 10 I What's the Deal?

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Ohio nursing home faces lawsuit after resident dies following violent attack

by News Release

CINCINNATI, Ohio — An Ohio family has filed a lawsuit against a Cincinnati nursing home, alleging negligence and wrongful death following the death of their loved one, Dolores Niederhelman, allegedly as a result of an attack by another resident.

According to the law firm representing the family, Dolores Niederhelman died four days after allegedly being attacked, with both of her shoulders broken, by another resident at the nursing home. The lawsuit claims that the nursing home failed to send her to the hospital after the attack and that she declined over the following days until she was comatose, eventually dying shortly after being finally sent to the hospital.

The physical assault was reportedly captured on the facility’s surveillance camera, which was placed in Ms. Niederhelman’s room. The lawsuit alleges that the facility not only failed to properly examine Dolores following the attack but also did not inform her family members about what occurred.

The lawsuit, pursued by Michael Hill Trial Law on behalf of Dolores Niederhelman’s family, targets the Three Rivers Healthcare Center, part of the Communicare Family of Companies, one of the largest nursing home chains in Ohio and the United States.

According to the lawsuit, Ms. Niederhelman, who had a history of Alzheimer’s dementia, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and hypothyroidism, became a resident of Three Rivers Healthcare Center on March 5, 2021. She was placed in a secured unit for behaviors on September 16, 2021, due to her vulnerability and cognitive impairment.

The lawsuit details the events of January 26, 2023, when the video monitoring system recorded a female resident allegedly attacking Ms. Niederhelman in her room, leaving her on the floor distressed. The lawsuit claims that the nursing staff failed to adequately respond to the situation, including failing to contact Ms. Niederhelman’s family members until twelve hours after the assault, failing to accurately describe the incident to authorities, and failing to provide proper medical treatment to Ms. Niederhelman.

Ms. Niederhelman was eventually sent to the hospital, where it was revealed that both of her shoulders were fractured as a result of the attack. However, she continued to decline due to complications from the fractures and developed infections, ultimately succumbing to her injuries on January 30, 2023.

The lawsuit alleges negligence, wrongful death, and violations of nursing home resident rights laws against Three Rivers Healthcare Center, citing chronic understaffing and systemic failures in providing proper care and treatment to residents.

“Our firm is deeply committed to seeking justice for the family of Dolores Niederhelman. The nursing home’s failure to protect its residents and their subsequent mishandling of the situation, from not evaluating the victim after the attack to misleading the family about the nature of her injuries, is utterly unacceptable. This kind of negligence not only violates the trust families place in these facilities but also endangers the lives of the most vulnerable members of our society. We will continue to pursue accountability for these egregious actions to ensure something like this does not happen again,” says trial attorney Michael Hill.

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Ohio nursing home faces lawsuit after resident dies following violent attack

Former resident, families question care at Garretson nursing home

Several families are speaking up about their concerns for their loved ones in a Minnehaha County nursing home.

By Beth Warden

GARRETSON, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Several families are speaking up about their concerns for their loved ones in a Minnehaha County nursing home.

In her cozy apartment, a woman who wished to remain anonymous is grateful for every day she can wake up in her own bed.

When she had to move into a nursing home herself, she never dreamed how bad it would be. In 2021, she was placed at Palisade Healthcare Center in Garretson.

“I had a huge bedsore while I’d only been there for two weeks. It took a long time, of healing, a lot. It was horrible,” the woman recounted.

Meanwhile in Texas, her daughter, who also worked in a nursing home for 18 years, had concerns.

“She didn’t go there to get worse. She went there to get better,” the daughter expressed.

When learning of the bedsore, she called the state.

Her mother eventually recovered and never wants to see the inside of Palisade again.

“I just love life because I do remember how horrible my experience was. Horrible. It’s a miracle I actually got to come home,” the woman said.

Sheri Rokusek’s experience ended with a broken heart. She always had a soft spot for her brother Jerry Erhart.

“[He had a] political science degree, wanted to be a teacher, joined the National Guard. And unfortunately in his 30s, he began to show signs of schizophrenia.” Sheri explained.

While living in the Yankton Human Services Center with his health declining, a state-appointed guardian looked for a nursing home for Jerry. Last November there was an opening at Palisade.

