Caseload limitations proposed for public guardians

Multidisciplinary teams would help manage public guardian cases under a bill heard by the Judiciary Committee Feb. 3.

LB934, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash, would remove a statutory provision that the public guardian hire up to 12 associate guardians. Instead, the director would hire a multidisciplinary team of up to 20 professionals and support staff.

Coash said the director of the Office of Public Guardian brought forward concerns about the workload the office is facing.

“[We’ve been] alerted to the need for changes before it becomes too late to right the ship,” he said “[LB934] will ensure our most vulnerable citizens have the care they need.”

The team would include a deputy public guardian and could include one or more associate public guardian legal counsel, associate public guardians, administrative personnel or any other personnel the director deems appropriate.

Individuals who specialize in law, health care, social work, education, business and psychology could all be included on a multidisciplinary team.

The bill also would limit the number of cases the public guardian could accept to a ratio of 20 public wards or protected persons to each member of the multidisciplinary team, not to exceed a total of 480 cases. All full-time members of the multidisciplinary team would be counted in the ratio.

Michelle Chaffee, director of the Office of Public Guardian, spoke in support of the bill. She said her associate public guardians currently handle 40 public ward cases each—double the nationally recognized best practice.

“We deal with people with severe and pervasive mental health [issues], they have poverty and they have high needs with difficult populations,” she said, adding that the complexity of the cases make it difficult to adequately serve each public ward.

Douglas County Judge Susan Bazis, co-chair of the Nebraska Supreme Court’s Commission on Guardianships and Conservatorships, also supported the bill.

“Due to the types of cases the public guardian receives and the time they take, 40 wards per associate public guardian is not realistic,” Bazis said. “In order for wards to receive the best care, associate public guardians need to be able to see their wards [regularly] and monitor their cases.”

No one testified in opposition and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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