NY lags behind other states on guardianship reforms – ProPublica

Across the country, states are reviewing their guardianship approaches and revising decades-old laws to better protect vulnerable adults who can no longer care for themselves because of age or illness.

In Pennsylvania, lawmakers recently passed a sweeping law that, among other things, requires professional guardians to pass a certification exam to serve. And in Illinois, lawmakers want to make it harder for private guardians to profit from vulnerable wards who have no one to care for them.

But in New York, where more than 28,000 people rely on guardians to ensure their personal and financial well-being and where judges, lawyers and advocates warn of a growing crisis in the system, elected officials have taken little action.

The $237 billion state budget passed by lawmakers this month does not include new funding to support guardianship services, although ProPublica has reported that the state system is in shambles and authorities are struggling to ensure proper care for elders. and hospital wards.

Guardianship Access New York, a coalition of nonprofit providers, had asked lawmakers for a modest sum: just $5 million to help them manage the finances and health care of poor adults who have no one to care for them, and little to no money to pay a private guardian – a group known in the industry as “unfriends.” That would have been a significant increase from the $1 million lawmakers previously allocated to fund a statewide hotline that hundreds of people have consulted on behalf of friends or family.

But the budget passed April 20 only renewed the $1 million that funds the hotline.

“We are disappointed that lawmakers are still unwilling to invest in this underfunded mandate that is causing suffering to so many people,” said Brianna McKinney, who leads advocacy for Project Guardianship, a nonprofit that acts as a guardian for about 160 New York boroughs.

As ProPublica reported last month, New York does not have enough guardians for all the people judges say need them. The system relies on private lawyers, who experts say often refuse to hire people who don't have significant assets, and a small network of nonprofits, two of which have closed in recent years due to financial constraints.

According to ProPublica, supervision of guardians is also threadbare. There are 17,411 people in guardianships in New York City, but only 157 examiners review the reports guardians are required to file to document the finances and care of wards, according to state court data. With such a thin staff, it can take years for reviews to be completed. During this time, vulnerable wards were cheated and neglected.

In recent years, the conservatorships of celebrities such as Britney Spears and former NFL star Michael Oher have piqued public interest and sparked scrutiny of legal arrangements.

In New York, a recent Lifetime documentary about former talk show host Wendy Williams — and her guardian's unsuccessful attempt to prevent it from airing — has cast an even greater spotlight on the state's conservatorship system and raised questions of court oversight amid allegations of exploitation and improper care .

Spokespeople for Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Gov. Kathy Hochul, the state's most powerful Democrat who negotiated the spending legislation, did not respond to questions about the lack of conservatorship funds in the last budget or the prospect of future financing.

That includes whether an additional $3 million earmarked for the Office for the Aging's state budget to fund “various aging initiatives” should be used to fund guardianship providers.

Agency spokesman Roger Noyes said a plan proposed by Hochul to address the needs of the state's aging population “provides an opportunity for additional policy focus on access to guardianship, programmatic or structural changes, and alternatives to guardianship.” The But the governor has provided few details about how her proposal will work, particularly when it comes to addressing elder abuse, a key pillar of the plan.

Many people in guardianship today are elderly and suffer from dementia, Alzheimer's and other illnesses that require help, the judges said. And advocates say demand for services will only increase as the state estimates a population of 5.6 million New Yorkers over age 60 by 2030, one of the largest population concentrations in the country.

In Illinois, the state's aging population is driving the guardianship debate. Democratic Rep. Terra Costa Howard, an attorney, said she was inspired to write legislation after her own representation of an elderly community. She learned that a private conservatorship and a well-known law firm representing hospitals appeared to be working together, resulting in costly bills at the ward's expense.

“What this little law has exposed is a huge problem — elder care is a big, big mess,” Costa Howard told ProPublica. “In our chamber, in our Legislature, this is an issue that people are willing to fight for. People didn't pay attention to it until I brought it up. I’ve brought it up and now let’s get going.”

But in New York, there is no state legislature willing to advocate for reform, nor are there powerful lobbying groups advocating on behalf of conservators, many of whom live in assisted living facilities and nursing homes.

AARP New York said in a statement that it has focused its efforts on other areas this legislative session, including securing funding to support older New Yorkers “who need home and community-based services” and funding a nursing home and adult care oversight program Facilities.

“If additional guardianship proposals are introduced in the Legislature, AARP New York will certainly evaluate them in the context of our national policy and decide when or whether to address the issue,” the statement said.

Such legislative action appears unlikely this session, which ends in June.

Sen. Kevin Thomas, a Long Island Democrat who first secured $1 million to fund the statewide guardianship hotline and pushed for more funding this session, is leaving the Senate when his term ends next year. He did not respond to an interview request.

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Anna Harden

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