Tuesday, February 3, 2015
This Blog has followed the complicated recent history of bankrupt Lemington Home for the Aged, in Pittsburgh, with posts here and here. New America Media, a national association of over 3000 ethnic media organizations, has begun an important, multi-part series examining the "impoverished history of race" in long-term care for persons of color. The Lemington Home becomes a case study. The series is titled The Death of a Black Nursing Home.
"[W]hat happened to Lemington is not uncommon. Researchers at Brown University found that more than 600 other nursing homes in African American, Hispanic and low-income neighborhoods also went bankrupt during this period.
Their study examined the closings of more than 1,700 independent nursing homes between 1999-2009 and found that those located in largely ethnic and low-income communities were more likely to have been closed, mostly because of financial difficulties.
Specifically, nursing homes in the zip codes with the highest percentage of blacks and Latinos were more than one-third more likely to be closed, and the risk of closure in zip codes with the highest level of poverty was more than double that of those in zip codes with the lowest poverty rate."
Observing that "Medicaid homes can't compete" successfully, the article examines reimbursement rates under Medicare and Medicaid and the disproportionate effect of underfunding on minority communities.
"The principal authors of the study, Vincent Mor and Zhanlian Feng, both of Brown at the time (Feng is now at the Research Triangle Institute), noted 'closures were more likely to occur among facilities in states providing lower Medicaid nursing home reimbursement rates.' That left these homes without the resources they needed to compete successfully in an industry experiencing an oversupply of beds and intensified competition....
While Medicaid reimbursement rates vary by state, they are always below Medicare’s reimbursement levels or the fees charged to people who pay for their own care. The demise of Lemington and other nursing homes in minority and low-income neighborhoods is a direct result of this flawed payment scheme. However, large for-profit nursing home chains, some of which are owned by private equity companies and real estate investment trusts, can maximize profits by using expensive and aggressive marketing practices to cherry pick the wealthier residents in a given area while reducing the number of their own Medicaid clients.
Medicaid’s payment structure also has impacted the quality of care in nursing homes with predominantly minority residents."
We will link to the next parts of the series as they become available.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
LeadingAge, an senior housing and senior care organization that often takes a prominent advocacy role on behalf of nonprofit Continuing Care Retirement Communities, has a "NameStorm Survey" underway. The survey explores whether another name (and presumably an acronym other than CCRC) would better "resonate with consumers?" Everyone is invited to weigh-in, including current residents at CCRCs.
Here's the link to the reasons for the brainstorming of names, and here is a link to the on-line survey, that takes just a few minutes. The survey window closes on February 15, 2015.
Monday, January 26, 2015
In a major investigative report, The New York Times describes findings that nursing homes in counties throughout the state of New York are agressively seeking appointment of non-family members as guardians for residents of their facilities. The trigger? Unpaid nursing home fees.
Reporter Nina Bernstein uses the history of 90-year old Lillian Palermo to illustrate the practice, where a nursing home initiated a guardianship proceeding to displace her husband's authority as agent under a Power of Attorney, when disputes with her husband left unpaid bills, alleged to be "approaching $68,000."
NYT and researchers at Hunter College teamed to analyze the use of guardianships as a bill collection tool by nursing homes:
"Few people are aware that a nursing home can take such a step. Guardianship cases are difficult to gain access to and poorly tracked by New York State courts; cases are often closed from public view for confidentiality. But the Palermo case is no aberration,. Interviews with veterans of the system and a review of guardianship court data conducted by researchers at Hunter College at the request of The New York Times show the practice has become routine, underscoring the growing power nursing homes wield over residents and families amid changes in the financing of long-term care.
In a random, anonymized sample of 700 guardianship cases filed in Manhattan over a decade, Hunter College researchers found more than 12 percent were brought by nursing homes. Some of these may have been prompted by family feuds, suspected embezzlement or just the absence of relatives 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 -- a purpose never intended by the Legislature when it enacted the guardianships statute in 1993."
While, according to the NYT, at least one court has ruled such a "tactic by nursing homes is an abuse of the law," the increase of such suits highlights the payment dilemmas faced by facilities and families as Medicaid eligibility rules narrow and as the margin tightens for coverage of costs of care.