“And I had concerns right away. I did bring those to her attention. And her answer was that she hadn’t had any problems with them,” Sheri recalled.

Sheri hoped to visit her brother in the spring, but that ended with a phone call.

“He passed away at 2:30 in the morning. And I didn’t get a call until almost 10:00 a.m.,” Sheri said.

That’s when the family learned for the first time, that Jerry had been in hospice and had never been notified.

“Hospice versus saying Garretson should have contacted us and Garretson is saying hospice should have contacted us,” Sheri recalled.

Our team spoke with Lordes Parker, the Executive Director at Palisade Healthcare, offering to interview her and any satisfied patients. We have not received a return call.

Parker said that all of the Department of Health’s reports on the home, like an 86-page list of deficiencies in 2021, are in a notebook on-site for all to review. The Department of Health said those reports are unavailable online.

The 2021 reports found health, safety and care deficiencies, such as bedsores, not properly clothing residents, staff not using proper hygiene, overdue fire sprinkler certifications, and undelivered mail.

If you have a loved one in need of nursing home care, these families offered advice from their experience.

“Have the care plan. Go over the care plan, you know, really get involved in their care. And if they know that you’re there for your loved one. They’re more likely to follow the rules and regulations,” the daughter said.

“If you are not getting the information you need, go find somebody that will give you the information. So you can have the opportunity to say goodbye to your loved one,” Sheri said.

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Former resident, families question care at Garretson nursing home

The Costs of the Rising Cost of Long-Term Care

By Lee Pruitt

Do you have a family member who is receiving some form of long-term care? If you don’t, the chances are good that someday you will – and that day may not be too far away. As the U.S. population ages and life expectancies increase, the need for long-term care is becoming an important consideration for many individuals and families.

Long-term care refers to a range of services and support one may need to meet their personal care needs over an extended period. This type of care may be available in a person’s home, at an assisted living facility, or at a nursing home. These services can range from help around the house to 24-hour care in a nursing home or memory care unit.

Though the cost of long-term care varies widely across the United States, it has been rising and will continue to rise. According to Genworth Financial, the current average cost of a private room in a nursing home is $108,405 per year.

Long-Term Care Payments or Retirement Savings?

A recent survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Nationwide asked 1,334 U.S. adults 28 years old or older about balancing caregiving obligations and their long-term financial situations. Results revealed that many adults are sacrificing long-term financial well-being to give or pay for long-term care for parents or other loved ones.

Some people leave good-paying jobs to take lower-paying jobs with more flexibility so they can care for loved ones with long-term care needs. This can derail a person’s career and cost them a significant amount of earning potential in the long run. Other people may be able to keep their full-time jobs but pay out-of-pocket expenses for which they will never get reimbursed. The Harris Poll/Nationwide survey found that people pay an average of $338 per month for caregiving expenses.

The survey also found that more than half (56 percent) of respondents said they are willing to borrow from their retirement accounts to help pay for long-term care for a loved one. Borrowing from a retirement account can drastically reduce the account’s ability to generate enough funds for retirement. Nearly half (43 percent) of the survey’s respondents are concerned that caregiving expenses will keep them from retiring.

Long-Term Care Planning

Though the cost of caregiving can have a significant effect on a family’s finances, only 17 percent of the survey respondents said they have discussed long-term care and its costs with a financial professional. Of the adults surveyed, 30 percent said that their financial professional has not brought up the subject of long-term care planning with them.

According to Holly Snyder, president of Nationwide’s Life Insurance business, long-term care planning is often a complicated and emotional process and can have a significant effect on a family’s financial well-being. Nationwide’s data show that Americans would benefit from being more proactive with their financial planning, especially with regard to planning for long-term care costs.

Long-Term Care Insurance

A good way to plan for the costs of long-term care is to invest in long-term care insurance. Long-term care insurance (LTCI) is a type of insurance designed to cover the costs of long-term care services. Individuals with LTCI usually have more options for the type of care they receive and where they receive the care. Having long-term care insurance can also reduce emotional and financial stress on families, since they know that proper care will be accessible when it is needed.

Unfortunately, too many Americans are not taking full advantage of strategies to help them manage and mitigate long-term care costs, such as LTCI. According to the survey, only one in five adults said they have long-term care insurance. Of those who have not purchased this type of insurance, nearly half (49 percent) said the perceived high cost of the insurance was a deterrent.

