A Jefferson District Court judge is considering whether to hold the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services in contempt of court for delaying urgently needed surgery for a severely disabled woman in its care.
Judge David P. Bowles had planned to hold a hearing Friday on his motion to hold the state agency in contempt of court but agreed to postpone it until Jan. 19 to give the state, which serves as guardian for the woman, more time to collect records and notify witnesses.
Meanwhile, the woman has received the surgery — removal of a diseased eye — a cabinet lawyer said in court Friday. But the case has raised enough questions that Bowles plans to proceed with a hearing on whether to hold the cabinet in contempt for its actions.
Bowles also took the unusual step of opening the case to the public, finding it to be in the best interest of the woman, who is not identified. Cases of individuals who are wards of the state through its guardianship program by law are confidential and subject to closed court proceedings unless a judge decides otherwise.
Jacqueline Caldwell, a lawyer appointed to represent the woman, agreed with the judge's decision to open the case, citing in a Nov. 8 court filing "the possible failure of the guardian, in this case the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, to provide prompt, adequate and reasonable health care" for her client.
Caldwell said the cabinet "is the guardian to a significant portion of our most vulnerable disabled population," largely "those disabled persons that have no other person in their life willing or able to perform the duties of guardian."
The case comes as the state struggles under a growing guardianship caseload of individuals with shrinking resources, a problem that has existed for years at the underfunded program. Judges generally assign state workers to serve as guardians in cases where there is no one else to assist those who can't manage their own affairs because of mental or physical disability.
In October, cabinet Deputy Secretary Tim Feeley told a legislative committee the guardianship program "is bursting at the seams" with around 60 state workers overseeing 4,400 people who need help with finances, housing, health care and other needs.
That means state workers are handling 70 to 80 cases each, Feeley said at a meeting of the House budget subcommittee on human services. National social service standards recommend caseloads of no more than 20 per guardianship worker.