Timely Intervention Saves Elderly Wisconsin Resident from Starvation…But Threats to Elderly are Growing

Appleton, Wisconsin: The County of Outagamie, Wisconsin, has agreed to voluntarily dismiss a guardianship proceeding involving 76-year-old Janice Geiger. This agreement represents a major victory for Janice, who, under the oversight of a court-appointed guardian, has suffered months of insufficient nutrition, neglect and inadequate care.

“This case is a shocking demonstration of the potential for state-sponsored abuse of the elderly,” said Dana Cody, President and Executive Director of Life Legal. “The need for vigilance in this area has never been clearer.”

Life Legal Defense Foundation became involved in this case when Janice’s daughter contacted LLDF for legal assistance, fearing that her mother was literally being starved to death.

In 2013, Janice named her daughter as her agent under a durable power of attorney for healthcare. She clearly expressed her desires concerning care, and as understood by all members of the family, these desires included provision of medical care and nutrition. Last fall, Janice was hospitalized, and thereafter, was discharged to the Bridges of Appleton Nursing Home. At this point, she received most of her nutrition via her PEG tube.

Unfortunately, nursing home personnel soon began pressuring the family to remove the feeding tube, even though Janice was fully conscious and continued to enjoy many activities, including visiting with her family, playing cards, singing old songs, and spending time in prayer. When the family refused to agree to pulling out the tube, the nursing home called in county adult protective services, which petitioned the Outagamie Circuit Court to appoint a corporate guardian, Cathy’s Angels, as Janice’s temporary guardian. Family members were excluded from input in decisions, and even began to be excluded from visiting Janice. When they visited, they often found Janice stuporous or barely conscious from the overuse of morphine.

A hearing to determine whether the guardianship should become permanent, which would allow the guardian to order the removal of the feeding tube, was set for March 3, just days away. After receiving Candi Geiger’s call, Life Legal arranged for the family to be represented by local attorney Jonathan Barstow, an expert in elder law.

The hearing was rescheduled for April 7 to allow for a jury trial, but after Mr. Barstow reviewed Janice’s medical records, he realized that she might not live that long. Mr. Barstow learned that six days after the temporary guardianship was established, Janice’s food intake had been cut in half, to about fifty percent of her daily caloric needs according to the nursing home’s own dietician. On February 20, 2015, Janice’s nutrition had been cut drastically again. Her caloric intake went from the initial 1584 calories per day to 792 per day, then to 288 calories per day. She was being starved. And the family was deliberately being kept in the dark.

Mr. Barstow put aside everything to work on bringing pressure to bear on the “corporate guardian” and the taxpayer-funded county attorney representing her. His strategy worked. Within days of being shown the motions Mr. Barstow was prepared to file, the corporate guardian and her attorney agreed to relinquish guardianship and transfer responsibility for Janice’s care to one of her daughters. She is now receiving appropriate levels of nutrition and hydration, and her family is working to move her to a new nursing home that will respect her and her family’s wishes.

“Thanks to our donors, we had the resources to retain excellent counsel, who immediately went to work to save Janice’s life,” comments Cody, “but we know this is not the last case like this we will see. We are committed to be prepared for the next Janice, and the next, threatened with death by starvation or medical neglect.”

A Heartfelt Thank You

Janice’s daughter expresses the gratitude of the family to all those who gave sacrificially to make it possible to fight this battle on their mother’s behalf:

“I still can’t believe it’s real! There just are no words to express gratitude for all you have done. I have been an emotional mess because for the first time in months I can breathe … Now maybe we can just enjoy the time we do have with Mom. In reality, you saved my father as well because he couldn’t take much more. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.”

We here at LLDF echo these words of thanks to each of you who prayed and sacrificially gave of your resources for this case.