The Cost of LTCI

The cost of long-term care insurance varies widely based on several factors:

  • Age and Health: Premiums are generally lower if you purchase a policy at a younger age and when you are in good health.
  • Gender: Women typically pay more than men because they tend to live longer and are more likely to need long-term care.
  • Marital Status: Married couples often receive discounts on their premiums.
  • Benefit Amount and Duration: The cost is influenced by the daily or monthly benefit amount you choose and the length of time benefits will be paid (for example, three years, five years, or for a lifetime).
  • Elimination Period: This is the waiting period before benefits begin. A longer elimination period usually reduces premiums.
  • Inflation Protection: Adding inflation protection increases the premium but ensures that benefits keep pace with the rising costs of care.

The cost of long-term care insurance can also vary significantly depending on where a person lives. This can add another challenging factor when people begin to think about purchasing a long-term care insurance policy. According to the survey, people often overestimate the cost of LTCI. When the survey participants were presented with a sample of an LTCI policy, 20 percent guessed the policy cost more than $500 per month when, in fact, the policy cost $130 per month.

According to Forbes, the average annual cost of long-term care insurance in the U.S. in 2023 was $1,200 for a 60-year-old man and $1,960 for a 60-year-old woman. The cost is lower for younger individuals and higher for older individuals.

Seek Expert Advice Before You Purchase an LTCI Policy

Long-term care insurance offers a way to safeguard against the high costs of long-term care, providing financial protection, choice, and peace of mind. However, it’s essential to carefully consider the cost, benefits, and your unique circumstances before purchasing a policy. Consulting with an elder law attorney, financial advisor, or insurance specialist can help in making an informed decision tailored to individual needs and financial situations.

Contact an experienced elder law attorney near you today to talk further about your options for affording long-term care. They can walk you through the options that may be available to you and help you understand the benefits and costs.

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The Costs of the Rising Cost of Long-Term Care

Monday, June 3, 2024

DeSantis signs bill to block senior scams, banks will be able to delay suspicious transactions

by  C. A. Bridges

As of January next year, financial institutions can delay a transaction from a senior citizen if they have a reasonable belief the person is being ripped off, thanks to a new bill Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law Tuesday.

SB 556, Protection of Specified Adults, introduced by Senators Darryl Ervin Rouson, D-St. Petersburg and Lauren Book, D-Davie, was designed to stem the increasing waves of scammers preying on the elderly with fake phone calls, text messages and email to trick them into signing over money, personal identification or financial access.

"The Legislature finds that many persons in this state, because of age or disability, are at increased risk of financial exploitation and loss of their assets, funds, investments, and investment accounts," the bill said. "The Legislature further finds that specified adults in this state are at a statistically higher risk of being targeted for financial exploitation, regardless of diminished capacity or other disability, because of their accumulation of substantial assets and wealth compared to younger age groups."

By "specified adults" the law means a person 65 years of age or older, or someone 18 years of age and older who is mentally, emotionally, physically or developmentally impaired and unable to consent.

A sign on Red Bug Lake Road in Oviedo, Florida, warns drivers of elderly scams Sunday, May 26, 2024.  C.A. Bridges

Online and phone scams have increased dramatically in the last few years with huge spikes in investment and cryptocurrency scams, tech support scams, personal data breaches and identity theft, romance scams, and more. American seniors over the age of 60 lost more than $3.4 billion in 2023, 11% more than the previous year, according to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), and that's just what was reported.

Florida ranked second-highest in senior fraud last year, with nearly $294 million in losses reported. (First was California, with $643 million.)

What does SB 556, Protection of Specified Adults do?

If someone at a state or federal financial institution (banks, trust companies, credit unions, etc) believes that a person 65 or older or a person incapable of consent is being victimized, they may delay a disbursement or transaction for up to three weeks (15 business days) while they investigate.

The bill requires the financial institution to promptly initiate an internal review and it must notify anyone authorized to transact business on the person's account or any trusted contact listed on the account within three business days. An exception can be made if any of the people with access to the account are the ones the institution suspected of being the ones trying to defraud the victim.

How long does the financial hold last?

