UTICA, Mich. (WXYZ) — A local woman says her parents have been imprisoned in their own home by their caregivers and she wants to know why a Macomb County judge is allowing it to happen. While 7 Investigator Heather Catallo was looking into this story, the caregivers even called the cops on her.
Related: Michigan AG opens investigation into Macomb Co. probate case following 7 Action News report
Related: Why did a Macomb County judge put strangers in charge of the elderly couple instead of the family?
When you become someone's guardian and conservator, you have total power over that person: You can make medical and legal financial decisions for them. Under Michigan law, family members are given priority to become a loved one's guardian. So why would a judge give this power to total strangers?
"I just want my parents back," Marcia Mitchell told Catallo.
Mitchell said she hasn't seen her father or step-mom in more than a month. All she can do is wonder what's happening on the other side of the fence separating Barbara Elbridge and Bob Mitchell from their relatives who live right next door.
"They can't get out, we can't get in. They can't take phone calls because their landline's been disconnected. Their cell phones have been taken, their cars were towed away," Cousin Gretchen Sommer said. "They're literally prisoners in their own home, and they've done nothing wrong."
Family members say both Barb and Bob have been trying to reach them through a six-foot tall privacy fence their caregivers installed. But how did this happen?
Back in November, Marcie says 70-year-old Barb and 72-year-old Bob were having issues with memory and dementia. That prompted Marcie to petition the Macomb County Probate Court to become her parents’ guardian and conservator, so she could hire full-time caregivers and make medical decisions for her dad and step-mom.
But when Marcie appeared in front of Judge Kathryn George, she says the judge blindsided her when the judge appointed an outside company called Caring Hearts Michigan Inc. as guardian and conservator.
Please note: Caring Hearts Homecare of Southfield is not affiliated in any way with Cathy Kirk’s Caring Hearts Michigan Inc.
"I felt belittled like I didn’t properly take care of my parents when I always thought I had. I was dumbfounded,” said Mitchell.
“How did the judge make you feel?” Catallo asked.
“Like a bad daughter,” said Mitchell.
Caring Hearts Michigan hired a company called Executive Care and brought in multiple caregivers to stay in the home 24 hours a day.
Both companies are owned by Catherine Kirk who, as guardian and conservator, can bill Barb and Bob’s estate for all of that care. The estate is worth around $2.7 million.
In fact, state records show Kirk and her husband, attorney Robert Kirk, have a total of 29 companies all registered to his Clinton Township law firm address.
“It’s a racket. It’s money,” said Sommer.
Family members say when they started questioning why caregivers were sleeping on the job and smoking in the home, they were barred from visiting Barbara and Bob.
“A neighbor said one was outside smoking marijuana before his shift. We know one has a lengthy criminal background. And supposedly these are all bonded, background checked, insured,” said Sommer.
The caregivers have also started calling the police – a lot.
"Utica 911," the call began
"Police please… We’re here as caregivers… The family’s here insisting on coming in," the home caregivers said on the line.
Utica police say they’ve been called 13 times since Kirk’s Caring Hearts and Executive Care took over caring for Barb and Bob.
The day the 7 Investigators were at the home next door to interview family members, the caregivers even called the cops on us.
Police: “Alright, are you guys leaning over the fence there?”
“No!” the Mitchell family responded
“Absolutely not. Is that what they said? They said we were leaning over the fence?” Catallo asked.
Police: “That’s correct.”
After the officers left, someone else showed up.
“I’m Michael Taylor, I’m an attorney for Caring Hearts and Executive Care,” said attorney Michael Taylor.
Taylor works for Robert Kirk’s law firm, and he’s also the mayor of Sterling Heights.
“Why can’t they see their family members?” asked Catallo.
“Because they’ve been giving them illegal drugs, illegal medication,” said Taylor.
“And what proof do you have of that?” asked Catallo.
“We have incident reports filed created by the aides,” said Taylor.
When we asked Taylor to produce visitor logs to back up those claims about medication – he refused to provide them.
Marcie Mitchell says that allegation only surfaced after she sent Cathy Kirk an email in April questioning her father’s medication dosage because he was unable to speak – and she denies giving her parents any drugs.
“Did you?” asked Catallo.
“No! No,” said Mitchell through tears. “No, I wasn’t there that day, and I don’t understand why they didn’t take him to the doctors if they’re going to make an accusation if my dad is that comatose.”
Taylor has also said in court filings that Executive Care is licensed with the state of Michigan, but state officials tell us that’s not true.
And that’s not all: The 7 Investigators have learned that Cathy Kirk’s companies are not on the state health department’s list of approved adult home help agencies.
After the day the cops were called on us, Taylor filed a request with the judge for a restraining order against the family and he’s asking the judge to let them install security cameras inside and outside the home.
Family members are fighting that, and they’re also asking why Bob keeps trying to escape and why recent photos reveal bruised arms.
“It’s absolutely insane. It’s disgusting. And it’s happening right here, it’s a form of trafficking in my opinion,” said Sommer.
Cathy Kirk refused to talk to 7 Action News on camera, but Caring Hearts Michigan did release this statement:
“Caring Hearts Michigan, Inc. was appointed as guardian and conservator in this case due, in part, to its relationship with Executive Care, a CHAP-Certified in-home care company. Caring Hearts does not accept guardianships or conservatorships on a large-scale basis. Prior to its appointment, Robert and Barbara were malnourished and living in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. Now, Robert and Barbara are safe and healthy living in their own home. Caring Hearts will continue to do everything in its power to provide for Robert and Barbara’s safety and wellbeing in the most cost-effective way possible without separating them or causing undue hardship. Their safety and wellbeing is our only concern.”
The family denies that Barb and Bob were unsafe and that the house was unsanitary.
As soon as the 7 Investigators started asking the judge questions about Caring Hearts, the company is suddenly now offering visitation to the family members.
They are all due back in court next month.