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Public Guardian: Compassionate advocates protect and care for our most vulnerable

Published August 5, 2019
  • HHSA
  • 2019
  • Public Guardian
  • Adult Services


(Pictured above: The Public Guardian team).

It is a troubling question. What happens if a person has outlived all their family, is diagnosed with a terminal disease or debilitating mental illness and loses the ability to provide for their own basic needs? In dire circumstances like these, the court may appoint HHSA’s Public Guardian as a “conservator” to care for and protect an ailing individual.

Conservatorship is the detailed, deliberate process to become the legal guardian of an individual who cannot care for themselves. There are two types of conservatorship: Probate and LPS.

Probate conservatorship is for people who may have dementia, or a chronic condition such as Huntington’s Disease or Multiple Sclerosis. It is usually permanent, since it’s very unlikely their condition will improve.

LPS conservatorship is usually temporary and for people struggling with severe mental illness who are at a stage in their life when they are unable to manage their most basic needs, like food, clothing and shelter. They are supervised by the court and their case is evaluated annually. The end goal is to eventually take the person off LPS conservatorship and place them in the least restrictive environment possible. LPS clients work closely with mental health clinicians and social workers, which improves their chances for recovery.

For Probate Conservatorship, Public Guardian staff is the conservator of last choice, because the person gives up all rights to their assets, income and determinations about their medical treatment. In some cases, they give up their right to make end-of-life decisions.

The compassionate staff of Public Guardian do work that requires heavy emotional labor. “They are fantastic advocates who make important decisions on behalf of some of our community’s most vulnerable people,” says Adult Services Branch Director Dean True.

The team serves more than 160 clients and dedicated staff travel as far north as Yreka and as far south as Riverside to check on their wellbeing.

In many cases, staff are the only social support their clients have. “I treat them like I treat my family,” says Amparo Buck, who has been the Program Manager for Public Guardian for the past seven years.

While the staff is careful to keep professional boundaries, they stay sensitive to their clients’ situation.

“We get to know our clients really well since we are ensuring their physical and mental wellbeing from the top of their head all the way down to their toenails,” says Chief Deputy Public Guardian Debbie Cornell.  “There are some clients you can’t help but to get attached to.”

“Seeing these successes is so rewarding,” says Amparo, “especially when we can work with young people and push them toward independence, even if it is just for a short time.” She has seen some clients go back to school, go on and contribute to the community through volunteer work, and some even find employment.

All in all, Public Guardian works for the best interests of the client, and staff go out of their way to make sure people are genuinely cared for with dignity and respect.

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