Editorial: Office would protect most vulnerable adults

Published Dec 21, 2013 at 12:07AM

Officials estimate that somewhere between 1,575 and 3,175 severely disabled adults in Oregon currently have no legal guardian or conservator — a person appointed to make financial and other major decisions for them.

That may change, if Sen. Mike Dembrow, D-Portland, has his way. Dembrow, who was a state representative at the time, was one of two sponsors of a measure to create the office of the Oregon Public Guardian and Conservator in the 2013 Legislature. Though the bill passed out of its House committee with unanimous support, it ultimately died for lack of funding.

The funding issue apparently resolved, Dembrow plans to introduce similar legislation next year. The program would not be terribly expensive in any event; Dembrow told The Oregonian that estimates put the cost at about $1.5 million every two years.

It would be money well spent.

Among those eligible would be people with intellectual disabilities, dementia, chronic mental illness and traumatic brain injury. They would be men and women who could not make even basic decisions about their own health and welfare, men and women vulnerable to physical abuse or financial exploitation.

Members of the Legislature’s interim task force who studied the measure said during testimony in the spring that they expected only about one in 10 of adults without guardians, perhaps 300 people, would actually qualify for the service.

Meanwhile, Oregon is one of only a handful of states that does not already have a statewide guardianship program. In 2007, for example, only six states lacked them. Because of that, too many people end up homeless or with untreated illnesses, the interim task force report said.

That’s not a status to be proud of even in tight financial times. If Dembrow has his way, it’s a status the state will lose next year, as it should.