New York is not alone in seeing guardianship cases initiated by nursing homes. In Pennsylvania, attorneys retained by families or individuals have also sometimes challenged the practice, focusing on the use of facility-preferred guardians and the amount of fees added to the care bills in dispute.
National Senior Citizens Law Center, an important advocate for low income seniors in the U.S. since its inception in 1972, has announced a new identity, "Justice in Aging." But, don't worry, this change represents a deepening of their long-standing commitment (including a cherished role in training and education of senior advocates, including free webinars). As explained in news releases:
"The new name and accompanying 'look' will more accurately reflect the nature of our work, build on our legacy of impact, and open the door to engage more supporters and partners across the country. And it is a LOT easier to say and remember!
Our new name will be Justice in Aging. Our new tagline will be Fighting Senior Poverty Through Law.... Our new website will be www.justiceinaging.org. We will begin using the new name on March 2, 2015.... While our name is changing, our work will remain the same. As income inequality increases across the nation and the population ages, senior poverty is growing to unprecedented levels.... We still serve serve as a resource for advocates on important programs like Medicare, Medicaid, LTSS, Social Security and SSI."
We wish the hardworking staff of NSCLC -- or now JiA, perhaps? -- all the best as they roll out their new identity, and in their continuing commitment to advocating for seniors across the nation.
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
The National Senior Citizens Law Center (NSCLC) has sent out the latest news on pending (but delayed) implementation of new rules affecting payment of wages for many home care workers. Here is the helpful update from NSCLC:
"A U.S. federal district court has struck down new rules that would have applied Fair Labor Standards Act standards, like payment of minimum wage and overtime, to most Medicaid home care providers. Historically, many personal care providers and other in-home assistants have been exempted from federal labor laws under the 'companionship services' exemption.
The US Department of Labor is likely to appeal the decision to the D.C. appellate court, so a final decision on the validity of the expanded FLSA regulations will take some time. In the meantime, however, the new regulations, which were supposed to start on January 1, 2015, will not take effect. Unless a state chooses otherwise, home care providers’ wages and hours will stay the same. For more details about the court decisions or the rule, visit http://www.dol.gov/whd/homecare/ or contact Hannah Weinberger-Divack."
Those were the words of Ron Costen in speaking to friends, co-workers, legislators and policy-makers who have long been inspired by his passion to protect the elderly and who had gathered to honor Ron.
Temple Professor Ronald Costen, with multiple degrees in law and social work, has been working on behalf of vulnerable adults, including older persons, for more than thirty years. He is preparing for a "realignment" -- not a retirement -- as he leaves his full time job as founder and Director of Temple University's Institute on Protective Services in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he advised Area Agencies on Aging, county task forces, coroners, prosecutors, social work students and the Department of Aging on best practices when seeking protection for adults faced with neglect or abuse.
The audience, including Pennsylvania Department of Aging Secretary Brian Duke (shown above, right, with Dr. Costen, left), celebrated Dr. Costen's career last week with warm and funny memories, helping him embark on a new combination of consulting work and studies at the Lutheran Theological Seminary of Gettysburg. The new director of the Institute is one of Ron's former social work students, Christopher Dubble, MSW.
Best wishes, Ron!
Thinking More Deeply About Treating Nonlawyers Who Offer Medicaid and Estate Planning as Engaging in UPL
Earlier this week, we reported on the Florida Supreme Court's recent Advisory Opinion regarding activities by nonlawyers in "Medicaid Planning" that will be treated as Unlicensed Practice of Law (UPL).
That piece triggered several discussions with colleagues, and thus we have more information to share.
Stanford Law Professor Deborah Rhode, working with Lucy Buford Ricca, the Executive Director of Stanford's Center on the Legal Profession, has a relatively new article in Fordham Law Review's annual colloquium issue that deepens Rhodes' long-standing concerns about the potential impact of treating certain "nonlawyer" conduct as sanctionable under state UPL rules. In "Protecting the Professor or the Public? Rethinking Unauthorized-Practice Enforcement," Professor Rhode begins with the history behind her earliest examination of the utility of "do it yourself kits" in areas of underserved legal needs, such as divorce. In her most recent Fordham piece, she also builds upon her 1981 survey of UPL enforcement procedures across the 50 states, by making a close examination of over 100 reported UPL decisions issued in the last decade. Rhode and Ricca conclude that UPL enforcement needs to be more consumer-oriented and less driven by narrow interests of lawyers in protection of specialized practice. They advocate that a "more consumer-oriented approach would also vest enforcement authority in a more disinterested body than the organized bar." Their article is a must read for any Bar group considering UPL issues, including those arising in the elder law or estate planning context.
