Wormleysburg, Pennsylvania — On April 18, disability rights advocates and independent living centers filed an Amicus brief with the state Supreme Court regarding long-term care services for people with disabilities.
Brief cites landmark SCOTUS decision in Olmstead and opposes alleged misuse of guardianship under state law for the disabled and elderly, including failure to apply alternatives to guardianship .
The memoir focuses on the case of David Italiano, a presumed incapable person with a disability. Currently, Mr. Italiano is institutionalized against his expressed wishes by the Huntingdon County Agency on Aging and has been stripped of his rights of self-determination.
According to the seven disability rights organizations that jointly filed the brief, court proceedings have concluded that Mr. Italiano is capable of transitioning to an independent living situation and the Agency on Aging stubbornly refuses to consider him. idea of a less restrictive lifestyle.
Although the case focuses specifically on Mr. Italiano’s situation, civil rights and disability advocates say the issue affects all Pennsylvanians who may have their rights restricted or taken away because of their age or disability.
“For all intents and purposes, the state has simply ‘disappeared’ David through an overzealous and potentially abusive guardianship program that deprived him of his basic rights as well as his own home,” said Misty Dion of Roads to Freedom Center for Independent Living of North Central PA (RTFCIL).
“Our organization is widely recognized by federal and state agencies as qualified and experienced in advocating for people with disabilities and older adults seeking services to preserve and promote their dignity and rights. Storing David in an institution and depriving him of his right to communicate with his family and friends, while prohibiting us from continuing to provide him with the essential services he requires, is a flagrant violation of his legal and human rights.
RTFCIL previously worked with Mr. Italiano and a tutor. Italiano was a homeowner but was transferred to the Agency on Aging where he complained of abuse in the nursing facility. He attempted to leave the facility and return to live independently during a COVID outbreak. RTFCIL helped him file complaints with the State Ombudsman, which they say went unanswered.
Huntingdon County Orphans Court approved Italiano’s plan to move to independent living in January 2021, but the judge transferred his conservatorship to the Agency on Aging, which restricted his access to services defence, transition and communication, including the confiscation of personal cell phones. from him.
The Ombudsman eventually responded to the allegations of abuse by sending a cease and desist letter to RTFCIL.
As the Road to Freedom Center and other advocates battle with the justice system, Mr. Italiano remains in an institution against his will and risks the Agency on Aging choosing to sell his home to pay for his institutional lawsuit.
To address situations like Mr. Italiano’s, the Road to Freedom Center presented a list of recommendations from last year’s Fourth National Guardianship Summit – Maximizing Autonomy and Ensuring Accountability. The recommendations are included in the Uniform Act of Guardianship, Guardianship and Other Protective Arrangements (Uniform Act), which:
- Prohibits guardianships when less restrictive alternatives would meet the functional needs of an adult
- Require specific court orders before certain critical rights (examples: getting married, voting, choosing visitors) are restricted
- Require petitioners to indicate whether less restrictive alternatives have been tried and justify any failure to do so
- Create mechanisms that adults under guardianship and others can use to trigger the modification or termination of an order
Some states have adopted the Uniform Act or similar rules, but Pennsylvania is not one of them.
“Even the American Bar Association considers conservatorship a ‘drastic intervention,’ and that less restrictive options are by far preferred,” said PCIL executive director Mike Grier. “This drastic intervention by aging organizations and courts here in Pennsylvania has stripped David Italiano and countless others of their dignity, their privacy, their right to choose where they live and with whom they associate. The current situation is simply untenable and must be changed.
The seven organizations that filed the brief hope it will help the state begin the process of reforming its guardianship and long-term care systems.