Colorado lawmakers target embattled Office of Public Guardianship | State policy

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Problems with the state’s Office of Public Guardianship led state House lawmakers on Wednesday to try to stop the expansion of the program.

This decision occurred during the debate on the draft state budget 2022-23.

Democratic Representatives Meg Froelich of Greenwood Village and Adrienne Benavidez of Adams County and Representative Stephanie Luck, R-Penrose, tried to persuade their colleagues to support an amendment to eliminate $ 1.5 million in cash from the budget of the following fiscal year – money from the Bureau of Public Guardianship sought to allow it to expand to two more judicial districts.

Legislation in 2017 and 2019 authorized the guardianship office to run a pilot program in three districts to provide guardianship to indigent and elderly Coloradans who have no one else to care for them. Currently, the program operates in the 2nd Judicial District, which covers Denver.

The office, housed by the Colorado Justice Department, is under the control of policymakers who created it following the warehousing of elderly people in hospitals who had no one to care for them.

Alarmed by 14 guardianship deaths, Gov. Jared Polis earlier indicated he would seek more control over the office, which lawmakers noted started with good intentions but is plagued with problems. precisely because it deals with a population that faces serious socio-economic difficulties. as well as acute care and behavioral health issues.

The question before lawmakers is whether to expand the pilot program or scuttle it, though sentiment on Capitol Hill appears to favor continuing its work.

In the first 14 months of the program, 14 of the 86 clients assigned to the office died. The office is now receiving criticism from one of its biggest funders and primary source of client referrals, Denver Health, which has raised questions about the program’s effectiveness and professionalism.

Despite these concerns, the Joint Budget Committee, by a vote of 4 to 2, approved an increase in funding for the office in the coming year’s budget to allow it to expand to two more judicial districts in La Junta and montrose.

Froelich, who has criticized the program, told the House on Wednesday that the office meets an incredible need. She cited testimony from a Denver Health representative at a January SMART Act hearing that the health system doesn’t want to live in a world without public guardianship, but it also “doesn’t want to live in a world where our office of public guardianship is ineffective.”

The office already receives $1.2 million in legal fees to fund its operation, but there are questions about the program, especially around the deaths.

“There is a lack of transparency and a lack of responsiveness,” Froelich said.

The office has seven full-time staff, and the increased funding it would receive in next year’s budget would allow for the hiring of four more, including an assistant director, Benavidez said.

The legislator wondered why a staff of 11 needed a deputy director and an executive director. She also stressed that the additional funding is only for the remainder of 2022 and suggested waiting for the required report from the office, due in January, before deciding whether to expand or eliminate the program.

At a minimum, the report must quantify the unmet need for public guardianship and the average cost, Benavidez said.

So far, 80 people have been clients of the bureau at a cost of $5,000 per client, she estimated, adding that the bureau is ‘supposed to tell us’ whether it should be an agency state or non-profit entity.

“I’m not ready to say this is the best way forward…and why would we want to continue to invest in this program?” Benavidez said.

Rep. Marc Snyder, D-Colorado Springs, who was among the sponsors of the 2019 legislation, told the House the additional funding would put the program on track to serve rural Colorados.

“He had some trouble getting off the ground, but he’s doing a great job now,” Snyder said. “We have to maintain the momentum.”

Regardless of what happens with the office, the pilot’s scope was meant to be narrow, and lawmakers should consider whether it works before expanding it, said Luck, a Republican from Penrose.

“If we can limit the reach and make sure it’s effective, that’s a better way to go,” she said.

“We can’t show if the program is working properly,” Luck added, noting a Denver Health allegation that he had to escort program caretakers off hospital premises for unprofessional conduct.

OPG chief executive Sophia Alvarez said she accepts “full responsibility to address any instances of unprofessional behavior, once I have received the appropriate details.”

Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, said eight people are waiting for a guardian at Denver Health and will remain there until a guardian is available. Because OPG is underfunded, it cannot meet these needs, she said.

Benavidez countered that the Denver Judicial District is still served by the program and that the amendment only opposes expansion into the other two districts.

Benavidez also cited Alvarez’s remarks about the deaths of wards. Alvarez had told Colorado Politics that she had no reason to disclose the 14 deaths during the January meeting with lawmakers.

Representative for JBC President Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, called on her colleagues to reject the amendment, saying OPG is not directly responsible for medical care for its customers and noted that customers are either destitute, elderly or medically fragile.

The amendment failed on its first attempt but could be brought back later.

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