Along that same line, the American Bar Association is hosting its second "UPL School" in Chicago on April 17-18. The purpose is to provide "a central forum for volunteer members of state and local bar UPL committees and commissions, and those charged with the prevention and prosecution of UPL violations to discuss current UPL challenges." (The first such "ABA UPL School" was held in 2013, focusing on several areas including immigration, "notario" fraud, and mortgage relief or loan modification vendors.)
Sunday, January 18, 2015
Following extensive hearings and related proceedings, including revision of an earlier proposed advisory opinion by the Florida Bar's Standing Committee, the Florida Supreme Court issued a per curiam opinion on January 15, 2015, addressing certain Medicaid planning activities, concluding that when performed by nonlawyers, they constitute the "unlicensed practice of law" (UPL), thereby leading to potential sanctions.
The ruling focuses on actions by nonlawyers who assist with one or more of the following activities leading up to an application for Medicaid: (1) drafting of personal service contracts, (2) preparation and execution of Qualified Income Trusts; or (3) rendering legal advice on implementation of Florida law to obtain Medicaid benefits. The Court expressly distinguished the "preparation of the application for Medicaid benefits" as being outside of its opinion, pointing to federal law as authorizing nonlawyer assistance in the application process.
The Elder Law Section of the Florida Bar was the petitioner seeking the advisory ruling.
In the detailed conclusion, the "harm and potential harm" from "unregulated" nonlawyers selling trust packages was outlined:
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Directly from the White House:
The first White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA) was held in 1961, with subsequent conferences in 1971, 1981, 1995, and 2005. These conferences have been viewed as catalysts for development of aging policy over the past 50 years. The conferences generated ideas and momentum prompting the establishment of and/or key improvements in many of the programs that represent America’s commitment to older Americans including: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the Older Americans Act.
The 2015 White House Conference on Aging
2015 marks the 50th anniversary of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Older Americans Act, as well as the 80th anniversary of Social Security. The 2015 White House Conference on Aging is an opportunity to recognize the importance of these key programs as well as to look ahead to the issues that will help shape the landscape for older Americans for the next decade.
In the past, conference processes were determined by statute with the form and structure directed by Congress through legislation authorizing the Older Americans Act. To date, Congress has not reauthorized the Older Americans Act, and the pending bill does not include a statutory requirement or framework for the 2015 conference.
However, the White House is committed to hosting a White House Conference on Aging in 2015 and intends to seek broad public engagement and work closely with stakeholders in developing the conference. We also plan to use web tools and social media to encourage as many older Americans as possible to participate. We are engaging with stakeholders and members of the public about the issues and ideas most important to older individuals, their caregivers, and families. We also encourage people to submit their ideas directly through the Get Involved section on this website.
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Elder Law attorney Morris Klein from Bethesda, Maryland shared with us "Why You Shouldn't Count on Your Family Members to Take Care of You When You're Old" from the Washington Post. It begins with contrasting perspectives:
"About 60 percent of adults between 40 and 65 years don't think they'll need long-term care services, according to a new Health Affairs study. That's much less than the 70 percent of people at least 65 years old who will need long-term care services at some point, either in their home or at a facility, according to a widely cited earlier study from the Georgetown University Long-Term Care Financing Project. That includes 20 percent who will need between two to five years of long-term care and 20 percent who'll need more than five years."
The article provides current cost ranges, citing the need for greater realism about the costs of any third-party care. Plus, the author warns that a "major reason people are too optimistic is that they think their families will take care of them.... However, about 37 percent of people will need at least some facility-based care and 42 percent will need some formal care at thome, the earlier Georgetown study found." And the article continues with more sobering statistics....
Thanks, Morris, for sharing this article!
