Ukiah Daily Journal from Ukiah, California on September 27, 1987 · Page 10
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Ukiah Daily Journal from Ukiah, California · Page 10

Ukiah, California
Issue Date:
Sunday, September 27, 1987
Page 10
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10-SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 27,1*87 -THE UKIAH DAILY JOURNAL AP INVESTIGATIVE REPORT Lapses found in monitoring of guardianship The elderly are losing their rights "I had a son who took His mother from the nursing home to Thanksgiving dinner. He charged her mileage for coming and going and charged her eight dollars and something for the dinner. — San Diego Probate Judge Paul Overton. By GEORGE GARDES •nd LAURA CA3TANEDA Each year, hundreds of elderly people in the retirement haven of California lose the right to handle their own money, to decide where they will live and how their doctors will treat them. They even lose the right to vote. Because of physical or mental disabilities, the lives of these old people are put into the hands of legal guardians on the authority of a judge who may never meet the individuals, never hear arguments from their lawyers and never examine medical evidence. Most guardians undoubtedly have their wards' blest interests at heart, and California has created a system of safeguards — including public investigators in each county — considered among the most advanced in the nation. But ah Associated Press study has found significant lapses in the process of guarding the guardians. In a year-long Examination of guardianships for the elderly in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the AP found often antiquated, chaotic systems where judges routinely place senior! citizens under guardianship with little or no evi- dence and then frequently lose track of the wards and their money. A survey of some 2,000 files revealed numerous instances where money was stolen of misspent and wards were neglected and abused. In a four-month California survey, two AP reporters reviewed 80 randomly selected court files and conducted dozens jof interviews with social services experts, lawyers, judges, and the guardians and wards themselves. Among the findings: —There's no central control for the system of guardianship — or conservatorship, to use the California term — and the methods and philosophies of those who administer it vary considerably from county to county. Still, thd law has been overhauled and fine-tuned over the last two decades to I protect elderly wards from physical abuse and financial exploitation. —Once set in motion, the system tends to carry the elderly inexorably toward dependence and placement in a nursing home or other institution, whether they need it or not. 1 —Despite judicial scrutiny and the establishment of a corps of court investigators, it is still possible for a conservator to steal his ward's money in California. One company , that provides bonds for conservators sets aside a reserve of $2 million a year to coyer default payments to wards. In the California files checked by | the AP, conservators generally filed all of the required accounts. The files indicate that 'court investiga- Bob Christen sen DOS Welcomes New Patients •TMJ CONSULTATION, TREATMENT* SURGERY •ORAL SURGERY • PERIODONTAL SURGERV • ENDODONTICS AND ALL YOUR DENTISTRY NEEDS 48 MADRONE ST • WILLITS 459-2555 or 459-2666 Calling It A Wbrk Shoe Doesn't Make It A Work Shoe... Building It Like One Does. • All Leather Uppers • Brass Hardware •Goodyear Welt Construction • Long Wearing Sole • Removable Cushion Insole COME TRY A PAIR! FUN SHOES FOR FUN PEOPLE tbrs are following their legally mandated schedules by visiting each ward every two years, but investigators' reports vary in length and thoroughness from county to county. Conservatorship is largely a family affair, but in a retirement state like California, that's not always the case. "We have people who come from the East or the Midwest to California, the 'Golden State,'" says Lura Otto Scovilte, a former court employee who recently hung out her shingle as a professional conservator. "They either don't have families or they're back East and they can't come out here." Professional conservators take court-approved fees out of their wards' estates in return for managing their money and their lives. For those without money or friends, there are public guardians in each county. Those involved say the majority, of wards are obviously unable to cope. They're victims of Alzheimer's disease, strokes and other ailments, often bedridden or confined to wheelchairs. ' Few statistics are available, but a Stanford University study of 214 conservatorships in San Mateo County in 1982 and 1984 found the wards' average age was 82 for women and 77 for men. The study, by law professor Lawrence Friedman and graduate assistant Mark Savage, examined a smaller sample of existing conser- vatorships and found 52 of 58 wards were in nursing homes or other institutions. In the opinion of court investigators, 51 of those lacked the capacity to give informed consent for medical treatment, and only 60 percent of them could make "intelligible" responses to simple questions. Paying for U.S. nursing home residency Nearly half of all nursing home residents make their payments at admission from personal or family sources, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Medicaid is the second most common source of payment, used by nearly 40 percent of nursing home residents. fttSlKNTS: SOURCES OF PAYMENT Source used upon admission, In percent: mlSCwnVnVMra fiAMAMiiiaAiift •4*|*f«iw»ai - — ». wwwwinnicni •••latfliVvv t.O /o Own Incomtitamlly support 49.8% Medicare 4.9% SOURCE: U.S. Nlllontl C«nl«r lor H.illh Slitlllici InfoGrophici <f,1987 North America Syndicate. Inc In the study — scheduled for February 1988 publication in the Southern California Law Review — Friedman raises questions about the legal process. He notes that in 153 court hearings studied, only 35 wards, or 23 percent, attended the sessions in which their rights were revoked. Apdhecmy '•A""'MITERS ANTACIDS AND PRESCRIPTION DRUGS If you are taking a prescription for high-blood pressure or tuffer from fluid retention, you should stay away from antacids with a high level of •odium. If you're taking tetracycline, -avoid antacids containing