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22 Jul 2020

Know Your Neighbors: Meet Michael 'Mick' McGuire, a Champion of Elder Rights—Who Is Frustrated at the Country's Nursing-Home System

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Vivien, grandson Diego, Mick and granddaughter Diana at the twins' 2018 high school graduation. Vivien, grandson Diego, Mick and granddaughter Diana at the twins' 2018 high school graduation.

Elder-law attorney Michael “Mick” McGuire, 73, says he keeps trying to find a way to retire. “But when the pandemic hit, that went on the back burner.”

McGuire, a La Quinta resident for seven years, used to visit the desert from Long Beach—until his wife of 30 years, Vivien, a public defender, made him to decide to relocate.

McGuire was born and raised in Pittsburgh, and his birth family included grandparents who had emigrated from Ireland. They had four daughters and were scrounging for work during the Great Depression. “My grandfather died in his 30s, and my grandmother was one of those people you’re blessed to have in your life. She cleaned houses to support her daughters.

“My mom had no education past the ninth-grade, and they were always one step ahead of the landlord. My mom always used to say, ‘If things aren’t going your way, just get on with it. If one thing doesn’t work, do something else.’

“My dad was a true Pittsburgh boy. He came along at a time when they were letting guys out of high school to go to war. He was in the Army Air Corps, and then he took a correspondence course at Cornell University. He worked in the restaurant business and became a regional manager.

“I have one sister. I always joke that we’re 'Irish twins'; our birthdays are so close. Once we were out of high school, my folks couldn’t wait to get out of the dire winters of Pittsburgh, so after my freshman year of college, we moved to Arizona.”

McGuire (www.calelderlaw.com) got his education at Arizona State University. After a year in the Army Reserve, McGuire’s first job was with Hallmark Cards in Seattle. He relocated to Los Angeles in 1970 and worked for companies including Xerox, E.F. Hutton, and Home Savings. What made him decide to go back to school and study law?

“I was dealing with real estate agents all day long,” he says, “and I had met my wife, who was in law school at the time. In 1991, I studied at the University of West Los Angeles, and passed the bar on my first try!”

McGuire opened his first law office in Long Beach, doing estate planning, wills and trusts. “I had a client who was having real problems with his elderly mom, and thus I discovered elder law as a specialty,” says McGuire. “I realized the need for people to be able to deal with the Medi-Cal system and Veterans (Affairs).

“The best part of what I do is being able to listen to people’s stories. I had a client who had been in a small village in France during World War II at the age of 16 when the Germans had come. He was stopped by two Gestapo officers, was arrested, and he ended up in a concentration camp. He survived and went to Canada, then came to the U.S. He had told his family that he had been in the war, but his daughters had never heard the full story. When they asked him why he had never told them, he said, ‘I didn’t want you to worry.’

“I had another client who had been a submarine commander during World War II and didn’t realize he had benefits available. You can’t make these stories up—they’re amazing!”

McGuire gets particularly emotive when we talk about the COVID-19 pandemic—and particularly its impact on elders in nursing-home situations.

“The state drives people to long-term care, because there’s nowhere else to go,” he says. “It’s all corporate money now, and they’re driven by profitability. They say, ‘It’s all about heads in the beds.’ People get three meals a day, and poor care—and what we’ve seen over the past months of the pandemic shows how bad it is. It’s a terrible conundrum: You have someone who makes about $12.50 an hour to change people’s diapers and wipe their chin. Those willing to do those jobs are often the migrants at the border.

“We have a glaring hole in Medicare for taking care of seniors when they need help. The Affordable Care Act created a plan to pay up to $1,500 a month for long-term care. On average, decent care costs $10,000 a month for a nursing home in California. Long-term care is expensive, but in my experience, it probably only costs an average family about $1,500 to $2,500 a month to keep someone at home. I’ve never met anybody ever who wanted to go to a nursing home.

“It should be a red flag that out of all the developed countries in the world, we’re (the only one) without a plan. We can talk about it all academically, but when it’s your family member, the whole thing changes. The counties are often ignorant of the actual regulations, and how people are being treated is ridiculous. I’ve become very aggressive and insistent to benefit my clients.”

In 2014, McGuire handled what he described as his most interesting case. Los Angeles County had denied long-term benefits to a man taken to a nursing home as a qualified patient. “It took a year to bring the county to the table. I came to understand how badly the system is stacked against the public interest. You walk away from these experiences and realize that for every one who gets representation—how many are left to their own devices, meeting obstacles at every turn?”

McGuire and his wife are very proud of their family, including son Sean (“He works in the office with me, handling veterans’ cases”) and twin grandchildren. (“She’s at MIT, and he’s at Berkeley,” beams the proud grandpa.)

McGuire’s latest venture is a radio program, Elder Answers, airing every Saturday from 10 to 11 a.m. on KNEWS 94.3 FM/970 AM. McGuire describes the show as an opportunity to start a conversation, and he looks forward to, when the pandemic is over, again presenting workshops where people can talk on a more personal level.

“Throughout life, no matter the situation, you’re well-advised to exercise patience and introspection before you react,” McGuire says. “I’ve failed to follow that many times and paid a price for sure. When I’ve done it, it’s always paid off.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show The Lovable Liberal airs on IHubRadio. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

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