Just Try Us

Neglect and abuse. These are words that are on our minds these days, specifically elder financial abuse and neglect. More than ever before, we research and discover financial exploitation of the elderly. We are always hesitant to write too much about what we do, but after many discussions about how to protect the privacy of vulnerable individuals, we have decided to share a bit about what we see.

So, how many cases have we worked where there has been gross financial abuse? In the last 18 months, we have worked or are currently working 16 cases of financial exploitation of an elderly person. 16 cases too many. 16 cases where the majority of the time there is also a component of neglect. 16 cases that break our hearts.

The narrative has variations, but usually goes something along the lines of an elderly person becoming mentally incapacitated and landing in a higher level of acuity whether that be a hospital or nursing facility. We are either contacted by the social worker at the facility, the physician, or oftentimes by all of those people all at once. Once we do our research and establish a need for the person to be protected, we work closely with our attorney and file a petition with the court to become the individual’s temporary guardian and conservator. We always start with temporary which is a 90-day appointment to see if we can get things moving in the right direction. We are always hopeful.

Once we are the legally appointed guardian and conservator over the protected person, we can act on their behalf in all matters. We begin to retrieve their mail and if we haven’t already, we do a home visit. We set up a separate conservatorship bank account and move funds into that account. The forensic part of what we do is always fascinating to us and we treat it with the utmost respect. Chances are, if we are appointed, there is cause for concern and we order the last 12 months of bank statements so we can see how their funds have been spent (or not spent). We often say that just because you have family doesn’t mean you have the right family. We track down your long lost 3rd cousin on your mama’s side and we listen. We listen to everyone.

We have seen kids stealing their parent’s social security funds to support substance habits and shopping addictions, we have stopped others from bringing quit claim deeds to the hospital in hopes of getting the incapacitated person to sign over their property when they found out we were involved. We have moved people in the night to get them away from abusers and put in our share of 20-hour days. Our whole staff. At a moment’s notice. We will all go and do the work. The lifting and the hauling and the hand holding and the reassuring and the filing and the appearing and the loving and the tears and the hard conversations and the appointments and the rest. And the rest tomorrow and the next day after that and all of the days and all of the things.

We work closely with the police and sheriff’s departments all over the state to evict squatters who find out a house is vacant and move in. We have a very close relationship with the Dept. of Social Services and often tag team cases with them. We love our legal counsel and they love us and the work we do. They work their tails off for us and more importantly, for the clients we serve.

We have all thrown up together over a garbage can more than a few times working hoarder cases where the home was condemned, and we had to secure the property and develop a clean-up plan. It’s just a fact. Nothing dramatic. Get it over with and pick back up. It was actually after one of those sessions that Amy and I decided to share the business and partner officially. We have gone on more than a couple midnight calls to disable vehicles to keep people with no business on the road off of it. We have had to euthanize animals with no hope or chance in animal hoarder situations; holding them in our arms crying as if they were our very own delivering them over the rainbow bridge. We have held vigil at hospice, a nursing facility, a client’s home…wherever really so our clients aren’t alone at the end. We sincerely care about our clients and attempt to repair their broken family relationships and friendships if we can. We are not here to judge anyone or their journey, only to protect those who need it and give a space for those who need to tell us what they need to tell us….to heal, to move on, to engage or to be accountable.

We always say, “We don’t like conflict! We don’t like confrontation!” Yet, here we are…saying the words. With love. With empathy. With strength and conviction. Because, people deserve a voice when they can’t remember the words anymore. We help them with our voices. We all deserve someone to step up and say “Not on my watch.” We say every day, “How many more are there that we don’t know about?” All we can do is keep our heart open and keep answering the phone. The phone. The phone that rings and rings and rings. Someday, in a perfect world, we won’t have a job. Today isn’t that day, but maybe tomorrow. One things is for sure, we wouldn’t be able to do this work without a rock solid team. And we are. Rock solid. Sometimes, I feel like we share a military sort of bond that is radical and unified and mission driven. Built over many experiences that have tested and pushed us to our mental, emotional and physical limits. We always say “Never underestimate a group of girls who want to get something done.” Just try us.

Advocacy isn't Popularity.

We like to talk about what advocacy is - how it's a verb that we live, actively, everyday, for our clients and for ourselves. We rarely talk about what advocacy is NOT.

There are occasions while walking this road that we come across road blocks and mountains that need to be moved. We push and pull. We persist. We find another path or break trail and start again. Mostly, it’s break trail. On average, we hear 20 times per week “nobody has ever asked us to do that before.” We love that phrase. You know what that says? It says that nobody has ever cared to ask them to do it before.

