ELKO – Last year, a man who was appointed as permanent guardian for his 80-year-old mother was arrested on charges of converting her money for his own use. Five years earlier, a live-in caretaker convinced an 82-year-old woman to give him $8,000 for a down payment on a Hummer.
With cases like these in mind, Northeastern Nevada Special Advocacy For the Elderly (SAFE) proposes to bring an additional level of accountability to those who watch over the financial and medical welfare of the elderly, and seeks to be a voice for people under a guardianship in Elko County.
Founded by a committee led by Department 1 District Judge Nancy Porter, SAFE provides a volunteer to represent the interests “of an adult who has a guardian,” similar to a program in Douglas County.
Attorney Katie McConnell, president of SAFE, handles elder law and guardianships, and believes the organization will “deter elder abuse in guardianship cases.”
“Elder abuse can be abuse, exploitation, or neglect – financially, physically or emotionally,” explained McConnell.
According to a 2016 report by the State of Nevada Aging and Disability Services Division, there were 51 cases of elder abuse reported in Elko County between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016.
McConnell explained that in the past, people petitioned the court to become a guardian of an elderly family member, with the judge relying only upon the guardian’s report of the elder’s condition and assets.
“There are many cases in which the guardian doesn’t even visit the protected person, and may or may not pay their bills,” she said.
SAFE is a nonprofit organization with a board of directors, and is applying for grants to fund the hiring of a coordinator and obtaining office space to begin training volunteers by November, added McConnell.
“This is very similar to CASA,” McConnell said, referring to the Northeastern Nevada Court Appointed Special Advocates, volunteers who represent children removed from their home and placed in the foster system.
“These are the CASAs for elders’ guardianship cases,” said McConnell. “A court appointed friend … looking out for the best interests of the protected person.”
Currently, 325 open guardianship cases are in district court, according to Porter, who hears 300 of those cases throughout the year.
Volunteers would be given two to three cases to start with, said McConnell.
Kathy Jones, Elko County’s public guardian, is limited to seeing no more than 25 people at a time, and believes that the program will provide more resources to the elderly.
“They’re hoping for more eyeballs that are watching, a little more awareness,” said Jones, as SAFE would also offer help to caregivers to “relieve the burden and stress” of caring for parents or grandparents.
For caregivers, looking after elderly family members can be “very overwhelming,” Jones added. Building friendships is another benefit to the program, said Porter, citing research stating that people with dementia and their caregivers are in need of “social connections.”
“It’s one more step in this system to make sure these vulnerable adults are being adequately taken care of,” said McConnell.
To become a volunteer or for information, contact McConnell at 738-1951.