CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — PA ADAPT, an organization advocating for disability rights, is asking for a review of what they call “Pennsylvania’s broken guardianship system.”

When an individual lacks the capacity to make certain decisions, a substitute decision-maker, or “guardian”, can act on their behalf, according to the disability rights of Pennsylvania.

PA ADAPT said they’ve seen too many cases of guardianship being overused and abused. State and local offices, however, said the system is highly monitored to reduce risks of neglect or exploitation.

“Everybody to the extent possible should have the right to make a decision for themselves,” Pam Auer, a member of PA ADAPT said.

“In a lot of these cases they’re putting people in long-term care facilities or congregate setting institutions where they don’t need that level of care,” Misty Dion, a member of PA ADAPT said.

The group is offering four recommendations, followed by other states:

(1) prohibit guardianships where less restrictive alternatives would meet an adult’s
functional needs;
(2) require specific court findings before certain critical rights (e.g., to marry, vote,
choose visitors) are abridged;
(3) require petitioners to state whether less restrictive alternatives have been tried and
justify any failure to do so;
(4) create mechanisms that adults subject to guardianship and others can use to trigger
modification or termination of an order.

The Centre County Office of Aging said promoting the least restrictive care is a priority already in place.

“Any time that we are providing services we’re looking to support the older adult and eliminate the risk to them and keep them as independent as possible,” Centre County Office of Aging Director Quentin Burchfield said. “We really look at what’s the least restrictive, and that’s required not only by us, by the state, but also by the courts.”

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Burchfield said they’re highly regulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging.

In early June, PA ADAPT went to Harrisburg, demanding Governor Wolf take action to end the Department of Aging’s practices and develop an enforceable bill of rights.

In a statement to WTAJ, the Department of Aging said:

“The Department of Aging has a responsibility per the Older Adults Protective Services Act to reduce risks to older adults due to abuse, neglect, abandonment and exploitation. There are times when guardianship is one of the ways to reduce that risk; however the Department does not administer or oversee laws concerning guardianship.  The guardianship system and the application of its respective laws are solely under the authority of the Orphans Court.”