By LARRY MITCHELL - Staff Writer
Kay Roberts and her friends and relatives shake their heads in bewilderment when they talk about their experience with the Butte County public guardian and courts.
They wonder why things happened as they did and whether their experience is typical or a fluke.
Nevertheless, to a degree, the experiences Kay and her family and friends relate seem to fit a picture some reformers paint of a public guardian/conservatorship system fraught with potential for abuse.
"The system is out of control and ends up causing abuse rather than stopping it," psychologist and author Diane Armstrong told the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging earlier this year.
* Did Kay really need to be in a conservatorship? Could she have returned home instead of continuing to reside at an assisted-living facility?
Her family and friends seem to agree Kay is in a good environment at Prestige Assisted Living. Her old friend Mel Jones maintains she could have gone home and lived there successfully before all the troubles of the past months took their toll on her.
* Why did the public guardian file to put Kay in a conservatorship?
Was it... assumed Bill was using Kay's money inappropriately.
* Should the complaint to the public guardian have been made?
Kay's friends say her son, Bill, wasn't abusing his mother even though he might have appeared harsh with her at times. That's just the way he is, said longtime family friend Ruth Hetherington. Sometimes he raises his voice and carries on, but he's devoted to his mother and never would harm her, she said.
Bill denied being abusive to his mother. He said at times the nursing home staff might have seen him and Jones talking excitedly with Kay about the problems created by the public guardian.
Bill and Jones say they wonder if there weren't other reasons Riverside staff wanted Kay in a conservatorship. Bill said he thinks financial reasons were behind Riverside's complaint - that the facility's administration hoped the public guardian would keep Kay at Riverside, and the nursing home could continue collecting Kay's private-pay fees, which are considerably higher than Medi-Cal rates.
* Was there an adequate investigation of the reasons Kay supposedly needed to be in a conservatorship?
Bill, Jones and Hetherington say no investigator ever talked to them.
Judge Darrell Stevens said while he could not comment on a continuing case, such as Kay's, he could speak generally about the conservatorship process.
* Was some of Kay's money wasted after the public guardian took charge of her affairs, as Bill and Jones allege?
In early May, Jones looked over an accounting of how much of Kay's money the public guardian spent during the temporary conservatorship, between Aug. 12 and Nov. 13. He estimated about $40,000 had been spent.
Was Kay Roberts and her family's experience with the Butte County Public Guardian's Office typical?
Nevertheless, some of the things Kay and her family experienced seem consistent with an ugly picture certain advocates for the elderly paint of the public-guardian/conservatorship system across America.
A multitude of abuses are described by psychologist Diane Armstrong of Santa Barbara in her book "The Retirement Nightmare."
In February, testifying before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, which was looking into contested conservatorships and guardianships, Armstrong declared that "hundreds of thousands of men and women have had their retirement years destroyed by court proceedings (involving) money, power and control."
However, she noted, more than a quarter of the cases she described in her book "involved proceedings that were initiated by social workers and members of the social welfare community. What motives drive these individuals and agencies to file petitions? A desire to control the increasingly independent elders and their money, and a need to expand the numbers of persons 'helped' by the agency in order to increase agency funding."
Armstrong's testimony continued: "What motives drive members of the court? Judges and their favored professional conservators and guardians, expert witnesses and court investigators have unspoken agendas: money, power and control."
After the hearing at which Armstrong testified, Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, who chairs the Special Committee on Aging, requested a Government Accounting Office investigation and report on guardianships.
In a letter to the Enterprise-Record last December, Ruth Hetherington expressed her disapproval of the county's actions concerning Kay Roberts, in particular the limitations on her son's visiting rights.
"The county has still denied her the right to have her son visit her without supervision and will not allow him to take her out for errands, doctor appointments, or just for a ride. This is ridiculous and is the cause of heartache, depression and tears for Kay.
"Those of us who are close to Kay and her son, Bill, feel that they should be allowed to spend time together in her final years and that the takeover and domination by (the public guardian) is unfair, possibly illegal and certainly wrong."
Bill, a Vietnam veteran, lived with his parents most of his life county officials, without examining the facts of Bill's relationship with his mother, assumed he must be preying on her when they learned he had access to her bank account.
"I can't imagine anything like this ever happening to me, but then I couldn't imagine it ever happening to Kay either."
Enterprise-Record intern Robert Hernandez contributed to this story.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the final story in a three-part series.
Abridged and edited for E.A.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
By LARRY MITCHELL - Staff Writer