Tuesday, June 21, 2016

New Concepts from Authorities Who Investigate and Prosecute Scammers and Financial Abusers

On June 15,  I logged into the National Consumer Law Center's webinar on Financial Frauds and Scams Against Elders.  It was very good.  Both David Kirkman, who is with the Consumer Protection Division for North Carolina Department of Justice, and Naomi Karp, who is with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, had the latest information on scamming trends, enforcement issues, and best practices to avoid financial exploitation.  Here were some of the "take away" messages I heard:

  • "Age 78" -- why might that be important?  Apparently many of the organized scammers, such as the off-shore sweepstakes and lottery scams, know that by the time the average consumer reaches the age 78, there a significant chance that the consumer will have cognitive changes that make him or her more susceptible to the scammer's "pitch."  As David explained, based on 5 years of enforcement data from North Carolina, "mild cognitive impairment"  creates the "happy hunting ground" for the scammer.
  • "I make 'em feel like they are Somebody again."  That's how one scammer explained and rationalized his approach to older adults.  By offering them that chance to make "the deal," to invest in theoretically profitable ventures, to be engaged in important financial transactions, he's making them feel important once again.  That "reaction" by the older  consumer also complicates efforts to terminate the scamming relationship. David played a brief excerpt of an interview with an older woman, who once confronted with the reality of a so-called Jamaican sweepstakes lottery, seemed to make a firm promise "not to send any more money."  Yet, three days later, she sent off another $800, and lost a total of some $92k to the scammers in two years.
  • "Psychological reactives."   That's what David described as a phenomenon that can occur where the victim of the scam continues to play into the scam because the scammer is offering the victim praise and validation, while a family member or law enforcement official trying to dissuade the victim from continuing with the scam makes him or her feel "at fault" or "foolish."   An indirect, oblique approach may be necessary to help the victim understand.  One strategy to offset the unhelpful psychological reaction was to show the victim how he or she may help others to avoid serious financial losses. 
  • "Financial Institutions are increasingly part of the solution."  According to Naomi, about half of all states now mandate reporting of suspected financial abuse, either by making banks and credit unions mandatory reporters or  by making "all individuals" who suspect such fraud mandatory reporters.  Both David and Naomi said they are starting to see real results from mandatory reporters who have helped to thwart fraudsters and thereby have prevented additional losses.

The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has several publications that offer educational materials to targeted audiences about financial abuse.  One example was the CFPB's 44-page manual for assisted living and nursing facilities, titled "Protecting Residents from Financial Exploitation." 

June 21, 2016 in Books, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Webinars | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Bifocal: Examining Less Restrictive Alternatives to Guardianships

The ABA's Bifocal publication includes a new resource guide designed to help lawyers identify and help to implement decision-making options for persons with disabilities that are less restrictive than guardianships.  

The "PRACTICAL Tool," with the first word intended to serve as an acronym for nine steps that a lawyer can use to identify legal and practical approaches, includes:

  • Presume guardianship is not needed
  • clearly identify the Reasons for concern;
  • Ask if a triggering concern may be temporary;
  • determining whether the concerns can be addressed by Community resources;
  • ask if the person already has a Team to help make decisions;
  • Identify the person's abilities;
  • screen for potential Challenges;
  • Appoint a legal support consistent with the person's values; and
  • Limit any necessary guardianship petition. 

For more, read Resource for Lawyers Targets Options Less Restrictive than Guardianship, Bifocal, the Journal of the ABA Commission on Law and Aging, Volume 37, Issue 5. 

June 17, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Nebraska Mandates Protection for Health Care Whistleblowers

In a recent McKnight's News column, Registered Nurse Pam McKnally wrote an interesting and candid account of "What It's Like to Be a Nurse Whistleblower."  Her experiences with retaliation  -- indeed bullying-- after she complied with laws requiring to her report observations of improper use of narcotics in the workplace led her and others to advocate for changes in the law.

In April 2016, in response to the experiences of McKnally and others, Nebraska enacted changes to state law, prohibiting retaliation against whistleblowers and mandating confidentiality for the identities of anyone making reports of violations by "credentialed" health care providers. Nebraska Legislative Bill 750, amending Nebraska's law that governs a broad range of health care providers, specifies:

An individual or a business credentialed pursuant to the Uniform Credentialing Act shall not discriminate or retaliate against any person who has initiated or participated in the making of a report under the act to the department of [health and human services].  Such person may maintain an action for any type of relief, including injunctive and declaratory relief, permitted by law. 