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
On November 14, 2014, the Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court's decision in a deceptively simple contract dispute. The question was whether a son, who was his mother's agent under a power of attorney, could be held personally liable for $8,700 incurred by his mother in nursing home costs. The ruling in Andover Village Retirement Community v. Cole confirmed the son's contractual liability.
When I first read about the case, I thought I would find another example of the often confusing use of "responsible party" labels for agents in a nursing home admission agreement, a topic I've written about at length before. However, the Ohio case was a new spin on that troublesome topic. According to the opinion, Andover Village actually presented two separate documents to the son at the time of his mother's admission. One document was an admission agreement that the son signed, pledging:
“When Resident's Responsible Person signs this Agreement on behalf of Resident, Resident's Responsible Person is responsible for payment to [Andover] to the extent Resident's Responsible Person has access and control of Resident's income and/or resources. By signing this Agreement the Resident's Responsible Person does not incur personal financial liability.”
The second document, titled "Voluntary Assumption of Personal Responsibility," was also signed by the son, but this time it stated, “I, Richard Cole, voluntarily assume personal financial responsibility for the care of Resident in the preceding Agreement.”
The court viewed the second document as the son's personal guarantee, and it was this document that triggered the court to find the son personally liable for his "voluntary" assumption of the obligation to pay costs not covered by Medicare or Medicaid.
The Ohio court leaves me with another question, not directly addressed in the decision. Did the son really make a knowing and voluntary decision to assume personal liability for costs, especially costs that can break most individual's piggy banks? Or, did the son sign a stack of papers he was told were routine and necessary for his mother to be admitted? Admissions to nursing homes are often made when everyone, the resident and the family members, is under stress.
At a minimum, I would like to think that a family's consultation with an experienced elder law attorney at the time of admission would have made a difference.
For facilities that are Medicare or Medicaid eligible -- and that is most nursing homes -- key federal laws, set forth at 42 U.S.C. §§ 1395i-3(c)(5)(A)(ii), 1396r(c)(5)(A)(ii) provide: “With respect to admissions practices, a skilled nursing facility must . . . not require a third party guarantee of payment to the facility as a condition of admission (or expedited admission) to, or continued stay in, the facility.”
I expect that an experienced elder law attorney would be familiar with this restriction on "mandatory" guarantees and would help the son see that for the nursing home to be compliant with federal law, any guarantee must be truly voluntary. Advice from an experienced elder law attorney would help to guard against the not-so-voluntary signing of a stack of papers that are presented as "necessary" to admit the resident. Perhaps a facility would refuse to admit the mother unless the son signs the "voluntary" agreement, but if that happens, it would be clear that the facility is violating the intention of federal law to protect individuals -- and families -- from waiving certain rights as a condition of admission or continued residence.
With that experienced lawyer's advice, a son could make a knowing and intentional decision to serve as his mother's contractual guarantor, and thus would be alert in advance to the ways that even small gaps can occur that are not covered by Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance. (Those small gaps can add up!) Alternatively, if the son is not willing or able to serve as his parent's guarantor, another facility might be the better choice.
In law school classes about elder law, we do teach Medicaid planning approaches, but frankly, that is usually a small part of any course. The majority of our time is spent on the abundant ways that individuals and families can be helped by an attorney who understands the full panoply of rights and obligations that attend growing older in the U.S. and beyond.
Hat tips to Pennsylvania attorney Jeffrey Marshall and Florida attorney Joseph Karp for alerts to the Ohio case.
Monday, December 29, 2014
Christopher Robb is in his final year at Westminster College in Pennsylvania and for his senior Media project he tackled "filial laws." His impressive work included researching the history of such laws and studying recent court cases in Pennsylvania. He interviewed and filmed a host of individuals from across the state who have experience with recent trends in use of filial support laws by nursing homes to seek payment from adult children for bills not satisfied by the resident's resources, insurance or Medicaid. Chris Robb's resulting 15 minute video is titled, "Am I My Mother's Keeper?" Thank you for sharing it with the Elder Law Prof Blog!
Saturday, December 20, 2014
Here is a link to a podcast for a Smart Talk program from WITF Public Radio, where Zygmont Pines, Esq., Court Administrator for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and I were invited to talk about quite a few "hot" topics from Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Elder Law Task Force. The Task Force released its big Report and Recommendations last month.
