Sunday, July 30, 2023
The New York Times runs a regular column called The Ethicist. It poses intriguing problems and the most recent one is definitely relevant to families, older individuals (and potentially anyone with a disability) and elder law attorneys. Because the analysis is behind a paywall for "subscribers only," I am reluctant to say too much here But I can say that the question of what happens when someone with "reduced" cognitiion becomes entangled in a well-meaning but still demeaning care setting, makes the need for experienced legal assistance exceptionally clear. This particular essay would make a great problem for a student seminar!
See My Friend Is Trapped in a Nursing Home: What Can I Do? presented by columnist Kwame Anthony Appiah, in the New York Times online edition published July 28, 2023.
Monday, May 22, 2023
Appearing on the front page of the Sunday edition of the Arizona Republic (5.21.23), the first paragraphs of an extended feature article point to the potential for harm to residents and the consequences of staff shortages or inattention at Arizona facilicities caring for residents with dementia. Two women in their 90s are residents of an elegantly appointed assisted living facility-- but as the article begins they are covered in blood -- and the investigation of what happened there is hampered by the inability of anyone to give clear explanations.
The feature, based on the newspaper's review of "thousands of pages of police and state regulatory reports," offers multiple reasons for such injuries in "senior living" facilities, including a lack of clear reporting rules and the absence of investigation by state agencies, especially for facilities licsenced for "assisted living" as opposed to "nursing home" care. From the feature:
In memory care units, anything can become a weapon -- toilet plungers, shoehorns, electric razors, TV remotes, metal trash grabbers and walking canes. Hundreds of vulnerable seniors, particularly those with dementia, contend with violence at the end of their lives in the very places that promise to keep them safe.
Shortages of staff-- brought on by companies looking to maximize profits or stave off financial losses -- lead to more harm. Assisted living facilities can keep resident clashes underwraps [in Arizona] because regulartors don't make facilities report incidents to their state licensing agency. Federally regulated nursing homes have to report but little attention is paid to the problem.
The Arizona Republic combed through thousands of pages of policce and state regulatory reports to find more than 200 clashes at senior living facilities from mid-2019 to mid-2022. Residents punched, hit, pushed, kicked, poked scratched, bit, elbowed or spat on other residents or employees.
Experts consulted by the Arizona Republic noted that one "key [to reducing problems] is tailoring a [resident's] care plan to each resident's needs, equipped with activities that bring their lives a sense of purpose." Further, "[a]ssisted living facilities commonly get in trouble for having inadequate, delayed or out-of-date plans for residents that outline their need or for failing to follow those plans."
The article cautions that if a problem is not tracked, "it doesn't exist":
The Arizona Department of Health Services licenses facilities and is responsible for investigating complaints but assisted living centers don't have to report nonfatal injuries to the agency.
That's not normal. Most states require facilities to report to their licensing agency when residents get hurt, according to The Republic's review of state laws.
The feature suggests that "Arizona lawmakers and regulators have prioritized the needs of assisted living and nursing home companies over their residents," comparizing Arizona to "[a]t least 17 states [that] require assisted living facilities to get inspected about once a year, with a few even requiring two inspections per year. "
For the full Arizona Republic feature published in its print version on May 21, 2023, look for "Arizona seniors at risk of harm: Facilities experiencing staff shortage, residents with dementia enable violence," by reporters Caitlin McGlade, Melina Walling and Sahana Jayaraman. The extended Sunday feature appears to follow several shorter articles available online in May from the same reporting team.
May 22, 2023 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, May 8, 2023
In one of the earliest articles I wrote on familiy member liability under nursing home contracts, I cautioned that federal law prohibits nursing homes from requiring "guarantees" of payment by family members. Any family member who is asked to sign "on behalf" of a loved one should carefully consider the role he or she is undertaking, especially if the only role acceptable and affordable for that family member is "agent." See "The Responsible Thing to Do About 'Responsible Party' Provisions in Nursing Home Agreements," published in 2004 in the Unversity of Michigan Journal of Law Reform.
On May 1, 2023, an appellate court in Ohio cited this article when concluding that in the case before it, the daughter's role as agent acting under a power of attorney prevented her from becoming personally liable for her mother's costs of care. The daughter appears to have properly cooperated or assisted in the original Medicaid application. Further, the daughter gave authority to the nursing home to debit the bank account where her mother's SS checks were deposited each month, in order to pay itself the "patient pay portion" of the monthly allocation for costs of care when a patient has low income but is otherwise eligible for Medicaid. Thus the nursing home appears to have had at least the same ability as the daughter to avoid accumulation of a sum greater than $2,000, a resource limit that can trigger disruption of Medicaid benefits. There was still another party that could be faulted for what appears to have been an unplanned "excess resource" situation. The court pointed to the failure of the state agency to give effective notice to interested parties about when and why it was terminaating Medicaid. See National Church Residences First Community Village v. Kessler, 2023 WL 3162188 (Ohio Ct. App. 2023).
Bottom line? Family members or others attempting to help an incapacitated person get proper care are well-advised to consult with an experienced elder law attorney early in the process about how to qualify and protect eligability for Medicaid. Further, clear, direct communications between the agent, the facility and state agencies are important when seeking to facilitate prompt, proper payments.
