Public Comments for: HB634 - Guardianship visitation requirements; DARS shall convene a work group to review and evaluate.
My name is Yolanda Bell. I am a Veteran who comes from a family of veterans and first responders. I reside in Manassas and I am a constituent of Del Roem. I have come to testify in favor of guardianship reform for the last three years. I am grateful the JLARC Study exposed and highlighted the numerous problems we have with professional court appointed guardians here in VA, not the least of which are isolation and lack of oversight. As a key stakeholder for the JLARC Guardianship Study I implore you to vote for each of these important and necessary Bills to address the findings in the Study and prevent what happened to my sister and our family from happening to anyone else. Before you vote I would appreciate you taking the time to read the attached written testimony I gave to the subcommittee last week. Thank you for your time and attention. Sincerely Yolanda Bell Anastasia’s Voice
When considering the frequency of required guardian visits, please be aware that the National Guardianship Association's Standards of Practice requires MONTHLY visits. Asking Virginia guardians to visit every 90 days, with some flexibility, is really a low but much needed bar. If the concern is that required visits every 90 days would be too great a burden on guardians, consider FIRST the much greater needs of the at-risk person under guardianship whose needs can change quickly over time. A person-centered system means putting the individual first. Also consider that the guardian is a fiduciary, with a huge responsibility, and making minimal required visits should be a natural part of that responsibility. But guardians definitely need support. Please consider ways to assist guardians in their duties through more usable, consistent and accessible forms; training, and technical assistance. Erica Wood, Arlington
Good Afternoon Mr. Chairman and Committee Members. Thank you for allowing me to speak today. My name is Yolanda Bell and I come again to speak in favor of Del Roem’s HB634 regarding visitation. Regular visitation of wards by guardians is necessary. Especially if they are restricting visitation from family, friends, and clergy. In my sisters case I disagreed with the hospitals discharge decision and as her POA of 17 years I appealed the decision to the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) in Washington, D.C. which IAW federal law should have negated the hospitals discharge decision. The CMS Administrative Law Judge agreed my sister was too ill to be discharged. By that time the hospital had taken her and the guardians contracted by the hospital refused to give her back. Even after providing them with the ALJ’s decision. It was near impossible to get back into to see the trial judge. The hospital that took my sister essentially washed their hands of her once they got her removed from their facility and turned over to their contracted guardians. Their further participation in the process may have prevented the abuse and neglect my sister suffered. An entity should not be able to petition for guardianship of someone to gain their purpose and then wash their hands and say now that she’s gone we want nothing more to do with it. “But for” their action, their petition, my sister and others like her would not have been in a guardianship and ultimately lost their lives. It truly boggles my mind that this is allowed to happen. I sincerely and wholeheartedly do not believe requiring visitation will cause a drop in Professional Court Appointed Guardians. These individuals are being paid, some very significantly. After researching the hospital that took my sister for the last 5 years, in well over 200 cases, my sisters guardians who have over 100 wards were pulling in an estimated $1M plus a year on their wards just in federal funding, SSI, military and federal retirements, etc., not to mention those wards who were well off. So I do not believe professional guardians will just walk away. Unfortunately not everyone serving as a professional guardian has the integrity, conscience, and foresight of Del Leftwich to know when they are not able to serve their wards to the best of their ability while serving their firm equally as well; recognizing that he was doing his wards a disservice. And to make that difficult decision that it was one or the other. If a guardian is not doing an eyes on visit things will be missed, and it will be to the detriment of vulnerable wards, especially those who cannot speak for or defend themselves. You have seen some of the pictures of what was done to my sister. She suffered dearly. Why? Because she was allowed to be severely isolated, and her particular guardians did not take complaints of abuse seriously and did not check on her. Please do not let this happen to anyone else. I will never truly recover from what was done to my sister. However knowing this Assembly has prevented others from experiencing what my family has experienced will make it a little easier to make it through the days. Please vote unanimously to report HB634. Thank you for your time and attention. Sincerely, Yolanda Bell Anastasia’s Voice
AARP Virginia supports legislation that improves the rights of the individual under guardianship and ensures due process of those rights. As such we are in support of House Bills 424 (Herring), 623 (Hudson), 634 & 643 (Roem).
