Local group rallies, calling for better care for people with disabilities in Clay County care

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LIBERTY, Mo. – A rally Wednesday in Clay County called on the Public Administrator’s Office to take better care of people under the county’s guardianship.

More than a dozen people gathered outside the Justice Center for a disability rights rally.

“In a total guardianship, a person in prison has more rights than a person under guardianship,” said Rita Richards who advocates for the rights of people with disabilities.

Richards believes a lot of voices aren’t being heard, including her former special education student Zack. He was placed under a public administrator’s care after graduating in 2014.

“In 2016, I started noticing some things just wasn’t being cared for like I thought it should be,” Richards said, “and I started raising concerns.”

In a home, Zack experienced a lack of dental hygiene and dramatic weight loss — dropping close to 50 pounds, according to Richards.

“I know they have huge caseloads. I know it’s a tough job, but when you’re working with people, it’s not just about numbers and making your balance sheets and filling out your form,” Richards said. “It’s about compassion.”

In 2019, Richards said Zack’s roommate chased him with a screwdriver, and Zack wound up in the hospital.

“It’s at that point, my husband and I decided to get an attorney to advocate for Zack’s rights,” Richards said.

She said holidays and family hangouts with Zack were then blocked.

“Zack, we miss you so much,” Richards said. “Even though you’re not aware, we’ve been fighting for you for two and a half years.”

Walking into the Justice Center in Liberty on Wednesday, she hoped to get visitation rights back.

“We want to be involved, and we’re not allowed to,” said Michelle Anaya, who’s also not happy with the way her brother has been treated.

Jeffrey Fitzgerald has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. His mom asked the public administrator to take guardianship in 2007.

“We haven’t seen him for a holiday since then,” Anaya said.

Anaya said Fitzgerald almost wasn’t allowed to go to his mother’s funeral.

“It’s devastating,” Anaya said.

But this group, the “Zack Pack,” pushed back. Fitzgerald was given permission to go and honor his mother for at least an hour.

“Oh, we’re hopeful,” Anaya said. “My mother had no hope. I did not have hope, and we finally have hope. We thought our situation was isolated.”

Richards said there are countless others with similar stories.

The group compares their situations to the “Free Brittany Spears” movement and hopes for change in Missouri.

“This goes hand in hand what Brittany Spears is going through,” Richards said. “I mean, it’s the same thing, and people with disabilities just don’t have the voice or the platform Brittany Spears does. And like I said, I’ve been dealing with this for two and a half years.”

That’s why Richards is fighting for Zack and advocating for others.

“We have not forgotten you, Zack,” Richards said, “and we want to see you so bad.”

FOX4 reached out to the Clay County Public Administrator and did not immediately hear back.

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