Wednesday, June 4, 2008

How Many More Stolen and Destroyed Lives?


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.

County officials say if all the facts could be known, it would be clear why the public guardian intervened in Kay's situation. (Officials say confidentiality rules prevent them from talking about Kay's case specifically.)

In fact, because questions were raised, Butte County administrator Paul McIntosh said, the County Counsel's Office investigated whether the case had been handled properly. In addition, the county had the case examined by an outside attorney with expertise in conservatorships. "Both reviews (showed that) our handling of the case was appropriate and in compliance with the instructions provided by the court," McIntosh said.

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.
Here are some of the questions and theories Kay and her family and friends have about what happened, as well as some people's opinions about the possible validity of those theories (several questions aren't answered fully because individuals wouldn't discuss certain matters):

* 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?

* Should the complaint to the public guardian have been made?
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.

* 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.

Investigations are done for the court by Randall Graves, an attorney from Grass Valley, who specializes in this work, Stevens said in an interview. "I always require that he seek out and talk with the person (being considered for conservatorship). He will many times talk with other people who are involved." The lawyer makes a written report that the judge considers strongly in making a decision.

Stevens said because he is keenly aware that a conservatorship takes away many of a person's freedoms, he is very careful with his decisions.

* 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.

In addition, the Public Guardian's Office collected $6,851 from Kay in fees for its services, and a bill is yet to be received from Dirk Potter, the attorney the court appointed to represent Kay.

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 Š by court proceedings (involving) money, power and control."

Most of the petitions for conservatorship "are filed by adult children who are seeking some form of control over the personal and/or financial affairs of their aging relatives," she told the senators.

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.

"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."

"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 for E.A. Source=>>

1 comment:

Your ElderCare Advisor said...

Wow, what a great job at informing the public about this topic. I never realized how much power these people had and how they got the power of the families of these elderly who probably could have assisgned someone in the family to be responsible for her affairs.
Chuck at http://www.ElderCareHotline.com