Further, the law now provides that "The identity of any person making such a report [of suspected violations] or providing information leading to the making of a report shall be confidential" and further, "The identify of any person making a report, providing information leading to the making of a report, or otherwise providing information to the department, a board, or the Attorney General included in such reports, complaints or investigational records shall be confidential whether or not the record of the investigation becomes a public record."

Whether the changes to Nebraska law, especially in the absence of a specific statutory sanction for retaliation or breach of confidentiality, will be effective to address the backlash experienced by McNally will bear monitoring.  She cautions:

I resigned, as my work life was intolerable, and it was clear that I was about to get fired. The EOC investigated my claims. The costs in employee hours and attorney fees, plus fines for violations can be astronomical. Had the situation been handled differently by the Human Resource department, the outcome may have been much different.


It is time for employers to stop blaming and discrediting professionals who simply follow the law and advocate for themselves and their patients....


When nurses are happy they work hard. They are loyal and seek out constructive ways to help their organization deal with conflict. In long-term care, Medicare and Medicaid cuts mean money needs to be saved now more than ever. Keeping a business viable includes mitigating the need for attorneys and dealing with nurse turnover.

June 15, 2016 in Crimes, Current Affairs, Discrimination, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Elder Abuse in Florida

The Orlando Sentinel ran a story about elder abuse increasing in Florida. Although the data is hard to come by, Elder Abuse on the Rise in Florida explains that:

In Florida, the number of verified cases of elder abuse and neglect has climbed 74 percent since 2011, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families. In 2015, the statewide total was 2,525.

More than 800 people have been charged with elder abuse and neglect in Florida in the past five years, according to the Office of State Courts Administrator. More than 370 have been convicted or sentenced.

The story also offers data on a nationwide basis and discusses the difficulties in prosecuting elder abuse cases, such as the victim's close ties to the perpetrator or cognition issues of the victim

The accompanying sidebar provides statistics, Elder Abuse in Florida by the Numbers for the past 5 years, broken down by verified cases of elder abuse or neglect and criminal elder abuse or neglect.

June 14, 2016 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 10, 2016

Filial Friday: Georgia Supreme Court Rules that No Equitable "Right of Access" is Created by Filial Support Law

Georgia Supreme CourtAdult daughter Tamara Williford filed a petition for equitable relief in February 2015, seeking a Georgia court's order that her father's current wife must allow her access to her father.  Williford alleged that her father,  Tommy Brown, was in poor physical health, unable to leave his home, but in good mental condition.  She said she had talked with him regularly by telephone and in person, until his wife prevented her from doing so.

Apparently Mrs. Brown, Tommy's wife, was named as the only defendant in the lawsuit, and responded by denying Williford was a biological child, denying her husband was in poor health, and denying that he wanted to see Williford.

In June 2016, the trial court dismissed Williford's petition, and she took a timely appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court. Oral argument was held in February 2016.

In Williford v. Brown decided May 9, 2016, the Georgia Supreme Court (pictured above) unanimously affirmed the dismissal, finding that there was no statutory or other legal grounds alleged that would support the "equitable remedy" sought by Ms. Williford.  Specifically, the court rejected the argument made on appeal that Georgia's version of a filial support law, OCGA Section 36-12-3, provided grounds for relief.  That statute says:

The father, mother, or child of any pauper contemplated by Code Section 36-12-2, if sufficiently able, shall support the pauper. Any county having provided for such pauper upon the failure of such relatives to do so may bring an action against such relatives of full age and recover for the provisions so furnished. The certificate of the judge of the probate court that the person was poor and was unable to sustain himself and that he was maintained at the expense of the county shall be presumptive evidence of such maintenance and the costs thereof.

The court concluded that this section "does not purport to confer on adult children a right to unrestrained visitation" with  parents.  "Moreover, Ms. Williford did not allege in her petition that Mr. Brown is a 'pauper,' much less that she believes that Hart County has or will ever have to maintain him at county expenses and then pursue an action against her."

In a footnote to the ruling, the court observes that the daughter "did not alleged and does not claim on appeal" that the wife prevented her husband "from leaving his home or communicate with persons other than Ms. Williford." Therefore, the court said it was not necessary to address whether a theory of "general habeas corpus" where a person was allegedly held "incommunicado illegally and against his will." 

This seems like a very sad case. One Georgia elder law attorney suggests that "if the ruling in this case disturbs you, then perhaps it is a good time to call your local legislator."  

