Strictly Business: GOP Activist Runs Controversial Agency For Old Folks With AM-Guardians of
Strictly Business: GOP Activist Runs Controversial Agency For Old Folks With AM-Guardians of the Elderly V
DETROIT (AP) _ Alan May quickly concedes what his critics call his most serious flaw: He has little personal contact with the hundreds of ailing, impoverished and generally unwanted elderly people whose fate he controls.
″That is not a knock. That is a truth. There is very little visitation,″ said the 45-year-old Southfield lawyer.
As guardian and conservator of people judged mentally or physically incompetent, May can decide where his 400 wards live, how much money they get, whether they may marry, even whether a comatose ward should be removed from life-support systems.
He is best known as a member of the Michigan Civil Service Commission, a former chairman of the state Civil Rights Commission and an influential state Republican Party activist.
But he also is essentially the guardian of last resort in Detroit’s Wayne County, the state’s most populous and a place where demand for guardians far outstrips supply.
Critics say May’s for-profit guardianship operation represents many of the weaknesses in the system, that it gives profit a higher priority than personal care, that it reduces his wards - old people languishing in low-budget nursing homes - to numbers on a computer printout.
″I understand it’s well-organized. But its greatest deficiency may be whether anybody sees the ward,″ said J. Kay Felt, a Detroit probate lawyer.
But May said he must rely on nursing home workers and Michigan Department of Social Services staff to monitor his wards while he concentrates on money management.
″I am in absolutely no position to employ social workers. The difference between a small profit and a total loss is the difference between night and day,″ he said.
May said the guardianship portion of his business, about 30 percent of his practice, brings in only $10,000 to $15,000 yearly. ″To my knowledge, no one is as heavily involved as I am because I don’t think there’s much profit in it,″ he said.
Some Michigan DSS workers grumbled last year about the mention of May’s law firm in a memo outlining the referral process for Adult Well-Being Services, a Detroit agency with a contract to provide guardianship services.
Since Adult Well-Being’s capacity was limited, the July 1986 memo obtained by The Associated Press said referrals should be made ″only after all other resources have been exhausted, such as relatives, friends, or the law firm of May & May.″
Some DSS caseworkers complained that the referral was prompted by May’s April 1985 appointment to the state Civil Service Commission, which oversees state employee hiring.
On Oct. 24, a second DSS memo instructed staff to strike ″the law firm of May & May″ from the previous directive and replace it with ″various legal firms-agencies.″
May said the conflict-of-interest complaints are unfounded.
″I’ve been getting referrals from DSS since 1975, and I became a civil service commissioner in 1985,″ he said. ″I see absolutely no connection.″
May said he believes his caseload hasn’t grown too large to manage. But state guardianship records show May was delinquent 72 times in a four-month period this year in filing court-mandated annual reports on his wards.
May disputed the figures, saying Wayne County Probate Court is merely slow to process reports even when he files them on time. But court executive Sharon Teasley said guardians aren’t listed as delinquent unless they actually are remiss.
May is often recruited by hospitals to act as a guardian of poor elderly people with no family, but some hospitals say they are becoming increasingly uneasy about May’s relationship with Lawrence Charfoos, a noted medical malpractice lawyer in Detroit.
Probate lawyer Stephen Kelley, who represents several hospitals, said he has advised clients not to use May as a guardian because May is making medical decisions on behalf of his hospitalized wards and, at the same time, helping a lawyer who sues hospitals.
But May said his business relationship with Charfoos isn’t a secret and doesn’t represent a conflict, noting that the stationery letterheads of each lawyer lists the name of the other.