Missteps mar family’s guardianship experience
A former Stanley woman has gained a new perspective on the importance of medical directives after spending more than a year under guardianships that she says worsened her health.
Kathy Miller, now of Wisconsin, said she prepared power of attorney documents, but failure to secure those documents in event of emergency triggered a series of events that she looks back on now as a tragedy.
Her ex-husband, Paul Miller of Billings, Mont., said the family’s lack of legal knowledge about guardianships contributed to the missteps that put Kathy in an unfortunate position.
“If I had to do it over again, I would have consulted a lawyer,” he said. “There are things I could have done.”
Kathy Miller, who has multiple sclerosis, said she was hospitalized in March 2015 in Stanley after a fall. She also was found to be seriously ill with an infection. A friend inquired with the local social services agency about obtaining guardianship.
Paul Miller, who then was separated but not divorced from Kathy, said he objected to the friend having guardianship but asked social services to locate a nurse to care for Kathy once released from the hospital. The county social service director at the time, Bryan Quigley, obtained guardianship on March 5, 2015, from the court, which had received input from him, from Kathy’s friend and from Kathy’s mother.
Because of medical and other privacy issues, people and facilities associated with Kathy’s guardianship and care weren’t able to publicly comment. However, court records show the emergency, 60-day guardianship allowed Quigley to terminate Kathy’s financial accounts, evict people from her property and restrict her contact with other people, if deemed necessary.
Kathy Miller said she had paperwork giving a friend – not the friend who sought guardianship – durable power of attorney. However, he was unable to locate his document for several months and was barred from entering her home to obtain her copy.
Paul Miller said the family trusted the guardian and believed it was in Kathy’s best interest when her guardian moved her for a short time into a nursing home and then into an assisted-living apartment with a caregiver. Last month, the caregiver received a jail sentence for possession of drug paraphernalia and was ordered to undergo a chemical dependency evaluation. While she had been under his care, Kathy Miller said, a blood test showed methamphetamine in her system, although she says she has never used the drug.
Miller was sent to the State Hospital in Jamestown. The doctor gave her medicine for a bipolar mental illness, a diagnosis Kathy insists was inaccurate. Her stay was limited by the court to 45 days, so upon her release, she was placed in a nursing home in that part of the state.
“There was no therapy. I was in a locked ward, and I was allowed out for meals,” she said. Phone calls to and from family, including her son and daughter, were restricted. Paul Miller said when his phone calls were allowed, they were restricted to 15 minutes once a week.
“One of the reasons why I was not allowed to talk to her more is I was ‘interfering with her rehabilitation,’ which basically, from what I understand, was nonexistent,” Paul Miller said.
Miller said he began to develop concerns about Kathy’s care in September 2015. He said Kathy’s situation wasn’t the “least restrictive” environment required by law, and a judge directed Kathy be removed from the locked ward as soon as possible. Although the family had vehemently opposed Quigley’s continuation as guardian at the September hearing, the judge ruled in December to continue the guardianship.
Paul Miller said Quigley had offered to step down and allow him to assume guardianship. However, he was unfamiliar with what needed to be done before he went into court in September, and the arrangement he proposed was rejected as unsuitable.
Initially, the family was unaware that Kathy could ask for a review to have guardianship removed.
“Quigley and the judge never made Kathy aware of that option and we were told in court on September 22 that it could not be reviewed for one year and Quigley had the control,” Paul Miller said. The attorney hired by the family fought a good fight in court but declined to fight further once the judge made his decision, Miller said.
“I begged for us to put in for a change, and everyone acted as though it could not be done,” he said.
Objecting to the rules and medical decisions, Kathy Miller admits she wasn’t a compliant nursing home resident, but she can’t say for sure what prompted her guardian to return her to the State Hospital last February.
That also was about the time that Paul Miller’s research of guardianship law and investigation of Kathy’s case discovered an error that he believes should have disqualified the guardianship. From June through December 2015, decisions about Kathy’s care had been made despite a fictitious “Joe Schmow” listed as the dependent in the paperwork. Some decisions also were being made on Kathy’s behalf during a period in which the guardianship had lapsed and not yet been renewed, Paul Miller said.
Last February, a relative in Wisconsin stepped forward to offer to assume guardianship and provide care. Eager to release Kathy from her existing guardianship, the family agreed to the plan, which was approved by the court last April.
Kathy said the arrangement in Wisconsin proved to be ill-advised. Conditions and care were such that she was hospitalized about six weeks later with e coli, life-threatening blood clots and other ailments. Hospital medical staff declined to recognize the guardianship, citing technical issues with the filing in Wisconsin, and turned medical decisions over to Kathy’s son.
A competency test was conducted that found her to be neither bipolar nor requiring guardianship, Kathy Miller said. She now lives in a Wisconsin apartment with full-time caregivers.
Her health has declined since 2015, though.
“My MS has gotten really, really aggressive,” she said.
Also due to costs associated with the past year and a half of medical care, she lost her house in Stanley and saw her financial accounts drained. Paul Miller said his health insurance would have covered some of her care had it been tapped. An application was made to cover her second stay in the State Hospital but it was denied as medically unnecessary, he said.
The Millers believe their trials of the past year were unnecessary and might never have happened had they better educated themselves about their options early on.
“She was competent the entire time and never should have been placed in guardianship,” Paul Miller said. “All that was ever really needed was for me to have a power of attorney when we were married.”