Comments by Charlotte Barkley, Executive Director of PAAC (the Parent Advocacy and Advisory Council of South West Virginia) and the step-mother of a former resident of SWVTC who is now thriving in a Group Home placement. I strongly support HB634 as it ensures a regular, ongoing observation of an incapacitated person’s overall health, care and well-being. The assurance that an incapacitated person is being properly cared for can be upheld by allowing the guardian to hire someone to visit the incapacitated person and report back on the observations made during the visit. This allows a guardian who is unable to make a personal visit and observation at least every 90 days, for whatever reason, a way to ensure the incapacitated person is being well cared for.
While not representing an organization, I am a member of the Virginia Public Guardian and Conservator Advisory Board and the Supreme Court WINGS (Working Interdisciplinary Network of Guardianship Stakeholders) and was involved for many years in guardianship issues when working at the American Bar Association. I support HB 634, to ensure guardians are better informed about the needs, goals, preferences and values of the adult they are serving, and to bring Virginia closer to the national standard in guardian visits. I support HB 643 on review hearings, to strengthen the court's role in monitoring, and to determine whether a guardianship continues to be necessary of needs to be modified. I support HB 623 sharpening the duties, role and report of the guardian ad litem.
Comments by Jane Powell, former President of Central Virginia Training Center Families and Friends: I am a legal guardian for my sister, a former resident of CVTC. Family guardians of current and former Training Center residents, and presumably other family guardians, would be unduly burdened by the following guardianship bills and are furthermore not qualified to meet all of the requirements of the bills: HB424, HB634 and HB643. These bills set laudable goals, yet codifying these goals would cause negative consequences for family guardians, many of whom are in their 70s or older. • Many of the former residents of CVTC and SWVTC in particular sought legal guardianship of their training center loved ones prior to closure of those facilities, and those who are distant from their loved one’s new placement would be unduly and unnecessarily burdened by quarterly in-person visits when their loved one is in a stable and desirable placement. For example, one guardian lives in Florida and has arranged for his capable and fully engaged son to check in on his SEVTC relative on a frequent basis. The guardian does see his disabled son several times a year, but legally requiring strictly scheduled quarterly in-person visits would impose a completely unnecessary burden and expense. Other family guardians of former training center residents would face similar difficulties. • Family guardians lack the professional qualifications to “observe and assess” some of the provisions of HB424 and HB634, such as how an individual’s mental and physical health care needs are being met. Few visits occur during educational or vocational programs when such observational visits would be disruptive, and likewise there is often no way for families to “observe” progress made toward expressed goals. Family guardians rely on the professionals who care for their loved ones to inform them of the status of these things. • Most training center residents and former training center residents lack funds to pay a professional substitute to make visits on their guardian’s behalf, as proposed in HB634. • Many family guardians lack the technological savvy and/or equipment to meet some of the virtual meeting alternatives proposed in these bills. • Routine court review hearings are unnecessary for severely developmentally disabled persons whose conditions will never improve to the point that they will no longer need a guardian. Going through a court proceeding every three years imposes unnecessary expense and hardship on the families of such individuals. HB424, HB634 and HB643 would have a chilling effect on family guardianship, when families by their nature have the purest guardianship motives and thus should be encouraged. If applied only to paid professional guardians, the bills might make sense, but not when they are universally applied to all legal guardians. Even so, most of the bills’ provisions would be better as opt-in measures when circumstances warrant such measures rather than universal requirements for all legal guardians.
