Central Oregon Guardian Assistance Program a New Nonprofit Seeing Success from the Get-Go


((L-R) Lisa Bertalan and Emily Coxey)

The Central Oregon Guardian Assistance Program (COGAP) was established as a nonprofit organization in August of 2023 in Bend to provide guardianship services to indigent and low-income incapacitated individuals in the tri-county Central Oregon area. The formation of the nonprofit was in response to the rapid increase of indigent and low-income incapacitated adults having no family or other legal decision-making support cycling through the hospital and jails or unhoused in our communities and without care and housing appropriate to their needs. Following input from the Central Oregon Council on Aging, DHS, adult behavior health agencies, Mental Health agencies, Elder Law Attorneys, Judges, Trial Court Administrators, Probate Commissioner, law enforcement, professional guardians and medical professionals, the Central Oregon Guardian Assistance Program was formed.

COGAP provides pro bono and low-cost guardianship services to Central Oregonians with limited means who are incapacitated and unable to make medical, housing and financial decisions for themselves. We help people who are unable to make decisions regarding medical treatment, housing and nutrition due to a lack of capacity by providing pro bono guardianship services to those in need.  Often these individuals may be unhoused, dealing with learning or cognitive disabilities, mental illness, acute medical needs, dementia, or Alzheimer’s Disease and/or substance abuse disorders.

Lisa Bertalan serves as COGAP’s initial executive director. Bertalan practiced law in Central Oregon for more than 30 years as an elder law and estate attorney and retired in 2022 from the firm of Brinich & Bertalan, LLP of Bend, of which she was a founding partner. While serving on the Elder Abuse Task Force, Bertalan drafted several bills that are now law to protect Oregon seniors from financial and physical abuse. Bertalan also created and co-chaired the Central Oregon Elder Law Council and was a frequent presenter and author in areas of guardianship conservatorship law, bioethics, elder abuse, estate planning, elder law and probate administration.

Emily Coxey serves as COGAP’s staff guardian. Coxey received her bachelor of arts degree in liberal arts with a social science option from Oregon State University. Coxey has worked as a partner and office administrator in a certified public accounting firm for over 21 years. In 2010, the firm added conservator, fiduciary and guardianship services to the practice which Coxey manages and serves as a Certified Guardian and Conservator. Coxey is a National Certified Guardian and Conservatorship as certified by the Center for Guardianship Certification. Coxey also serves as a mentor to apprentices who are interested in learning more about elder care and becoming a Professional Guardian and Conservator. Coxey is a member of the Guardian/Conservator Association of Oregon and serves on the membership committee. COGAP operates with a five-person working Board of Directors who bring legal, financial and medical expertise to the table in advising COGAP. COGAP also uses the expertise of a five-person Advisory Committee who reviews all program applications. In doing so, COGAP is steadfast in maintaining confidentiality and HIPAA compliance with all referrals to the program.

Since the program’s inception only six months ago, COGAP has assisted 19 incapacitated individuals. Referrals to the program are from Deschutes County Behavioral Health, St. Charles Medical Center, Adult Protective Services and Deschutes County Court. A recent case COGAP staffed arose out of a referral from Deschutes County Circuit Court regarding an elderly gentleman who had suffered a series of strokes and with severe dementia (most probably Alzheimer’s Disease) who had been housed inappropriately at the Deschutes County jail on for almost 2 years. The criminal charges in this case were due to his dementia, paranoia and confusion, all symptoms of advanced Alzheimer’s Disease. The man was deemed never able to aid and assist his defense because of his severe and progressive cognitive impairment. In such cases, by law, the case is dismissed and the person is released to the community. This gentleman is a Veteran and a decorated Search and Rescue body recovery specialist with no criminal history. Upon a referral from Judge Allison Emerson, County Counsel and the District Attorney’s office, COGAP became his guardian and within a week of such referrals, he was released from jail and transported directly to a memory care facility who continues to provide him with appropriate care and a safe and secure living environment. COGAP will continue to provide this gentleman with support throughout his lifetime. Without COGAP’s intervention, he would have been released to the community without a care plan, support, or the means to ensure his safety and well-being.

COGAP is currently supported by St. Charles Health System, Deschutes County, Horner Law, LLP and the Central Oregon Health Council. COGAP’s initial funding came from Deschutes County, St. Charles Medical Center Foundation and the Central Oregon Health Council.



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Founded in 1994 by the late Pamela Hulse Andrews, Cascade Business News (CBN) became Central Oregon’s premier business publication. CascadeBusNews.com • CBN@CascadeBusNews.com

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