Overwhelmed family members should not be scapegoats, even (especially?) when overwhelmed state agencies and facility billing offices are themselves missing opportunities to keep benefit payments flowing properly.
May 8, 2023 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, April 10, 2023
Los Angeles Times journalist Steve Lopez has been writing recently on the financial costs of long-term care, whether in the home or a "senior living" setting. It is part of his series of "Golden State" columns on California's aging population. Today, however, he has reversed the lens, and talks about the impact of the need for care on low-wage workers. He writes:
I’ve been in homes where the caregivers are U.S. citizens with decent wages and benefits, and I’ve been in homes where the workers are undocumented and paid less than the minimum wage ($16.04 an hour in the city of Los Angeles) in cash. It’s a wink-and-nod system, much like farm labor, in which cheap labor is prized over any other consideration.
“It’s very much a legacy of slavery and a history in this country of not valuing the work done by … people of color,” said attorney Yvonne Medrano, who heads the employee rights program at Bet Tzedek Legal Services.
Several weeks ago I reached out to the the Pilipino Workers Center, a Los Angeles nonprofit that has been educating domestic workers on their rights and leading a fight against a system in which labor laws are often ignored and workers — many of them old enough to be receiving elder care themselves — are cheated and exploited.
Aquilina Soriano Versoza, the center’s director, said research indicates a majority of clients appreciate the care they get and would be willing to pay more for it, but many can’t afford to.
For a more complete picture, read They Take Care of Aging Adults, Live in Cramped Quarters, and Make Less than MInimum Wage from the Los Angeles Times.
April 10, 2023 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Discrimination, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, December 7, 2022
On December 7, NPR had a short segment during Morning Edition describing the impact of lack of staffing -- and therefore lack of "beds" -- in nursing homes and rehabilitation care facilities, which in turn means hospitals are stuck keeping the patients. Further, Medicaid often won't pay for hospital care for individuals who "only" need nursing home care.
Listen to the 3-minute segment that uses hospitals in Vermont as the focus: Limited Nursing Home Beds Force Hospitals to Keep Patients Longer.
The story hints at several subtle issues, including Medicaid funding priorities, especially as Medicaid involves joint federal/state funding, and how health care handles "inability to pay" by residents. This last semester I've taught a stand alone course on Nonprofit Organizations Law and students are often surprised to learn that the single largest -- and highest income -- segment of the nonprofit world is health care, especially hospital-based health care. Students ask how a "charity" accounts for earnings and losses -- and we discuss the fact that no organization, nonprofit or for profit, can afford to operate very long without adequate revenues to stay solvent. The NPR story reflects a theme that my course often raises -- what does it mean to be "charitable"?
Sunday, November 27, 2022
The New York Times Sunday edition includes a feature article about a trend, "more older Americans living by themselves than ever before."
Using graphs, interviews and research results, the article makes a clear argument, that "'while many people in their 50s and 60s thrive living solo, research is unequivocal that people aging alone experience worse physical and mental health outcomes and shorter life spans."
Plus, the article implies that evidence that shows a growing share of older adults (age 55 plus) do not have children, means there is a public policy concern "about how elder care will be managed in the coming decades."
For me, this article crystalizes two legal concepts I write about frequently: "filial support" laws that can be used to compel adult children to care for or maintain their elders, and "continuing care retirement communities," that permit people with sufficient -- make that significantly sufficient -- financial resources to plan for how their care needs may be handled in a planned community.
Law professors can probably use the article to stimulate waves of student projects about personal and collective responsibilities in American societies and beyond.
Sunday, November 6, 2022
When I was a child, my grandfather had an ongoing relationship with Readers' Digest. Not just their magazine or their condensed books, but with the company itself. He was always convinced he had won their latest sweepstakes and his big-dollar prize was just around the corner. It was a bit of a family legend.
Recently an older friend, who had celebrated a 90th birthday a few months back, called to ask for help in filling out forms for the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes. Over the years my friend had purchased various items from PCH, including a set of solar lights that never worked properly. The odds of actually "winning" the PCH sweepstakes are astronomically high. My friend thought buying something would increase the odds of winning no matter how often I explained over the years that was not true. Sometimes new "stuff" would appear in the mail, along with a corresponding bill for the "order." It was hard to know whether my friend had actually ordered the items.
This time, my friend was thrilled to explain the long-awaited victory was almost here -- as the latest mailing "guaranteed" the check would be arriving by mail and all that was needed was timely confirmation by return mail of a willingness to accept the prize. Two envelopes were provided to help in "claiming" the victory.
I walked patiently through the colorful documents with my friend, pointing out all my examples of clever language. I showed my friend a copy of a case, Harris v. Publishers Clearing House, an unofficially reported federal decision from 2016, that described another person who also thought he had won for the exact same reasons as my friend. The prize never came. He was suing -- without the benefit of an attorney -- for breach of contract, fraud, and alleged violations of Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act, 39 U.S.C. Section 2001 et seq. But the judge ruled against him, dismissing the case with prejudice while explaining the language in the letters "merely informed the plaintiff that he had a chance to win. . . . "
My friend seemed to understand what I was saying. My friend asked my opinion -- "what should we do?" I suggested we tear up the letters and throw them in the trash. My friend put the documents -- untorn -- in the waste can. We talked about the fact that continuing to participate with this company was wasting money, and was also an example of "feeding the troll," encouraging the company to keep sending those "too-good-to-be-true" letters to other people. We ended our discussion with a good hug.
