Most of us are thankful to be with family during the holidays. One family caught up in Clark County's broken guardianship system is more thankful than most. They've been fighting to stay together against the system that tore them apart. And in a first of its kind lawsuit, they say doctors are to blame.
"This hurt the whole family," says Rudy North. "This is an attack on the whole family."
Rudy and his wife Rennie will tell you they'd still be caring for each other in their cozy home if not for a knock on the door in the fall of 2013.
"They said they were officers of the court," says Rudy.
He tells us the "officers" gave the couple three options.
"One: We call the police. Two: We have you go to a psychiatric ward."
The third option: An assisted living facility. The North's lived there while their daughter battled to free them from a court-appointed guardian.
Rudy and Rennie's world has been reduced to nearly nothing as a result of the guardianship. Their bank accounts were wiped clean, most of their possessions are simply gone. In fact all that they have left now fits within the confines of a single room in their daughter's home.
"They kidnap you, they rape your assets," says Rudy.
In a strongly-worded lawsuit filed this summer, the family blames healthcare providers working with ProCare Hospice.
"They started the whole thing," says Julie Belshe, the North's daughter. "It was all done on a fraudulent basis."
A form called a Physician's Certificate is required by law to establish guardianship over a person who a doctor deems incapable of caring for themselves.
In Rennie's case - it wasn't signed by a doctor, but rather a physician's assistant named John Reyes.
The lawsuit goes on to claim Reyes wrote a letter stating that Rudy has progressing dementia. But "...Rudy has never even been diagnosed with dementia by any medical provider."
When we reached out to Reyes, he declined to comment and hung up on us.
As for Rudy, Dr. Sanghamitra Basu signed his certificate and said the Norths couldn't care for themselves. But the lawsuit states she has never treated them for anything other than pain management. An office employee referred us to her attorney but couldn't provide the attorney's name or phone number.
The North family questions the motives behind their opinions.
"Why would they do that? Money!" says Julie.
And as for the court's role in providing accountability and oversight?
"Everything is missing," says Julie. "You have nobody that you can really turn to here. And there's nobody that's really ethical."
No one from Clark County District Court would talk to us due to the ongoing litigation.
ProCare Hospice also declined an on-camera interview and referred us to their attorney who didn't call us back.
Court records show the defendants are asking for the case to be dismissed as they deny the claims and say that Rudy and Rennie's lawsuit does not meet standards required by law. That motion will be heard next week.
Nevada was awarded a $4000 grant to help courts look at alternatives to guardianship. Below is a Press Release from Nevada Supreme Court:
Washoe County's Second Judicial District Court Awarded Grant to Help Adults with Disabilities
RENO, Nevada, December 08, 2016 - The Second Judicial District Court of Nevada, with the endorsement of the Nevada Supreme Court's Commission to Study the Administration of Guardianships in Nevada's Courts and Justice James W. Hardesty, has been selected as one of six national awardees to receive a $4,000 grant through the National Resource Center for Supported Decision-Making State Grant Program. This program awards grants for state-based projects that increase awareness of and access to supported decision-making by adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).
Supported decision-making has emerged as an innovative alternative to guardianship of adults with I/DD who are independent in some areas of life and require assistance in others. Supported decision-making agreements help a person with I/DD to make life choices regarding housing, healthcare, education, employment, social supports, etc. Used appropriately, this model supports and assists adults with I/DD without the need for a court-appointed guardian.
"Receipt of this grant is yet another sign of how far Nevada Courts, attorneys and stakeholders have come in demonstrated leadership reforming guardianship proceedings and educating the community about alternatives to guardianship," Judge Doherty said. "This grant will be a key part in promoting the independence and dignity of aging adults and those with disabilities statewide."
As part of the grant, the Court will also collect information and report on the successes, challenges, and opportunities associated with implementing supported decision-making agreements. Judge Doherty will serve as the contact within the Second Judicial District.
Judge Frances Doherty applied for the grant, which was endorsed by Justice Hardesty and the Commission to Study the Administration of Guardianships in Nevada's Courts, Washoe County Public Guardian's Office, journalists, non-profits, and legal aid organizations.
Additional information on supported decision-making can be found at http://www.supporteddecisionmaking.org.
Contact: Diana Zuccarini (775) 328-3470