Cheshire County Probate Register Anna Z. Tilton nominated Mary Johnson for the Vaughn award in a letter to the State Committee on Aging at the Department of Health and Human Services:
Mary Johnson, now 79 years old, has volunteered for more then eleven years as a volunteer visitor, in the Probate Court Guardianship Monitoring Program. This program provides the Court with help in assessing the circumstances of adults who are under guardianship, as wards. Having been judged to have lost their capacity to make decisions about their daily lives due to dementia, mental illness, head injury or stroke, among other reasons, about 200 adults in Cheshire County are under guardianship. I would say that over the years, 100% of them have gotten at least one visit from Ms. Johnson. As a greater number of elderly adults are becoming incapacitated each year, the guardianship monitoring program requires dedicated volunteers to visit each ward, acting as the eyes and ears of the Court, to speak to the ward, the guardian and the caregiver (if applicable) and to report back to the court their findings and recommendations.
This program was initiated by AARP a dozen years ago and that organization initially recruited 10-12 volunteers. Since that time and for many reasons, the number of available volunteers has decreased each year. When I took this position in January 2007, Mary Johnson was the last of the original visitors and the only person working to provide this important court oversight.
The Guardian Monitoring program is in place to protect the interests of the wards; to watch for and report possible abuse and neglect, and to apprise the Court of situations that may require intervention. Some common problems that are areas of concern would be unsuitable living arrangements; unduly restrictive or unsafe settings; declining health of ward or guardian; unwillingness, on the part of the ward or the guardian, to comply with recommended medical treatment; conflict between guardian and ward, or between co-guardians. Any situation which puts the safety and the best interests of the ward at risk is a concern to the Court.
But more often then not, the volunteer serves as a welcome visitor who can be a sounding board or a resource for parents, spouses and others who have taken on the role of guardian over a loved one. Having total responsibility for another can cause stress and anxiety. The volunteer might listen to concerns, suggest that a co-guardian be appointed, or assist in some other way. Sometimes just having someone to speak to about the ward can help the guardian become more aware of what is going well, what they might do differently or when they should seek assistance. If the Court receives a report with serious concerns noted by the volunteer visitor, we will schedule a hearing to bring the parties to Court to address the issues that were raised.
In the role of volunteer visitor, Mary comes to the Court to pick-up the paperwork for those cases we need visited. She will contact the guardian and caregiver, to arrange a time to visit. As wards live all over Cheshire County, there is often a long drive to a residence or facility. She will spend time with the ward, as well as each person involved with the ward, engaging in conversation, asking questions and surveying the physical surroundings to make her assessments. She will then complete a Court Summary report form which she drops off at the Court. Each case , may take anywhere from 2-5 hours to complete, depending on the circumstances.
The Probate Court provides no compensation to Mary Johnson. For the past ten years, she has driven all over Cheshire County, visiting wards. She has paid all the costs related to her volunteer work. She has not gotten and does not get any reimbursement, in any form. She is committed to this program and to the people who she visits. Visiting adults who are under guardianship, determining if they are properly treated, and serving as the eyes and ears of the Court, has been a commitment that Mary Johnson has made and one that she has delivered on well beyond what would be expected from a volunteer. Everyone, the Court, the wards, the guardians as well as the community and the state benefit from her experience and commitment to help protect those least able to protect themselves.
For all these reasons, I do believe that Mary Johnson should be awarded the Joseph C. Vaughan Award as she has certainly demonstrated meritorious achievement as a volunteer on behalf of older citizens (and others) in New Hampshire.