The next morning I stopped by to drop off newspapers and a fresh donut. As I waited for my friend, I saw the top of two "official" envelopes addressed to Publishers Clearing House peeking out of the top of the home's mail box for pick up -- with fresh stamps. I couldn't help but sigh.
Here is a link to a science-based discussion about early assessment of cognitive impairment, and the importance of histories provided by a reliable informant or care partner for diagnostic assessment. Victimization in scams is one of several behavioral examples listed in the article that can point to changes in cognition, associated with the loss of the ability to evaluate risk or odds of winning.
Isn't it sad that it might be easier to diagnose cognitive impairment than to get a ruling finding deceptive trade practices?
November 6, 2022 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, October 5, 2022
The U.S. Justice Department issued a press release yesterday, announcing the expansion of its Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force. The Strike Force was organized in 2019, involving the Justice Department's Consumer Protection Bureau, U.S. Attorneys Offices, the FBI, Homeland Security, and -- I was interested to see -- the United States Postal Inspection Service
I've actually worked with the Postal Inspector on an elder fraud case. A woman in her 90s was mailing an unusually fat envelope and asked a friend to give her a ride to a local branch of the post office. The friend, knowing the woman was quite frail when walking unassisted, offered to get the postage, or to accompany her, but the older woman, who the friend thought seemed unsure of herself, declined. The friend thought about this, was alerted by what struck her as unusual behavior, and called the woman's daughter and explained what had just happened.
The daughter had dismissed a home caregiver recently after learning the caregiver was asking her mother for -- and receiving -- two or more "pay checks" per week, as well as asking for additional cash that seemed to disappear in mysterious ways. The daughter went to the post office with a copy of a certified Power of Attorney, granted to her by her mother several years before she was diagnosed with multiple conditions, including cognitive issues, following a stroke. In fact the reason the caregiver had been hired was precisely because the mother was vulnerable and sometimes confused.
The Post Office at first seemed to be reluctant to take action, but the daughter was able to describe the envelope and also to provide the name of the former employee who had already been fully paid for his work, and had signed a receipt to that effect. The Post Office's worker agreed to search, but when the daughter departed, it seemed unlikely any action would be taken. That is, it seemed unlikely until the next day, when a representative of the Postal Inspector set up an appointment. Having identified and been given the daughter/agent's permission to open the envelope, the federal authorities found several hundred dollars in the envelope that was, indeed, addressed to the former worker. The officers interviewed the mother and then went to see the suspect, who claimed it was merely an additional paycheck that was "owed." He claimed the mother was fully supportive of giving him cash, but he was unable to explain the receipt he'd signed, the burner phones he had used to call the woman, nor the many "payments" he'd received in the last 60 days, payments that the daughter had since documented as more than tripling his agreed wage rate during that period.
I'm the daughter; my 90+ mother was the person defrauded. (She has since passed away, so I feel more able to tell this story.) I learned the Postal Service already understood such a fact pattern very well. Even at that time, several years ago, the official investigating the facts told us that similar transactions happened all too often. It is good to see, with this latest press release, that the U.S. Justice Department is coordinating authorities on enhanced fraud prevention and recovery efforts in support of elder justice.
My thanks to Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Amy Gaudion at Penn State Dickinson Law, who shared the Justice Department notice with me, and whose own research focuses on national security and privacy issues.
October 5, 2022 in Consumer Information, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Widener Univ. Commonwealth Law School's Clinical Students to Serve as Monitors in Pennsylvania Guardianship Program
Mary Catherine Scott, Director of the Central Pennsylvania Law Clinic at Widener University Commonwealth Campus, has recently partnered with Dauphin County Orphans' Court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to expand her clinical students' opportunities for service. Law students will now have roles as monitors in guardianship cases, seeking to maximize the interests of protected persons. The Pro Bono Guardianship Monitoring Program was begun in central Pennsylvania by the Honorable Todd Hoover, and is now overseen by Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Engle, involving as many as 400 active cases. The monitor program is another component of the Pennsylvania courts' enhanced protections for older persons and other persons found to be in need of certain assistance. Pennsylvania also has a state-wide Guardianship Tracking System.
Thursday, September 8, 2022
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and CMS Jointly Caution Nursing Homes and Their Debt Collectors on Their Practices
Today, my Conflict of Laws class and I watched a live-streamed hearing involving "choice of law": "state" (about contracts) versus "federal law" (prohibiting practices affecting contracts) The context is a bit dramatic and definitely overdue for action.
On the same day as the public hearing, which was hosted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for panelists to identify concerns about certain debt collection practices used by nursing homes against the family members and others, CFPB and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a "notification letter." The letter, dated September 8, 2022 and addressed to "Nursing Facilities and Debt Collectors," details improper practices under federal law, such as asking "third parties" to sign documents that, in effect, serve as personal guarantees of payment of nursing homes. Without those guarantees, the nursing home may deny admission or continued care. However, the third parties are often family members or even mere "friends," who may be trying to help get care, but who have little knowledge of the resident's personal finances or eligibility for Medicare or Medicaid, and who may not understand the risks of "agreeing" to sign the contracts.
