Guardianship System for Older Americans Must Be Reformed, Says GSA Member in Senate Testimony

Speaking before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging today, Virginia Tech professor Pamela Teaster, PhD, FGSA, urged lawmakers to support measures that provide adequate oversight of legal guardians and protect the rights of the older adults they serve.

Teaster is a fellow of The Gerontological Society of America and serves as director of the Center for Gerontologyat Virginia Tech. She joined three other experts at a hearing titled “Abuse of Power: Exploitation of Older Americans by Guardians and Others They Trust.”

“Too frequently, the fate of people under guardianship is poorly monitored in sufficient, meaningful, and diligent ways,” Teaster said in her testimony. “This inattention threatens to ‘unperson’ them, leaving them open to exploitation, abuse, and neglect. And protections already in place — but that are not well implemented — are not useful.”

Today’s hearing was a continuation of the committee’s efforts to identify opportunities to help ensure older Americans are protected from exploitation or abuse by those in positions of power or trust.

“Despite estimates that some 1.5 million adults are under guardianship, in 2018, not one single state in the country can identify its people under guardianship — incomprehensible in the information age,” Teaster said. “That makes it impossible to have an appropriate level of accountability. Mechanisms put in place in order to establish it, to documents its execution, and to facilitate its revocation are impeded by not knowing the very people it serves.”

Teaster went on to recommend that system reformation include the following:

  • Greater clarity and training when persons assume the role of guardian ad litem, and of guardians themselves;
  • Deeper consideration of appropriateness and scope of appointment;
  • Bonding;
  • Meaningful insertion of person-centeredness and supported decision making;
  • Limited orders;
  • Reasonable, appropriate, and timely monitoring post establishment;
  • Constant consideration of the restoration of rights;
  • Zero tolerance for the pockets of collusion and corruption that exist around this country among actors in the system.

“Now is the time for a system that acts in the name of beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice, and preserves autonomy whenever possible to demand and receive adequate resources,” Teaster said. “System implementation reforms are prescient and possible. Guardians who abuse, neglect, or exploit older adults should receive enhanced penalties for their crimes. And, again, persons under guardianship should enjoy supported decision making whenever possible and have their rights restored in part or totally with all deliberate speed.”

Author  Todd Kluss