June 10, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

What Are Physicians' Responsibilities for Older Patients with Firearms?

Florida State Law Professor (and friend) Marshall Kapp has a new article out, and my recent post "He Died with Guns in His Closet" triggered him to share it with us.  Marshall tackles the challenging topic of "The Physician's Responsibility Concerning Firearms and Older Patients," with thoughtfulness and candor.

Professor Kapp opens with observations and predictions about the potential for Americans to continue to own firearms as they age, even if they have declining cognition.  He writes:

In the general population, the presence of firearms in the home is positively associated with the risk for completed suicide and being the victim of homicide. It is well-documented that “[g]un ownership and availability are common among the elderly”and that the rate of use of guns in suicides and homicides by older Americans is significant. Firearms, along with falls and motor vehicle accidents, cause the most traumatic brain injury deaths in the U.S. for people over age 75.


Mental illness has been found to be strongly associated with increased risk of suicide involving firearms. The disproportionate incidence and prevalence of cognitive and emotional disorders such as dementia, mild cognitive impairment, and depression--often presenting themselves simultaneously and exacerbating each other--among older persons has been identified clearly. However, many persons with such disorders do not receive a formal clinical evaluation for those issues. Age-associated decline in health status, in combination with other factors, is a risk factor for dementia.

Professor Kapp examines state laws and the collective role of the medical profession regarding firearms as a public health matter, including specific ideas about what might be an individual doctor's "duty to inquire about or report on access to weapons for a patient who demonstrates cognitive changes," and the potential for any such "duty" to impact patient choices about treatment. For example, he reports:

Under current law, physicians, with the possible exception of those practicing in Florida, have latitude to act according to their own discretion when it comes to questioning their patients about guns in the home in this context. According to a coalition of leading health professional organizations and the ABA, physicians are able to intervene with patients whose access to firearms puts them at risk of injuring themselves or others. Such intervention may entail speaking freely to patients in a nonjudgmental way, giving them safety-related factual information, answering patients' questions, advising them about behaviors that promote health and safety, and documenting these conversations in the patient's medical record (just as the physician would document conversations with their patients regarding other kinds of health-related behaviors).

On free speech implications, he writes:

The courts thus far are split in their responses to First Amendment challenges to compelled medical speech brought by physicians qua physicians in their role as patient fiduciaries or trust agents (as opposed to claims brought by physicians seeking protection in their capacity as ordinary citizens). Nevertheless, there is a strong argument for requiring that state laws compelling particular speech by physicians in their physician role be examined under at least a strict scrutiny standard.

And to further whet your appetite for reading the full article, in his conclusion, Professor Kapp advocates for certain changes in state law, including:

State statutes should authorize physicians to inquire of and about their older patients regarding patient access to firearms in the home and to counsel the patient, family members, and housemates about firearms safety, up to and including recommending that firearms be kept away from the patient. However, the states should not enact legislation that positively requires the physician to make such inquiries and engage in counseling, although states should consider a tort standard of care evolving through the common law in a direction that imposes an affirmative obligation on the physician to inquire and counsel.

The full article appears in the Spring 2016 issue of the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy.  

June 9, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Discrimination, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Conversion of Senior Living Operations from Non-Profit to For-Profit - What are the Limits?

A recent New York Times article sheds light on a frequent topic I've encountered in my own research on the convergence of elder law, contract law, and nonprofit organizations law:  when will a nonprofit nursing home or similar senior living operation be "allowed" to convert or sell-off to a for-profit operation?  And what if the "real" plan is to convert to an entirely new type of for-profit operation? 

The potential for conversion appears to be the heart of a dispute over two nonprofit nursing homes in Manhattan, where State and City authorities are seeking to prevent their purchase by a for-profit company known as Allure Group.  From the New York Times:

Citing misrepresentations and broken promises, the New York State attorney general’s office is seeking to prevent the purchase of two nursing centers by a company that was involved in transactions that put a Manhattan nursing home in the hands of luxury condominium developers....


“Allure made clear and repeated promises to continue the operation of two nursing homes for the benefit of a vulnerable population — promises that proved to be false,” said Matt Mittenthal, a spokesman for the attorney general, referring to Rivington House and a nursing home bought by Allure in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, which were closed within a year of a court petition’s being filed. “Until we conclude our investigation, we will object to Allure buying additional nursing homes.”


In New York, any nonprofit seeking to sell its assets must petition a state court for approval; the attorney general reviews all such requests and can object if there are grounds to do so. The court has the final say....

