CENTER COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) – PA ADAPT, a disability rights organization, is calling for a review of what they call “Pennsylvania’s broken guardianship system.”
When a person lacks the capacity to make certain decisions, a substitute decision maker, or “guardian,” may act on their behalf, in accordance with Pennsylvania Disability Rights.
PA ADAPT said it has seen too many overused and abused guardianship cases. State and local offices, however, said the system is highly monitored to reduce the risk of neglect or exploitation.
“Everyone, whenever possible, should have the right to make a decision for themselves,” said PA ADAPT member Pam Auer.
“In a lot of those cases, they’re putting people in long-term care facilities or congregate settings where they don’t need that level of care,” said PA ADAPT member Misty Dion.
The group offers four recommendations, followed by other states:
(1) prohibit guardianships when less restrictive alternatives would meet the needs of an adult
(2) require specific court findings before certain essential rights (e.g., to marry, vote,
choose visitors) are abbreviated;
(3) require petitioners to indicate whether less restrictive alternatives have been tried and
justify any breach of this obligation;
(4) create mechanisms that adults under guardianship and others can use to trigger
modification or termination of an order.
The Center County Office of Aging said promoting least restrictive care is a priority already in place.
“Whenever we provide services, we seek to support the older person, remove risk to them, and keep them as independent as possible,” said Quentin Burchfield, director of the Center County Office of Aging. “We really look at what’s least restrictive, and that’s required not only by us, by the state, but also by the courts.”
Burchfield said they are heavily regulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging.
In early June, PA ADAPT traveled to Harrisburg, demanding that Governor Wolf take action to end the practices of the Department of Aging and craft an enforceable bill of rights.
In a statement to the WTAJ, the Department of Aging said:
“The Department of Aging has a responsibility under the Aged Protective Services Act to reduce risk to older people from abuse, neglect, abandonment and exploitation. . There are times when guardianship is one of the ways to reduce this risk; however, the Department does not administer or oversee laws regarding guardianship. The guardianship system and the application of its respective laws fall under the sole authority of the Orphans’ Court.