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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A family of an 85-year-old grandmother who died in a Philadelphia nursing home last New Year’s Eve didn’t find out she passed away until seven months later.
Ruth Pasley, 85, died at the Cheltenham Nursing and Rehabilitation Center on New Year’s Eve and was quietly laid to rest in Montgomery County.
“No name, no nothing,” said granddaughter Ashley Wilson. “How do we know that my grandmother is here?”
“All I want to know is what happened to my grandmother and why we were not informed,” said grandson David Wilson.
A retired teacher’s aide, Pasley lived on her own for years, but when her son died and dementia set in, the court appointed a legal guardian.
The guardian moved Pasley to the rehab center 26 miles away. The family last saw her in December. When she died later that month, the nursing home called the guardian, but no one in the family.
Wilson says he asked the guardian where his grandmother was buried but he would not tell them. It took weeks of effort to discover Pasley’s body lies in a Montgomery County grave with four strangers.
There is currently no requirement in the law the guardian needs to stay in touch with the family.
“As it exists now, the statute requires people to report, but it doesn’t require a whole lot beyond that,” said CARIE executive director Diane Menio.
While visits and calls to clients and the family are needed for a guardian to do a thorough job, it is not required. Courts are understaffed and guardians earn only $100 a month from poor seniors, so some guardians do a volume business and perform minimum duties.
According to court filings, Pasley’s guardian visited her once in two-and-a-half years.
There are efforts being made to try to tighten things up. In 2014, the Pennsylvania Elder Law Taskforce released a report with 130 recommendations. One reform is the Guardianship Tracking System, which launches this year. Other recommendations include mandatory training, a bill of rights for seniors and family, and background checks.