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Lawmaker: ‘We are faking it’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino sounds frustrated and weary.

He read the Journal’s five-part investigative series on problems within the state’s elder guardian system and observed that of the cases cited, there are “probably many, many dozens (more) that could explode at any time in this state and it’s because we are faking it. We pretend like we have a guardian system and there’s nothing in place.”

Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

It’s not for lack of trying, Ortiz y Pino told the Journal.

He recalls several times over the past decade that he and his colleagues have tried to propose legislative patches to the fraying system. They’ve tried to appropriate money to study ways to strengthen the system, to provide more oversight on how court appointees spend their elderly ward’s money, to set rules on visitation for children of wards when there is a dispute. Every time, Ortiz y Pino said, opponents of change win.

The senator put it bluntly: “Anytime we got into guardianship issues the attorneys who deal with probate in the state went ballistic.”

The biggest problem with the system? “I think you alluded to it in your articles,” he said. “It’s an honor system and there’s nobody checking.”

The senator, a social worker by occupation, believes the situation will get worse in the years ahead as the baby boomer generation ages.

“The problem is nobody is in charge,” he said. “So, there’s nobody to come before the Legislature to request a budget increase, nobody to say we need to improve regulations governing this. There’s nobody to set standards for the guardians (or) to hear complaints from the families.”

Ortiz y Pino believes there should be state certification and licensing of guardians and conservators but wonders where the money will come from. Likewise, his idea to set up special elder courts to exclusively hear guardianship and elder-issue cases would also need funding.

Because that money can only be approved by state lawmakers, the ball is in their court.

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