Focus on guardians paramount

The issue of guardianships for the elderly and disabled gets lost amid the major issues of the day.

But the guardianship issue is not one to be regarded lightly, and it will become more significant as baby boomers continue to age.

That’s why Blair County court officials’ move to beef up the monitoring of such arrangements comes at a good time. The initiative must not become lost among other pressing county business.

Still, it was disconcerting to hear county officials admit that the current monitoring of such arrangements here leaves something to be desired. As reported in an article in the Oct. 6 Mirror, Blair County Prothonotary Carol Newman, in whose office guardianships are filed, described the local monitoring as “hit and miss.”

According to Newman, no organized process for tracking the county’s guardianship cases is in place. Thus, there could be instances where required annual reports have not been filed on time or at all, making it impossible to monitor what is happening in those cases.

That raises the question of whether there ever is comprehensive review of many of those reports that are received.

Again, the growth of the elderly population makes it imperative that the guardianship issue gets much more attention than it has received in the past. Meanwhile, the existing situation is an embarrassment for a county that usually prides itself on doing things right.

A guardian is a court-appointed individual who controls finances and legal affairs of someone considered to be disabled or incapacitated. A guardian is responsible for ensuring that the disabled or incapacitated person is not neglected or abused in any way, and that the person’s finances are properly managed.

As part of guardianship, the court-appointed individual is required to submit an annual report of activities tied to that responsibility – a report that can be a laborious task to prepare, in many cases.

But here’s the problem in Blair County: As also pointed out by Blair County Court Administrator Janice Meadows, this county lacks a system for tracking whether the required reports have been filed, and for reviewing reports once they’re in the county’s hands.

That could be a prescription for trouble, especially now that the word has gotten out that the county is so slipshod regarding such an important function.

It’s encouraging that the problem might eventually be resolved, now that county officials are talking about it. Too bad they had to be motivated by a concern expressed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which earlier this year appointed an Elder Law Task Force that will focus on guardianships, elder abuse and access to justice.

Two million Keystone State residents are over 65. The high court hasn’t said how many of them are being cared for under guardianships; no doubt the number is small when stacked against the age 65 population figure.

But the total number of fragile people requiring such arrangements isn’t the key consideration; it is that the system that should be in place is working effectively.

The high-profile issues of the day shouldn’t prevent that from happening.