Abuse of Guardianship Lands Many Seniors in Nursing Homes
Posted in Elder Abuse, Nursing Home Abuse on May 21, 2013
Thousands of nursing home residents in Kentucky and across the nation suffer terrible abuse and neglect in long-term care facilities that are supposed to take care of them. But what about seniors for whom the very act of being committed to a nursing home is itself an act of abuse?
State courts have procedures to appoint guardians to make decisions for incapacitated people. However, the procedures can often be circumvented by unscrupulous people who have their own interests in mind, not those of the person they are charged with protecting. In some cases, a friend or family member hopes to get control of the elderly victim’s assets.
Guardians have been accused of doing terrible things: stealing their wards’ life savings, destroying personal belongings, failing to pay bills, cashing Social Security checks for their own use, and making unilateral decisions against the victim’s wishes. In far too many cases, guardians drain their wards’ life savings and then have them committed to a nursing home against their will, even though they might be able to continue living on their own.
Sometimes the people who are appointed guardians by the court are not friends or family members. There are no licensing requirements for guardians, and while there is a process for declaring someone unable to make decisions, it varies from state to state. In some states, guardians must show “clear and convincing evidence” that someone is unable to manage his or her own affairs, but in others they only need to show that the senior “is more than likely not competent.”
There are professional guardians, who do this for a living, who may have as many as 70 clients at a time. Only seven states require for-profit guardians to undergo training and testing; unfortunately, Kentucky is not one of them.
While most states require guardians to file initial inventory of the ward’s assets and then an annual accounting of finances, a large percentage of guardians fail to do so and are never held accountable.
The people who are filing for guardianship often have a direct financial interest in the case. A recent article in The Boston Globe, for example, showed that more than 2,000 people a year are put under guardianship in Massachusetts. The owners of one of the hospitals that frequently files for guardianship, the Globe reported, also owns the nursing home where many of the guardianship patients are sent.
This situation is outrageous. While it’s true, that many seniors suffer from Alzheimer’s and other cognitive diseases that rob them of the ability to manage their own lives, wards of the state lose control of life liberty and property. They lose the right to protect their homestead from sale, and the right to choose where to live. Someone else makes the decision whether or not they should live in a nursing home. They lose the right to vote, to drive, to marry. It is incumbent on the state to make sure that procedures are in place so only truly incompetent adults are given guardians.
No one should be forced to live in a nursing home against their will.