A guardian to rely on

Johnson County VASIA is in urgent need of volunteers to assist seniors and incapacitated adults

By Grady Michael Gaynor

The Johnson and Shelby County VASIA (Volunteer Advocates for Seniors and Incapacitated Adults) program is needed now more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program’s mission is to assist seniors and incapacitated adults through public guardianship. VASIA consists of a team of volunteer advocates who help seniors and incapacitated adults in Johnson and Shelby counties to achieve the highest degree of independence possible, while also assisting them with maintaining the greatest degree of health. The protected person served by VASIA is without a willing, able or suitable relative or significant person to serve as guardian. A county judge must then rule that the person needs guardianship and assigns them to VASIA where a volunteer steps in on behalf in decision making.

In times of great societal hardship, the number of people in need of guardianship always spikes. The COVID-19 crisis is an extreme case. While the need for VASIA is higher than ever, the pandemic has driven down the number of volunteers to the extent that if they do not find five more by this June, they will lose 20 percent of their grant funding.

Lauren Rynerson, director of VASIA, says that while the need for VASIA is higher than ever, the pandemic has driven down the number of volunteers to the extent that if they do not find five more by this June, they will lose 20 percent of their funding. (Submitted photos)

Lauren Rynerson, director of VASIA explained, “Many people have been uneasy about going into nursing homes because of the pandemic which is understandable. They just wanted to take a break until COVID dies down but at this point it seems like it’s not going away. We would never want our volunteers to do something they are uncomfortable with, so we are able to make special arrangements for volunteers where they don’t have to actually go into the nursing home. It takes a person with a special heart to volunteer for the VASIA and they can be hard to find!”

The population of those in need of a guardianship may include but are not limited to, people with dementia, Alzheimer’s, substance abuse issues, a traumatic brain injury, autism and any other incapacity that limits the person’s ability to make decisions about their financial and personal medical care.

Board President Reverend Peter Jessen agrees with Rynerson stating, “These people are already isolated at the best of times. In times like this, for some people that assistance is all the way down to zero.”

Kevin Barton from Johnson County is the county judge who must rule the person needs guardianship and assign the case to VASIA. He also hears all other guardianship cases in his court.

Linda Krueger has volunteered for VASIA since the program’s inception in 2016.

“One thing that’s important with our protected people is that we make decisions based on what we think they would want,” Krueger said. “We don’t just say this is the way our program operates, and everyone has the same outcome. It goes beyond living. We make arrangements for when the person is gone to do what is best for them. My experience with the VASIA is that the whole organization truly cares. We try to let people know that we are there for them and they can rely on us if they need anything. Sometimes it’s something so small as running to the nearest grocery store to grab a favorite snack.”

VASIA operates in the nursing home setting. This allows volunteers to work with the staff on behalf of the individual in a safe controlled setting of accountability.

From left, Reverend Peter Jessen, Board President, Director Lauren Rynerson, Superior Court 1 Judge Kevin Barton and Assistant Director Rita Janis.

For information on how to become a volunteer visit indianavasia.org/volunteer or contact Lauren Rynerson at lrynerson@co.johnson.in.us. If unable to volunteer, donations are needed and appreciated at jccf.org/give-one-time.