FLORIDA‘S REALITY CHECK FOLLOWING
NATIONAL ELDER LAW MONTH
While May is designated as National Elder Law Month and National Older Americans Month and more than five million seniors call Florida home, millions of Florida’s elders and their impacted family members across the years have witnessed or suffered fates including premature and agonizing deaths and lives worse than death trapped inside of professional guardianships, sometimes making headline news but most often hidden from public view.
Indeed, the average Ward of the State of Florida is sequestered from public view, interaction, and communication with the outside world year after year, isolated in nursing homes behind layers of “fences” that estrange them from their families, houses of worship, neighbors, trusted doctors, life-long friends, spouses, pets, and other dear objects of their affection. This, many would say, is life worse than death. This is the Florida professional guardianship intentionally covered up from public view.
Behind the scenes, our parents and grandparents of “the Greatest Generation” sit solitary, often in their own waste, devoid of the most rudimentary elements of a normal life. They have no decision-making powers even over their own food choices, medical choices, or social interaction contacts. Their phones are taken away from them. If they are hard of hearing, they are deprived by their professional guardians of (free) captioned phones for years and of properly-fitting hearing aids.
In 2020, Dr. Florence Eckert, 90 percent deaf for over 50 years, was intentionally left without hearing aids for months by a very prominent Palm Beach County guardian, tested for incapacity without being able to hear the questions, and then forced into lockdown facilities until a conscientious trained individual insisted that Dr. Eckert was not at all incapacitated. Subsequently documented by an experienced geriatric psychiatrist’s valid assessment, Dr. Eckert was freed from a lifetime of false imprisonment as an incapacitated elder and from vast consumptions of her assets by her guardian and a host of lawyers in her case, all paid from Dr. Eckert’s money.
Typically, our Wards have no stationery, envelopes, stamps, or means by which to mail letters and cards. They have no newspapers or magazine subscriptions. They have no materials for crafts and art in their rooms, no puzzles, board games, books on tape, or other options to build their minds and fill their days and nights in lonely confinement. They sit or lie 168 hours per week in utter solitude and sensory/mental deprivation except for television. They have no computers or printers, which many of our Wards are accustomed to use.
Our Wards have no off-site excursions other than doctor visits, hospital stays, hospice care, and other such trips outside of their facilities … no afternoon luncheons at restaurants, church or synagogue services, holiday gatherings with family, or special off-site celebrations. Their days are dark without hope for improvement or enrichment.
Given these bleak and primitive conditions, the physical and mental health of Wards deteriorate exponentially, causing premature deaths, pain, and suffering due to extreme prolonged sensory deprivation and denial of physical exercise. Dr. Dale Kewitz, Jr., of Manatee County, died of untreated gangrene, curled up alone in his nursing home bed for months, deprived of proper medical care.
Alice Yaniscavitch died of COVID-19, forced to live in a nursing home infested with the deadly pandemic virus, as her family pleaded with professional guardian Anne Ridings to bring Alice back to the family home, where she had been living in good health for years, safe from corona virus exposures. In television interviews, Alice stated her aversion to nursing homes; yet, Anne Ridings refused to use Alice’s fully-paid long-term home care policy to bring Alice home to safety, away from her COVID-infested facility.
Daily and hourly, Florida’s Wards are pining away for their families and spouses. Marilyn Battles lost her husband of 69 years, separated from him by Anne Ridings, who severed their marriage by placing Robert Battles in an unknown location, where he died isolated from his wife. Mary Spahr longed for her pet cat, which Anne Ridings left in a sweltering trailer for weeks without care, food, and water until death.
Dr. Lillie White, an esteemed Black educator, died hidden in a Florida professional guardianship, held for years in isolation from her closest family members, her elderly sister and talented niece, who were never notified by the guardian until weeks after Dr. Lillie’s death in guardianship confinement.
Florida‘s Wards are grossly over-medicated with psychotropics and narcotics to sedate them into fractions of their actual selves. My own Father, Al Katz, was so drugged inside of professional guardianship that his court-appointed attorney advised the probate court that Al Katz was “heavily sedated … [and] unable to communicate in any manner,” precluding him from attending his guardianship hearing.
As a Holocaust Survivor of seven years of Jewish slavery, Al Katz experienced horrendous flashbacks to the Holocaust when administered narcotics; yet, narcotics were used to sedate him in guardianship. His medical care was so grossly negligent that he spiked a fever of 107 degrees and became septic to the point of “IMMINENT DEATH” according to Al Katz’s guardians, who had refused to send him for days to Blake Hospital immediately next door to Casa Mora nursing home. Neither of Al Katz’s professional guardians lost her Florida guardian certification or faced charges for deadly neglect of a vulnerable adult in her care.
In celebration or observance of National Elder Law Month by the State of Florida, a new bureaucracy has been publicized as the Senior Protection Team, comprised of the self-same professional insiders who have failed for decades to protect our precious elders and Wards from abuse and exploitation by guardians and their hosts of attorneys that amass fortunes by litigating guardianship cases for years, at legal fees rates of $300 to $500 or more per hour charged to the Wards by orders of the probate courts.
Can you even imagine that a single Florida professional guardian, who accrued four million dollars while under guardian certification for decades by the State of Florida and under probate court supervision for decades, kept the cremated remains of her hapless, helpless Wards in her office? This is Florida’s guardianship real-time reality check.
At a Congressional hearing entitled “ABUSES IN GUARDIAN-SHIP OF THE ELDERLY AND INFIRM: A NATIONAL DISGRACE,” the immortal, still-timely words of Florida U.S. Senator and Congressman, Claude Pepper, champion of the vulnerable and voiceless, declared on the Congressional Record of September 25, 1987:
The typical ward has fewer rights than the typical convicted felon. They can no longer receive money or pay their bills. They cannot marry or divorce. By appointing a guardian, the court entrusts to someone else the power to choose where they will live, what medical treatment they will get and, in rare cases, when they will die. It is, in one short sentence, the most punitive civil penalty that can be levied against an American citizen, with the exception, of course, of the death penalty.
Florida’s guardianship reality check after National Elder Law Month 2021 is: Wards dead, dying, and wanting to die. Senior Protection Team Dead Before Arrival.
The United Nation’s Mandela Rules prohibit solitary confine-ment of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact and prohibit prolonged solitary confinement of more than 15 consecutive days. Breaking these parameters is defined as torture.
Under no circumstances should any elder be forced into solitary confinement, which is “torture” in the eyes of the world – torture that is inflicted upon Florida Wards in prolonged lockdown for years. For Jan Garwood, an heiress to many millions of dollars, lockdown lasted for years inside of a 10×12 room with bars on the window and electronic locked doors secluding her day and night from “meaningful human contact” with the outside world. Where were the insider members of the Senior Protection Team when Jan’s pleas for help rang out and echoed against the walls of her “cell” with “fewer rights than the typical convicted felon”?
Beverly Newman, Ed.D.
Author and Elder Advocate
National Coalition of Elder Advocates