It seems like something that should be a basic right, being allowed to see family and friends whenever you want. But, one Bay Area public guardian severely restricted access to some of their clients. It even called the police after I tried to visit. Now, that's changing.
Sitting, talking and eating cherries is not something Linda Kincaid thought she would ever be able to do with Gisela Riordan.
When I came into visit Gisela and I was told that I had to get off the property," Kincaid recalls.
Kincaid is an advocate against elderly abuse and says Riordan was isolated by the Santa Clara County Public Guardian's office for two years.
"When Gisela wasn't allowed visitors, she believed that she was in prison and she didn't understand why," Kincaid says.
In 2010, Santa Clara County conserved Riordan, taking over her personal and medical decisions. A court determined her family could not care for her and ordered the public guardian to step in. The county sold her house to pay for her care, and moved Gisela into an assisted living facility.
Her son recorded Gisela last year, talking about being conserved. On the recording, Gisela says, "They have done it to me. Taken everything. Why? I'm not a criminal. I haven't done anything."
Kincaid was able to see Riordan a few times last spring before getting kicked out of the facility. He says 18 members of her advocacy group also tried to call and set up visits -- all were denied.
So, in October, I decided to visit Riordan and walked into San Jose's Villa Fontana and asked to see her. The staff said the public guardian would not let me visit, and after checking with the county they called the police. The officers seemed confused why they were there, and left without taking any action.
The ABC7 News I-Team spoke with Lee Pullen, director of Santa Clara County's Department of Aging and Adult Services in October.
"We absolutely want conservatees to see other individuals, to have socialization, to be around family and friends but it needs to be done in a way that isn't going to be alarming to them and that we know about," Pullen said.
But advocates say the county doesn't need to know. They point to the Notice of Conservatee's Rights -- a document in every conserved person's court file: "unless a court limits or takes away a right, like visits from family or friends, then the Conservatee retains the right to have these visitors."
Also, California Code Title 22 states "a resident has a right "to have his/her visitors, including ombudspersons and advocacy representatives permitted to visit privately during reasonable hours and without prior notice."
"Isolation is not something we in California want to have for our elderly," Assm. Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, said.
Wieckowski is sponsoring a bill clarifying conservatee's rights. It prohibits conservators from controlling their client's "right to receive visitors, telephone calls, and mail."
"In the twilight of someone's life we want to have, we want to make it is comfortable for everybody to have the visits from the loved ones and visits from their friends," Wieckowski says.
The association for the state's public guardians and conservators opposes the bill. Its spokesperson declined an on-camera interview because we wouldn't provide a list of question in advance, and agree to ask only those questions without follow-ups. That's against ABC7 News policy.
The association did provide a statement saying its members "take very seriously the difficult negotiation of balancing an individual's right to visit with whom they wish and the conservator's responsibility to protect an older or dependent adult conservatee from abuse."
"Since you did that story Gisela is now allowed the right that she should have had all along," according to Kincaid.
After our investigation, Santa Clara County reconsidered its position on visitation. Kincaid and other advocates stop by about once a week to see her -- including attending an ice cream social. They say Riordan has "perked up."
Kincaid hopes Wieckowski's bill will have the same results for conservatees across California.
Kincaid says, "Now Gisela can actually have normal relationships with people in the outside world and she's becoming much more interactive, much more social."
Wieckowski's bill has already passed the Assembly. It will be heard Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary committee. We will be at the hearing and keep you updated on the bill's progress.
UPDATE: Wieckowski's bill passed the State Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of six to one. It now moves to the full Senate for a vote.
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