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Wessels champions elderly, disabled

Carol Wessels lost a case two years ago in front of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, but she’s still happy with the outcome.

“I’m a loser on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, but two years later Wisconsin changed the law,” Wessels said.

The case, Keup vs. DHFS, asked an important question: If a family prepaid a nursing home when a Medicaid application was pending, what did the nursing home have to refund them? What was paid or what Medicaid paid?

Wisconsin law said the answer was the amount Medicaid paid.

“I filed a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Wessels said. “The U.S. attorney said [to the court], don’t take it because she’s right and we’re telling Wisconsin to change the law.”

It was an important victory for elder care, the area of law she practices with Wauwatosa-based Nelson Irvings &Wessels SC.

Wessels began working in elder care as an attorney with Legal Action of Wisconsin. When Pat Nelson, a founding shareholder of Nelson Irvings &Wessels, approached her about joining her firm, it was a perfect fit, Wessels said.

“I do quite a bit of guardianship defense work and representing victims of elder abuse,” Wessels explained. “I still get to stand up for people who need a strong advocate when they aren’t in the strongest position themselves.”

And now that her own mother has dementia, she feels the pull even more strongly.

It helped her identify with another case, in which she filed a friend of the court brief, that dealt with an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s who was hitting her caregivers.

“Even though she had a family member who was medical power of attorney, that agent couldn’t admit her to get mental health treatment. She was put under state care,” Wessels said. “Is that how we want to put our seniors through the health care process? When you are Chapter 51 you are handcuffed, taken away in a police squad and detained.”

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has now called for such cases to go through protective services instead, allowing a court to review the person’s treatments and giving family input into care options.

Wessels also expands her influence beyond the courtroom, Nelson said, frequently serving as a guest speaker.

“She is incredibly bright,” Nelson said, “and she is very concerned about all people, elderly and disabled.”

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