I began writing about this problem years ago in a series of articles. In "The Responsible Thing to Do About Responsible Party Provisions in Nursing Home Agreements," I focused on misleading attempts to have someone agree to be a "responsible party" for purposes of the resident being admitted, without the signer's full understanding that the signature may be construed by state courts as a promise to pay if the resident cannot pay personally or does not qualify for Medicare or Medicaid payments. See also "Traps for the Unwary in Nursing Home Agreements."
Recent studies conducted under the auspices of Kaiser Family Foundation (at KHN) provide additional examples of the hardships on families and friends. Unfortunately, the problems with attempts to hold third-parties liable for costs of nursing home care have become more intense with Covid-19 crises affecting long-term care. Indeed, one of the pandemic-influenced contracting practices that adds to the problem is use of "on-line signing processes" for these contracts. As family members were often not even present during the admission's process, nursing homes are increasingly turning to e-signatures. The swift moving electronic process for initials and virtual signatures all too easily flies by without any true reading, much less understanding, of the documents and with close to zero likelihood the signers will be able to ask questions (such as "Do I have to sign this?" or "What happens if I don't sign this?") and gain accurate answers. Nursing homes deserve to be paid for their care -- but the right way to do this is to involve people who can help the families apply for benefits under Medicare or Medicaid, and who won't insist on private pay if the resident's resources are too low to support such pay.
In my experience, thoughtfully-managed, well-run nursing homes definitely exist. They get sound business and legal advice and know that is more cost effective to help families through the process than sue them when the documents are not understood. Experienced elder law attorneys, including specialists in Legal Services offices, can help too. But while reading the KHN report linked above, too often I was seeing "default judgments" involved here -- and in those instances, that usually means a lack of informed agreement on the part of signers or that the admission processes are otherwise not working properly.
September 8, 2022 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, August 18, 2022
Recently Pennsylvania Bar Association and Philadelphia Bar Association legal ethics committees issued a Joint Formal Opinion addressing ethical considerations in the handling of several related forms of billing for services: flat fee, earned upon receipt, and non-refundable fees. Elder Law attorneys use various forms of such billing.
On the one hand, clients often want to know up front the full cost for services and thus like flat fee billing. On the other hand there can be tensions about whether or when such fees are "earned." The opinion stresses the need for clarity in the client-attorney relationship, so as to assure mutual understanding about when a fee is deemed earned, and to make sure clients are fully advised about the fee structure. With older clients -- and their family members -- it can be especially important to avoid assuming everyone understands mere "labels" for different fee arrangements.
In Joint Ethics Opinion No. 2022-300, the Committees conclude that under Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct and with the guidance of prior opinions:
• Any fee not “earned upon receipt” is deemed an “advance” fee, which may only be deposited into the operating account if the client provides informed consent, confirmed in writing, in accordance with Rule 1.15(i); and,
• When a fee is deemed to be “earned upon receipt,” attorneys may deposit the fee into an operating account rather than a Rule 1.15 IOLTA account or other Trust account, provided that the attorney specifically states in the fee agreement that the fee is intended to be nonrefundable and earned upon receipt.
Hat tip to Rob Clofine, elder law attorney extraordinaire, for sharing this with Pennsylvania lawyers.
Sunday, August 14, 2022
Upcoming in November before USSC: Do Residents have Private Rights of Action for Violations of Federal Nursing Home Reform Act?
For those teaching Elder Law, Health Law, and Disability Law Courses this semester, there is a unique opportunity for students to hear relevant oral arguments before the United States Supreme Court. One of the important federal laws that arguably changed -- for the better -- the standards for care in nursing homes was the Federal Nursing Home Reform Amendment of 1987 (FNHRA, adopted as part of OBRA '87). But a long-festering central issue for the provisions known as the "Residents' Bill of Rights" is whether the law provides residents a privately enforceable right of action for alleged violations of the standards. On November 8, 2022, the United States Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral argument on two key concerns:
- Whether in light of historical cases to the contrary, the Court should reexamine its holding that Spending Clause-related legislation confers a implied right to privately enforceable rights under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983; and
- Whether, assuming Spending Clause statutes ever give rise to enforceable private rights under Section 1983, there are private rights of action for alleged violations of the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act's transfer and medication rules.
The case in question is Health & Hospital Corp. v. Talevski, originally filed in the United States District Court (Northern District) of Indiana. Mr. Talevski, who has dementia, through his wife, alleges that while living in a nursing facility, he was prescribed powerful medications despite his family's objections, which functioned as prohibited "chemical restraints imposed for purposes of discipline or convenience rather than treatment." Further, he alleges he was improperly transferred over their objections away from the local care facility to a different, more distant facility. Federal spending laws are at issue because the state's long-term care facilities are eligible for federal dollars and the state receives federal funding, including Medicaid funding, for such nursing care. In this case, the District Court held that there was no private right of action.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit reversed, at 6 F.4th 713 on July 27, 2021, finding that in the Act, "Congress spoke of resident rights, not merely steps the facilities were required to take. This shows an intent to benefit nursing home residents directly." (emphasis in the original). In reaching this decision, the 7th Circuit joined rulings by the 9th (2019) and 3rd (2009) Circuits directly confirming private rights of action under FNHRA.
