- Guardianship bill gets unanimous support
- Appeals board reverses another VA executive’s punishment
- State to hold training sessions on investment fraud
Posted: 11 Feb 2016 11:03 PM PST
The Florida Senate on Wednesday unanimously backed the expansion of the state’s regulation of guardians who care for frail elders, including allowing the state Department of Elderly Affairs to discipline private guardians who violate care standards.
At the same time, a similar measure cleared its final House committee, meaning the bill is now ready for a floor vote in the House.
“We all recognize there is a problem,” said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, who has called the bill (SB 232) her top priority for her final regular session in the Legislature.
The measure follows up on a law that Detert helped pass last year to curb abuses in the adult guardianship system, including regulations on public guardians, who are appointed to care for incapacitated seniors who are poor.
The new bills extend a series of regulations and state oversight to private guardians, who now must have a background screening and meet certain training requirements. It would include a system for investigating complaints and disciplining private guardians.
“It left a whole segment of the elderly open for abuse and they have been targeted, especially wealthy older women,” Detert said, adding it is a problem not only in Florida but across the nation.
She said Florida would have “the strongest laws” in the country if the bill becomes law as anticipated. “I know you will agree that protecting the elderly is one of our top priorities,” Detert said.
In a tribute to Detert, the 39 other senators agreed to become co-sponsors of the legislation as it heads to the House.
Earlier in the day, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously backed a bill (HB 403), sponsored by Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, that would expand the Department of Elderly Affairs (DOEA) power to monitor and regulate public guardians to include private guardians.
All the guardians would be required to register and would be regulated by the DOEA’s renamed Office of Public and Professional Guardians.
“Under this bill the office can investigate allegations of abuse and fraud and take disciplinary action when warranted,” Ahern said.
Ahern cited the press reports of abuses of elderly Floridians as one of the motivations for the legislation. The Herald-Tribune’s December 2014 series, “The Kindness of Strangers,” highlighted cases of frail seniors who had been taken advantage of by unregulated private guardians.
“We don’t want to read another story about someone who has been appointed by the courts and given complete autonomy over a person’s life and estate and uses that position to take advantage of the person they were entrusted to protect,” Ahern said.
The House committee also heard from Doug Franks, who has fought to remove his mother from a private guardianship in Pensacola.
“This bill is going to put some oversight on this where before we had no oversight on professional guardians,” Franks said, adding he wanted to eventually see stronger laws, including criminal penalties for guardians who abuse their trust.
Under the current law, Franks said it is difficult for family members to “get their parents back because once they’re in guardianship, professional guardianship, they can’t get out.”
“It’s not like foster care where you get a chance to get your children out. When they’re in guardianship, forget it,” Franks said.
The legislation has the support of the AARP and the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops. Detert said the legislation also has the backing of Gov. Rick Scott and DOEA Secretary Samuel Verghese.
The bill provides $822,000 in funding for the DOEA’s expanded guardian office, which will include six full-time employees.
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|Appeals board reverses another VA executive’s punishment
Posted: 11 Feb 2016 10:30 PM PST
WASHINGTON – An appeals board has handed the Department of Veterans Affairs a third straight reversal in a high-profile executive malfeasance case, this time voiding the dismissal of the embattled director of the Albany-Stratton VA Medical Center in New York.
But VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson is vowing not to reinstate the director, saying the Veterans Choice Act that Congress passed in 2014 gives him the authority to discipline staff, intensifying a growing battle between VA and the Merit Systems Protection Board, which hears appeals from federal employees about punishments.
“I am disappointed that the MSPB judge in this case did not afford my judgment the deference the Choice Act envisioned, but I will nevertheless continue to hold VA senior executives to the highest standards of conduct regardless of the risk of having my decisions overturned,” Gibson said in a released statement after the decision to reverse the dismissal of Albany-Stratton Director Linda Weiss. “Because of this high standard, I do not intend to return this individual to any position, in Albany or elsewhere, where she would be responsible for patient care or safety.”
Veterans Affairs officials have withstood criticism from lawmakers, who have harangued them routinely for not punishing executives accused of wrongdoing. Now department leadership faces a new challenge: an appeals board that is routinely voiding disciplinary actions, contending the VA is going too far in their punishments of executives.
In announcing the decision of Judge Arthur S. Joseph to overturn Weiss’s dismissal, the Merit Systems Protection Board did not give reasons for the decision, saying it will be released by Feb. 16.
“This is yet another MSPB ruling that defies common sense,” said Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. “It will likely force VA to create a do-nothing job for an employee it has no confidence in.”
At times, judges have struggled with Veterans Choice Act rules that force them to adjudicate VA appeals within 21 days. In one recent ruling, a judge who reversed VA’s proposed demotion of St. Paul (Minnesota) VA Regional Director Kimberly Graves noted she and the lawyers involved had just 2 ½ weeks to pore over 3,800 pages of documents.
William Spencer, spokesman for the Merit Systems Protection Board, would not comment Monday on the Weiss ruling or the board’s disagreement with VA over the department’s authority to discipline executives.
A VA spokeswoman said Monday that Weiss received information in March 2015 showing a certain nursing assistant “should not be involved in direct patient care” but did not remove the assistant from patient care until July. The spokeswoman did not offer more specifics.
More so, Weiss retired in January after finding out she would be removed and it is unclear what the judge’s ruling means as far as the department’s obligations, the VA spokeswoman said. Two staff members were caught stealing drugs at the Albany-Stratton medical center during Weiss’ tenure as director. One staffer was found in the hospital incoherent with a used syringe nearby, according to the Albany Times-Union.
The week before the Weiss decision, two other VA executives had high-profile disciplinary positions overturned. Diana Rubens and Graves, the directors of the Philadelphia and St. Paul VA regional offices respectively, were found to be involved in a scheme to move themselves to new positions with lesser responsibilities at their higher salaries while also receiving about $400,000 in relocation compensation.
VA had recommended Rubens and Graves be demoted and separate judges found both were guilty of wrongdoing. Yet, the MSPB overturned their punishments, finding the VA was inconsistent in its punishments.
The MSPB’s decisions also appear to be emboldening Miller to expand the scope of his criticism beyond VA, calling for reform of the entire federal employee disciplinary system.
“The MSPB coddles and protects misbehaving employees rather than facilitating fair and efficient discipline,” he said. “And as long as we have a system in place that requires a similar standard to discipline federal workers as it does to send criminals to prison, accountability problems at VA and across the government will only continue.”
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|State to hold training sessions on investment fraud
Posted: 11 Feb 2016 11:11 PM PST
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A series of training programs to teach certified public accountants about investment fraud and financial exploitation will kick off this month in Las Cruces.
The state Securities Division is holding the programs so CPAs will be better able to “recognize signs of vulnerability to financial exploitation and make appropriate referrals for (those) deemed vulnerable or for those who’ve already been defrauded,” according to a news release.
The first session will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 22 at the Thomas Branigan Memorial Library. Other sessions will be held on March 14 in Roswell, May 24 in Santa Fe and June 7 in Albuquerque.
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