Grantee reveals unexplained deaths in Maine’s guardianship system

Maine medical examiners are not sure how Laurie Wall, left, and Janice Sirois died. Both women had public guardians employed by the Department of Health and Human Services. Illustration by Hannah Schultz.

Following up on a June investigation that showed that Maine’s probate courts failed to closely track vulnerable adults under public guardianship, Samantha Hogan in Maine Monitor revealed that eight incapacitated people in the state’s care died during the past three years and authorities don’t know how. The adults, all under public guardianship, died of what medical examiners described as “undetermined” circumstances, while noting that over-medication was the cause of several of those deaths. Among them is a woman whose death was deemed a homicide by medical examiners. But the state has not changed the system. A state legislator who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee said the deaths show the need for better oversight of the state’s public guardians, who are appointed and overseen by 16 part-time, elected probate judges. Hogan, with support from the Fund, reviewed reports submitted to the probate courts by public guardians, doctors, family members and court-appointed independent observers known as “visitors” that justified the state’s position that the Department of Health and Human Services needed to take over management of the eight adults’ lives.