In this Update:
Cash for Seniors? Pennsylvania’s Adult Guardianships Lack Oversight By Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-33)
Lately, I’ve heard from distressed constituents who say that, ever year, Pennsylvania courts deem an untold number of senior citizens incompetent, imprison them in far-flung institutions and cut off their communication with the outside world, all for the sake of seizing billions of dollars from the estates they now control.
Don’t believe them? Annually, Pennsylvania collects estate funds worth roughly $2 billion after assuming guardianships for seniors. This, despite state laws and recommendations from the Department of Aging to pursue guardianship “as a last resort.”
The statistics regarding just how many seniors live under guardianships is unclear, according to a 2016 report on elder abuse from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched the National Adult Maltreatment Reporting System (NAMRS) to better track instances of abuse and neglect. A NAMRS analysis from 2020 reported nearly 38,000 instances of financial exploitation from across all 50 states. About 16% of those cases were substantiated, according to the report.
Overall, NAMRS investigated nearly 776,000 suspected cases of elder abuse and neglect, of which one-third were corroborated by evidence. About 14% of these victims lived in nursing homes or residential facilities when these investigations were first initiated.
Still skeptical? Take it from Katherine Johnson, the former administrator for the Area Agency on Aging in Westmoreland County, who told a congressional Special Committee on Aging in 2018 she knew of at least one guardianship agency that mismanaged the assets of one of its clients, resulting in the senior’s eviction from a personal care home and $25,000 in lost income over a 22-month period.
Despite this, Johnson testified, the agency continued collecting guardianship and attorney fees, while leaving a balance for life insurance unpaid and ignoring its responsibility to liquidate the senior’s assets.
Worst of all, despite this egregious conduct, this investigation closed after the allegations went unsubstantiated. Johnson said Westmoreland County courts stopped appointing the agency as a guardian, however.
And this is far from the only case of exploitation and neglect. My office has received reports from family members who say the state makes sweeping claims of incompetency, takes control of assets and sequesters the senior in a far-off facility. Some say their family members can’t call home, receive visits or go outside for fresh air.
Courts appear reluctant, or downright refuse, to grant hearings for appeals or appoint attorneys for the families seeking relief. Judges have no obligation to consider expert testimony, review medical records or contemplate other suitable placements for the senior citizen, no matter how hard the family protests.
Johnson, in her testimony, agreed that the state’s guardianship system fails on multiple fronts. We leave incapacitated residents, with few or no family members, “at the mercy of” whatever agency agrees to handle their assets and medical care.
There’s no checks and balances to monitor whether a guardian agency is performing the duties required. Staterequired reports of financial activity often go unfiled, while many of the agencies themselves operate without performing background checks, establishing minimum training requirements or withstanding oversight from regulators or courts.
While family members routinely abuse, neglect and exploit seniors, Johnson said the risk increases “exponentially” with professional guardianship agencies.
This situation warrants further investigation. Our senior citizens are some of the most vulnerable among us. Who, if not their guardians, will give them a voice? Who is going to investigate this cruel scheme?
We’ve seen power structures in this state abuse their authority for financial gain before. The infamous “Cash for Kids” scandal revealed that judges in Luzerne County accepted $2.6 million in alleged kickbacks from two forprofit facilities for sending juvenile delinquents – many of whom were wrongly adjudicated – to their care.
Those involved were later found guilty on a litany of federal charges, leaving a scar on the state’s juvenile justice system and instigating reforms at the state level to prevent such an egregious abuse of power from happening again. Except that it can happen again and maybe, it already has.
Violence Intervention & Prevention Grants Available
Local municipalities, district attorneys, counties, community-based organizations and institutions of higher education can apply now for Violence Intervention and Prevention funding under two grant programs.
Under the VIP Competitive Grants Program, eligible applicants can request funding for a wide range of programs that address community violence and prevention efforts. The deadline to apply is Oct. 12.
The Coordinated Community Violence Intervention Strategies Pilot Grants Program supports collaborative community violence prevention and response strategies within contiguous geographic areas. The deadline to apply is Oct. 31.
PCCD will host informational webinars for prospective applicants to provide an overview of these funding opportunities and offer a chance to ask questions and receive instructions on the application process. Registration for the webinars can be found under “FY 2022-23 VIP Application Resources” here.
Comments Accepted on PA Freight Movement Plan
The public comment period for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s 2045 Freight Movement Plan ends Oct. 5.
The plan provides information on steps to improve the safety and efficiency of moving freight statewide. Having an approved and up-to-date freight plan helps ensure Pennsylvania remains eligible for federal funding under the National Highway Freight Program. This federal program will add an average of $58.5 million annually to the state’s program.
Bird Hunters Reminded to Take Avian Influenza Precautions
As the outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) continues, the Pennsylvania Game Commission urges the public to continue reporting wild bird mortality events, and hunters who handle wild birds are advised to continue to take precautions.
Several hunting seasons for wild birds are either underway or will begin soon. If hunters properly handle the wild birds they harvest, they protect themselves and help reduce the risk that this extremely contagious disease spreads to other birds. Bird hunters should:
Any sick or dead domestic birds should be reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture at 717-772-2852. Sick or dead wild birds should be reported to the Game Commission at 1-833-PGC-WILD or online using the Wildlife Health Survey tool at www.pgcapps.pa.gov/WHS.
Tours of State Game Lands Slated for October
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is holding public tours of state game lands in October.
Nine tours are scheduled throughout the state, the first of which will be held Sunday, Oct. 2. More tours are planned each Sunday through Oct. 16.
The tours provide a good example of the opportunities available on game lands statewide, while showcasing how habitat work being done on these tracts benefits wildlife. All tours are free, held rain or shine and open only to vehicles licensed for travel on public roads. You can find the complete tour schedule here.
New Hayride Standards Subject of Oct. 5 Webinar
Many farmers, other business owners and individuals offer hayrides in the fall to supplement income or for community events. In 2023, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) will be enforcing newly adopted national standards for hayrides.
The department and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau will offer a webinar Wednesday, Oct. 5, at noon to discuss the new standards, which cover hayrides and amusement rides.
The standards were developed by the American Society for Testing and Materials, an international standards organization. The PDA has been informing operators that it will begin enforcing those requirements under the state Amusement Ride Inspection Act beginning next year.
Recognizing that the standards are burdensome and there are nuances and variations that exist with hayrides on farm and agritourism operations, PDA officials will participate in the webinar to receive input from businesses and individuals whose operations these regulations might affect.
To register for the Hayride Attractions & Amusement Rides Webinar, please email Kyle Kotzmoyer of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoying PA’s World Class Fall Foliage
Pennsylvania has a longer and more varied fall foliage season than anywhere in the world, and experts are available to serve as regional advisers, offering tips and resources to help residents and visitors experience a colorful autumn in a variety of ways.
Weekly fall foliage reports can be found online on the DCNR website. The report will be updated every Thursday. Fall foliage typically peaks for several weeks throughout October across Pennsylvania. Visitors can get suggestions about the best spots to view fall foliage on the Penn’s Woods Fall Foliage story map and on the Pennsylvania Tourism Office website.
Foliage viewers can also check out one of Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks and more than 2.2 million acres of state forestland for some of the best views, recreation trails and park experiences. State foresters and park personnel are also available to recommend the best times and locations to experience the beautiful vistas of the season.
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