The Petitioner Nursing Facility seems to be playing to the newest justices on the Court, arguing that a long line of Spending Clause cases willing to recognize a cause of action under Section 1983, including Blessing v. Freestone, 520 U.S. 329 (1997), are incorrectly decided or too generous in their willingness to recognize or infer fact-specific, private rights of action. The Petitioner's argument is supported by an amicus brief, including one submitted on behalf of twenty-two states, resisting the financial implications of accountability asserted by individual patients. The United States has submitted an amicus brief that expresses general support for individual actions, but argues against such a cause of action for nursing home residents.
But, as one legal studies student observed in 2013 about what happens when minimum standards are not adequately enforced by authorities:
Even though conditions in nursing homes have improved since the passing of the Federal Nursing Home Reform Amendment of 1987, the existence of substandard care in nursing homes, which Congress attempted to correct with the statute, still exists today. . . . [A case such as Grammer v. John J. Kane Reg'l Ctrs-Glen Hazel, 570 F.3d 520 (3d Cir. 2009) recognizing the right of residents to bring private actions under 1983] does open the door for state-run nursing homes to be held accountable for abuse and substandard care. . . . Considering that most of us at some point in our future will live the nursing-home experience first-hand, we should keep this topic on our radar.
Susan J. Kennedy, "Conflict in the Courts: The Federal Nursing Home Reform Amendment and Section 1983 Causes of Action," 3 Law Journal for Social Justice 195, 209 (2013). Some ten years later, the resident's case before the Supreme Court appears to have strong amici support, with amici briefs due in mid-September, arguing that without residents' ability to enforce their legal rights, "they will lose a powerful weapon for their protection. This puts them at risk of harm and even death, as abuse, neglect and poor care are rampant in many facilities." Id.
August 14, 2022 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Discrimination, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, June 11, 2022
Two Hundred Years of Guns.... What if you knew the outcome when you were writing the Second Amendment?
Alexander Merezhko, a good friend since he was a visiting Fulbright Scholar at Dickinson Law from his home country of Ukraine, is now a member of Ukraine's parliament and a senior legal advisor to President Zelenskyy. We email regularly about events in our respective countries; of course, there is a lot for us to discuss. Recently, Alexander mentioned that discussions were underway about legalizing individual gun ownership in his country. Suffice it to say, Professor Merezhko is worried about what happens after the war. It seems likely the assault by Russian forces motivates those debates in Ukraine, but what about the future? A similar struggle, America's own then-recent war for independence, was part of the context for the language of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, beginning with the words, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State...."
Could America's Founding Fathers have dreamed that the contextual phrase would be dismissed as significant and the remaining words of the Second Amendment would be treated as a mandate that permits unrestricted sales of weapons to individuals who are not part of any well-regulated system? There is a very interesting article with historical details I've never considered in The New Yorker, titled How Did Guns Get So Powerful?From the article by Phil Klay:
We wonder how we got here. How did guns grow so powerful—both technically and culturally? Like automobiles, firearms have grown increasingly advanced while becoming more than machines; they are both devices and symbols, possessing a cultural magnetism that makes them, for many people, the cornerstone of a way of life. They’re tools that kill efficiently while also promising power, respect, and equality—liberation from tyranny, from crime, from weakness. They’re a heritage from an imagined past, and a fantasy about protecting our future. It’s taken nearly two hundred years for guns to become the problem they are today. The story of how they acquired their power explains why, now, they are so hard to stop.
Why am I writing about guns (again) in the Elder Law Prof Blog? The need for better support for mental health for youth and elders is part of what needs to be addressed. Sadly, guns are part of a larger story not just for 18 year-olds in New York or Texas, but also for older Americans, as "firearm suicides are one of the leading causes of death for older Americans." See Firearm Suicides in the Elderly: A Narrative Review and Call for Action, published in 2021 in the Journal of Community Health.
June 11, 2022 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, International, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, June 6, 2022
Distinguished Professor and Editor-in-Chief Eva Kahana at Case Western University has advised us of the the most recent "call for papers" for her Journal of Elder Policy. As most of us who work in law and aging recognize, our field is inherently cross-disciplinary and that is why it is so nice to hear from the sociology field when it is seeking new articles. The focus for the upcoming issue is Technology: An Underutilized Late-Life Resource.
The journal, which is peer reviewed, is seeking papers that address policy challenges and implications related to technology use and older adults. They welcome both empirical and conceptual papers from diverse disciplines and have a preference for pieces that employ policy approaches.
Topics may include but are not limited to:
- Internet use/access
- Digital exclusion/inclusiveness
- Interventions using digital platforms
- Intergenerational learning
- E-Health Literacy
- Cultural influences on technology use in later life
- Digital monitoring of frail older adults
- Digital data collection
Now the important part:
Abstracts due by August 15, 2022 (500 words)
Full papers due by October 31, 2022 (8,000-10,000 words)
Thursday, May 26, 2022
Yesterday I wrote a blog post about gun use that several of my friends correctly characterized as heartfelt. Of course, legal research is merited, and I find that my view echoes what is written in a key section of a very recent opinion:
Beyond these significant safety concerns, contemporary scientific research increasingly sheds light on the relative immaturity and incomplete cognitive development of young adults. California cites to evidence that young adults are less mature than older adults, which leads them to take more risks and behave more reactively than their elders. Young adults are thus quicker to anger than older adults and more vulnerable to intense mood swings and to making instinctive, rather than considered, decisions. This cognitive immaturity makes young adults more likely to use firearms in situations of significant emotional arousal or perceived threat, or other situations that require rapid, complex information processing. Other Circuits have credited similar evidence to uphold regulations on firearms affecting 18 to 20-year-olds. NRA, 700 F.3d at 208; Horsley v. Trame, 808 F.3d. 1126, 1133 (7th Cir. 2015). The semiautomatic rifle regulation helps to “ensure that access to these weapons is restricted to mature individuals who have successfully completed safety training,” such as members of law enforcement and the military, “furthering the public safety objectives and ensuring that the Founding Era balancing of Second Amendment rights with safety concerns continues today.” Jones, 498 F. Supp. 3d at 1328.
