A Farmington Hills mom says she was left to die inside a group home. Now, she is telling her story to warn others about how quickly anyone could go from living a normal life, to having their life taken over--- legally, through a court-ordered guardianship.
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“I had no rights. Anything they said, anywhere they put me, I couldn’t say no,” Niki Disner told 7 Investigator Heather Catallo. Disner walks now, because she can. Just a few years ago, she was in a wheelchair – and the thought of walking without a walker seemed impossible.
“I had to dig myself out of a grave-- like a grave where people threw dirt on me. I had to dig myself out,” said Disner. Disner says back in 2009, she got in a car accident on the way to pick up her daughter from school. “It was horrific,” said Disner. Disner says after being put on morphine in the hospital, like so many Americans fighting opiate addiction -- she got hooked on pain meds.
When Disner asked for help getting her bills paid and her daughter cared for, she says the attorney she hired to fight her car insurance company got her a court-appointed guardian. “They’re like, you don’t have to go to court, we’re going to take care of all this for you,” said Disner. Disner agreed to having a local lawyer become her guardian. But what this single mom didn’t realize is that a legal guardian can have total say over where you live, which doctors you see and what you do. “I no longer had any rights,” said Disner. Disner says the doctors chosen for her put her on a fentanyl patch, plus other narcotic pain killers and muscle relaxers. “I don’t even think they give that much medication to someone who’s dying of end stage cancer. I could not think. I couldn’t walk,” said Disner. Disner says some of the guardian’s caregivers were emotionally abusive, and after a year, she demanded change.
That’s when lawyer and Attorney General-appointed Public Administrator Barry Seifman took over, both as Disner’s Limited Guardian and as the Trustee of a Special Needs Trust for the $230,000 settlement from her car accident. “So I got like $150,000, minus the attorney fees,” said Disner. Court records indicate Seifman billed from those funds, and with 24/7 health care for Disner, within 10 months – the money was nearly gone. “By this time, I was in a wheelchair because I was so debilitated. I could no longer urinate on my own because the drugs were affecting me, just shutting down my body, shutting down my functions. So, I had to be catheterized,” said Disner. Disner says the next thing she knew, her daughter was sent to live with her ex. And then, she received even more devastating news: court records show Seifman moved Disner to an unlicensed group home in Oak Park. Disner says the home was not wheelchair accessible. She says for the next 7 weeks, she was rarely moved from her bed. “I didn’t get a shower. My teeth were never brushed. They don’t know how to catheter. So, whatever they were doing was causing injury,” said Disner. Disner says over the 4th of July, the caregivers all vanished, leaving Niki and a woman who was a double-amputee stranded in their bedrooms.
"Now I stop urinating completely - no water, no food, whole long weekend,” said Disner. Disner knew she had to get out. She says she got herself into her wheelchair, and somehow, she got outside and got a ride to the hospital. “I said they are abusing me,” said Disner. From there, Disner checked herself into physical rehab and into drug rehab. She asked Oakland County Probate Judge Linda Hallmark to terminate the guardianship, and she did. Disner says she had to have surgery on her pelvis to repair damage from the lack of care, and she needed thousands of dollars in dental work, but she finally feels like her she has her life back.
Disner now leads meditation groups, and she wants to warn others about what a court guardianship can cost you. “There’s no accountability. They just have free reign to do whatever they want. There’s no checks and balances in the system,” said Disner. Seifman won’t comment on Disner’s case ,citing confidentiality concerns but he did tell the 7 Investigators that many Guardians place their wards in unlicensed group homes locally.
We have reached out to the woman who ran the group home in Oak Park, but so far, she has not gotten back to us to comment on what happened to Disner or the other people who were in the home. If you or someone you know is in an unlicensed group home that you feel should be licensed by the state, state investigators want to hear from you.
According to a spokesman for LARA, an operation needs to be licensed under Act 218 as an adult foster care (AFC) facility if it provides personal care, protection, and supervision in addition to room and board to 20 or fewer unrelated persons who are aged, mentally ill, developmentally disabled, or physically disabled, for 24 hours a day, five or more days a week, for two or more consecutive weeks for compensation. A facility is unlicensed if it doesn’t meet the criteria for licensure as outlined in the statute definition above. Licensure is determined by an investigation by LARA. If an individual feels that a facility should be licensed, they can file a complaint. If you have a story for Heather, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 248-827-4473.