For more, read New York Attorney General Seeks to Halt Sale of 2 Nursing Homes Amid Inquiries.

June 8, 2016 in Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

More on Elder Driving

The latest issue of Experience, the magazine of the Senior Lawyers Division of the ABA is devoted to elder driving. Eight articles are devoted to the issue of driving. The magazine also includes articles on estate planning, technology and ethics. The entire issue is available here. Links to individual articles are also accessible from here.

June 1, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Statutes/Regulations, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 27, 2016

Filial Friday: Are Filial Responsibility Laws a Sign of the (Aging) Times?

Robert A. Mead, with many years of experience as a law librarian at the University of Kansas, the University of New Mexico and the New Mexico Supreme Court, and now serving as the Deputy Chief Public Defender for New Mexico, recently offered his take on claims made by family members and third-parties under state "filial responsibility" laws.  His article, "Getting Stuck with the Bill? Filial Responsibility Statutes, Long-Term Care, Medicaid, and Demographic Pressure," appears in the Elder Law Advisory published by Westlaw in May 2016 (and apparently available by subscription only).  He tracks the demographics of aging in the U.S. and surveys cases from Pennsylvania, North and South Dakota.  Based on research, Rob predicts:

The doubling of the number of elders in society will require a substantial increase in Medicare and Medicaid funding especially if a significant percentage of them are indigent in their last years. Without this increase, filial responsibility statutes and Medicaid estate recovery will likely be used by states to address shortfalls in Medicaid funding. . . .  Even without state authorities using filial responsibility statutes to seek Medicaid reimbursement, they will continue to be raised in related contexts. When siblings spar over the medical debts incurred by their deceased statutes and the effect of these debts on the probating of estates, filial responsibility becomes a complicating factor such as in Eori, Pittas, and Linderkamp cases. More insidiously, long-term care facilities are beginning to use filial support statutes to seek reimbursement for debts without waiting for resolution of whether the elder was eligible for Medicaid, as in Randall and Pittas. In some situations it will be financially advantageous for facilities to litigate against heirs rather than to settle for lower Medicaid rates. As the case law continues to develop and the demographic crisis grows, look for these novel uses of filial responsibility statutes to continue and become mainstream. It is incumbent upon lawyers representing clients in states with such statutes to plan and draft accordingly.

It is fun for me to see that Rob Mead, a former student from my own days at the University of New Mexico School of Law, has, entirely independent of my influence, kept his own eye on law and aging policy issues.

May 27, 2016 in Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Plaintiffs' Class Certified in Dispute over LTC Insurance Coverage for Care by "Managed Residential Communities" or "Assisted Living Services Agencies"

As we've reported fairly often on this Blog (see e.g., here, re California litigation), the long-term care insurance (LTCI) industry has been battling disputes on many fronts.  One of the fronts is whether insurers can deny benefits to pay for care provided in settings other than "skilled nursing facilities."  On March 1, 2016, a federal court in Connecticut granted class certification to estates and policy holders who are challenging denial of coverage for stays in "managed residential communities" (MRCs) in Connecticut or to cover services provided through "assisted living services agencies" (ALSAs).  In Estate of Gardner v. Continental Casualty Company, 2016 WL 806823, the court agreed the plaintiffs had satisfied the class certification requirements for "numerosity," commonality, and typicality of issues, as well as establishing grounds to argue "imminence of injury" to support a claim for injunctive relief:

While Plaintiffs do seek monetary relief, it appears to the Court that what they primarily seek is forward-looking relief. Plaintiffs purchased long-term care policies, presumably with the expectation that they would utilize their coverage over a long term. Any adequate remedy would have to ensure that they could obtain coverage for claims prospectively. For that, an injunction is required. Moreover, Plaintiffs leave no ambiguity about the content of the injunction they seek: an end to Defendant's alleged policy of denying claims for assisted-living facilities across the board. This is exactly the type of relief Rule 23(b)(2) was designed to facilitate. Because Plaintiffs' proposed Rule 23(b)(2) class satisfied all of the requirements of Rule 23, certification is proper.

For more on the background of the Connecticut case, see "Connecticut class action accuses insurer of denying assisted-living claims." 