I am writing to request your support this session for House Bills 634, 643, 1207 and 1620. All of these bills are regarding various facets of guardianship. I have been involved in attempts to change or introduce new legislation in Virginia since I approached my local delegate in November 2017. Additionally, I have testified in the House subcommittee regarding the legislation and how it directly affected my ability to visit with my now deceased partner since June 2017. During that period, I was not allowed to visit for arbitrary reasons due to a guardian for two years. This left my partner isolated and I am sure contributed to her early demise due to Alzheimer's disease. I hope that what happened to me and multiple other Virginians will not continue into perpetuity. There was no one else to regularly visit her and it still pains me as she died with my only seeing her twice in three years. Thank you in consideration and support. Sincerely, Mike Jacobs 2151 Jamieson Avenue, #707 Alexandria, VA 22314-5723
Good Afternoon Mr. Chairman and committee members. My name is Yolanda Bell and I thank you for allowing me to speak today. I am a Veteran and constituent of Del Roem’s. I have come to testify in favor of guardianship reform for the last three years. I promised my mother the day before she died I would take care of my sister Anastasia and keep her safe. The Inova guardians made a liar out of me. My sister was 120+lbs when the guardians took her. She weighed a mere 87lbs nine months later when they ended her life. She had no terminal illness. This is what happens when wards are allowed to be isolated from loving family and friends. When reporting requirements and oversight of guardians and by guardians is lax and almost nonexistent vulnerable wards suffer, are abused, neglected, and die. Anastasia literally had 13 holes in her body and too many bruises to count. Delegate Roem has seen the autopsy pictures. Her isolation was so severe that she was forced to die alone with no one to hold her hand, tell her they loved her, no one to pray with her or over her. Clergy was even turned away preventing them from giving her the last rites of the Church. My mother always taught us "family will be there for you when no one else will." The extra sets of eyes are taken away by guardian isolation leaving no one to look out for them or to protect them. The entire situation surrounding my sisters guardianship was a travesty of epic proportions. No one should be ripped away from a loving and caring family. Even the judge said my sister was well taken care of by me. No one should be forced to die alone. And guardians, professional court appointed guardians who make their living off the pain and suffering of the elderly and disabled - the vulnerable - should not have carte blanche power to isolate wards from family especially where no abuse, neglect, or exploitation has been alleged or found. Our father was a combat veteran serving 26 years in the Air Force. It astounds me that almost 5 years later we are still fighting to get these basic protections for the disabled and elderly who are conscripted into these guardianships. I am grateful that the JLARC Study exposed and highlighted the numerous problems we have with guardianships and professional guardians here in Virginia, not the least of which are isolation and lack of oversight. Guardianships as they currently stand in Virginia strip the wards of their constitutional rights. In 1974 the US Supreme Court in Stanley v. Illinois held that "family association rises to a constitutional right." What was done to my sister Anastasia will haunt me for the rest of my life. The bottom line and reality of the situation is that I should not have had to beg to see my sister. I should not have had to beg to spend time with her, to be by her side, especially once they decided to end her life. No one should have to beg and plead with anyone let alone strangers to be with their loved one especially if they are dying. God by whatever name you choose to call Him, and by whatever means you choose to worship Him, commands us to protect and care for the vulnerable, for “the least of these among us”. You have an opportunity ensure what happened to my sister and our family never happens again to anyone else. People are being hurt and are dying. Please pass these bills to protect the most vulnerable among us. Thank you for your time and attention. Sincerely, Yolanda Bell
As an attorney who has served as counsel to Petitioner's in Guardianship (institutional and private) AND to Respondent (alleged incapacitated) and as Court Appointed Guardian Ad Litem, I am very familiar with the real life implications and human concerns with the parties in these cases. I am thoroughly familiar with the current Guardianship statutes, procedures and the weaknesses in the system. I have read all the proposed bills, as well as the JLARC report and would like to comment. I am not particularly opposed nor in favor
The Arc of Northern Virginia supports the guardianship reform bills presented by Delegates Herring, Roem, and Glass. These bills all increase transparency around guardianship and better protect the person under guardianship. We get calls from individuals who are unsatisfied with their guardian's choices to deny visits from loved ones, lack of communication/visits, and with concerns about the guardian's actions. These bills provide protection for vulnerable individual's who rely on a robust guardianship oversight system to stay safe and protect their rights.