Guardianship in Arizona: Elder care or elder abuse?
PHOENIX - Many people move to Arizona for the weather and recreation because it's considered a haven for retirees who want to live out their golden years. But something else is happening here - something haunting.
For Clair's mom, Gloria Horrigan, it was a nightmare.
Clair said her mother was taken to a nursing home against her will and not allowed visitors, not even family.
“It's sickening...It really truly is sickening,” said Clair.
It was a struggle for Robert Brown to bring his wife, Rosemary, home.
She was also taken and within a matter of weeks, the family wasn't allowed to see her either.
What happened in both cases started in a Maricopa County Courtroom - right in front of a judge.
Both Rosemary and Gloria had health issues that made it hard on their families.
Families can't force a loved one to get help, but a guardian can.
That's why their cases ended up in probate court, which hears issues on care for vulnerable adults.
The court approved a guardian in both cases. And both times, the guardian was Sun Valley Group of Tempe.
Their website states they offer "support for client's physical, social, emotional and mental health."
As part of their service, Sun Valley Group also took care of Gloria's personal finances.
But Clair said her mom did not get proper medical treatment and her bills weren't paid. Gloria's house went into foreclosure.
“I’m physically sick from seeing what they've done to my mother. My family, my children, everyone has been affected by this,” said Clair.
Rosemary had a similar story. She was depressed and refused medical care.
Her husband Robert needed help, so he said he agreed to let Sun Valley Group take Rosemary when they promised to make sure she got treatment.
But Robert said under the company's care, she never did, so now family friend and doctor, Marge Butler, is Rosemary's guardian.
“The bills were now coming at a ferried pace,” said Marge.
In total, Marge said the family spent over a $100,000. That was for just four months of Sun Valley Group's care.
It ended when the nursing home thought Rosemary was dying. They finally allowed the family to see her.
As for Gloria, Clair said the company seemed much more interested in her mom's money than her health.
Gloria's final bill was just under $500,000 and included charges for an employee to open her mail at $75 an hour.
“They are supposed to be her guardian and are supposed to be like her parents and look out for her best interests,” said Clair.
After repeatedly being turned down for an on camera interview, The ABC15 Investigators went to Sun Valley Group's office.
They asked us to leave.
We then caught up with the owner of Sun Valley, Peter Frenette, at a county courthouse.
He was leaving a probate hearing involving fees from a different case. Even after several questions, Frenette would not comment.
The ABC15 Investigators have found more issues plaguing Sun Valley Group.
Frenette's wife, Heather, is co-owner, but she is being investigated by the Arizona nursing board.
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Organized Crime Unit is also investigating Sun Valley Group.
By state law, both investigations are secret.
We also discovered three multi-million dollar lawsuits filed this year against the company for fraud and racketeering.
Grant Goodman is the attorney for three former Sun Valley Group clients.
“It's more of a criminal enterprise,” said Goodman, “They need to be prosecuted.”
He claimed to find a pattern with these cases.
“They effectively medicate them to such an extent that they really are non-functional,” said Goodman, “And they do that while they're liquidating their assets.”
The three lawsuits also blame probate court.
“The mob isn't this efficient, nor does the mob have the luxury of having a court rubberstamp these proceedings,” said Goodman.
Goodman is not the only one who thinks that way.
Last month, the Arizona Supreme Court issued an Administrative Order to investigate probate court. One of the issues is regulating fees.
Now, Rosemary is back with her family and doing well. She is getting the treatment that she needs.
“We just plan to enjoy life,” said Robert.
Sun Valley Group filed motions to dismiss with the three lawsuits shown in this investigation.
Neither Gloria nor Rosemary has filed a lawsuit.
If you would like any further information on guardianship, visit one or more of these websites:
National Guardianship Association offers a Model Code of Ethics, Standards of Practice and answers to basic questions 877-326-5992.
Center for Guardianship Certification has a directory of certified guardians who have taken a test, agreed to abide by ethical standards, and not been disqualified for prior conduct.
For in-depth reports on guardianship, visit AARP’s Public Policy Institute, or the American Bar Association’s Commission on the Law and Aging.
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