Letter: Elder guardian law needs updating
The need for guardians of our vulnerable population -- incapacitated seniors and adults with mental impairments -- was well-articulated by state Supreme Court Justice Arthur Diamond ["Our elderly neighbors need guardians," Opinion, July 19]. Lawyers who serve as unpaid guardians at the request of the court are no more qualified to make medical and personal decisions, or handle day-to-day tasks for their wards, than anyone else who may act as a volunteer guardian.
Yet, the issue of unpaid guardians is the tip of the iceberg, and the problem continues to grow. In a soon-to-be-released statewide study, the policy organization Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging will reveal that 26 percent to 29 percent of all court guardianship filings are made by law firms representing -- and paid for by -- nursing homes and hospitals. Their purpose is not to secure the personal safety, quality of life and medical decisions for an incapacitated client; it is to secure an institution's payment for care, typically from Medicaid.
The New York State Legislature has proposed laws that would prohibit the appointment of a guardian solely for the purposes of bill collection.
On Long Island, there are at least three nonprofit organizations trained to manage the affairs of incapacitated persons, providing them with friendly visits, securing services, and advocating for them in the community and institutional settings. The Vera Guardianship Project, EAC Network, and Family and Children's Association Community Guardian Program train and pay social workers as guardians, usually overseen by a paid attorney.
Beth Polner Abrahams, Garden City
Editor's note: The writer is the chair of the state bar association's elder law and special needs section mediation committee.