May 26, 2016 in Consumer Information, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Texas Appellate Case Demonstrates Significance of Contract Terms for Continuing Care Eviction

On April 28, 2016, the Texas Court of Appeals affirmed an award of some $145k in damages to an elderly couple for breach of a "Life Care" contract by their residential community.   In Barton Creek Senior Living Center, d/b/a Querencia at Barton Creek v. Howland, the residential community staff attempted to refuse to communicate with the children of a couple, in their 80s, on the reported grounds that "communication with their children was unworkable because of the discord with the children."  The facility, Querencia, reportedly soon "terminated the Life Care Agreement with the Howlands and ordered them to vacate the premises within thirty days." The Howlands did vacate the premises, moving to an assisted living community with a different pricing and service structure; however, they contended they were denied the "benefit of their bargain" with Querencia.  

On appeal, Querencia does not challenge the finding that it failed to comply with the Life Care Agreement, but contends that the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the damages awarded to Howland. Specifically, Querencia argues that the damages cannot be tied to the pre-termination notice being 30 days instead of [the contract's specified notice of]  60 days. It also contends that Howland does not deserve damages for assistive services used after termination that they were already using before termination. Finally, Querencia contends that it properly withheld ten percent of the Howlands' deposit pursuant to their contract.

The appellate court rejected these arguments with a textbook discussion of remedies for breach of contract necessary to protect the non-breaching party's expectation interest:

Although the Howlands employed private care providers while at Querencia, there is evidence that the Howlands' move to The Summit increased their monthly expenses because the monthly rent was higher at The Summit, it provided fewer services than Querencia, and services at The Summit were more expensive.... Howland claimed over a million dollars in damages, Querencia countered that Howland profited from the breach, and the jury awarded Howland $82,500 plus the unrefunded deposit. The evidence in the record supports the jury's exercise of its role as factfinder regarding the damages award. The evidence also supports the jury's award of $62,990 representing the portion of the Howlands' deposit that Querencia did not refund. Querencia asserts that it was entitled to retain ten percent of the Howlands' deposit under the terms of the Life Care Agreement. But the jury found that Querencia breached that agreement, and restitution is a permissible measure of damages for breach of contract.... The jury was empowered to and did decide that Querencia must compensate for its breach by returning the final ten percent of the Howlands' deposit.

The finding of breach appeared to have been predicated on the contract's specified grounds  permitting termination, which included fairly standard provisions such as inability to meet medical needs, nonpayment by the residents, or a resident's breach of "policies and procedures" that create a situation that is "detrimental to the health, safety or quiet enjoyment of the community by other residents or the staff." The court appeared to be persuaded by the argument that Querencia failed to comply with a further contractual provision, mandating parties be given an "opportunity-to-cure" in the event of disputes.  

Despite the affirmance on damages, the appellate court also set aside the trial court's award of $166k in attorney's fees for the plaintiffs, rejecting a "lodestar" argument for the award, and remanded the case for further proceedings on reasonable and necessary fees.

In reading the opinion (and the headnotes from Westlaw on the opinion, which refer to Querencia as a "nursing home"), I'm struck once again by the confusion that "continuing care" contracts, including so-called "life care" contracts, can cause for parties, although usually any landmines tend to affect resident rights, rather than providers.  Thus, I would anticipate that in the future, providers worried about protecting their right to terminate relations with "troublesome" individuals, will attempt to beef up their "policies and procedures," to give clearer rights to refuse to communicate with troublesome family members of residents.  

May 24, 2016 in Consumer Information, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 23, 2016

California Supreme Court Clarifies Parties Potentially Liable for "Neglect" Under State's Elder Abuse Law

I think it is safe to say that California has one of the most significant -- and for some, controversial -- "elder protection" laws in the U.S.  For example, while all states permit state authorities to investigate and intervene in instances of elder abuse, California's statute recognizes a victim's private right of action for damages, arising from physical abuse, neglect, or fiduciary abuse of an elderly or dependent adult. There are certain proof requirements and limitations on the damages that can be awarded under California's Elder Abuse Act, but, where the plaintiff shows clear and convincing evidence of recklessness, oppression, fraud or malice, the prevailing party can also obtain "heightened remedies," including "reasonable attorneys fees" and costs.  At the same time, the history of the California law also reflects a legislative tension between a determination to address elder abuse and concern about the potential impact of the broader remedy in so-called traditional "medical malpractice" claims.  This tension plays out in a ruling by the California Supreme Court in the long-running case of Winn v. Pioneer Medical Group Inc.  In the unanimous decision published May 19. 2016, the court helpfully summarizes its own holding:

We granted review to determine whether the definition of neglect under the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act (Welf. & Inst. Code Section 15600 et seq.; the Elder Abuse Act or Act) applies when a health care provider -- delivering care on an outpatient basis -- failed to refer an elder patient to a specialist.  What we conclude is that the Act does not apply unless the defendant health care provider had a substantial caretaking or custodial relationship, involving ongoing responsibility for one or more basic needs, with the elder patient. 

