Services for seniors in Michigan discussed at meeting

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

Elder Law of Michigan is one of the many services available to Michigan's seniors.

Its service, "Legal Hotline for Seniors," provides legal information and advice, but does not litigate.

The original and continuing idea is "to make legal information and advice available and reduce some of the barriers such as transportation and expense," said Bradley Vauter, an attorney and community liaison for the organization.

"We are literally talking to seniors on the hotline about legal matters," he said.

Within a day or two after intake workers gather necessary information, the senior caller is assigned to an attorney.

"We call back to talk about their issues and problems," Vauter said, speaking to members of Ingham County's Probate Section recently. Phone calls are followed-up with written material.

"We make use of other agencies, both federal and state and refer out when we can. We are not means tested so it is not uncommon for us to get calls from someone in the 300 percent of the poverty level, but we do not compete with attorneys in private practice. We are a state wide agency."

He noted that under the umbrella of Elder Law, the agency offers:

--Michigan Pension Rights Project, which provides free assistance to retirees of any age to help solve problems related to their retirement benefits.

--Michigan's Coordinated Access to Food for the Elderly (MiCAFE) has trained volunteers offering help in applying for a bridge card to purchase food. It is only available in certain counties.

"The average benefit we have been getting is about $60 per senior, which is a couple bags of groceries and if you're living on $700.00 a month, it is a lot."

--Consumer Fraud Prevention. "Seniors are targeted for scams. ·We give them materials about that."

--Center for Elder Rights Advocacy. "We have the benefits enrollment center, which is a one-stop analysis of benefits available. Out of the twenty or thirty programs that exist, we can find the two or three that they might qualify for."

--Sixty Plus Inc., Elderlaw Clinic serves as the clinical education program for the Thomas M. Cooley Law school.

"We have a dual mission of teaching and service to the community," said Gary Bauer, Cooley professor who currently teaches several clinical courses at the clinic.

"Our clients are not needs-tested. They come from Eaton, Clinton, and Ingham counties. We do a lot of estate planning documents in the Sixty Plus clinic and the associated Estate Planning Clinic. We have a waiting list of over 100 people."

"Sixty Plus' other services include divorces, collection cases where there are no resources. Students are taught how to engage the clients. We provide excellent legal services. We don't do fee generated cases--we refer those out," Bauer said.

"I advocate for residents that are in licensed long-term care settings in Clinton, Eaton and Ingham County," said Jenny Cook, Local Long Term Care Ombudsman, Citizens for Better Care.

"The majority of our time is spent in nursing homes. We have the right to visit residents in Adult Foster Care and Home for Aged. There are 12 nursing homes in the area. We visit, distribute information, and talk about their rights. We also do community education about our program."

Questions:

Jenny, if someone has a parent in our area and they live outside the state and have concerns, can you insert yourself into the situation?

"I can go visit, but I need the resident's permission to communicate with the family member who called. If they give me permission, I can speak to the caller."

Gary, do you get into trusts or do probate in your clinic?

"We limit our estate planning with those with modest estates so we don't provide advice about trusts except for a special needs trust if appropriate. If we do the will, we will help with any probate issues."

Brad, how many staff handles the hotline?

"We served about 7,000 seniors last year with about 8,700 legal problems. We have one full time attorney, three part time attorneys, and a couple of attorney volunteers."

Brad, what type of matters do you get questions about?

"Fifty percent of our calls are about Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Lately, 20 percent are about financial distress such as garnishment, foreclosure, short sales, or walking away from a home.

"The reality is that some areas are so marginal that they can't find a buyer--even if the home is paid for. Other times it's 'my condo president has lost his mind.'"

Jenny, What is Citizens for Better Care? What are your biggest concerns?

"It is a 40-year-old agency that holds the contracts through the Areas on Aging for the Ombudsman Program."

Published: Thu, Mar 18, 2010

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