There is one thing we know for sure about advocacy. Advocacy is not a popularity contest. Not on any day of the week or in any month of any year. If we are winning the popularity contest, we likely aren’t fulfilling our mission. We unfailingly show up and go to bat for “our people.” This is a hard truth for most of us who have spent most of our lives caring about what other people think and going the extra mile to make sure everyone is happy and satisfied. Some days we wonder how nice girls like us ended up in a business like this one. A business that reminds us to be humble and forces us to stare frailty in the face on a daily basis. A business where we are not only encouraged but required to go against the grain and show up and do battle for our people. Not that we ever seek to do that, but sometimes when the battle comes to you, you don’t have a choice but to get into the arena and do your business. When it comes to insisting on good care and respecting the rights of our clients, our place is steadfastly on the side of the client. That’s the whole thing. Show up. Do the right thing. Keep swimming. Sometimes, we’ll lose, but more often we will win and that will mean better care or a better outcome or holding someone’s hand as we walk them home to the edge of the veil that separates this life and the next. For us, losing the popularity contest is far more than worth it.

An Op-Ed from Jenny Schmidt

I was disappointed to read about the Pennington County Commissioner’s recent decision not to submit a proposal to the Leona Helmsley Charitable Trust for the purposes of a mental health study focusing on western South Dakota. A proposal, as I understand it, that would have had a zero-dollar impact to taxpayers.

What the commission voted down was an opportunity to gain knowledge into what the mental health needs are in western South Dakota. This vote wasn’t about policy or committing one taxpayer dollar. It was a denial to learn any new information on what the problems may or may not be. We rejected the opportunity to learn valuable data about our mental health issues…for free.

As a professional who works with many mentally ill clients, it’s a sad day when we try to pass the buck and say that the mental health of our own residents is a state issue and not a county one. Frankly, mental health is a human issue and because we don’t have a good solution, we are already paying the price for refusing to address a need that is not going away. We pay for it with law enforcement time, emergency room costs, jail occupancy and other overextended tax payer funded resources who provide sideways mental health services to people when their core mission is not mental health.

Mental illness in Pennington County has now been criminalized and we are using the county jail to house the mentally ill while either awaiting placement at the Human Service Center in Yankton or getting released without any treatment or medication intervention.

My colleagues and I can attest to the fact that getting real and lasting help for the mentally ill experiencing an acute event in Pennington County feels like an insurmountable task at times. The emergency room doesn’t want them because they aren’t emergent enough. Regional West often can’t take them because they are either full or won’t take them if they have physical disabilities, dementia, or autism, because of the physical risk they pose to their staff. The state’s attorney’s office is reluctant to sign an order for involuntary commitment and if they are admitted to Regional West, the stay isn’t long enough to complete a care plan and allow sufficient time for medications to become effective or be adjusted.

If a person is unfortunate enough to be elderly with a mobility issue AND mentally ill, there is literally no place to admit for stabilization and medication management while getting cared for physically.

We had a nursing facility client last year that was sent to the emergency room no less than fifteen times in one month and desperately needed placement at the Health Services Center in Yankton. Every time, the patient was sent back to the nursing facility from the hospital via ambulance without notice and untreated only to repeat the same behaviors. The patient was not fit for congregate living and it was an unfair burden to place upon the facility because they were not staffed to provide one-on-one care for a person who posed a danger to other residents and themselves.

Mental health is an every person problem and we are all responsible for doing our part. As western South Dakotans we take pride in our autonomy and taking care of our own. I challenge those who voted against submitting the application for the grant to offer an alternative solution to a problem that affects us all. Let’s address this issue in a way that respects the needs of our mentally ill community and those who serve them.

Jenny Schmidt
Black Hills Advocate
Rapid City

(Read original article.)

Why Advocacy?

I get asked all the time “why advocacy?” My not so simple answer is that we will all go through seasons in our lives when we need support that is unbiased, skilled and fully present. As advocates, we provide a level of critical listening and thinking that one may not be able to find through a friend or family member. We’ve been to thousands of doctor’s appointments with our clients, so we know the right questions to ask and can maximize the time spent with doctors and other health providers. I like to say we ask questions that you might not know you had. For those who are contemplating care options either in their own home or in a facility, we have a broad understanding of what each facility and care provider are like because we currently have clients in some if not all of them. Of course, people can do all of the research on their own, but it can be time consuming and often there are decisions that need to be made quickly. We offer a knowledge base that clients can tap into easily. Advocacy also offers shared decision making. We have many clients who are the sole caregiver for a spouse or family member. They are also trying to make decisions alone and that can be a source of anxiety because they often wonder if they are making the best decisions and have all of the information. They find peace and value in using us as a sounding board and partnering with us to make health and care related decisions for their loved ones. There will be a time in every person’s life where advocacy will be a blessing; either for the short term or the long term. Let us get to know you. Get to know us. The main reason I started this company was to be a blessing every day and every day that is my only prayer. We are here whenever and however you need us

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