The court further explains, "It is the nature of the elder or dependent adult's relationship with the defendant -- not the defendant's professional standing -- that makes the defendant potentially liable for neglect.  Because defendants did not have a caretaking or custodial relationship with the decedent, we find that plaintiffs cannot adequately allege neglect under the Elder Abuse Act."

The California Supreme Court concluded that the Winn plaintiffs cannot bring a claim for statutory "elder neglect" arising out of allegations that treating physicians failed  for two years to refer an 83 year-old woman to a vascular specialist. The suit dates back to 2007-2009, with the patient alleged to have died from complications associated with chronic ulcers of her lower extremities.  The unanimous ruling reverses the California Court of Appeals' 2 to 1 ruling in favor of the statutory claim, issued in May 2013.  

This ruling does seem to leave nursing homes and similar "custodial" care providers potentially subject to the enhanced remedies of California's Elder Abuse Act. 

May 23, 2016 in Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Capacity to Drive

The latest issue of Biofocal from the American Bar Association Commission on Law & Aging is out, and the cover story is an article by Erica Wood on Evaluating the Capacity to DriveMs. Wood explores the question of what is the needed capacity to drive, and notes the skills one needs to be a safe driver.

[E]valuating capacity to drive is of course different from evaluating capacity to make decisions or execute legal transactions. First, driving involves a mix of mental, physical, and sensory abilities. Second, driving has serious risk not only for oneself but also for others as well. And third, the determination of capacity to drive initially rests not with a judge but with the commissioner of the state department of motor vehicles—although judges may well be involved in decisions about drivers licenses, as described in the “View from the Bench” by Judge Lyle. While state laws vary, the Uniform Vehicle Code provides that a license may be denied if the state commissioner finds that a person “by reason of physical or mental disability would not be able to operate a motor vehicle with safety upon the highways” (National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances).

Using the ABA/APA handbook for psychologists "general capacity evaluation framework," Ms. Wood breaks down the assessment elements for capacity to drive: the legal element, the functional component, diagnosis, values, mental health assessment, risk assessment, and clinical judgment that is needed in order "to integrate all of the evidence from the previous steps on supports, conditions, risks, abilities and limitations." The article underscores the need to examine the driver's values, consider emotional factors such as hallucinations and whether the person has capacity with support. Capacity with support is explained as "supports and accommodations that might enhance ability."

In the driving context, this might mean a change of eyeglasses, a higher seat or pillow, a revolving seat, or pedal modifications. With such supports, a functional assessment will test for visual acuity; flexibility to look behind and check blind spots on the road; and strength for control of the steering wheel, brakes, accelerator, and clutch. An assessment also will test the driver’s knowledge about driving rules and what to do in emergency or unexpected situations.

A pdf of the article is available here.

May 12, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Other, State Statutes/Regulations, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 9, 2016

New Article-Preventing DPOA Abuses

The May 2016 issue of the South Carolina Bar Journal, SC Lawyer contains the article, Quick and Dirty Tips to Prevent Power of Attorney AbuseThe author offers several tips, starting with meeting with the client alone, determine if the client has capacity to sign the DPOA, ascertain the client's goals and expectations, "name an honest, trustworthy and trusted agent" (the author suggests the attorney "[google the agent and check your local court judgment index"); consider co-agents; use a springing POA; include an accounting provision to require the agent "to account in some fashion to a family member(s) or other trusted individual. It can be as formal or as informal as the principal desires. In that way there is another person informed about the principal’s financial situation" and even using a "cooling off" period for the client to think further before signing the DPOA.

The article also covers actions when the agent misuses the DPOA. The article concludes

There is no easy answer to the problem of elder financial abuse. There is no silver bullet. Elder financial abuse is a problem that is only going to get worse. We as attorneys can’t prevent all financial abuse, but we need to be aware of, and adopt, measures that reduce the risk of durable power of attorney abuse. The threat can never be eliminated, but with communication and education, it can be minimized.


Thanks to the article's author, Michael J. Polk, for sending me the link to the article.


