NEW YORK (MainStreet) — By the time my 80-year-old father, James Fairley, boarded a flight to New York City in October 2014, the probate court in Bexar County had dismissed my guardianship application.
That's not surprising given the fact that some 37% of judges, court managers and clerks who responded to a Center for Elders and the Courts survey revealed that guardianship filings have increased over the last three years and 43% noted an increase in caseloads.
Judge Tom Rickhoff wrote in his decision that he did not have jurisdiction to require evaluation by a gastroenterologist or pulmonologist.
I was thoroughly exhausted with the pricey Morningside Manor Assisted Living Facility and the Veteran’s Administration’s (VA) Audie Murphy Geriatric Clinic in Texas, where supervising physicians had refused to acknowledge or treat my father's significant weight loss and persistent congested cough.
"A caregiver's refusal to allow visitors is a red flag," said Kerry Peck, attorney with Peck Bloom and author of Alzheimer's and the Law (ABA Book Publishing, 2013). "Dehydration, unusual weight loss, poor hygiene and unsafe living conditions are others."
Once my father was safely settled in my comfortable Manhattan apartment, I secured referrals from a primary care physician on 5th Avenue and set up appointments for him with specialists that were covered by his generous private health insurance.
I avoided the VA Hospital on 23rd Street and First Avenue due to reports that the FBI had opened a criminal investigation of these hospitals after many veterans had died while waiting for medical treatment.
Our first stop was Lenox Hill Hospital for an X-ray to rule out pneumonia.
Pulmonologist Dr. Diego Diaz examined my father’s nasal passages and found that the persistent cough and congestion was caused by a sinus infection and/or drip. The doctor prescribed a nasal spray called Flutinase and over the counter tablets called Coricidin.
We subsequently visited Mt. Sinai Cardiologist Dr. Nicholas DuBois who updated my father’s blood pressure medication by stopping Lasix and prescribing the higher quality Losartan to replace Lisinopril.
The cardiologist also scheduled cardio exams. Between Aetna, Tricare and Medicare, he received 100% coverage for this superior care by not only Dr. DuBois and Dr. Diaz but also gastroenterologist Dr. David Borcich who replaced his prescription for Omneprazole with liquid Carafate.
Within six weeks of living with me, my father was back to his normal happy self with a healthy appetite and positive outlook on life.
The congestion in his chest cleared up, the coughing stopped, he slowly began eating again and looked forward to socializing with other elderly veterans at the Stein Senior Center on East 23 Street. All was well until an appointment at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai that confirmed my suspicion that my father was in fact partially blind.
My father reported that receiving his eye drops was hit or miss back at Morningside Manor in Texas and without receiving medication twice a day, his glaucoma had advanced.
Thinking that I would have better luck with the New York court system in securing guardianship, I filed an application on October 31 as suggested by my attorney.
However, against my father’s wishes, the Judge at 60 Centre Street ordered that my father be returned to Texas despite letters and an affidavit from his New York cardiologist, his primary care physician and pulmonologist stating that his care had greatly improved as a result of my efforts.
"Family members are often pushed aside based solely on allegations or innuendos of theft without any formal police charges or proper investigation," said Elaine Renoire, president of the National Association to Stop Guardianship Abuse in Indiana."
What I have learned is that finding justice and adequate medical care for the neglected and abused elderly is not guaranteed in probate court regardless of the state or region and that trying to protect your aging parent can in some cases backfire.
-Written for MainStreet by Juliette Fairley