The Silver Standard with Romona Paden, contributor
This year’s Whistleblower Summit had many interesting and illumination discussion panels.
For us at the Silver Standard and The EARN Project, the panel conducted by Marti Oakley was of most interest.
Many people are drawn to the Summit just to meet Marti. They have listened to her shows on her TS Radio Network, and they appreciate her for being a leading voice for reform and her achievement in bringing this issue to the Summit. She was her usual dynamic self, shining a light into the dark corners of this growing global threat.
Her discussion concerning the massive expansion of individuals licensed as guardians and the very profitable businesses that have sprung up offering management services for senior citizens and the disabled was truly enlightening. Senior citizens and the disabled have become big business, not only with individuals who look to the profession of guardian as a golden path to consistent easy money but also companies selling worldwide franchises. As with everything in life, there is good and bad in their midst, but the opportunity for exploitation has clearly been too irresistible for many. With no existing laws as a deterrent, even good people can be enticed into doing bad things.
We were especially happy to see Marti address the need for public involvement. She emphasized that, with the existing lack of genuine support from most of those in government, there is an urgent need for public outcry. She shares our adamant insistence that change is going to happen only when American citizens use their voices—and their votes—to insist that their elected officials and lawmakers become strong advocates for their elderly and disabled citizenry. Advocacy groups must write the bills themselves and then get the public behind them to insist on political and judicial support. The public needs to get behind elder protection in the same way they supported Mothers Against Drunk Driving. As with MADD, this public support won’t completely end the abuse—but it certainly will reduce it.
The journalist Gretchen Hammond spoke most eloquently.
Hammond, after investigating guardianship for a June 2018 article, “Guardians From Hell” for The Tablet Magazine was so disturbed by what she discovered that she embarked on a full investigation of the Oakland County, Michigan probate court.
She and a small team examined 2,278 separate guardianship cases filed in that court against people ranging in age from 19–96 by agencies such as Adult Protective Services, the Senior Care Network, social workers, and attorneys. The reasons given in the petitions ranged from “bipolar,” to “diabetes,” to “lacks civilization,” “undefined mental illness,” and “fell down in the parking lot of Costco.”
The research revealed that in 98.9 % of these cases, guardianship was awarded to a either a public administrator or an elder, estate, or probate attorney who, it appeared, had “sufficiently impressed” Michigan’s Attorney General.
According to their research, the team discovered that:
- The majority of hearings lasted less than four minutes in which, irrespective of familial protestation, the victim and everything they owned became the property of the state.
- In 68.9 out of 100 of cases, neither the victim nor their family was given any prior warning; instead the hearing was conducted without their knowledge.
- In 97 out of 100 cases, victims were forced out of their homes by the public administrator within a month.
Sadly, says Hammond, “Their destiny was solely dependent upon their income and attitude.”
- The majority of victims were housed in psych or lockdown wards. Those with only a small Social Security income were shuffled about from one unlicensed group home to another where they were neglected, deprived of food, and all too often subjected to torture and beatings.
- In 100 percent of cases, irrespective of the victim’s income or savings at the time of the hearing, they were left completely indigent and reliant on social services within no more than three years.
Hammond and her team proved that while in Michigan it is written in state statute that adult guardianship is supposed to be a temporary measure, Michigan citizens are at the mercy of a heartless and greedy legal system where judges regularly ignore state law and no one cares.
One victim named Annette wrote to a judge from the unlicensed group home in which she had been imprisoned for over a year, saying “I don’t want to be punished and have my dignity and humanity taken away from me. I am young and would like a job and to be a viable asset in society.”
She was ignored and left imprisoned in that terrible Michigan Gulag—which to any American of conscience is a most unacceptable, unforgivable, un-American situation. Her letter is on file at the Oakland County Probate Court.
At the Silver Standard we find it incomprehensible—these are human beings we are talking about, our American brothers and sisters—and this is not just happening in Michigan.
Hammond has made great personal sacrifices in order to pursue injustice, and we all need to heed her warnings or the next Annette will be you or your loved one.
Lights, Camera, Whistle
For Marcel Reid, the whistleblower gauntlet was a springboard for the development of an Annual Whistleblower Summit, and in 2019 she added a film festival.
Recognizing that cinema ranks high among the most effective means of laying out the intricacies of a scenario and conveying a memorable message, the festival added a very successful element to the event. July’s hot and humid weather, within the swampy confines of the nation’s capital, only served to emphasize these powerful stories of heartbreaking civil and human rights violations in our “land of the free.”
Most of the films were in a documentary format and, according to the festival’s website, “seek to shine a light on courage and perseverance in the face of injustice, and to encourage individuals to stand together to achieve human rights for all…” The event is described as “an intersection between media, politics, culture and entertainment…”
Whistle Where We Stand
Like Marcel, Sharon de Lobo, publisher of The Silver Standard and head of its parent organization the Elder Abuse Reform Now Project (EARN), had never considered getting into either the activist or filmmaking fields. Then life took one of its unexpected turns—a turn that brought the documentary The Unforgivable Truth: How We Have Turned America’s Greatest Generation into America’s Abused Generation to this year’s Whistleblower Summit.
Starting in 2006, de Lobo came face to face with a soul-crushing experience faced every year by millions of Americans—financial elder abuse. Fighting all the way, she watched as $32 million, along with a multimillion-dollar property that her mother had ordered be put into a foundation as a refuge to feed and support severely at-risk children, simply disappeared. This heinous act—not of just financial elder abuse but of affluent “pillars of the community” denying food to children who frequently go to bed hungry—was perpetrated by the very people she had employed to protect her intentions along with the enthusiastic participation of an organization that cloaks itself in the banner of Christ. Next she learned the cold hard facts of how the courts—and their cadre of buddies, contributors, and professionals—ignore existing laws and act against the best interests of elders and their families, while politicians and lawmakers, influenced by powerful lobbyists, give sincere sounding lip service to the matter but, for the most part, do nothing.
In a discussion about why elder abuse and involuntary guardianship has not raised the kind of public outcry that one would expect, de Lobo’s answer was: “Americans have big hearts; we react with compassion to TV commercials showing sick children at St. Jude’s and The Shriners Hospitals, abused animals rescued by the ASPCA, or even foreign citizens painfully in need of our assistance. In contrast, we are never shown the thousands of American seniors who are spending their ‘golden years’ suffering in poverty due to cunning predators, or the bruised faces and the broken bones inflicted under the care of court-appointed guardians. It continues unseen, their cries for help unheard…The pain being inflicted on our senior citizens is pure evil, and a society that sees evil and does not eradicate it is itself evil. Americans are not an evil society. We just need to put the sights and sounds of elder abuse into their sightlines. If they see and hear it, if they are given what they need to fully understand the extent and gravity of it, they will care, and they will insist upon change. If we leave it in the shadows, it will destroy us all, because it will leave no family untouched.”