Free Press Staff Writer Fallon Godwin-Butler conducted an interview with Elko County Public Guardian Kathy Jones about the work she does and the facets contained within it.
Q: What do you do as the public guardian?
A: I do guardianships on the vulnerable that the court has found that probably needs guardianships, because there is nobody else to be their advocate, take care of their possessions, take care of them, and to make sure that they have a quality of life that they most deserve. I am a last resort as the public guardian. If we can get family or somebody else to do those guardianships, of course that’s sometimes always better, if there’s accountability there.
Q: How many guardianships do you take on at one time?
A: I have a county ordinance that says I can only do 25.
Q: How do you aid in promoting quality of life?
A: I have, I think 18, at the Highland Manor … Mainly because it’s convenient for me and most of my people have lived in this community all of their life. This is where their family is. This is where a lot of them grew up or they worked their whole lives. So, this is where I feel they should be as long as they’re being taken care of. Some of them I do have in different facilities, but it’s only because their family might live in that town or they need a specialized type of care. I’m probably at the Manor four or five times a week. Yes, I do outings with them.
I make sure they have Christmas. I make sure that their birthdays are taken care of. ... They’re taken care of but they still enjoy some of the ... things in life that make their life still enjoyable. I have a gentleman that used to like to fish, and he can’t anymore, but when me and my husband go fishing, and then we cook a bunch of fish, I always take a bunch to him so he can have a nice fish dinner.
It’s just those little type of things. Some people say you’re not supposed to get connected with them or feel those type of things, but sometimes you can’t help but have that feeling for them, and with some of them I’m very, very connected.
... Sometimes, it’s just the little things that make a big difference. Sometimes it’s just a hug that makes a difference to them. I have a little Yorkie that sometimes I’ll take into the Manor and I have one lady that just loves her, and sometimes, when she’s not feeling very good or something, I’ll take the Yorkie in there and just let her hug her.
Q: Do you think there needs to be a call for more people in Elko County to step up to be accountable, to take care of their family member?
A: Yes, and I’ve seen probably within the last four or five years that. Mainly because our population is getting older. We have more elderly people in our county that’s not getting the medical care that they should be getting, because, right now, quite frankly, our medical care isn’t that great. Some of them are struggling to get by every month on their incomes. Some of them are even outliving their family members, unfortunately. Some of our family members are into the drugs, and so, their elderly family members aren’t being taken care of. Our mental health (care) in the State is not that great. A lot of our family members need to step up. However, that’s not always the best answer because that’s why some of us are having to step in as guardians, public guardians, because that’s not working.
Q: Are you court mandated? How does your process begin?
A: I’m appointed as the public guardian for Elko County. Every county has to have a public guardian. Therefore, how I get appointed is I start with a referral process and I usually get those referral processes from either the hospital, Division of Aging (Nevada Aging and Disability Services Division), it could be from law enforcement, it could be from another family member. It could come from anybody that thinks that there’s a person that needs a guardianship or needs help. From there I do an investigation, and what I consider when I do an investigation is, are there other alternatives. Are there least restrictive alternatives? Because you always want to give that person the benefit to get help without going through the process of a guardianship. If that has not been either successful or it has not been tried as a least restrictive type resource, then I would, for sure, try to make sure that’s implemented with another resource that we have here in Elko County. Or, at least, try to get a family member involved to help this person. If that isn’t successful, then I will go through with a guardianship. … The person the guardianship is being sought on always has the right to have an attorney, that’s their due process.
Q: How do you find recent changes in Nevada concerning guardianship beneficial?
A: I’ve been a guardian for 15 years. So, I’ve kind of worked in the business where every year there has always been a little bit. We started out with a little bit of guardianship laws and then grown to every legislature year to try to get a little bit better, but it’s never quite gotten that way. So, I think the commission for reform has really been kind of a godsend to Nevada as far as the family guardians, the professional guardians, private professionals. As far as accountability, there wasn’t much accountability in our courts as far as that.
Q: How has Elko County’s implementation to promote accountability in guardianship helped?
A: My courtrooms are usually in Judge (Nancy) Porter’s. … As far as adult guardianships, I think that Judge Porter is very diligent, very careful, very sincere on the guardianships and she is the one that makes us accountable as guardians. ... For her to be there, it’s been a job for her to get that in place, her and her staff, but I think it’s been very good for our county mainly as far as family guardianships.
Q: How has that helped you in particular?
A: … My job, I’m very sincere in my job. I’ve been here for 15 years and I’ve seen a lot of guardianship abuse within a family, because I’ve had to take the guardianship over because a family has been abusive or exploiting, or that type thing. ... I like to be accountable for taking care of my people. ...You have to be a very sincere person to that person’s everyday life issues and what goes on in their everyday life as far as giving them a quality of life. It isn’t all banking and it isn’t all money and manager, and doctors and physicians. It’s also about caring. When you’re doing your job as a guardian, all of that comes into play, eventually, in the court.