After Dino Palermo disputed the bills from the nursing home where his wife had lived for four years and that had doubled his copays, after he had raised concerns about its inexperienced employees, he received a guardianship petition filed by the nursing home. It sought full legal power over Mrs. Palermo, 90, and complete control of her money.
In a horrifying tale told recently in the New York Times, the practice of nursing homes assuming guardianship is becoming “routine,” said the paper, “underscoring the growing power nursing homes wield over residents and families amid changes in the financing of long-term care.”
Most people are unaware that these facilities, at least in New York, are able to yank control of someone’s life from his or her loved ones and give it to an institution whose interest is strictly financial. Some of the 12 in 100 such guardianship cases, The Times reported, might be the result of family feuds, suspected embezzlement or no one to help secure Medicaid coverage. “But lawyers and others versed in the guardianship process agree that nursing homes primarily use such petitions as a means of bill collection,” it concluded, “a purpose never intended by the Legislature when it enacted the guardianship statute in 1993.”
It’s an abuse of the idea of guardianship, which transfers someone’s legal rights to make some or all decisions to, usually, a court-appointed attorney paid from with the subject’s money.
Guardianship is intended to protect people who are unable to manage their affairs and who have no one else – friends or family – to help them do it.
And, of course, a guardian has a fiduciary duty to act in the interest of their ward, not someone else who might want money from the ward. So it’s a huge conflict of interest.
In the case of the New York nursing homes, it’s about intimidation, and it’s often cruel.
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