Elder Abuse Task Force unveils new legislation

LANSING (AP) — A Michigan task force has come up with legislation aimed at protecting senior citizens from abuse by creating requirements and oversight for their guardians and conservators, state Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Thursday.

After two years of listening tours, prosecuting crimes of elder abuse and working with legislators, the Michigan Elder Abuse Task Force, comprised of more than 100 people, worked with lawmakers to introduce the legislation.

The role of guardian or conservator important because they are responsible for things like making medical decisions and managing a person's estate, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Megan Cavanagh said. The job of the task force was to create more transparency in the selection of people for those roles and protecting some of the state's most vulnerable residents.

“The best way to make change happen is to make noise, and throughout this process concerned people did exactly that," Cavanaugh said. “They made noise, they came to hearings. They wrote letters, they talked to the media they talked to elected representatives and I’m here to say that we heard them loud and clear.”

Among the bills being introduced in the Legislature is a requirement for the court to come up with a rationale for why a person who has priority for guardianship, such as a family member, is passed over for a lower priority party, such as a for-profit care provider.

When a judge appointed a professional company as guardian over her aunt and uncle instead of a family member in 2018, Gretchen Sommer said she got a crash course in elder abuse.

She said the company confiscated her aunt's and uncle's phones and built a 6-foot fence around their home to keep the family from seeing them, even as the company neglected to provide care. Her aunt repeatedly fell, including once when she broke a hip.

“Our hope is that no family ever has to go through what we did,” Sommer said. “Our probate courts should be a safe place for elderly individuals and their families, especially seniors, and we hope that with these new legislations that will make that happen.”

The legislation would require guardians and conservators to visit the person they are caring for monthly, up from the current once every three months. The caretakers would also have to be certified, with minimum training standards.