Public guardians of Carroll County’s older adults adjust approach, even as COVID-19 infects clients

Older adults are among those most vulnerable to COVID-19, so the Carroll County Adult Public Guardianship Program has adapted its practices throughout the pandemic to ensure its clients are cared for and kept safe.

A public guardian can be appointed by the court when a person is not able to make everyday decisions and/or handle their finances because of a disease or disabling condition, according to the county website. A guardian’s duties may include case management, arranging funerals, attending court hearings, and communicating with hospitals, long-term care ombudsmen and the local health department.


At the helm of the county’s program is coordinator Becca Claycomb. The program currently cares for more than 25 older adults, though they have served as many as 40 this year, she said. About half of the program’s current clients have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, according to Celene Steckel, director of the Department of Citizen Services.

Of the Adult Public Guardianship Program’s clients, 12 have tested positive for COVID-19, seven of them have recovered and one died as of Friday, Steckel said.


Clients of the guardianship program may live in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities, which have been hit especially hard by the pandemic of COVID-19. As of June 4, 544 of the county’s 979 cases were found in congregate living facilities, according to Carroll County Health Department. Of the county’s 112 fatalities, 101 have occurred in such places.

Claycomb’s role is to ensure clients receive all benefits available to them, many of which fall under the Bureau of Aging and Disabilities.

“The majority of the clients served have been diagnosed with dementia at varying stages,” Claycomb wrote in an email. “The guardianship clients typically present with different medical and psychiatric diagnoses ranging in severity.”

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To keep their clients safe, guardians have adapted to video chats and conference calls to stay in contact with those they serve.

Typically, guardians would see clients face-to-face at least every six to eight weeks, according to Claycomb, though she said visits usually occurred more often. Now, guardians are staying in touch with clients via video calls such as FaceTime, participating in telehealth appointments, and getting care updates from facility and medical staff, she said.

Court hearings have been postponed since local courts closed to the public except for emergency proceedings, but emergency guardianship petitions are still being processed, Claycomb wrote.

She said it is unlikely staff will see their clients in person until the third stage of the governor’s reopening plan.

“Our clients make up some of the most vulnerable individuals within the county and we do not want to risk exposing them to the virus,” Claycomb wrote.


Referrals for guardianship typically come to the Bureau of Aging and Disabilities from assisted living facilities, skilled nursing facilities, state and local hospitals, and the local Department of Social Services, according to Claycomb. There has been a steady increase in referrals and petitions in the past few years, Claycomb said, and she expects the number to become larger as the older adult population grows.

“We appreciate the community supporting our mission as we attempt to come up with creative ways to serve older adults in Carroll County,” Claycomb wrote. “We encourage the community to continue spreading positivity and doing small acts of kindness to remind others that we are all in this together.”