"An Act relating to guardianships and conservatorships, to the public guardian and the office of public advocacy, to private professional guardians and private professional conservators, to court visitors, court-appointed attorneys, guardians ad litem, and fiduciaries, and to the protection of the person or property of certain individuals, including minors; amending Rules 16(f) and 17(e), Alaska Rules of Probate Procedure; and providing for an effective date."
will go a long way towards preventing exploitation and mistreatment of vulnerable and incapacitated adults receiving the services of a private guardian or conservator. It was drafted with input from the Alaska State Association for Guardianship and Advocacy, the Office of Public Advocacy, Adult Protective Services, the Long-term Care Ombudsman's office, the Disability Law Center, the Senior Advocacy Coalition, and the Judiciary.
Under current law, private guardians and conservators - individuals with the responsibility to make housing, legal and medical decisions for the disabled, infirm, mentally ill, and seniors - are completely unregulated by the State. This legislation would grant the State regulatory authority over private guardians and conservators, and establish minimum qualifications and standards. The State oversight and standards for such a sensitive and critical job will help ensure that vulnerable and incapacitated adults receive the care they deserve.
Often, vulnerable Alaskans - those with mental illnesses, developmental disabilities, Alzheimer's, dementia, or brain injuries -- need assistance managing their finances and making important decisions regarding their housing, medical, mental health and legal matters. In such situations, a guardian or conservator may be appointed by the court to assist those individuals. Under Alaska law, the court first looks to appoint guardians nominated by the incapacitated person if the choice is a reasonably intelligent one. Then the court looks to the incapacitated person's spouse, family, other relatives, private guardians, and, finally, the Public Guardian at the Office of Public Advocacy. In Alaska, professional guardians (both private and public) and family guardians provide services to approximately 2,500 disabled, vulnerable adults.
Today, private guardians and conservators are not regulated by any state administrative agency, and are not required to meet any minimum qualifications. Many other states regulate private guardians - and appropriately so. Vulnerable and incapacitated adults are easy prey for those wishing to exploit their resources. This was highlighted in Alaska in 2002 when a private agency filed for bankruptcy, causing financial loss and hardship to many of its clients. Moreover, while Alaska regulates Barbers and Hairdressers, Acupuncturists, Concert Promoters, Morticians, and Collection Agencies, those caring for the most vulnerable among us are not subjected to any State oversight.
HB 427 would ensure those individuals or organizations wishing to serve as private guardians or conservators meet certain criteria, and register with the State. Specifically, this legislation requires private guardians to be certified by the National Guardianship Foundation and have at least 2 years of professional experience working with clients, or a degree in human services, social work, psychology, sociology, gerontology, special education, or a closely related field. HB 427 will also require guardians to have experience in financial management or a degree in accounting. Critically, this legislation prohibits private guardians from registering with the State and practicing until a State and national criminal background check is performed.
Finally, HB 427 allows the Division of Occupational Licensing to revoke a private guardian's license if he or she has been found to have abandoned, exploited, abused, or neglected his or her ward, or has become unfit due to professional incompetence. In short, through regulatory oversight and the establishment of professional and academic standards, this legislation will help ensure disabled adults are not exploited by those entrusted to manage their affairs.
I urge your support of this important piece of legislation.
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