MANSFIELD – “Pepsi?” asks 71-year-old Michael Beck when Roger Harraman walks in the room.
Harraman, who serves as Beck’s legal guardian, knows the Oak Grove Manor resident loves Pepsi, and even though he didn’t bring a bottle along this time, he promises he will for the next visit and instead presents Beck with several new T-shirts.
Harraman is one of 17 local volunteers through the Catholic Charities Diocese of Toledo’s Adult Advocacy Services program. They provide legal guardianship services for those 55 and older suffering from dementia or other illnesses that limit their decision-making capacity. They also keep an eye out for those with no appropriate family to make decisions for their medical care and estate.
Essentially, a volunteer guardian’s role is to advocate for this person’s care. They become the voice for people who may have trouble sharing what they want or need. The guardians have no say over financial matters and instead are asked to focus the well-being of the people they serve.
A previous Richland Source story details why the program is important and how people can get involved.
The reasons that these elders need representation vary, but Sue Warren of Catholic Charities says, “too often” it’s a result of elder abuse, which can be in the form of intentional or negligent acts by a caregiver or trusted individual that causes harm to a vulnerable elder. Warren also serves as a volunteer guardian for several individuals.
An estimated 1 in 10 older Americans experience abuse. Locally, the Richland County Adult Protective Services, which investigates abuse, neglect and exploitation of people 60 and over, made 245 referrals between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, but elder abuse often goes unreported.
Harraman advocates on behalf of three people through Catholic Charities: Michael Beck, Michael McMahon and Diane Pahlow. As far as he knows, they don’t have local family members to otherwise care for them.
“It’s rewarding, every visit. I probably get more out of it than they do,” he said. “I like getting to know them and joking around with them.”
Before meeting any of these individuals, Harraman represented another man who passed away about eight years ago. Harraman recalls that was a hard day, but the benefits of this job far outweigh the negatives. Though saddened, the retired educator decided to represent another elder, Beck, through the Catholic Charities’ program. That was more than seven years ago.
When Harraman came to visit him recently, Beck was watching “Gunsmoke.” But he seemed happy to take a break and chat. Beck informed Harraman that someone had promised him Pepsi and hadn’t brought it yet.
When Harraman later talked to the nursing home staff, he asked about Beck’s health, but he also mentioned the Pepsi situation and learned that the beverage would soon be delivered to Beck’s room.
Harraman began serving as legal guardian to Michael McMahon and Diane Pahlow this past summer when he heard that Catholic Charities knew of more people in need of representation. Harraman decided to take on the additional responsibility this past July.
So far, Harraman has only made three visits with these two, but he’s already made an noticeable impression with McMahon.
“Do you remember me?” Harraman asked this Oak Grove resident in August.
“Yes,” McMahon answered.
On this occasion, Harraman sat on the edge of the bed, listening as the 66-year-old man told a few stories. McMahon explained that he always enjoyed bowling, golf and watching Indians games.
After Harraman visited Beck and before he visited McMahon, he talked to a staff member in what’s called a “care conference.”
This is a formal process that doesn’t occur on every visit, but it keeps a guardian updated with the details of the nursing home resident’s condition. Harraman hears about McMahon and Beck’s care plan, discussing in detail everything from what they’ve been eating to if they need therapy.
Harraman is alerted more regularly via phone calls about changes in medication, health complications and other time-sensitive topics. As a guardian, he needs to be available 24/7 to respond to inquiries when needed from nursing home or medical staff. This means that even in the middle of the night, Harraman might have to take a phone call about one of the people he represents.
Both McMahon and Beck live at Oak Grove Manor, but once he’s done there, he drives down the road to another nursing home to visit Diane Pahlow, 59.
She had been sleeping when Harraman previously visited, but she still vaguely remembers him. Awake on this occasion, she asks him more about himself and his role as her guardian. He assures her that he’ll make sure she’s taken care of correctly.
In turn, Pahlow shares a little about herself. She likes singing, dancing and listening to music, especially gospel. The Iowa native moved to Mansfield where her husband lived.
"But now, I don't have family in Ohio anymore," Pahlow said.
Harraman and other Catholic Charities volunteers are appointed to be legal guardians by the probate court. And if an elder needs someone to speak on their behalf, the guardians step in and look out for the elder's best interest.
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer guardian can learn more by calling 419-524-0733.