conservatorshipConservator: A protector of interests of an incompetent person: a person or institution responsible for protecting the interests of a legal incompetent.

That’s one way to put it.  But we all know there are a lot of ways to define a conservatorship and some of them are not ones we want to hear. Sometimes patients in psych wards are told another tune and can be lead to believe one thing when really a conservatorship is something entirely different.

“Do you know what a conservatorship is?”

“No.  I don’t understand that word.” 

“A conservatorship means you have a person that is assigned to you.  Like a guardian.  And they help make decisions to do what’s best for you.”

“So, like a guardian.  OK.”  She nodded. (Excerpt taken from “Inside the Insane.”)

“Like a guardian.”  Sounds promising, right? Ah, no. It’s interesting how many patients in acute inpatient psych wards don’t know what a conservatorship is and how it pertains to their life; especially when they are conserved by the Public Guardian (PG.)

I once had a patient ask me what a conservator was; he said one of the staff told him it was a person that takes care of you when you leave the hospital.  No one mentioned that having a conservator meant you lose your right to freedom.  Sadly enough, because they are conserved, a lot of the time a patient won’t know they are headed to a locked facility.  They are not filled in with details of what a conservatorship means or how the Public Guardian plays a hand in it.

The world of conservatorship has multiple layers of confusion. How does it work?  What does it mean? How does it affect me? Often times I would come across patients that were in a panic because they were heading to court to present in front of a judge and some “person I don’t even know” (in other words the PG) would stand and make a case for a patient to be locked up.

Some hospitals keep the truth of what a conservator does or sugar coats it to keep the peace so to speak.  God forbid we inform the mentally ill of their pending fate should they get conserved and end up being transported to an institution.  Keeping the mentally ill in the dark is wrong.  So, how can we work to find ways to educate the mentally ill when they are admitted to a psych ward so they are clear on the legal ramifications of acquiring a PG to facilitate their fate.  It is their life.  And they have a right to know what’s up!

Women talking photo available from Shutterstock