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Ventura County

Caseload Swamps Guardian Office, Report Finds

Services: Grand jury study recommends adding staff, but county officials say the tight budget hampers them.

June 14, 2002|CATHERINE SAILLANT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Workers in the county's public guardian office are so swamped with paperwork they have little time to meet with the disabled residents they serve, says a Ventura County Grand Jury report released Thursday.

Five workers track 400 conservatorship cases, each requiring significant documentation, according to the report. The grand jury recommends adding more staff to the office to address this "excessive and increasing caseload."

Residents under the county's guardianship should also be visited at least once a month to make sure they are being cared for appropriately, the 26-page report concludes.

The public guardian duties are part of Treasurer-Tax Collector Harold S. Pittman's office. The public guardian steps in when adults are so physically or mentally disabled that they cannot care for themselves.

The office arranges for shelter and medical care and manages financial assets while a person is incapacitated.

But the number of cases has increased over the years while the size of the staff has remained the same, leading to inadequate record-keeping and infrequent visits, the panel said.

"Due to the large caseload ... individual attention to each of the conservatees is limited," the report states. "Contact with some conservatees is by phone in many instances rather than face-to-face."

Assistant Treasurer-Tax Collector Larry Matheney said he agrees with the report's conclusions. But with the county facing a $17.6-million budget deficit, he has been forced to trim the public guardian staff even further, reducing one job to a half-time position.

"There are some areas that we want to do a significantly better job," Matheney said. "But we are really strapped for resources."

Each case must be reviewed annually by a judge. Workers spend a lot of time preparing the paperwork for those hearings, he said.

"It requires gathering expert mental health workers' diagnoses and opinions, together with observations by our deputy public guardian. Typically it's a 10-page report," he said. "Keeping those things cranked out is a big job. Then, combined with visits to these folks to make sure things are OK, they are really under the gun."

County Executive Officer Johnny Johnston said he would review the grand jury's report before making any recommendations on how to respond.

"We will look at it to see what alternatives there are," Johnston said. "We may have to shift resources depending on what our review shows."

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