The topics strike me as quite universal, not Pennsylvania specific. If you make it to the last few minutes (or skip ahead), there is an especially poignant moment with a family caregiver, who tells a real life story that will strike a chord with many.
December 20, 2014 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, December 15, 2014
The Washington Post has had several articles over the last two years, examining records of debt collection effforts and individual cases where "overpayments" are alleged by the Social Security Administration, leading to claims not just against the direct beneficiaries of the benefits, but also against family members. Sometimes the claims are made many years after the alleged payments took place, making it hard for families to understand the basis of the claims or to defend against the claims. In April of 2014, as we summarized here, following protests the SSA announced it was immediately suspending its intercept program -- used to target IRS tax refunds -- for purposes of stale debt collection. As I commented then, it seemed SSA was more concerned about the government's "self help" approach to debt collection, than answering questions about how and why it was seeking refunds from children of the alleged debtors.
Is this a SSA-specific form of "filial support" claims, where children are liable for certain debts of their parents, or are the claims based on a theory of indirect benefit to the children?
George Washington Law Professor Naomi Cahn alerted us to the latest news on renewed debt collection by SSA from the Washington Post. (Thanks, Naomi!) Some of the same families who were granted refunds of intercepts earlier in the year, were once again asked to pay their ancestors' debts. Five of the families have filed a lawsuit to seek answers, and the Post has also asked for an explanation, apparently with less than satisfactory results:
"Asked to explain the about-face, Social Security officials said they would respond only to written questions. Late Friday, four days after The Post provided questions, the agency issued this statement from spokesman Mark Hinkle: 'We are finalizing our review of the Treasury offset program, but cannot discuss specifics due to the pending litigation.' The offset program is Treasury’s effort to collect on debts to Social Security and other agencies by confiscating Americans’ tax refunds."
For more on the controversy, read Marc Fisher's article, "Social Security Continuing to Pursue Claims for Old Debts Against Family Members" from the Washington Post.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Earlier this year, Kim Dayton reported in our Blog (here) about the new CARE Act, enacted in Oklahoma as a means to provide better transition from facility-based care to home care for individuals needing support. The CARE Act is a nation-wide project sponsored by AARP and thus I was excited to be invited to participate in an AARP Pennsylvania Family Caregiver Summit, as part of the discussion about introduction and passage of a CARE Act in my state.
The Summit was held yesterday with administrative agency heads, legislators and their staff invited to attend. The turnout was probably a bit affected by the weather reports for the day. (What happened to the predicted Nor'easter, anyway? Not that I'm complaining about winter weather that proves to be milder than predicted!) I found the event very interesting. As so often happens, I ended up being more of a student than a teacher, even while serving as a panelist.
It was quickly clear that virtually everyone in the room had experience with or personal awareness of the challenges of serving as a family caregiver under stress. The room was practically vibrating with stories about how tough it can be to know what to do when you confront the reality that a parent or other aging family member needs significant support. The keynote speaker, Cate Barron, a vice president of the PennLive and Patriot-News media group and by her own admission a take-charge kind of gal, spoke with great candor and humor about the process of realizing that a "diagnosis" of what is wrong did not necessarily provide answers to her mother's need for assistance. We are so pre-programmed to believe that if we can find the right diagnosis of the problem, there must be a "solution" worth pursuing.
The opening presentation by Glenn Fewkes from the AARP National office provided the latest statistics and graphics about aging in the U.S. What I found especially interesting were his graphics about Long-Term Services and Supports (LTSS) for individuals with caregiving needs. It turns out Pennsylvania ranks near the bottom (42nd, according to the most recent statistics) on a national scorecard. evaluating LTSS for affordability and access. That means the state with the fourth "oldest" population has some real challenges ahead.
That is where AARP's CARE Act project comes into play as a first step to improve supports for individuals needing care. As we reported earlier, CARE is an acronym for "Caregiver Advise, Record and Enable" and AARP's model has straight-forward objectives. To me, a key goal in adopting the model CARE Act is to create smoother transitions. This can be facilitated by making sure that hospitals or rehab facilities have clear information about any designated "caregiver," that they give notifice of discharge at least 4 hours in advance, and that they offer practical instruction on any medical tasks that will need to be performed in the home. For example, under the model CARE Act, the instruction shall include:
- a live demonstration of needed "after-care tasks"
- an opportunity for caregiver and patient to ask questions
- answers to the caregiver and patient questions "provided in a culturally competent manner and in accordance with the hospital's requirements to provide language access services under state and federal law."
