|Gerald Manczak, a ward of Rebecca Fierle, said this "do not resuscitate" order was filed without his permission by the professional guardian. (Monivette Cordeiro / Orlando Sentinel)|
In a letter to the department Thursday, professional guardian Rebecca Fierle resigned from all her cases statewide, writing that she would not seek to be reappointed to any cases already taken from her or seek to be appointed as a guardian again in the future.
“Please be advised that I am hereby resigning as a registered professional guardian in the state of Florida,” Fierle wrote in the letter, which was first reported by the Associated Press. “I have instructed all of the attorneys with whom I work to file registrations as guardian on my behalf in all cases.”
In a statement, Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom said Fierle “failed... families who entrusted their loved ones to her care. We will continue to work with law enforcement and the courts to hold bad actors who violate the trust of our most vulnerable citizens and their families accountable.”
Prudom said he and Gov. Ron DeSantis would seek legislative changes to grant the department “the necessary oversight authority to guarantee our ability to ensure that neglect and abuse to the frailest of the frail never occurs again.”
In the meantime, Prudom said he had made unspecified changes “to improve our response time and thoroughly and expeditiously review complaints we have received. If complaints are received that demonstrate legally sufficient evidence of abuse, neglect or malfeasance, we refer those complaints to the appropriate authorities.”
He added: “Something needs to be—and will be—done.”
Prudom’s announcement came only hours after the Orlando Sentinel in the latest of several exclusive reports revealed that a 2016 complaint against Fierle — by a former member of Orange County’s Guardianship Examining Committee who alleged the guardian lied about a ward’s care and ignored her medical needs — had sat ignored for more than two years, until it was opened for investigation in April.
The latest developments come as a transcript of a recent court hearing obtained Friday by the Orlando Sentinel shed new light on how frequently Fierle used DNRs.
“Almost every case had a DNR,” Lori D. Loftis of the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel told Circuit Judge Janet Thorpe during the July 11 hearing. The hearing was closed to the public but the Orlando Sentinel obtained a transcript late Friday.
The transcript also revealed that Fierle’s resignation from 95 cases she had in Orange County at the time was only temporary. The parties agreed to appoint emergency guardians for Fierle’s wards until a full hearing, to be held 30 days after the initial hearing on Fierle’s removal.
It’s unclear if the hearing will still be held in light of Fierle’s letter to the Department of Elder Affairs.
“The exact timing of the appointment of successors and my discharges are not entirely in my control because I rely on my attorneys to prepare the resignations and judges to accept them and appoint successors,” Fierle wrote.
However, at Loftis’ urging, Thorpe revoked all advanced directives signed by the professional guardian — “there are to be no DNRs or plug-pulling,” she said. Loftis told Thorpe she had seen 90 cases involving Fierle and “probably 88 out of 90 had DNRs.”
During the hearing, Thorpe also said she had discovered that Fierle had not been personally bonded since 2013. Professional guardians are required to obtain a $50,000 bond to cover any liability. Thorpe said Fierle had transferred the bonding to a corporation that dissolved in 2014.
“And so as of right now, she’s a disqualified person,” Thorpe said. “And it’s mandatory that the Court shall remove her.”
The firestorm surrounding Fierle began after the death of Steven Stryker, a 75-year-old Cocoa man to whom Fierle had been appointed as a guardian. Investigators with the Okaloosa County Clerk of Court found that Stryker died at a Tampa hospital after staff could not perform life-saving procedures because of a DNR order Fierle filed against his wishes.
On Thursday, Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokesman Jeremy Burns confirmed the agency has launched “an active criminal investigation into” Fierle, though he could not confirm if the investigation was related to the Stryker’s death.
In a notice that prompted the July 11 hearing, Circuit Judge Janet C. Thorpe found Fierle had “abused her powers” by requesting that incapacitated clients not receive medical treatment if their heart or breathing stopped.
During the hearing, an attorney for AdventHealth told Thorpe the hospital system had paid Fierle for her services as a guardian to roughly 50 patients. An Orange County Comptroller’s review of 30 cases where Fierle was appointed guardian found Fierle may have entered into a contract with the health-care company formerly known as Florida Hospital that was not disclosed to the court — a potential violation.
“We pay for various services,” attorney Troy A. Kishbaugh told Thorpe, according to the transcript. “We suspected in many instances that AdventHealth should not be responsible for paying for guardians.”
Guardians are court-appointed decision makers who determine legal, financial, housing and medical choices for minors and adults with mental and physical disabilities, known as wards.
"You shouldn't be," Thorpe told him. "All payments to guardians come through the court based on the statutes. ... I haven't seen your payments come through to me."
"They don't," Kishbaugh answered.
"That's a problem, sir," the judge said.
The guardian needed to get permission from the court to receive funds from another party, Thorpe said.
At the Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Justice Center in Brevard County Friday, Fierle’s attorney Laura Sterling told Chief Judge Lisa Davidson that guardian Manda Wright would be available for appointment in two cases where Fierle had petitioned to start guardianship proceedings.
J. Rudi Trader, the court-appointed attorney for both wards, asked Wright before the judge if she was in any way associated with Fierle.
“No,” Wright responded.
Davidson said she felt the substitution of Wright for Fierle is “appropriate under the circumstances.”
Full Article & Source:
Florida Elder Affairs chief announces ‘immediate’ changes as embattled Orlando guardian Rebecca Fierle resigns from all cases