magnesium, aluminum or calcium. If you have kidney problem* avoid tnfat^fr containing "«»gn*»idiim. Many people find that liquid antacid tastes better if it is refrigerated. If you take the tablet type chew them thoroughly. If heartburn symptoms last longer than a few hours check with your doctor. • ••• A great many entrust us with their prescriptions, home health care needs and other pharmacy products. We consider this trust a privilege and a duty. May we be your personal pharmacy? Myers Apothecary Shop located at 238-A Hospital Drive, UUah. Call 468-8991. GETlVloRE M FOR YOUR ONEY AT IIRACLE! M Of those who didn't attend, 23 expressed some reservations about the proceedings to court investigators, but only two filed formal objections and only one conserva- torship was denied. An elderly person is entitled to a full jury trial if he or she objects to conservatorship, but that right is rarely exercised and the hearings tend to last just a few minutes if uncontested. If the proposed ward is present, the judge questions the individual, often reducing legal terms to simple language to assess mental capacity. The only time medical evidence is required is when the proposed ward doesn't appear. Even then, the evidence in most cases consists of a brief written doctor's statement that the ward is too sick to go to court. "One thing that's interesting is the cursory nature of the hearings," says David Grant, vice president of the Center for the Public Interest in Los Angeles and a critic of conser- vatorship. "If the ward's not present and not represented by an aggressive lawyer, it's going to be a threc- or four-minute hearing." Both Grant and Friedman believe conservators arc oflcn appointed for elderly people who don't really need to give up total control of their lives. "A careful reading of the files suggests that the boundaries have probably been overstepped in some unknown (small) number of cases," Friedman writes. Others say UK safeguards arc adequate. Lawmakers say they purposely made it easy to hold a hearing without the ward present out of compassion, based on reports old people had been dragged into court comatose, or awake, but unable to answer such questions as, "How old arc you?" "Where were you born?" "Who's the president of the United States?" Court investigators serve as the eyes and cars of the judge, reporting the condition of the ward who doesn't come to court. An added safeguard is the legal requirement that the ward and all close relatives get notice when a petition for con- servatorship is filed. "I think the process tends to eliminate those persons who would become a conservator for improper or inappropriate reasons," says A. Rex Victor, the probate judge who oversees coflservatorsliips in San Bernardino County. The law calls for judges to appoint lawyers for wards if it's deemed helpful, or if a ward wants a conservatorship dissolved. But that's no guarantee of an adversary proceeding. Court-appointed lawyers tend to meet with all parties concerned and form their own opinion of the ward's capacity before pressing a case. Dirk Van Tatenhove, an Orange County lawyer frequently appointed to represent wards, says such cases can present an ethical dilemma. "As an attorney, what are you supposed to do?" Van Tatenhove asks. "Do you represent what they want, or what's in their best interests? ... My tendency is what I think is best for the conscrvatee and not what the conservatce wants, if he's incompetent." Unneeded service Critics suggest a number of rca- sons for unnecdcd conscrvatorships: —Childrens fear that an aging parent may squander his money before passing it on; —Hospital officials' desire to have someone to assume liability for bills and medical decisions; —Social workers' desire for a tool to force an elderly person to move against his will but for his own good. "Overwhelmingly, guardianship serves the interest of those who arc asking for it," Grant says. "There isn't an-old person in the country who wakes up in the morning and 1 says, 'By golly, I need a guardianship.' " George Alexander, after his experience as leader of a commission that recommended establishing ihc court investigator system, is now leery that any reform can make conservatorship work. "I fear that people keep saying, ':Lct's throw a little more due process at it and forget about it.' It's dangerous," Alexander said. "...1 believe it's an institution so dangerous and so capable of abuse that we just ought to abolish it." Virtually everyone who deals with conscrvatorships has at least a few of what one court investigator calls "war stories," talcs of abuse by conservators. Most times, the abuse takes the form of dipping into money. When ihc conservator is caught, the court orders the ward repaid out of a bond the conservator must post. Those who ought to know say the problem is Retting worse. "In 10 years, 1 have recovered well into the seven figures making whole on bonds when someone went south with the money," says Marshall Oldman, a Los Angeles attorney often appointed to represent wards. Robert -Spaak, whose Southern California Bonding supplies bonds for most of the 9,000 private conservators in Los Angeles County and is active throughout the state, says the number of defaults has risen alarmingly in recent years. Spaak refuses to say how much he's lost making good for crooked or incompetent conservators, but he will give the size of the reserve he sets aside to cover such losses — S2 million last year. "It's a sign of the limes," Spaak says by way of explanation. "It's a general decay in the moral quality of people." COME TO BEAUTIFUL BLUE LAKES AND ENJOY DINNER & DANCING WITH US -COUPON HAWAIIAN CHICKEN DINNER FOR TWO ONLY FREE ESTIMATES Highly approved for insurance claims. Adjusters welcome. MnOPMKT\M& tBOCN RtWkW, 3907 N. State St. Ukiah 485-0338 Open weekdays 7:30AM-5:30PM, Sat. 9AM-2PM for estimates. 'Miracle Auto Painting franchises are individually owned. Guarantees, prices and offers may vary. I OFFER GOOD SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 27 ONLY %e?«lai THvut Ait* /lowMk! PRIME RIB • STEAK • LOBSTER LIVE ENTERTAINMENT - CHRIS IS BACK! WITH CRAZY CREEK BAND! FRIDAY £SAIUKDAY9p m 2 u m.SUNDAY6!Op m OPEN 7 DAYS A WttK OHkAHFASl L UNL'H AND DINNER 5135 W HIGHWAY 20 UPPER LAKE PHONE 707/275-2178

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