The Pennsylvania Judicial Center in Harrisburg (Capital-Star file)
By Nancy Hudack
I would like to introduce you to John. He is one of my court-appointed clients in the Guardianship Program at the Family Service Association of Northeastern Pennsylvania (FSA).
An affable man with a quick wit, John, not his real name. enjoys my company and conversation. More importantly, though, he relies upon me as guardianship supervisor for doctor’s appointments, financial decisions and a fully stocked refrigerator because he does not have living or able-bodied friends and relatives in the region.
John’s name may be fictitious name, but he represents many of the people and life circumstances professional caseworkers encounter on a daily basis for countless Pennsylvanians who are unable to care for themselves, according to the court system.
This article is not about the vital care guardianship programs and caseworkers provide, as that is easily understood, but rather about the need for our state lawmakers to consider timely financial reform.
This client is one of the lucky ones. Thanks to FSA’s Guardianship Program he has been able to remain somewhat independent at home with special care and attention. Whether it is a new prescription drug, birthday card or grocery delivery, we make sure he receives personal attention and receives what he needs to live life to the fullest extent possible.
Guardianship Program services begin when the court system legally declares a person is unable to care for and/or make decisions on her/his own behalf. A family member oftentimes is appointed guardian during the legal proceeding, but when a loved one is unavailable or unable a professional, like myself, is appointed to manage areas of care and make appropriate decisions.
FSA’s Guardianship Program, for example, has more than 50 clients in four counties. These individuals are like family to us, as we visit them at their homesteads, nursing homes or long-term care facilities to ensure they receive the care and dignity they deserve at this stage of their lives.
It could be as simple as delivering a holiday greeting or scheduling a beautician for a haircut. But mostly it involves timely decisions that have real-life consequences, such as surgery, follow-up care and medications.
The vast majority of people in our Guardianship Program qualify for the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Medical Assistance Program, which provides the modest reimbursement of $100 per month.
This modest rate has remained steady for more than 20 years, as actual costs approach about $300 per month for each individual, and as demand for these specialized services continues to rise as the state ages and life expectancy increases.
“Unfortunately, the monthly rate has not been increased in more than 20 years,” state Rep. Melissa L. Shusterman, D-Chester, acknowledged in state House Resolution No. 47, which she introduced with eight other lawmakers in February, “despite the evolving and challenging tasks guardians must undertake in addition to a shortage of capable individuals willing to take on guardianship roles.”
The spectrum of challenges associated with guardianship programs state-wide continues to grow and test professionals in the field. The responsibilities are enormous, especially when you consider an individual’s health, financial well-being, and end-of-life care decisions literally are placed in their hands.
To date, no action has been taken by fellow state lawmakers to advance Rep. Shusterman’s sensible resolution.
Please support Rep. Shusterman’s effort to increase the state Department of Human Services’ reimbursement rate for guardianship program services from $100 to $300 per month. While it is long overdue, it will also ensure that there are more professionals in the field caring for a generation of people in need of care and compassion.
Nancy Hudack, BSW, is the supervisor of FSA’s Guardianship Program. FSA was established in 1895 by a group of involved and concerned members of the community to provide diverse services that empower children, individuals, seniors and families to reach their full potential by building healthier relationships and ultimately stronger communities.
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