JAMESTOWN, ND — Professionals who provide guardianship services in North Dakota say that even though agencies are under financial strain and at least one company has been successfully sued for fraudulent conduct, many guardians remain committed to protecting the interests of the most vulnerable.
“Overall, tutors work after meeting rigorous requirements and standards and are accountable not only to the agencies that certify and accredit, but also to each other,” said Margot Haut, president of the Guardianship Association of North Dakota and Director. of Guardian Angels Inc., a guardianship and guardianship service in Jamestown.
Guardian Angels has seven employees, five of whom are certified guardians, according to Haut, who added that the Guardianship Association of North Dakota comprises about 50 people, some of whom are family members of those they serve while others work through parent agencies.
About 23 of the association’s 50 member tutors work through Catholic Family Charities North Dakota, which offers two separate programs, one for adults with developmental disabilities and the other for those with medical conditions. mental health, the elderly and people who have suffered trauma. brain damage.
Other corporate guardianship agencies that are members of the Guardianship Association of North Dakota include Guardian Protective Services, Lighthouse Associates, Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, Opportunity Foundation, Family Advocacy Services, and Veronica Miller, a professional guardian.
With a staff of seven, two of whom are nationally certified guardians, Guardian Protective Services provides a number of financial services to its clients, according to Karissa Azure, the agency’s chief financial officer.
“We take care of everything from selling goods to managing bank accounts,” Azure said.
Regarding property management, Azure said Guardian Protective Services always involves people outside the agency, including lawyers, to help establish the fair value of a property to determine, for example , if land is leased at the right price.
Donna Byzewski, director of the guardianship/developmental disabilities division of Catholic Charities North Dakota, echoed Azure’s sentiments.
“We need to look beyond our entities to deliver services,” Byzewski said.
The ardor with which Haut, Azure and Byzewski point out the professionalism of North Dakota guardians follows an $800,000 civil judgment in a lawsuit brought by a North Dakota family against DKK Guardianship and Conservatorship Services, an agency based in Jamestown founded by Delyte Koropatnicki.
In that case, Park River’s Lana Hylden filed a 2018 lawsuit in state court claiming DKK’s guardianship and conservation services, as well as Koropatnicki and her husband, Tim, mishandled the administration of a trust established by Hylden’s mother, the late Janice Hofmann.
The lawsuit also claimed the couple charged questionable fees to the trust that they did nothing to earn.
In November 2021, State District Judge Tristan Van de Streek ruled “there were serious improprieties on the part of the defendants which not only support the conclusion that they committed a breach of trust, but are also behaving fraudulently”.
According to court records, the total dollar amount the court found the defendants liable for in the civil case was more than $843,000.
As the case progressed on appeal, the parties reached an agreement in early July that ended the case.
It’s unclear from court records how much Hylden might have ultimately received in the case, though a court filing says $45,000 that was seized by the Stutsman County Sheriff’s Office were to be given to him.
In addition to the civil case in state court, federal court records show the Koropatnickis were convicted in 2015 of charges related to the misuse of the employee benefits electronic transfer card. a customer.
After the Koropatnickis were charged in federal court in 2014, state judges removed DKK guardianship and guardianship services from a number of guardianship cases, but due to a shortage of guardianship services private, many cases have been referred to DKK, according to Sally Holewa, North Administrator of the Dakota State Court.
Holewa said that regardless of how the civil case against the Koropatnickis and DKK was resolved, it was likely judges would continue to allow the company to handle conservatorship cases, simply because it didn’t. there is no alternative.
Delyte Koropatnicki said neither she nor her husband would comment on court cases, but she confirmed there was a shortage of companies willing to take on conservatorship cases in North Dakota, and fill that need. is the goal of the company she founded and co-owns.
Cynthia Feland, a state district court judge who is also the chair of a guardianship task force that explored ways the state of North Dakota could bolster resources for guardianship services, strongly advocated for the creation of an independent state office to meet guardianship needs.
In testimony before lawmakers, Feland said, “In the worst situations, professional guardians stepped up and agreed to take on the case without receiving additional compensation.
Azure said such situations are not unusual for Guardian Protective Services, the agency it serves.
In the case of low-income customers, Azure said Guardian Protective Services receives about $300 a month from public funds to manage everything for the individual, from personal finances to healthcare.
She said that in complicated cases, if the agency were to charge their regular hourly rates, the cost could be $2,000 to $4,000 a month, “and we only get $300.”
If a vulnerable person ends up in a hospital or other facility and no one can be found to make important decisions for them, costs for those facilities can also skyrocket quickly, according to Haut.
She said in one case, a 90-year-old man was admitted to a nursing home 100 miles from his home due to head trauma that left him unable to express his needs.
Due to the man’s inability to communicate, Haut said, the facility involved was required to take all life-saving measures whenever a medical issue arose.
“During an emergency appointment, we were able to help make these (life or death) decisions,” Haut said, referring to Guardian Angels, the agency she runs.
In this particular case, she added, Guardian Angels were able to transfer the individual to a skilled care facility where he continues to reside.
According to Haut, the civil case involving DKK is an anomaly when it comes to guardianship services in North Dakota, and she noted that the company is not a member of the Guardianship Association of North Dakota.
And while she and others in the industry believe the idea of an independent state agency to oversee guardianship services has merit, they say the most pressing issue is the need for more dollars.
“It’s the sources of funding that are lacking. We need funds to move forward to meet the need to provide guardianship services,” Haut said.
Byzewski agreed, noting that funding a commission would be costly at a time when funding is needed “to directly serve vulnerable adults who don’t have money.”