Unfortunately, this is from the dissenting opinion in Jones v. Bonta, decided by the 9th Circuit with an opinion issued less than two weeks before the shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Sigh.
Or, as the always astute Professor Naomi Cahn observes, "The irony of the timing of such a ruling is beyond distressing."
Wednesday, May 25, 2022
I suspect I'm not alone in thinking about guns this morning in the wake of the Texas shooting at a grade school in Uvalde Texas. This post reflects matters I've been thinking about for a long time. Indeed, thirty years ago I considered making gun violence a core academic research topic, until I realized how potent is the lobby supporting gun sales, and therefore gun ownership.
First, this morning I listened to a young man, David Hogg, speaking to an NPR interviewer about his own frustrations in opposing gun violence. He urged legislators at state and national levels to do at least "one thing" to move forward on gun safety legislation. My first reaction was "one thing?" How is that going to help?
Second, I heard a bit more about the background of the 18 year old shooter in Texas, as well as the background of the similarly-aged shooter in Buffalo New York. More memories. In one of my previous lives, I volunteered for a neighborhood tutoring program in New Mexico. My first two students, in high school, had been sent to the program by judges trying to help youths in crime-related incidents. One young man attended once -- and then disappeared.
I managed to have a good session with the other student, a junior in high school, who at my request wrote a short essay about what he saw as his future. The 500 word piece was quite well written, and gave us something we could definitely use to gently work to improve his reading and writing skills. The focus, however, proved to be a window into the bleak outlook of a young man who was involved in a so-called gang. To put it simply, he saw no future for himself after high school. He said with utter confidence that his high school "had" to graduate him regardless of whether he did any more work, as long as he merely attended class. I didn't want to believe that, but he had plenty of evidence to support his hypothesis. He didn't have any post graduation plans. He had equal confidence that he probably wasn't going to make it to age 21. The following week during our tutoring session, he was creative in his resistance to my role as a tutor. He turned in his next essay, but it was written entirely in what was some sort of "tagger's script," the stylized script he used when spray-painting his messages on public building. Tagging was his only crime at that moment.
I eventually decided to volunteer for younger students, and in fact I had a two-year working student-tutor relationship with a grade school boy who was in the program at his mother's insistence. Actually, I got to know the whole family, including his parents and a sister who also sometimes attended our reading sessions (and she helped turn reading into a competitive adventure). To mark the success of his "graduation" from the program, we went to a Phoenix Suns basketball game, because the opposing team that day had a player much admired by my student. At his comparatively "youthful" age, he had written about his plans for the future, including somehow, against all genetic odds, planning to "grow" tall enough to be a professional basketball player, like his idol, Nate Archibald. We talked about coaching as an alternative -- just in case.
I remember the difference in these individuals as I listen to the troubled histories of the two "boys" who bought guns as part of their 18th birthday celebrations. I don't know what happened to most of the other the students involved in the tutoring program. The second student dropped out of the program for reasons I never learned, but I later saw his name in the newspaper when he was accused of being the driver in a car-jacking where his "friend" shot the woman who resisted having her car taken. Sadly, that student's essay was prophetic, as any true dreams for a future may have ended with that crime.
So, if we are going to do at least "one thing," could we -- should we -- focus on raising the threshold age for gun ownership? Should we give young people in their late teens more time to grow older (and "taller" or more mature) and thus to reach a point where the future seems brighter? I'm not suggesting they cannot participate in shooting sports, hunting, and the military, where we hope their use and skill building would be supervised by knowledgeable people. I am suggesting making it unlawful for them to "own" or at least to purchase guns until they are older. Research suggests that substantially more crimes of gun violence against others are committed by individuals between the ages of 17 and 21. There is research to support restricting gun ownership (and therefore gun sales) to individuals over 21 as one step forward in terms of safety.
For example, in June 1999, a "collaborative report" under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Justice noted in part:
In 1996, 26,040 people in the United States were killed with guns. In 1997, offenders age 18, 19, and 20 ranked first, second, and third in the number of gun homicides committed. Of all gun homicides where an offender was identified, 24 percent were committed by this age group, which is consistent with the historical pattern of gun homicides over the past 10 years.
Other statistics suggest that gun-related suicide death rates are highest for females age 45 to 64 and for males age 75 and older, statistics that point to another form of age-specific gun tragedies. Age matters.
