Guardian services are used to look after people who can’t look after themselves, but in some cases, they’re putting seniors into assisted living communities against their will.
A harrowing article in this week’s New Yorker magazine tells the story of Rudy and Rennie North, two seniors whose lives were overturned when the owner of a “private guardian” service forced them out of their home and into Lakeview Terrace, an assisted living community in Boulder City, Nevada—leaving that community with few options.
Lakeview’s executive director was even threatened with arrest and loss of license when she tried to come to the aid of another resident who was a ward of a guardianship service, according to the story.
Here’s an excerpt from the Oct. 9 issue’s story:
… There was a knock at the door. A stocky woman with shiny black hair introduced herself as April Parks, the owner of the company A Private Professional Guardian. She was accompanied by three colleagues, who didn’t give their names. Parks told the Norths that she had an order from the Clark County Family Court to “remove” them from their home. She would be taking them to an assisted-living facility. “Go and gather your things,” she said.
Rennie began crying. “This is my home,” she said.
April Parks was a guardian for several residents at Lakeview Terrace in 2015, according to the company that operates Lakeview, Ridgeline Management.
“When Ridgeline Management Company, the company managing Lakeview Terrace, became aware of the actions of Ms. Parks, we promptly reported our concerns to authorities,” the company said in a statement to Senior Housing News.
Ridgeline continued: “We were very pleased Lakeview Terrace was able to assist in bringing these irresponsible actions of guardian April Parks to the senior advocacy systems in Clark County Nevada. We hope that the information we provided will assist the justice system in helping avoid any future harmful actions to our seniors and their families living in the state of Nevada.”
Parks was able to gain total control of the Norths’ lives after convincing authorities they lacked the ability to take care of themselves and had no family members up to the task. As a court-appointed guardian, Parks could order the Norths where to live, what medical treatment to receive and which of their possessions to sell. She also billed them for the service.
Parks, who is currently scheduled to go on trial for perjury and theft in the spring of 2018, was a guardian for roughly 400 wards of the court from 2005 to 2017. She moved several of them into Lakeview Terrace, but then transferred them out after the executive director began to resist Parks’ control of these residents, including mandating that no medical information be shared with the residents’ loved ones, the New Yorker reported.
This is not the story of an isolated incident: there are nearly 9,000 adult wards in the Las Vegas Valley, and around 1.5 million in the United States, the New Yorker noted.
Examples like Park raise questions about how many other guardian services might be taking advantage of seniors, billing them for unwanted and unnecessary services while also forcing them to pay out of pocket for costly senior housing.
The Government Accountability Office and other organizations have expressed concern at a lack of oversight and transparency, making it hard to determine how exploitative the guardianship business is. Because of the complicated legal nature of guardianship, most of the arrangements’ court records are kept under lock and key.
Eric Goldberg, a certified elder law attorney (CELA) and co-founder of Goldberg Law Group, said he was “alarmed” by the lack of safeguards in Clark County, Nevada, that could help protect more seniors from scammers.
“The story is like a horror movie. I have never heard of a guardianship scenario like it,” Goldberg told Senior Housing News. “It certainly appears to be more like racketeering than the normal course of business in that county.”
Laws regarding guardianship are much stricter in New Jersey, where Goldberg’s practice is based.
“The courts in New Jersey are hesitant to allow someone to become a ward of another or of the state,” Goldberg said. “Our liberty interest is too important.”
Preventing elder abuse
Even with robust protections, some cases of abuse can slip through the cracks.
The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), a Washington, D.C.-based organization that represents providers of senior living and care services, recommends providers read a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau guide on protecting residents from financial exploitation.
The organization has also offered webinars and other resources for providers looking to stop abuse or fraud.
“It’s despicable that anyone would take advantage of the elderly,” Beth Martino, spokesperson for AHCA/NCAL, told SHN. “Long-term care providers should be an ally to help prevent and report any kind of exploitation of seniors. We must stay vigilant in protecting the rights of vulnerable residents.”
Written by Tim Regan