Senior Citizens Basic Rights Restricted By Guardianship
21 June 2015No Comments
Reverend John Stout, 92, was a NASA scientist and chaplain. Today, he is one of about 1,300 wards of the state in Texas. Stout’s visits, phone calls, and mail are all tightly restricted by his state guardians. Preston Kirk, a friend of Stout, said the state barred him from visits with Stout, even after submitting to a background check. According to Kirk, the state is holding Stout “incommunicado.” “They say it’s for his own protection. You can’t see him for his own protection, what are you protecting him from?,” stated Kirk.
Guardianship is designed to help those who are unable to care for themselves or act in their own best interests. County judges in Texas appoint guardians and oversee the program. Typically, guardians are family members. If no family members or friends can or will take the responsibility of the task, then the county or state appoints somebody else. Once people are declared wards of the state and placed under a guardian, they no longer have the right to speak for themselves, hire their own lawyers or even to decide where to live or what medications to take. Debby Valdez, founder of the Guardianship Reform Advocates for the Disabled Elderly, stated, “You have no liberty. You have no freedom. Under the current law there’s no one that can protect you but one person, and that’s the probate judge.”
DECLARED A WARD OF THE STATE
In 2010, Stout was declared a ward of the state, a decision he had opposed. At the time, the Presbyterian minister was active on the internet, emailing friends and writing letters. Stout was placed into guardianship after he attempted to give a couple of small parcels of land he owned to his hometown of La Porte, Texas. Stout has also been a keeper of lunar Bibles, now worth a small fortune. One hundred made it to the mon=on, and they’ve sold at auction for as much as $75,000 each. Stout has as many as 60 in his apartment. The state seized all of Stout’s property, which is customary in guardianship cases. According to court documents, Stout’s visits were restricted to only his son and daughter-in-law. Kirk said that they live out of state and do not visit Stout. Spokesman for the state Department of Aging and Disability Services, Cecilia Cavuto, stated that privacy concerns prevented her from talking about individual cases. In an email she stated, “ The most important job of any guardian is to protect the individual he or she serves. As such there are times when a guardian must make difficult decisions such as restrict visitors for certain individuals.”
Probate judge in Tarrant County, Texas Steve King stated, “Guardianship is a massive intrusion into a person’s life. They lose more rights than someone who goes to prison, but it’s always based, or should be based, on medical evidence and then actual anecdotal evidence of their deficits.” In depositions, state Department of Aging and Disability Services personnel admitted Stout was not allowed to use the internet, mail letters or use the phone, except to talk to his son and daughter-in-law. According to the depositions, the department screens all incoming communications. Kirk had asked Texas officials to look into Stout’s case. “This is not the way we need to take care of our elderly citizens,” Kirk said. He even filed a complaint with the Department of Aging and Disability Services, saying the agency was guilty of elder abuse by cutting Stout off from the outside world. The department concluded the claim was unsubstantiated and that only one person-not-Kirk- had been restricted from visiting or contacting Stout. However, this was not true, as Betty Duke and four other members of Faith Presbyterian Church went to visit Stout. The nursing home placed a call to Stout’s guardian seeking permission but were told, “It was not in his best interest,” said Duke.
CONTACT OUR TEXAS NURSING HOME ABUSE ATTORNEYS
“It’s pretty outrageous for them not to allow access,” said Inez Russell, executive director of the Texas Guardianship Association. “I think it’s incredibly important to the quality of their life to have visitors. To have people to come and interact with them and remember together.” The ward of the state is powerless to fight back, according to Valdez of the guardianship reform group. “These guardianship providers strip them of every right they have: to speak, to visit, everything,” Valdez said. “You can’t defend yourself.”
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