November 20, 2014

Medina
Flurries
21°F

Judge: Guardianship program problems aren’t to be found in Medina County

MEDINA — County Probate Judge Kevin Dunn says changes are needed to Ohio’s court-appointed guardianship program, and Medina County should be held up as an example.

“In Medina County, we’re real fortunate,” Dunn said Wednesday. “Our Medina County Probate guardianship program is done a little bit differently than most other counties.”

A yearlong investigation by the Columbus Dispatch found the program — which oversees about 65,000 Ohioans with mental or physical disabilities — allows unscrupulous guardians to steal their wards’ freedom, dignity and finances.

He said his court keeps a close eye on guardians through financial audits and mandatory training.

“Those aren’t issues I’ve been having to face,” said Dunn, a Republican. “I don’t have the same issues that (Probate) Judge (Robert) Montgomery does down in Franklin County.”

The Medina County court handles just more than 700 guardian cases — compared to almost 6,000 cases in Franklin County, according to the Dispatch.

Dunn said having a smaller caseload means the court can focus its resources on forming partnerships with organizations in the community, including the Medina County Board of Development Disabilities, the MedinaCounty Office for Older Adults, and hospital and mental health facilities like Solutions Behavioral Health and Alternative Paths.

“We partner up with just about everybody, and we collaborate services,” the judge said. “I tell other judges that their safety nets have holes that are a lot bigger than mine.”

Dunn, who took over as probate judge in August after his predecessor, John Lohn, retired, said he’s regularly approached by judges seeking help emulating the Medina County system.

“Other judges at conferences and trainings are asking me more questions than I ask any of them: How do you set these up?” he said.

Other counties’ judges aren’t the only people asking for help, he said. The Ohio Supreme Court has requested the county’s guardianship training manuals to act as a model for statewide efforts.

Dunn said many of the concerns statewide may be addressed in the coming years by a proposal circulating through the Ohio Association of Probate Judges.

“The new guardianship rules are going to change things pretty dramatically,” he said. “The current laws are pretty vague. They don’t say a lot about how to handle guardianships.”

The current laws were last updated in 1997, he said.

The proposal sets forth several changes that would better protect Ohio’s wards, but few of those changes would affect Medina County’s program.

“From my perspective, we don’t have a whole lot of changes to make,” he said.

The big changes have to do with requiring even more training for potential guardians and requiring more extensive background checks.

Dunn said while Ohio’s laws aren’t perfect now, neither are the proposed changes.

“The problem with the new rules is that they make the court be more of a human service agency, in a sense, than a court,” he said.

Dunn said the best way to handle the guardianship programs is for other counties’ courts to form partnerships like his court has.

“When government gets on things, they often over-engineer it and make it too difficult,” he said. “The ultimate goal should be to protect these wards, and we already do a lot to do that.”

Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or nglunt@medina-gazette.com.  Follow him on Twitter@ngfalcon.