Center for At-Risk Elders (CARE)
H. Kennard “Ken” Bennett, executive director, senior counsel
120 E. Market St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204
When Ken Bennett started practicing elder law 33 years ago, it wasn’t with the intention of running a nonprofit. His practice focused on health-care advocacy.
During the course of his private practice and through personal experiences, he realized there was no surrogate decision-maker to help remedy issues of neglect, abuse and exploitation of elders. Prosecutors administer Indiana’s adult protective services.
Bennett said the state’s adult protective services don’t go far enough.
“They focus on criminal prosecutions. That isn’t to say that they won’t step in to provide remedies, it’s just that they don’t have internally the ability to do much about it,” said Bennett.
In 2008, the Adult Guardianship State Task Force was convened to determine the need and support development of adult guardianship services across the state.
As a result of that work and a grant from Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA), there are now 10 volunteer guardianship programs around the state, a state office and Volunteer Advocates for Seniors and Incapacitated Adults (VASIA) statutes passed in Indiana.
In 2010, Robin Bandy and Dr. Lisa Harris began Wishard’s Volunteer Advocates Program (WVAP) as the hospital struggled to find guardians to make health-care decisions for patients who did not have a family member available. The idea was to provide temporary, emergency guardianships up to 90 days and then turn them over permanent guardianship to other agencies with guardianship programs and services. Bennett worked as a volunteer on several cases.
“There was nobody that the law recognized with health-care decision-making authority, and this posed a significant problem for the hospital because you cannot very well treat someone except in emergency situations without consent,” said Bennett.
In 2013, the Center for At-Risk Elders (CARE) and began operations as a nonprofit. Since then CARE has assumed guardianship for 205 adults, 118 of which are over the age of 65.
Beyond legal guardianship, these services can include getting the individual an immediate medical assessment, liquidating assets, filing an application for benefits, including Medicaid, finding appropriate housing and checking in regularly with the person.
“As we were working together, Wishard got to know CARE, and it dawned on me, and it dawned on them, ‘Well, CARE’s the best nonprofit to take over our program.’ They were coming to the end of a funding cycle, through Retirement Research Foundation,” Bennett said.
Volunteers come from all walks of life, but have one thing in common — they are willing to go the long haul.
“We have about 65 trained volunteers, and we do a one-on-one match. These folks will live for years. So you may be matched with somebody, if you’re willing to go that long, for many, many years.”
Volunteers at CARE are medical students, law students, social workers, retired nurses and retired palliative care nurses. Part of CARE’s funding comes from three area hospitals and state funds that were split evenly between the volunteer groups in the state.
“It’s really a remarkable volunteer group, but all come from the same commitment of wanting to help. I think there’s a lot to learn on everybody’s part on how best to recruit and train. I think it’s also fair to assume that we will never have enough volunteers for the demand,” said Bennett.
Right now, callers who are not part of CARE’s referral network have to be turned away. But Bennett hopes as CARE finds ways to increase funding, it can be expanded to the public at large.