Some of Virginia’s most at-risk adults are not adequately protected by the state’s private guardianship system, according to a new report from a legislative watchdog agency.
The findings, detailed in a hearing held Monday by the Joint Audit and Legislative Review Commission, broadly confirm years of concern from many lawyers and family members. A 2019 investigation by the Richmond Times-Dispatch also detailed numerous flaws within the system, which is subject to little oversight but has wide discretion to strip the decision-making rights of adults in its care.
“The role of the state is woefully inadequate, given that these guardians are responsible for some of the most vulnerable Virginians,” JLARC Director Hal Greer told lawmakers at the meeting. “The private system lacks meaningful standards, requirements or accountability to help ensure thousands of adults are properly served.”
Like other states, Virginia has developed its guardianship process to help so-called “incapable adults” — those 18 or older who prove unable to meet their own basic needs. The process begins with a circuit court petition — which can be filed by an individual or an “entity” — according to the JLARC report, and judges ultimately decide whether a guardian will be appointed.
Of the approximately 12,000 adults in care, 1,000 are served by the state-funded system, which has been described as a national model. But Kathy Hayfield, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitation Services, said the $4.5 million program is already considered underfunded for the adults it serves.
According to JLARC, nearly 700 people are currently on the waiting list. Eligibility is limited to adults deemed incompetent, low income and who do not have another person willing to serve as a guardian.
“The older term for this was ‘destitute and friendless,'” said Joe McMahon, JLARC project manager for the report. These strict admissions criteria leave about 11,000 Virginians, half of them between the ages of 18 and 44, to be served by the private guardianship system.
Unlike the publicly funded program, however, private tutors are lightly supervised and are not subject to independent oversight or training and workload requirements. Family members and friends can serve as guardians, but lawyers or “organizations” can also do so, McMahon said.
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The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering Virginia government and politics.
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