Delaware County has become the third county in Ohio to create a Guardianship Services Board to help oversee the growing number of adult guardianships locally.

The board is a partnership between the Delaware County Probate Court, the Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities and the Delaware-Morrow Mental Health & Recovery Services Board. It was formed earlier this year to address the increasing number of adult guardianships.

Delaware County Probate Court Judge David Hejmanowski said the board will deal with situations where an adult needs a guardian for any number of reasons, including age, mental health or developmental disabilities, but the individual doesn’t have a family member available to serve as their legal guardian. Hejmanowski said in many cases, the court appoints attorneys to serve as guardians. He added the county has an Indigent Guardian Fund generated from court costs that it uses to pay for services but expenses vastly outweigh the income.

“Four or five years ago we brought in $17,000 or $18,000 in income (for the Indigent Guardian Fund), and I think that year we spent $117,000 paying the attorneys to handle the cases,” Hejmanowski said. “They deserved those dollars. They were doing great work in those cases but the reality was that the financial side didn’t make any sense and wasn’t going to be doable. The county was making up that difference out of general fund dollars, and we realized that something needed to happen.”

Additionally, Hejmanowski said there’s a limit on how many guardianship cases an attorney can be assigned, and some attorneys who volunteered for guardianships were at their case limit. He added there were 370 adult guardianships in 2017, 402 in 2019 and almost 450 total this year.

Kristine Hodge, superintendent at Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities, said the DCBDD is thrilled about the formation of the new board. She said the Probate Court reviewed all the guardianship cases recently and found that 64% of adults in need of guardianships have developmental disabilities.

“For us, we’re very excited,” Hodge said. “A lot of our people are very active in the community. They’re busy, they’re working … but they need help making choices. We need people to be the guardian who have the time to assist those (clients). This is huge for our agency. This is huge for the people we serve.”

Hodge said the DCBDD served 2,351 people last month, and 74% are under the age of 22 and may require a guardianship when they become an adult.

Hejmanowski said the public guardian appointed by the Guardianship Services Board will also oversee cases for elderly residents in need of guardianship or cases where a mental health condition requires an individual to have a legal guardian.

The county and the two boards came together to fund and create the Guardianship Services Board, he added, and Capt. Adam Moore of the City of Delaware Police Department and local attorneys Michael Nicks and Adam Rinehart were appointed to serve as members of the board. The only other counties in Ohio with a Guardianship Services Board are Franklin and Fairfield counties.

Nicks said he has practiced probate law for nearly 20 years and is excited to work on the board since the issue “hits close to home” for him because he has a family member that has used the services of the DCBDD.

“I see the need, and I’d like to be of service,” Nicks said. “I thoroughly enjoy working with the population and the professionals.”

Likewise, Rinehart said he has practiced probate law for over 30 years and has served and supported family members as a legal guardian before.

“My passion for that set of individuals is great and very strong,” Rinehart said. “This is a great opportunity”

Moore has been with the police department for nearly 20 years and said he wanted to get involved because he’s seen many cases handled in the criminal justice system that should be handled by someone like a public guardian instead.

“A lot of times they come in contact with the criminal justice system and we realize that’s not the appropriate system to assist them with their needs,” Moore said. “Being a public servant, our responsibility is to make a safe city and increase the quality of life for our residents. I saw this as an opportunity to be involved and to increase the capacity in the county for guardianships and to help folks that are vulnerable.”

The board members said they are in the process of creating a job listing so they can hire a public guardian to oversee local guardianships. Hejmanowski said the public guardian can oversee a much larger number of cases because it is their full-time job, and the public guardian can be a social worker or someone with specialized training related to the relevant populations.

The board members said the job listing for the public guardian position will be posted on the county’s website when the hiring process begins later this year.

By Glenn Battishill

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Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.