The transaction or disbursement will be delayed 15 business days from when the delay was placed, but if the financial institution's investigation finds evidence to support the delay it can be extended up to 30 more business days.

The delay may be shortened or extended at any time by a court and the financial institution may drop the delay at any time.

The bill also requires financial institutions to develop training policies to educate employees on what to look for and create written procedures.

"The Legislature intends to balance the rights of specified adults to direct and control their assets, funds, and investments and to exercise their constitutional rights consistent with due process with the need to provide financial institutions the ability to place narrow, time-limited restrictions on these rights in an effort to decrease specified adults’ risk of loss due to abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation," the bill said.

When does SB 556 take effect?

The law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2025.

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DeSantis signs bill to block senior scams, banks will be able to delay suspicious transactions

Elder Abuse Workshop Planned For June 13


 by William F. Galvin

HARWICH – The council on aging will recognize World Elder Abuse Awareness Day with a workshop and luncheon at the community center June 13. The event is being put on in conjunction with Elder Services of Cape Cod and The Islands and will focus on teaching people to recognize risk factors and signs of abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation.

Elder Services will be working with several councils on aging on the Cape on June 13 to bring awareness to elder abuse through the “Lunch and Learn” workshops, which will be held in Harwich, Dennis, Sandwich and Provincetown from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Reservations are recommended through local COAs.

Elder abuse is widespread in the community and in institutions and takes many forms, according to an Elder Services press release. Every year an estimated one in 10 older Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation, and that is only part of the picture. Experts believe that elder abuse is significantly under-reported, in part because so many of our communities lack the social support that would make it easier for those who experience abuse to report it.

“It is fairly rare for concerns of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse to be reported to the COA, but it has happened during my tenure,” said COA Director Julie Witas. “In the most recent case, Adult Protective Services (APS) was already involved, so we provided other support services to the concerned family members and the victim during the investigation.

“More often, we hear concerns from family and friends about suspected caregiver neglect, which is also a type of abuse,” she said. “This type of abuse occurs when a caregiver fails to support the physical, emotional, and social needs of the elder who is dependent upon them. Of course, as mandated reporters, we follow up on every allegation and ensure that it is reported appropriately.”

Research shows that as few as one in four cases of elder abuse come to the attention of authorities. Each month, Elder Services receives over 200 reports of suspected elder abuse occurring in its service area of Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket counties.

“Although no one can say with certainty, I believe there are more cases of serious abuse out there that are not being identified or reported,” said Witas.

“Part of the pattern of abuse is manipulating the victim to stay silent,” she said. “In addition, some caregivers do try their best but are simply not capable of providing sufficient care for their elderly spouse or relative, for a myriad of reasons. These cases aren’t exactly abuse, but rather are caused by a lack of resources. Usually, these households have been isolated and are unaware of the support available to them. We know more of these cases exist in the community because we find new ones every week.”

Elder abuse is an issue with many consequences for society. Its effects on communities range from public health to economic issues, according to the Elder Services announcement for the workshops.

“The good news is that we can prevent and address the issue of elder abuse,” said Ed Murphy, protective services director for Elder Services. “When we come together to enact policies, services, and programs that keep us integrated in our communities as we age, we are taking important steps toward reducing and preventing elder abuse. Many of the programs Elder Services operates in the community have been proven to reduce incidences of elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.”

“When someone comes to us with concerns, our town nurse and/or social services coordinator will visit the older adult at home to perform an assessment. Afterwards, a report will be filed with Adult Protective Services if abuse or neglect is suspected,” said Witas.

In this region, APS is housed within Elder Services. Its staff will review reports and decide whether an investigation is warranted and if so open a case. The goal of APS is to protect older adults and keep them safe while causing the least disruption to their lifestyle and the least restrictive care alternative. This means that they do everything possible to keep people in their homes, said Witas.

Learn more about prevention at

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Elder Abuse Workshop Planned For June 13

Two arrested for exploitation of elderly Columbia man, stealing thousands

Columbia police arrested Duncan and Buckley on charges related to financial exploitation and fraud against the elderly.

Thompson said this is an ongoing investigation, and the accused may face additional charges at a later date.

Anyone with information related to this case or other instances of financial exploitation is encouraged to contact the Columbia Police Department at 601-736-8225.

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Two arrested for exploitation of elderly Columbia man, stealing thousands