My favorite podcast is called Imagined Life.  Each episode immerses the listener on a journey through a famous person from history’s life as if you are the person yourself.  To help you understand our new Guardianship Program, I’d like to walk you through an Imagined Life episode on this blog.

Take a moment to think about the most important things in your life.  What comes to mind?  Is it a favorite person, perhaps a pet, or a favorite hobby you enjoy with friends?  I immediately think about going for a hike or watching Ohio State football with my family, reading a great historical fiction book by the fire with my spouse, or playing games like trivia with my best friends.  As we age, we will all experience changes- changes in our bodies, changes in our routines, and for some of us, we might even experience changes in our mental capacity.  However, one thing that never changes is the importance of the people and things we value most.

The Hamilton County VASIA Guardianship Program is a new Shepherd’s Center effort that exists to protect every adult’s right to age with dignity and the highest possible quality of life.  It protects the notion that even though mental capacity may change regarding what an adult is able to manage independently, the value of what each person holds most dear is worth protecting and upholding.

Now imagine you are an aging adult, and recently you have been having trouble with tasks that used to be commonplace.  The ease of picking up your keys and driving to the store to buy something you need has become complicated by the fogginess you feel and the difficulty of walking without assistance.  You used to balance your whole family’s checkbooks, but now you struggle to remember the simple steps it takes to write a check and make sure you have the money in your account to cover it.  Recently, you made a large purchase by accident and you are now struggling to pay for daily needs.  Conversations with family have become laden with painful comments… “I just worry about your safety.  I don’t want you to be taken advantage of.  I want to make sure you are able to continue in your retirement for a long time to come, not just for the immediate future.  I’m worried about you living on your own.”  Or maybe you’re the adult child or friend who thinks about saying these things, but is afraid of the toll it might take on your relationship.  Not everyone facing these concerns is facing a change in decision-making capacity.  Sometimes simple interventions and assistance are all it takes to overcome the challenges of aging.  But sometimes, simple interventions are not enough to prevent the risk of substantial harm.  In those instances, a court might determine that an adult has experienced a change rendering them incapacitated and in need of guardianship.  

Guardianship sounds like a positive thing – and it most certainly is – but it can also be a very scary thing for an adult to face, especially when that adult has been taking care of their own business for the entirety of their life.  This is why VASIA Guardianship Programs like the newly established program in Hamilton County matter so much.  When an adult is declared incapacitated by a court of law and in need of a legal guardian, it is imperative that the adult is still allowed to live their life according to their values, preferences, and what is most important to them.  While they may not be able to continue living independently, they still deserve to live life according to their own choices as much as possible.  VASIA Guardianship Programs are conducted in accordance with the standards and ethical practices of the National Guardianship Association.  NGA Standard 7 states, “First, the guardian shall ask the person what he or she wants.  Second, if the person has difficulty expressing what he or she wants, the guardian shall do everything possible to help the person express his or her goals, needs, and preferences.  Third, only when the person, even with assistance, cannot express his or her goals and preferences, shall the guardian seek input from others familiar with the person to determine what the individual would have wanted.  Finally, only when the person’s goals and preferences cannot be ascertained, may the guardian make a decision in the person’s best interest.”  This means our guardianship program prioritizes what is important to each individual under guardianship at any cost, prior to trying to determine the substituted interest or best interest of the individual. The NGA Standards also prioritize using the Least-Restrictive Alternative to intervene in a person under guardianship’s life.  This means Guardianship should be viewed as a last resort only after all other less-restrictive interventions have been exhausted and found insufficient.

In our VASIA Guardianship Program, the Shepherd’s Center of Hamilton County is appointed the legal guardian for adults in Hamilton County who have no one else able or willing to serve.  Each adult under guardianship is paired with a trained and vetted Volunteer Advocate who monitors their care, makes sure their needs are being met, and builds a personal relationship with them to make sure their preferences and values are prioritized in all life decisions.  Adults in our program also benefit from the expertise of the Guardianship Reaching Resources Coordinator who meets with them from intake onward, assessing their care needs and establishing regular Care Plan check-ins to make sure all parties involved in the client’s care are aware of the values, preferences, and priorities of the client.  This includes simple things like what type of clothing a client likes to wear (some people really love having a pocket on their shirt, while others hate the itchiness of a tag, and still others love anything with camo print) but extends all the way to end of life planning and religious values.  What does the person find most important?  How can we make sure the person’s life continues to include the people and things that are most important to them?  What does this mean for their medical care, residential care, social support system, financial management, and social engagement?  

The Shepherd’s Center of Hamilton County has always believed that every adult deserves to age with dignity and maximum independence.  Now that we administer Hamilton County’s VASIA Guardianship Program, that belief is protected for even more vulnerable adults in our community.  It is our hope that no matter the situation you find yourself or your loved ones in, we are able to connect you to and provide the assistance you need to make sure every adult in our community maintains their dignity and the highest quality of life.

Links for more information include: The National Guardianship Association guardianship.org, Indiana State VASIA programs https://www.in.gov/judiciary/iocs/files/ad-guard-directory.pdf and Adult Guardianship in Indiana https://www.in.gov/judiciary/iocs/3425.htm