My own research has shown that family members often cite "access to accurate information" as one of the most important first needs for families responding to caregiving crises. The CARE Act is clearly intended to respond to a critical first window of need -- hospital discharge -- by requiring facilities to give useful information and relevant instruction.
During the Family Caregiver Summit, there were a lot of good questions about the CARE Act, and it was great to have Pennsylvania State Representative Tim Hennessey on the panel. In his role as majority chair of the House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee, it is likely he will be able to provide early analysis and support for the CARE Act in Pennsylvania.
As part of my own preparation for the Summit, I took a closer look at Oklahoma's result with the CARE Act. Title 63 Okla. St. Ann. Sections 3113- 3117 (the statutory provisions created by the April 2014 passage of Senate Bill 1536) became effective on November 1, 2014. The law requires that hospitals "provide each patient or patient's legal guardian with an opportunity to designate one lay caregiver" following admission, and to record the designated caregiver and the caregiver's contact information in the patient's medical record. Such a choice then triggers the hospital to "request the written consent" of the patient or guardian to release medical information to the patient." Only if the patient both designates a lay caregiver AND gives "written" consent is the hospital then obligated to do anything further with respect to discharge planning with the caregiver.
But what happens in Oklahoma when the written consent to share information with the designated caregiver is given?
Monday, December 1, 2014
Who amongst us have not heard of a senior discount? They are ubiquitous in some areas, such as movie tickets or dining out. Here is one program that allows the recipient of a senior discount to donate it to a charity. The NY Times ran a story about this program, Getting a Senior Discount? Here’s How to Give It Away, which allows the recipient of a discount to donate it. The article tells the story of the Boomerang Giving Project which allowed senior moviegoers to pay full price for their movie tickets and to donate their senior discounts to a charity of their choosing.
More information about the Boomerang Giving Project is available on their website. According to the website, "BOOMERANG GIVING is a national movement of Baby Boomers who dare to imagine the impact we can make as a generation if Boomers with the means reinvest some or all of our senior discount savings back into our communities through charities we each choose ourselves..." The project was also the subject of a story on PBS.
The Boomerang Giving website provides some history on the project. Originating in Washington state, "seven community leaders from Bainbridge Island and Seattle Washington, all dedicated to bolstering future generations through support of nonprofit organizations" created the project with the mission "[t]o redefine Baby Boomers as the generation that gives back. By inventing multiple ways to give back, Boomerang Giving is committed to creating opportunities for the 3.5 million persons who turn 65 each year to increase their charitable giving and join others in supporting their communities."
Returning to the NY Times article, the story notes the upward trend in charitable giving and the benefits of doing so. The obvious, of course, is the help to the charity, but as well, the donor benefits
- "A crucial conclusion from a study published last year in the International Journal of Happiness and Development ... concluded that people feel good when they make a charitable donation — especially through a friend, relative or social connection."
"Harvard researchers found in an experiment that donating to charity can increase physical strength. .. " and
"An increasingly popular way for retirees to stay active mentally and socially is to join a local giving circle."
The article also offers some advice on checking out a charity's legitimacy before committing to a financial contribution and basic charitable planning.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has released a great graphic on palliative care. What Should You Know About Palliative Care? has six graphics on topics including scope, function, location, family services and the benefits of palliative care. The infographic can be downloaded or a poster can be ordered by sending an email. The webpage also includes a link to the IOM report, Dying In America
If you recognize the quoted language from the title above, you can imagine me humming the lyrics to "Silver Bells" as I type. Perhaps we should add a new refrain. As detailed in the Los Angeles Times piece on "Residents Celebrate the 100th Repaired Sidewalk in South L.A. District," safe sidewalks are important to everyone, but particularly to people who have mobility issues, including some older adults. In the article, a stretch of deteriorated sidewalk outside an 84 year old woman's home prevented her for using her walker to get around her neighborhood. The challenge of accomplishing something as seemingly simple as this infrastructure issue, is demonstrated by the statistics in the article, showing there are 11,000 miles of sidewalks in L.A., and an estimated 40% are in need of repair.
