A Nov. 12 column by Gerald Petruccelli and Bruce McGlauflin (“State of Maine is an unfit guardian for intellectually disabled adults”) rightly expressed concerns about the conflict of interest inherent in Maine’s public guardianship system.

However, the authors’ narrow focus on this one aspect of guardianship reform neglects to tell a bigger story. Current reform efforts focus on alternatives that obviate the need for guardianship and empower individuals to make their own decisions. Innovations like supported decision-making — where individuals utilize supporters to help them make decisions — are crucial in reducing the use of guardianship. Maine is embracing these reforms by incorporating supported decision-making in its 2019 Probate Code and as highlighted in this paper’s profile of Joshua Strong and subsequent editorial.

And the current administration of the Department of Health and Human Services is aware of the conflict and is addressing it while also embracing supported decision-making as an alternative.

The authors also expressed concerns that problems with public guardianship have been exacerbated by the elimination of the state-run Office of Advocacy. This assertion is unsupported. DHHS acting as public guardian unquestionably presents a conflict of interest, but so too did an advocacy unit within DHHS. And if in fact, advocates at the Office of Advocacy “substitute(d) for guardians,” as the authors wrote, that conflict was insurmountable. Disability Rights Maine, a nonprofit organization independent from the state, took over the Office of Advocacy’s work, not when the consent decree ended in 2010, as the authors indicated, but in 2012. The organization ensures that people’s individual rights are protected.

We should not be talking about making guardianship less problematic – we should be talking about making guardianship less frequent.

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