May 9, 2016 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Health Care/Long Term Care, Property Management, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Physician-Aided Death Legislation and the Impact on the Medical Profession

JAMA's Journal of Internal Medicine ran an article in the April issue, The Challenge of New Legislation on Physician-Assisted Death .  From the legal profession, we know how these laws work. But from the medical profession, according to the article, doctors need to think about how to incorporate this into their practices.   Here is a sample of the article:

By the end of 2016, more than 80 million people in the United States and Canada will live in a jurisdiction allowing physician-assisted death. As such, this practice can no longer be considered a quirky experiment in a few states. The North American experience with physician-assisted death began in 1994, when voters in Oregon approved a ballot measure, the Death With Dignity Act, allowing a physician to prescribe a lethal dose of a medication that a patient voluntarily self-administers. Oregon stood alone for 14 years until Washington (2008), Vermont (2013), and now California (2015) approved similar laws. As of January 2016, the effective date of the California law, known as the End of Life Option Act, is uncertain. These laws are in general very similar, with safeguards that include requirements for a waiting period and that eligible patients be mentally competent, not mentally ill, and have a life expectancy of less than 6 months. In 2009, the Montana Supreme Court removed prohibitions against physician-assisted death for competent patients. There are no reporting requirements in Montana, so little is known about the actual practice of physician-assisted death in that state. In 2015, the Canadian Supreme Court unanimously reversed a federal law that prohibited physician-assisted death and gave the government until June 2016 to establish mechanisms for access to such assistance. (citations omitted)

A subscription is required to read the entire article.

April 27, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

"It's Always About the Money" - One Man's Work to Change Oversight of Guardianships

Here's is a new podcast of an interview with Rick Black on All Talk Radio (about 15 minutes, starting at the 3:25  minute mark), who has strong words about elder abuse based on his family's experiences with a guardianship in Clark County Nevada, plus his own additional research about guardianship systems in Nevada and beyond.  (You may have to give this time to load, as it is an embedded video file).  



For more, read the April 4, 2016 Editorial from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, entitled "Elder Abuse." 


April 24, 2016 in Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Pennsylvania Joins 40 Other States In Authorizing Tax Exempt "ABLE" Accounts

Pennsylvania lawmakers seem to be on a roll this month, following several months of log jam over the 2015-16 state budget.  The legislature passed SB 879 on April 13, and Pennsylvania Governor Wolf has now signed the law, enabling creation of tax-exempt savings accounts to benefit people with qualified disabilities. From the Governor's Office:

The accounts can be used for a wide-range of disability-related expenses including health care, housing, and transportation without jeopardizing eligibility for important programs on which individuals with disabilities must often depend.


“My administration is committed to promoting and encouraging independence, community-based supports and services, and employment for individuals with a disability,” said Governor Wolf. “Pennsylvanians with disabilities can now achieve greater fiscal self-sufficiency, without the risk of impacting their eligibility for benefits. I am proud to sign this bill today and continue our work to help individuals with disabilities stay in their homes and communities.”

U.S. Senator Bob Casey led efforts to win Congressional passage of the federal ABLE Act, which authorized states to establish tax-exempt savings accounts modeled on section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code, which recognizes state-established savings programs to meet future college expenses. Pennsylvania Treasury has been administering the Pennsylvania 529 program since 1993 and will administer the ABLE Program.

From NDSS's list of states with "ABLE Legislation," it can be seen that Pennsylvania's action makes it approximately the 41st in the nation to "enable" Able.  Over the weekend, Pennsylvania also became the 24th state to legalize medical marijuana.  

A helpful summary of the use of ABLE accounts, along with other tools that may assist a broader range of ages, including special needs accounts, is provided by Pennsylvania Elder Law guru, Jeff Marshall, here.  

April 18, 2016 in Estates and Trusts, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Social Security, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Does the Statutory Definition of "Elder Abuse" Matter?

In April 2016, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Al Franken (D-MN), introduced Senate Bill 2747 in the United States Senate.  Carrying the title of "Elder Protection and Abuse Prevention Act," one provision of the bill would amend existing federal law to redefine "abuse," as that phrase is used in the Older Americans Act.  The new definition would read:

The term "abuse" means the knowing infliction of physical or psychological harm or the knowing deprivation of goods or services that are necessary to meet essential needs or to avoid physical or psychological harm.

