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Court, Mental Health America Launch New Partnership

A new venture between Allen Superior Court and Mental Health America in Allen County (MHAAC) will provide much-needed support for seniors and incapacitated adults who require an advocate in complex court proceedings.

The Volunteer Advocates for Seniors or Incapacitated Adults program (VASIA) was created by state statute and made available for communities to implement. VASIA is designed to help communities recruit, screen, train and supervise volunteers to serve as guardians for senior citizens and incapacitated adults unable to make their own legal decisions.

“In most cases, friends or family members stand in to represent the interests of seniors and incapacitated adults in our community who cannot make their own legal decisions,” said Allen Superior Court Judge Stanley A. Levine, who serves as Probate Judge. “But occasionally, there are no family or friends in that person’s life to fill that role. VASIA will bridge that gap by providing a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves.”

VASIA volunteers will be appointed by MHAAC in guardianship proceedings to make decisions on behalf of the senior and other adults found to be incapacitated and incapable of making decisions regarding their care and/or their property. Mental Health America In Allen County and Allen Superior Court signed a memorandum of understanding in June governing the program.

The Court has had a number of attorneys who have volunteered over the years to perform legal services in connection with guardianship proceedings involving indigent persons. The VASIA volunteers will provide the additional services in guardianships in which Mental Health America in Allen County will be named as guardian.

All guardianships are strictly supervised by the court. State law requires reports to the court on a regular basis as to the physical and mental condition, residential placement and property of the senior or incapacitated adult.

Allen Superior Court was recently awarded a $38,500 grant from the Indiana Supreme Court to support the project. Mental Health America in Allen County raised matching funds through Anthony Wayne Services, for a total program budget of $77,000. Superior Court’s grant funds will be used exclusively to pay the salary and benefits of the program coordinator.

Lisa Smith, Executive Director of Mental Health America in Allen County, estimated that between 30 and 35 individuals per year would need VASIA-coordinated guardians.

“We plan to establish permanent guardianships for people who are not able to make sound daily life decisions and care for their own health needs,” Smith said. “Services are crucial to protecting the interests of the people who need this help.”

Mental Health America in Allen County, Inc. formerly known as Mental Health Association, has been providing education about mental illness and advocating on behalf of individuals in the community whose lives are impacted by mental illness, substance abuse, or developmental disability in Fort Wayne and Allen County since 1954. It has an affiliate of the national not-for-profit Mental Health America.