That first boy who "disappeared" after the first tutoring session? I later learned he had been killed in a neighborhood shooting. Would younger adults support delayed lawful-ownership as one form of protection against gun violence? Certainly, more is needed on so many other levels including mental health supports. But could "one thing" -- at least -- include blocking gun sales to people who are still in the process of learning to plan for the future, for their futures?
Friday, May 20, 2022
Researcher Explains: Misuse of Data Can Lead to "Pariah-Tizing" the Elderly While Failing to Provide Key Information for All Ages
In September 2021, I listened to a great set of speakers at the Aging, Health, Equity and the Law Conference hosted by Touro College in New York. One session in particular captured my attention. Barbara Pfeffer Billauer, JD, MA (Occ. Health), PhD, who is currently Professor of Law and Bioethics at the University of Porto and Research Professor at the Institute of World Politics in Washington DC. spoke about the misuse of statistics regarding COVID-19 on an international scale. We exchanged emails, and it was clear she was deep into the emerging data from countries around the world.
Dr. Billauer's most recent analysis has received its first publication on May 19, 2022 by the American Council on Science and Health at ACSH.org, with the appropriate yet provocative title of Pariah-Tizing the Elderly: Another Casualty of COVID.
Here she takes on recent news media coverage, including the Washington Post, as well as some scientific community publications, to raise the significant concern that exaggerating the risk of COVID-19 stigmatizes one group -- here the elderly -- while failing to fully inform all age groups about the efficacy of vaccination. She opens with this explanation:
I call a mistaken, targeted focus and overemphasis on any population group “pariahtization.” As recent evidence demonstrates, this "pariah-tized” focus on the elderly regarding COVID-19 is certainly misplaced. It also has resulted in untoward policies that caused more deaths in both the younger segments of the population. . . .
Contrary to popular opinion . . . COVID is not a disease of the elderly—like dementia, or cataracts, or osteoarthritis. Indeed, older people are less likely to die of COVID than heart disease or cancer. This is not so for the younger cohort, for whom during several months last year COVID was the leading cause of death.
For six months of 2021—half the year, COVID was the leading cause of death in those 45-54. In three months of the year, COVID was the leading cause of deaths forages 55-64, but only in two months was it the leading cause of death for those 65-74, the same as for those 35-44; and only in one month was COVID the leading cause of death for those over 75. . . .
The misplaced focus [of the media] on the aged being especially vulnerable has led younger people to unwisely eschew vaccination on the grounds that the disease is not generous to them.
Dr. Billhauer clearly has a way with words and she makes effective use of data and charts to explain important data concerns. The implications of her findings go beyond the problem of the current crisis.
Friday, April 29, 2022
As is true with several U.S. states, Virginia has a filial support statute that can obligate adult children to support their parents. The key language of VA Code Ann. Section 20-88 provides:
It shall be the joint and several duty of all persons eighteen years of age or over, of sufficient earning capacity or income, after reasonably providing for his or her own immediate family, to assist in providing for the support and maintenance of his or her mother or father, he or she being then and there in necessitous circumstances.
If there be more than one person bound to support the same parent or parents, the persons so bound to support shall jointly and severally share equitably in the discharge of such duty. . . .
This section shall not apply if there is substantial evidence of desertion, neglect, abuse or willful failure to support any such child by the father or mother, as the case may be, prior to the child's emancipation or, except as provided hereafter in this section, if a parent is otherwise eligible for and is receiving public assistance or services under a federal or state program. . . .
There are few modern cases applying this law. In Peyton v. Peyton, an "unreported" Virginia chancery court decision from 40 years ago, the court applies the law to obligate one brother to reimburse another brother $8,000, representing half of the past out-of-pocket expenses for their mother's care in a nursing home. A careful reading of the Peyton case reveals one of the challenges of applying filial support laws when used to collect "back" expenses; here the second son was willing to pay a portion of their mother's monthly costs going forward but he was not successful in arguing a statute of limitations should apply to prevent liability for multiple years of back claims.
As with other American states that have had forms of filial support laws, Virginia's law was enacted as an alternative to public welfare laws because the common law generally found no legal duty for adult children to support indigent parents. But, in Virginia, again as in most American states, the filial support laws are largely dormant, misunderstood or ignored, especially after Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid laws were enacted on a federal level beginning in the 1960s.
Virginia's statute was amended decades ago to restrict use of the law by the state to seek reimbursement for its costs in providing public services (such as "medical assistance" a/k/a Medicaid). However, unlike the filial laws of most states, Virginia's law permits criminal prosecution as a misdemeanor for "any person violating the provisions of an order" of support under this statute, with a fine not exceeding $500 or imprisonment in jail for up to 12 months. I find no reported cases of criminal enforcement actions.
Recognizing that other states (including neighboring Maryland in 2017) had recently taken formal action to repeal filial support laws as outdated or impractical, Virginia Senator Adam Ebbin introduced 2022 Senate Bill 389 to repeal Virginia's law. Senator Ebbin's bill passed with no dissenting votes in the Virginia Senate. The final vote in the Virginia House, on March 11, 2022, supported repeal with 81 voting in favor, and only 16 members voting in opposition to repeal. In other words, repeal was not a controversial measure; rather it appeared to be part of an attempt to clean-up hoary laws, and it attracted strong bipartisan support.
