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Who guards the guardians: Journal series distorts good work of guardians

In a recent series in the Albuquerque Journal, Diane Dimond has painted a remarkably unfair and distorted portrait of the guardianship profession, using a few cases out of thousands to make her biased case. Her case needlessly attacked good people doing good work, and even in her few examples, she got it completely wrong.

The Journal’s stories create both the need to respond to the inaccuracies, but also a chance for the public to understand how the guardianship process in this state works to the benefit of our most vulnerable citizens.

Guardians are charged with protecting our most vulnerable citizens. The Journal stories attempted to make a case that guardians and conservators are draining the bank accounts of protected people. It’s actually the other way around.

The guardians and conservators shore up the finances of the protected people and save their money to allow them to live decently by making sure they get proper medical care, housing and nutrition. All too often when conservators are called in the protected person’s way of life has been threatened, and their money is in danger of being lost completely.

In a few hundred cases per year, the courts step in to create a guardian for people who have some very serious conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Down Syndrome, traumatic brain injuries and substance abuse problems. In most of these cases, the vulnerable adult involved needs a guardian to keep them from losing their homes, their money and their way of life.

In many cases, the family members cannot take care of the ailing person and the court intervenes in the best interest of the person. And in some cases, the family members cannot agree on the right course of action and the court must take over.

The vulnerable person who needs a guardian then enters into a system of qualified and dedicated professionals who are devoting their lives to the help and care of these people. These guardians aren’t getting rich.

The Journal stories inaccurately portray these hardworking individuals as taking advantage of the situation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

These guardians and conservators step in in very difficult circumstances to protect people suffering from dementia and other ailments, to maintain their way of life, keep them in their homes if requested, and maintain finances. This is all done to honor the wishes of the protected person.

In the case of Blair Darnell, whose situation was vastly mischaracterized in the Journal story, a conservator and guardian were called in to protect her assets and ensure proper medical care so she could live out her life in her home according to her wishes. The system worked. She lived out her life at home with her family by her side.

The Journal stories also implied that the family members of the protected people are then banned from seeing their parents. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes, there may be a few cases when the courts determine that some family members pose a danger to the protected person, but that’s rare, and in almost all cases the family has access and is encouraged to see the protected person.

The courts go out of their way to ensure that the family is completely involved, if they wish, in the process and get to state their case. It is unfortunate that the Journal stories have damaged the court’s reputation by implying that there is something unethical going on here.

In short, there is an honorable profession operating in a lawful and ethical manner. It protects vulnerable people who are in need of special care. The guardians rescue people who can be in unimaginably horrible circumstances, and when the protected person no longer needs a guardian and life is back together, the guardian steps aside. We operate by a strict code of ethical standards and the vast majority of our families are very satisfied with our results.

This recent five-part series failed to accurately report how the system actually works. This failure is a disservice to the vulnerable and their families looking for help.

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