By Susan Hindman
When Robin Westmiller’s 80-year-old father suffered a stroke in 2002, causing his health to deteriorate, it attracted the attention of a distant cousin in another state. Over her mother’s protests, her father traveled to the cousin’s home in March 2004, and within three weeks, the cousin had taken control of his life, refusing to let him talk to his family and convincing him to file for divorce and revoke his wife’s power of attorney. When Westmiller was finally able to stop the takeover four months later—by going to court and getting him a temporary emergency guardian—she thought she had taken a step toward getting her father back to his own family. But she had actually created a new roadblock, this one cemented in place by the legal system.
The guardian, she said, “changed (her dad’s) name, moved him without telling us, denied him access to a telephone, and no one in the facility or the hospital was told that he had a wife, a daughter, or grandchildren. Once they got hold of him, they drained nearly his entire life savings.” When he passed away on June 23, 2007, “there was no life insurance, no stock portfolios, or any other assets,” leaving her 83-year-old mother nearly destitute.
Westmiller, a recent law school graduate, wrote a book about her experience, and started a Web site—the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse (NASGA) in 2004—then left it to form Advocates for National Guardianship Ethics and Reform (ANGER) in 2008. Both sites detail other horror stories through postings of victims and of published newspaper and magazine articles recounting the stories of others.
Guardians have been accused of draining their elderly wards’ life savings, charging exorbitant fees for small tasks, selling homes without permission, throwing away personal belongings and mementos, not paying bills, cashing and pocketing Social Security checks, and making unilateral decisions about where their wards can live and whom they can see. They have even placed them in nursing homes against their will, blocked contact with loved ones, and kept them overmedicated. As their life savings are redirected toward the guardians and lawyers and dwindle to nothing, seniors are forced to go on Medicaid, leading people close to the issue to call it a form of Medicaid fraud.
Annie McKenna, media liaison with NASGA and embroiled in her own guardianship battle, says that "abusive guardians have a standard operating procedure: Isolate. Medicate. Take the estate.”
How pervasive is this problem? “We’re saying it’s an epidemic,” says Terri Abelar, founder of Aging Solutions, a California eldercare management consulting firm.
Read some of the articles for yourself—in the Boston Globe (2008), Key West: The Newspaper (2008), New Haven Advocate (2007), Palm Beach Post (2007), and Los Angeles Times. AARP wrote about it in 2004, and Money magazine way back in 1989. To watch video reports relating guardianship horror stories, visit Stop Guardian Abuse.org or click The People of the State of California vs. Joseph T. Quattrochi Sr. Fox 5 News, from New York City, also did a story, and The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet (another Fox program broadcast from New York City) did two stories, which you may view here and here.
Elderly victims have ranged from average citizens who spent a lifetime saving for retirement to those who are wealthy and familiar faces. One case involved a well-known retired New York judge who became a victim when his court-appointed guardians paid themselves large fees, confined him to a nursing home for two years without being allowed to receive visitors, and sold off his properties. Judge John L. Phillips Jr., a multimillionaire who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, was placed under a guardianship program in 2001. By the time the issue was nearing resolution in 2007, he was destitute. He died at age 83 in February 2008.
And if you think the government doesn’t know about this, read the 1987 report by a House subcommittee of the Select Committee on Aging or the 2004 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on guardianship that followed a yearlong investigation by the Senate Special Committee on Aging, which heard witnesses testify about abuses occurring across the country. What they found, however, was that neither the states nor the federal government has data on the number of elderly people with guardians or the incidences of abuse.
What has happened is the result of an unregulated business pairing with a court system that provides no oversight and government agencies that lack basic statistics.
Continue reading this study=>>here
Thursday, October 23, 2008
By Susan Hindman