Karyn Turk: The Guardianship System Can’t be Reformed – it Must be Rebuilt from the Ground Up.
The guardianship system is irrevocably broken. It’s being used as a legalized form of human trafficking and the only solution is to tear the whole system down and rebuild it from scratch. That’s what I told Florida’s Guardianship Improvement Task Force and it’s a message that anyone who cares about basic human rights needs to hear.
When I first agreed to place my mother in a nursing home after she suffered a fall in her apartment, I had no idea what I was getting into. I trusted the system and I trusted my mother’s caregivers. They assured me my mother would be approved for Medicaid and began aggressive medical and psychiatric treatments even though my mother was in relatively good health. I had doubts, but I trusted the experts.
The nursing home later informed me that Medicaid had not approved my mother’s application, and billed me $30,000. Since I had not approved the treatments and felt misled by the nursing home’s promises, I disputed the charges. My husband is a lawyer and we both expected the case to go to civil court. Instead, the nursing home petitioned for guardianship. Once again, I trusted the system. I convinced myself that the guardian would be a professional advocate with my mother’s best interests at heart. I accepted the guardianship.
About a month later, my daughter showed up at the facility and found her grandmother face-down on a table, drooling, with bruises all over her face. The guardian said she was in Miami and could not do anything to help. After jumping through procedural hoops to get my mom admitted to hospice, we discovered that she had nine stage-four bed sores on her body. When my mother died, the guardianship automatically ended, allowing me to have an autopsy conducted and file a wrongful death lawsuit against the nursing home. Unfortunately, corruption pervades the Florida legal system. After I filed my suit, prosecutors dug through mountains of paperwork looking for an excuse to go after me, forcing me to choose between court battles that I couldn’t afford or accepting a misdemeanor charge for using my mother’s Social Security money to provide her with supplementary care and enduring a stay in a maximum-security prison as retribution for challenging the corrupt system.
Meanwhile, the nursing home voluntarily dismissed their original financial claim because my mother’s Medicaid ultimately was approved. I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who has gone through this. I’ve heard similar stories from other families, and as a presenter on Real America’s Voice, I’ve reported on similar stories, as well. It doesn’t matter whether a person has modest means or enormous wealth. Schoolteacher Marion Leonard was subjected to the same sort of abuse and neglect that my mother suffered, dying alone and cut off from her friends and family.
Award-winning philanthropist and Golden Flakes heiress Joann Bashinsky was placed under a guardianship against her will in 2019, blocking her from making financial decisions, even at the charity she founded. The Big Oak Ranch cares for abused and underprivileged children to give them hope and a new chance at life. Despite a determined effort to prove her competence throughout the ensuing 18 months, “Miss B” died in January, and the probate court in Alabama still has not released her from guardianship nine months after her death.
I know this is a national problem, so I’m trying to get lawmakers to understand that this is a bipartisan issue everybody can relate to. If you’re an only child, they can secure guardianship by prosecuting you, like they did to me. If you have siblings, they try to turn you against each other as a means of securing a guardianship order. The corrupt guardianship system deliberately seeks to break its victims’ families, financially and emotionally, so it can portray them as “crazy” or unhinged. But they didn’t succeed in breaking me, and I’m going to do everything I can to protect others from suffering the sorts of injustices that my family and I have experienced. Existing efforts to “reform” this broken system rely on bar associations to police their own corrupt members, but that’s like assigning the fox to guard the henhouse. The truth is that the system is too broken to be fixed. It needs to be torn down and rebuilt.