TORRINGTON—Appropriately or not, Eli Schutts, an 86-year-old retired philosophy professor at Western Connecticut State University, has been a resident of Litchfield Woods Health Care Center since the early days of summer.
His fate is a matter of uncertainty, but the picture may become clearer Monday when he will be the focus of a Torrington Probate Court hearing at Litchfield Woods.
The Litchfield Hills Probate Court had previously appointed a temporary conservator for him, but that order expired Aug. 12. At Monday’s 9:30 a.m. probate hearing, which will be open to the public, former temporary conservator Lorraine Seely is expected to seek permanent appointment.
Edith Johnson, Mr. Schutts’ companion since the 1980s, doubts his best interests have been put first. She is in a public fight to see Mr. Schutts freed from facilities, but the previous appointment of Ms. Seely and questions over his physical well-being have left her with little recourse.
The struggle of Ms. Johnson as a lay person and non-family member to act as an advocate illustrates the difficulties one encounters when challenging established power. Her undertaking also gives an indication of the limits of institutions to accommodate or accept independent voices on behalf of patients.
After a hearing in May, Litchfield Hills Probate Judge Diane Blick denied a request for a temporary conservator, stating, “It is clear to the Court that Dr. Schutts is not incapable of handling his personal and financial affairs.”
From March to June he was in the Kent Specialty Care Center, an Apple Rehab facility. There he developed pneumonia and his health rapidly deteriorated. Judge Blick then assigned his daughter, Prisca Cox Schutts of London, and Ms. Seely co-conservators and had him transferred to New Milford Hospital and then Litchfield Woods.
Ms. Johnson attempted to get power of attorney. It was notarized by Deborah Logue, a lay minister at Christ Episcopal Church in Bethlehem, but Judge Blick didn’t recognize it, based on a fear that Mr. Schutts did not know what he was signing.
Conservators are appointed when a person is unable to live independently. Generally, the fiduciary duty of conservators compels them to act in the best interests of the protected person. They cannot benefit at the expense of the protected person. They must submit an inventory of assets balanced with an accounting of bills paid. The court must approve fees.
Connecticut has no training for conservators, according to a probate court official. The probate courts themselves provide the only oversight. Still, many actions of conservators are never reviewed by probate courts in Connecticut, according to the National Disability Rights Network.
While finding that Mr. Schutts’ condition is such that he needs serious physical, mental and psychosocial care, Judge Blick cited the following testimony from Mr. Schutts: “He is very happy with all that Lorraine Seely has done for him;” and, “He is very happy at Litchfield Woods and finds it most congenial.”
Ms. Johnson told The Litchfield County Times that she will be at Monday’s hearing.
Stage is Set for Monday Probate Hearing to Determine Next Step in Contested Case of Retired WestConn Professor Eli Schutts
Jack Coraggio/Andy Thibault
August 26, 2012
Litchfield County Times