Nonetheless, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin (sworn into office in January 2022) vetoed the repeal on April 11, 2022. His reasoning for preserving filial support laws is unique, at least in my 20-some years of experience researching filial support laws (see e.g., Filial Support Laws in the Modern Era: Domestic and International and International Comparison of Enforcement Practices for Laws Requiring Adult Children to Support Indigent Parents, 20 Elder Law Journal 269 (2013)).
The governor's veto statement explains:
"Primarily, the Commonwealth's filial responsibility law supports those who care for their elderly parents. In establishing a bankruptcy budget, the court allows for necessary and reasonable expenditures and the repeal of Section 20-88 could prevent an individual from covering these expenses within the budget of their debtor. For those undergoing bankruptcy proceedings, there is a grave risk of unforeseeable and unintended consequences, which may harm people going through some of the most difficult times in their lives."
On the one hand, in today's torn asunder political scene, no one should be surprised that a newly elected governor of one party would be vetoing legislation sponsored by a member of the other party -- and that is true here, with a Republican governor vetoing a bill proposed by a Democrat.
But what about the proffered reason for the veto? Virginia's law does not "primarily" support those who care for their elderly parents. Rather, it creates an obligation for adult children. Is there any precedent for a theory that Virginia's filial support law permits some type of sheltering of assets for a debtor in bankruptcy court, to provide a means of financial support for the (also) destitute parent? Certainly I find no modern cases on Lexis or Westlaw suggesting such use or even a need for such use.
There is a reported case from 1938 in Virginia. In Mitchell-Powers Hardware Co. v. Eaton, 198 S.E. 496 (Supreme Court of Appeals, VA 1938), the court addressed a question of whether a transfer of valuable stock by a debtor to his sister was voidable as an invalid gift. Was this an invalid attempt to defeat a legitimate creditor's lien against the asset? The court recognized that under Virginia's predecessor version of Statute 20-88, the debtor "could" have an obligation to assist his sister in the care of their elderly mother. The appellate court remanded the case for a jury determination of whether the mother was actually destitute and in need of the son's financial support. (The sister had further transferred the stock in question onward to the debtor's son). This hardly seems a persuasive case for characterizing filial support laws as necessary "support for those who care for their elderly parents."
April 29, 2022 in Crimes, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, April 26, 2022
I'm working on a book chapter about filial support laws, where families (usually adult children) may be surprised to learn that their state or their country has a seldom-used law that mandates financial support or maintenance for indigent family members. In working on this chapter, I was considering using the concept of "scarecrow laws" as a metaphor. This label can apply to laws which are seldom enforced but legislators resist repeal because the very existence of the law might serve as a warning -- a scarecrow -- about the consequences of bad behavior.
While working on the metaphor, I came across an interesting application from Shakespeare's play, Measure for Measure. In Act 2, Scene 1, we hear a harshly ambitious deputy administrator calling for the ultimate punishment -- beheading -- of Claudio, a man convicted of a crime. But the law in question, prohibiting sexual relations outside of sanctioned marriage, is "rarely enforced." One of Angelo's subordinates objects to the harsh sentence. Angelo responds:
We must not make a scarecrow of the law,
Settling it up to fear the birds of prey,
And let it keep one shape, till custom make it
Their perch and not their terror.
The irony is that Angelo also seeks to violate the same law with a woman who has attracted his attention, but he discounts his own admission as, so far, mere temptation.
Shakespeare's use of the scarecrow characterization raises a legitimate question. Should laws, little known and rarely enforced, be removed from the books, or allowed to remain, perhaps on the justification they serve as moral guidance?
Saturday, April 9, 2022
This tends to happen in waves, but I've been receiving a lot of calls lately from people who are concerned about an aging neighbor or a casual friend.
For example, in one communication, the caller was worried about a neighbor lady in her 80s who had stopped her on the sidewalk recently to ask for a recommendation for an attorney to come to her house. She seemed to want help "working out a proper arrangement" for a younger person to live in her house on a rent-to-own type of contract. The older neighbor didn't seem to have money to maintain the house. A complication -- more than a solution -- was the fact the woman had adult children, but didn't want to "bother" them and they lived out-of-town.
In the second situation, it was an early morning text, asking for help for a friend, where an agent, operating under a "new" Power of Attorney, was denying permission for the live-in Significant Other to visit the friend now that she was in assisted living. Apparently the SO was raising objections about the quality of care (or maybe just the lack of appropriate care) in AL. Suddenly a POA surfaced, purporting to give authority for an out-of-state relative to direct the AL to deny the SO's visits because they were disturbing the patient.
Red flags everywhere in these fact patterns.
Both of these fact patterns are variations on a theme. Protective service units (if they have sufficient staffing) and long-time Elder Law attorneys can often respond effectively. But one of the biggest changes I've found since the pandemic is finding "live" people who might be available and willing to help. Shortages of staff, overworked solo attorneys, budget cutbacks -- all play a part of the challenges to find effective services to assist older adults.
All of this puts a premium on advance planning -- for more than "just" wills or trusts.
When we wait until we are already seriously ill or until we are in our 80s, we are running a huge risk that we won't get the advice and counsel we need to make sound, effective choices. We need to make these plans while we still "clearly" have capacity. If the person with cancer had added instructions and her preferences about visitors before surgery, it would be less likely she is denied time with someone who cares enough to seek better care.
April 9, 2022 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (0)