The question of how to pay for sidewalk repairs is significant for cities. In Los Angeles, for example, policies on sidewalks can conflict with developers' preference for streets lined with trees. Tree roots are often the cause of sidewalk damage. For a number of years in the 70s, the city offered free repairs for sidewalks damaged by tree roots. But as budgets tightened, public funding was withdrawn, and subsequent efforts to create alternative funding for sidewalk repairs have been controversial.
In my own small community, there is an ordinance that permits the governing body to mark sidewalks in need of repair with a big X (and for some reason they do so with pink paint), and the home or business owner has a fixed amount of time to make the repairs, or be subject to public repairs at a potentially higher price. Obviously this approach won't work in every community -- and it is probably less than cost effective unless adjacent property owners work together to save money on contractors.
By the way, while humming along on this topic, I discovered that there is a relevant, highly placed, law review article -- mostly dealing with sidewalk safety in winter weather -- published in 1897 in Yale's legal journal. See "The Law of Icy Sidewalks in New York State," 6 Yale L. J. 258. In this article I learned the interesting historical fact, that at least in some jurisdictions of the day, "it is not negligence for a person to walk upon an icy sidewalk without rubbers."
Monday, November 17, 2014
On November 17, 2014, following more than a year of study and consultation, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Elder Law Task Force issued a comprehensive (284 pages!) report and recommendations addressing a host of core concerns, including how better to assure that older Pennsylvanians' rights and needs are recognized under the law. With Justice Debra Todd as the chair, the Task Force organized into three committees, focusing on Guardianships and Legal Counsel, Guardianship Monitoring, and Elder Abuse and Neglect. The Task Force included more than 40 individuals from across the state, reflecting backgrounds in private legal practice, legal service organizations, government service agencies, social care organizations, criminal law, banking, and the courts.
From the 130 recommendations, Justice Todd highlighted several "bold" provisions at a press conference including:
- Recommending the state's so-called "Slayer" law be amended to prevent an individual who has been convicted of abusing or neglecting an elder from inheriting from the elder;
- Recommending changes to court rules to mandate training for all guardians, including, but not limited to, family members serving as guardians;
- Recommending adoption of mandatory reporting by financial institutions who witness suspected elder abuse, including financial abuse.
The full report is available on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court website here. As a consequence of the Task Force study, the Supreme Court has approved the creation of an ongoing "Office of Elder Justice in the Courts" to support implementation of recommendations, and has created an "Advisory Council on Elder Justice to the Courts" to be chaired by Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Paula Francisco Ott.
Sunday, November 16, 2014
In the October issue of Bifocal, the ABA Commission on Law and Aging journal, the lead article examine's the history of Maine's Improvident Transfer of Title Act, 33 M.R.S.A. Section 1021 et seq., enacted in 1988 in an effort to better protect victims of undue influence and financial exploitation. As the author, Maine elder law attorney Sally Wagley, explains,
"For a period of time, the [proposed] bill continued to be unpopular with some sectors of the bar. This was ameliorated to some extent by elder law attorneys collaborating with real property lawyers to successfully propose a number of appropriate amendments related to transfers of real estate: (1) a provision which states that nothing in the Act affects the right, title, and interest of good faith purchasers, mortgagees, holders of security interests, or other third parties who obtain an interest in the transferred property for value after its transfer from the elderly dependent person; and (2) provisions affecting title practices, stating that the examiners were not required to inquire as to the age of the transferor and whether he or she had independent representation."
Has the law been useful in Maine? Wagley concludes that in spite of continuing challenges, including the lack of resources to pursue claims and the effect of delays in litigation on elderly victims, the law's presumption of "improvidence" arising from certain "uncounseled" transfers, has had a deterrent effect. She observes, "Knowledgeable attorneys now refer elders to outside counsel before assisting with a gift to family or others with whom the elder has a close relationship."
For more on Maine's law, see "Maine's Improvident Transfers Act: A Unique Approach to Protecting Exploited Elders."