Wednesday, December 5, 2018
I've been a bit busier than usual lately and haven't felt I could take the time to Blog regularly even though I'm constantly seeing intriguing topics to discuss. I'm buried in a manuscript with a looming deadline! Fortunately, I'm seeing that Becky Morgan is keeping everyone updated and I've been benefiting from her regular reports. I hope to get back to daily posts of my own by January.
In the meantime, I can report on a smaller, interim task of serving as a co-presenter for a half-day Continuing Legal Education program at the Pennsylvania Bar Institute on new developments in Guardianship Practice and Procedure on Friday, December 7. Among the important developments, the Pennsylvania Courts is nearing completion on its statewide implementation of a Guardian Tracking System or GTS. In 2014, the Supreme Court's Elder Law Task Force strongly recommended adoption of such a system, having determined just how little was actually known across the state about open guardian cases. Implementation of the new system began with a pilot in Allegheny County in July 2018. As of today, 60 counties are "live" in the system. The remaining 7 counties are scheduled to be included by the end of this month.
With the help of the new tracking system, I learned that we currently have more than 14,000 active guardianships in Pennsylvania.
Key features of the GTS system include:
- Automation: a means of automatically running a process to check specific aspects of guardianship reports for missing information or other concerns;
- Flagging: when a concern is detected, the item is automatically flagged, allowing court personnel to review and respond to the potential problem;
- State-wide Court Communications: providing the court system with a means of immediate and cost-effective state-wide communications whenever a judge in one case is alerted to suspicion of neglect or other improper conduct by a guardian; and
- Alerts on Specific Guardians: when an "alert" is triggered on a specific guardian in one case, the system will generate notices to all of the other courts in the state, alerting them to the potential need for action on that individual in their cases.
Such a system required entirely new software, new reporting forms, and new court rules to make implementation effective. We will be talking extensively about the new rules and forms on Friday. The migration from the older system of record-keeping imposes a huge learning curve on many involved in guardianship matters, including lawyers.
The need for better systems in Pennsylvania has been highlighted during the last year of controversies surrounding appointment of one particular individual as guardian for alleged incapacitated persons in three Pennsylvania counties. She is accused of mismanaging cases, plus it turned out she had a criminal history for fraud in another state.
See also the recent news reports about another Pennsylvania guardianship matter that asks the troubling question "Where's Grandma?" The reporter on this case, Cherri Gregg, who also happens to be a lawyer, opines that everyone in the case, including the lawyer appointed as guardian, and the family members of the person subject to the guardianship, needed better education about their roles after the grandmother's own children passed away, as the grandmother became more vulnerable, and especially when it became necessary to place her in a nursing home.
My special thanks to Karen Buck, Executive Director of the SeniorLAW Center in Philadelphia, and the good folks at Pennsylvania Courts' Office of Elder Justice for helping me with my part of the presentation for Friday!