The Yolo County Public Guardian/Public Administrator Office is in transition. This office provides critical service and support to a vulnerable population. The Yolo County Board of Supervisors and county staff are in the process of preparing for an upcoming vacancy in the Public Guardian/Public Administrator. It is critically important to me, personally, that the high quality of care and service provided to our most vulnerable residents continue and improve as we prepare for this transition.
Vulnerable Yolo County Residents Have Been Well Served.
Earlier this month, at a NAMI-Yolo event, I had the opportunity to present an award to Yolo Public Guardian/Public Administrator Cass Sylvia for her deep compassion and tireless advocacy for some of the most vulnerable in Yolo County. For the past 17 years, Cass Sylvia has served the most vulnerable Yolo County residents as our Public Guardian/Public Administrator. Cass was first elected to this position in 1998 and is currently serving in her fifth term, 2014-2018.
While there are specific legal responsibilities and functions embodied in the office of the Public Guardian/Public Administrator, Cass Sylvia has gone well beyond any of those responsibilities in caring for each of those in her charge. She has treated each of her clients as she would her closest family member, honors and respects them in life, and cares for them even after their deaths. I have been deeply touched by the annual indigent memorial service Cass and her team conduct for those unfortunate people who pass away with no one else to see to their passing.
Public Guardian and Public Administrator are Separate but Related Roles.
The Office of the Public Guardian/Public Administrator currently has four county employees fulfilling two separate but related functions. The Public Guardian function is responsible to ensure that vulnerable adults who have been ordered by a judge into conservatorship have access to healthcare, food, shelter, clothing, safety, and social contact. The Public Guardian fulfills these responsibilities in partnership with the courts, county mental health staff, and the Public Defender’s office. Additionally, the Public Guardian manages the finances of individuals who cannot care for themselves, and is accountable for protecting their assets. The Public Guardian provides these services to adults who are unable to care for themselves resulting from age, frailness, or mental illness, which render people vulnerable to self-neglect or abuse. The Public Guardian serves approximately 150 – 200 clients each year. These individuals are valuable members of our communities.
The Public Administrator function is to manage the estates of persons who pass away without a will. This involves investigating the deceased person’s assets, providing access to the benefits the estate is entitled to receive, paying bills and taxes due, and ensuring that inheritors receive their inheritance according to the deceased person’s wishes. The Public Administrator provides this service for approximately 30 clients a year and works closely with the Sheriff-Coroner’s Office.
Counties Provide Public Guardian/Public Administrator Services in Variety of Ways.
Over the past several years, there has been intermittent discussion about the best organizational framework for various Yolo County departments, including the Public Guardian/Public Administrator. The roles of Public Administrator and Public Guardian are provided by all 58 California Counties, but in different ways. Only three of 58 California counties, including Yolo, provide these services through a separate, elected, combined Public Guardian/Public Administrator.
Nearly 80 percent of California counties provide the Public Guardian responsibility through an appointed position within a health agency. Nearly half of California counties have the Public Administrator within the office of a Sheriff or District Attorney. Another common structure used is combining the responsibilities as an appointed position under a health department. Regardless of the administrative framework, the Public Guardian arranges and advocates for court ordered services to conserved individuals and functions under the oversight of the Judge. In all cases, the office of the Public Defender advocates for the conserved individuals. Mental health services and often health and human services are provided by county staff regardless of the administration structure.
Collaborative Work Group Recommendation.
Earlier this year, the current Public Guardian/Public Administrator announced that she plans to retire at the end of December, 2016. The County Administrator convened a working group to plan for the transition resulting from this vacancy. This working group has included county staff from Health and Human Services, the Sheriff’s Office, the County Administrator’s Office, Human Resources, County Counsel, and the Public Guardian/Public Administrator. The recommendations from this collaborative work group are 1) establish the director of the Health and Human Services Agency as the appointed Public Guardian and create a manager level Public Guardian within the agency; and 2) place the Public Administrator role and positions within the elected Sheriff’s Office along with the Coroner’s Office.
The county’s Board of Supervisors provided direction on October 25 to continue planning for the placement of the Public Guardian/Public Administrator responsibilities and positions into these other offices and to complete this organizational structure transition by the end of 2016, consistent with the retirement date of the Public Guardian/Public Administrator. The Board believes that these actions will provide access to increased resources and additional support for some of our most vulnerable people. We will continue to refine this transition in the coming weeks.
My Goal is Continued High Quality Service and Advocacy.
It is critically important to me, personally, that the high quality of care and service provided to our most vulnerable residents continue and improve. Throughout the year, the Yolo County Local Mental Health Board, which is composed of mental health providers and consumers of their services, has been engaged in discussions of this transition. In these meetings, I have heard people express their concern about wanting this very vulnerable population to receive the best care possible. I share this concern. I am committed that whatever organizational structure is in place, the Public Guardian must continue to provide attentive, compassionate care for this population. In the months following this transition in organizational structure, the Board will implement a regular check-in to monitor the process. Additionally, I am committed to assuring that the Board develop a simple and trusted method for community members to maintain communication with the Public Guardian and Public Administrator.
You can watch the Board discussion here. You can find the materials provided to the Board of Supervisors, including graphic organization charts of the proposed transition here. As always, I am interested in your thoughts. Please share your feedback at email@example.com.