UTICA, Mich. (WXYZ) — The 7 Investigators get a lot of calls from families who’s loved ones have been placed under guardianship, and unfortunately, we can’t tell every single story. But this one caught our attention because of a fence that was built and because of the history of the judge involved.
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This is the tale of two fences. One holds what family members say are two vulnerable adults inside their home. The other fence protects the huge home that belongs to the people now in charge of making all financial and medical decisions for Barbara Delbridge and Bob Mitchell.
“They don’t want us to see in, they don’t want them to see out. So it’s the perfect way to hide them back there,” said Gretchen Summer, Barb’s niece.
Barb and Bob’s family members say after Macomb County Probate Judge Kathryn George appointed Caring Hearts Michigan Inc. as their guardian.
Please note: Caring Hearts Homecare of Southfield is not affiliated in any way with Cathy Kirk’s Caring Hearts Michigan Inc.
The caregivers put up the six-foot-tall privacy fence, even though there was already a smaller fence in the yard. The caregivers say it’s for Barb and Bob’s safety, but relatives who live right next door say it prevents them from communicating with their loved ones.
“I just want my parents back. I want them to enjoy their retirement that they should have had, prior to this company taking over,” said Marcie Mitchell. Mitchell tried to become her dad and step-mom’s guardian last November because both were becoming mentally incapacitated.
“Is everyone in the family on board with Marcie being the guardian,” asked 7 Investigator Heather Catallo.
“Absolutely, we were all 100% behind her,” said Sommer.
Without guardianship, Marcie had no authority to stop her father from driving, or to access her parents accounts to pay for more full-time care.
Even though Michigan law gives Marcie priority to become a guardian to family members, Judge George told Marcie she had “grave concerns” about Bob and Barb. Instead, the judge handed their lives over to Caring Hearts Michigan Inc. and its owner, a woman named Cathy Kirk.
“How did the judge make you feel,” asked Catallo.
“Like a bad daughter. Like I wasn’t there for my parents enough as I should be,” said Mitchell through tears.
Marcie says Cathy Kirk promised she would stay involved in her parents care, but she’s no longer allowed to see them. Kirk hired another company that she owns, called Executive Care, to provide in-home caregivers 24 hours a day. Cathy is married to Robert Kirk, a Macomb County Public Administrator in the probate courts.
“They’re comfortable there. They’re healthy. They’re taken care of, we have detailed food logs for the food that they’re being served. So Executive Care has come in and tried to stabilize this situation,” said attorney Michael Taylor. Taylor works for Robert Kirk’s law firm, and he’s also the mayor of Sterling Heights.
Both Robert Kirk and his law partner have donated money to Judge George’s campaigns in the past.
Just like Marcie can’t talk to her parents behind this fence, we couldn’t catch up with Cathy Kirk because she too lives behind a fence: a massive privacy gate walling off the Kirk’s large home from public access.
And the Mitchell relatives aren’t the only ones who say Caring Hearts Michigan has separated them from their loved ones.
Members of the Franklin family say Judge George also appointed Caring Hearts when they tried to get guardianship of their 89-year-old mother, Piera. Mrs. Franklin is now back with her son, but only after her family members say they were also prevented from seeing their mom.
This isn’t the first time questions have been raised about Judge George and a guardianship company.
According to an order from the Michigan Supreme Court, back in 2008, they removed Judge George as chief judge of the probate court over concerns about her “questionable overuse” of a different guardianship company she was appointing to cases.
A probate court spokesman says even though Judge George knows the Kirks “informally through political and bar association events… there is no business relationship” with them.
The spokesman also says the judge isn’t allowed to respond to our questions about past campaign contributions but says it’s, “not unusual for attorneys to support judges for re-election” and the past support has “nothing to do with the recent selection of Caring Hearts as a public/professional guardian.”
The 7 Investigators asked Judge George several questions via the Macomb County Probate Court Administrator. The responses are below.
As for Barb and Bob’s family, they are heading back to court next month to try again to get guardianship.
“We don’t think she has any intention of granting that to Marcie at that time. So that’s why we have to go to you – we have to get the story out there. There are other families that are sitting ducks, this will happen to them too,” said Sommer.
After we started asking the court questions about this case, Caring Hearts Michigan has now offered visitation to the family.
Michael Taylor sent us this statement from Caring Hearts:
“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.
If you have a story for Heather, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 248-827-4473.