Courts to help with elderly

Program will give indigent more year-round care

While caring for the older, impoverished and lonely people gets special attention during the holidays, a new program has been created that will provide such care on a year-round basis in Bartholomew County.

Up to 35 volunteers in the Columbus area will soon be recruited and trained to serve as guardians for as many as 400 indigent elderly with no one else able or willing to carry out those responsibilities.

At the request of Bartholomew Superior Court 1 Judge Jim Worton, the Bartholomew County commissioners unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding between the courts and Thrive Alliance, Inc.

Under the agreement, Thrive Alliance will be in charge of recruiting volunteer guardians, the judge said.

The organization will also work in conjunction with the state to ensure that volunteers are properly trained, as well as take care of all related clerical work, Worton said.

However, all tasks performed by the agency for the program will be overseen by Bartholomew County Adult Court Services, he said.

“If a problem comes up when a volunteer is not doing the job, the court can remove the guardianship,” Worton said. “It still goes through the court to make sure there are no problems.”

In structure, the program is comparable to Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), which trains and provides volunteer advocates who speak up for the best interests of children within the judicial system, Worton said.

An initial $50,000 grant is being provided by the Indiana Office of Court Services, the agreement states. That money will be given to the courts, which will ensure Thrive Alliance is paid for its services, the judge said.

Thrive Alliance has already approved a required match for the state grant that involves both outside funding sources and in-kind services, said Lori Bland, Thrive Alliance Guardian Program manager.

Worton currently makes regular hospital visits to conduct hearings for elderly patients who don’t have anyone willing or able to serve as guardian or health care representative, he told the commissioners.

“I don’t know what people would do without family around to help,” commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said. “Certainly, anyone who has ever dealt with an aging parent knows how it can be very consuming.”

In terms of numbers, the problem will only get worse for the foreseeable future.

“Baby-boomers are now entering retirement, which means those numbers are going to increase — more than they ever have in the past,” Bland told the commissioners.

Arrangements now in place are completely inadequate, Worton said.

Most of these types of cases are currently being handled by one couple, John and Brenda Defler, employees of Bartholomew County Adult Protective Services, he said.

“Right now, the demand is way too much for the Deflers,” Worton said. “They simply can’t keep up with it.”

The current arrangement also has potential legal complications tied to it.

If a problem regarding decisions made by the couple is ever warranted, the complaint is supposed to be filed with Adult Protective Services, which would likely appoint the Deflers to investigate, the judge said.

“Who do they complain to?” Worton asked. “This situation could become very problematic.”

Although local court officials have long wanted to apply for the grant, the paperwork was never filled out. That’s because the Indiana Office of Court Services had previously required that county tax dollars be invested, Worton said.

The application was finally made this year only after the requirement was dropped, the judge said.

“There will be no county dollars involved,” Worton told the commissioners.

The memorandum of understanding states the amount of services rendered by Thrive Alliance must be at or below the amount of the $50,000 grant.

Although volunteers will not be paid, Worton said a special fund will be created that will allow the guardians to be reimbursed for expenses.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.