The existing language, defining abuse, provides: 

The term “abuse” means the willful--
(A) infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation, or cruel punishment with resulting physical harm, pain, or mental anguish; or
(B) deprivation by a person, including a caregiver, of goods or services that are necessary to avoid physical harm, mental anguish, or mental illness.
Is the proposed change mere semantics? 
A quick search reveals that the new federal language is identical to language contained in at least one state's statute, Rhode Island's Section 42-9.2-2, used to define the scope of administrative authority for the state's Elder Justice Prosecution Unit.  One of the sponsors of the new bill is from Rhode Island.  
However, Rhode Island's criminal statutes do not provide an exact match.  Rhode Island law does provide that it is a crime for any person "primarily responsible for the care of an adult with severe impairments" to "willfully an knowingly abuse, neglect or exploit that adult," and it defines "abuse" as "subjection of an adult with a severe impairment to willful infliction of physical pain [or] willful deprivation of services necessary to maintain the physical or mental health of the person, or unreasonable confinement."  But, by removing any age restriction but narrowing the crime to victims with "severe impairments," there is room for argument about application of that statute to all elderly victims, or those with "only" early stages of physical or mental impairment.  
So, what is the reasoning behind the proposed change of the federal definition of "abuse?" Abuse of an elder person is not a "federal" crime.  Certainly it would be useful to have the definition match any funding authorization, and  perhaps that is a reason, as the new language mirrors the definition of abuse contained in the Social Security Act's provision for block grants to states for social services and elder justice initiatives, at 42 U.S.C. Section 1397j(1).

April 12, 2016 in Crimes, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 8, 2016

DOL Guidance Available for Families on Wage Payments to Home Care Workers

U.S. Department of Labor has a new guide book, "Paying Minimum Wage and Overtime to Home Care Workers," to assist families in understanding updated rules for payment of home care workers. These rules became fully effective on January 1, 2016.

The goal of the recently finalized  "Home Care Final Rule" is to "make sure that home care workers have the same basic wage protections as most U.S. workers, including those who perform the same jobs in nursing homes and group homes."   The rule applies "if you hire the worker directly, and no agency or other organization is involved," but may also apply if you hired the worker through an agency.  

Employers must keep certain basic records for home care workers, and these records will be key to determining proper payment, especially for overtime:

1. Full name;

2. Social security number;

3. Home address;

4. Hours worked each day and total hours worked each workweek;

5. Total cash wages paid each week to the employee by employer, including any overtime pay; and

6. Any weekly amounts claimed by the employer as part of wages for housing or food provided to the employee/.

The guide explains special rules that apply if the paid care provider is a family member or  if the paid worker is "living in."

In addition, the guideline explains the "narrow" exemption from minimum wage and overtime rules that applies for home care workers who provide only "companionship services."  The key here is that the the worker can be spending no more than 20% of his or her working time on tasks such as assisting with personal care (bathing, dressing, cooking, cleaning, etc.) and the worker is not performing any medically related tasks.  

April 8, 2016 in Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 4, 2016

Accountability in Guardianship & Conservator Cases: Latest from Nevada

Under most state laws governing guardians and conservators, appointed fiduciaries are required to make reports to the court at regular intervals, usually beginning with the initial inventory of the ward's assets, followed by distribution reports on at least an annual basis.   As part of the ongoing investigation into accountability for guardianships under the jurisdiction of the district court in Clark County (Las Vegas) Nevada, an internal court review apparently demonstrated key weaknesses.  As reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal in an April 1, 2016 article:

An internal review of guardianship cases in Clark County showed that less than half are in compliance with state laws and that most vulnerable adults are stripped of rights without an attorney.


District Court Judge Diane Steele provided an in-depth overview of the county’s guardianship caseload during a presentation to the Nevada Supreme Court commission studying guardianship. The panel has been meeting since last summer in an effort to fix the state’s troubled system. The commission was formed following a Review-Journal series highlighting the flaws and lack of oversight of county’s guardianship system that watches over thousands of at-risk adults, called wards.


Most compliance issues stemmed from family members not knowing they needed to file annual reports for their incapacitated family member, according to the report.


But the study showed that about 850 of the 3,800 active cases have not filed the required annual accountings that show how a ward’s money was distributed and spent over a 12-month period. In 975 cases, the initial inventory — which lists the assets of the ward such as real estate, vehicles and liquid assets — was also missing, the report said.

For an interesting national perspective on the need to establish more effective court systems, from the perspective of the National Association for Court Management (NACM), see this well-presented recording of a webinar on "How to Protect Our National's Most Vulnerable Adults through Effective Guardianship Practices."  The webinar, with excellent slides and lasting about 50 minutes (plus another 10 minutes of Q & A), is undated but appears to be fairly recent, as one of the slides features news reports from Las Vegas.

April 4, 2016 in Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1)