Thursday, August 8, 2019

Federal legislation filed to address guardianship issues as scandal embroils Florida’s troubled program

Jack Meagher says his court-appointed guardian, Rebecca Fierle, doesn't respect his wishes, and he doesn't need someone to make decisions for him.
As Florida’s guardianship program is under increased scrutiny with the revelation that a client died after his Orlando guardian filed a “do not resuscitate” order against his wishes, federal lawmakers on Wednesday filed bipartisan legislation to expand protections for incapacitated people.

The Guardianship Accountability Act would expand oversight and data collection “to hold guardians accountable” by creating a national resource center and expanding background checks and communication between local, state and federal organizations, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto’s office said in a statement.

“It is our duty in Congress to speak up and protect the most vulnerable members of our communities,” said Soto, D-Kissimmee, in a statement. “In Orlando, we saw firsthand the abuse of a former guardian which led to a preventable death. We owe it to our seniors and to those living with disabilities to provide protections from ill-intended bad actors who abuse the system designed to provide a better quality of life."

The scandal in Florida was sparked by the death of 75-year-old Steven Stryker, a ward of Orlando professional guardian Rebecca Fierle. Despite Stryker’s stated desire to live, corroborated by his daughter and a psychiatrist, Stryker died after Fierle refused to rescind a DNR order she had filed, which prevented staff at a Tampa hospital from attempting to save his life, a state investigation found.

It has since emerged that Fierle routinely filed DNRs on behalf of her wards without court approval. She resigned as a professional guardian statewide as judges across Central Florida launched removal proceedings against her after details of the Stryker case, first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, came to light. Fierle is currently under criminal investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

State agents searched the Orlando office of Fierle’s company, Geriatric Management, on Monday, finding the cremated remains of nine people, according to the state’s Office of Attorney General.

Soto was joined by fellow Florida congressmen U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, and Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor; Michigan Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell; and U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, and Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, in introducing the act.

“Guardianship abuses are resulting in seniors literally being held against their will, isolated from family members and friends, their assets liquidated and drained by unscrupulous people gaming a broken system,” Crist said in a statement. “... This legislation brings federal resources to bear, providing the missing transparency needed to understand where problems exist with a better ability for stakeholders to track outcomes across disparate state court systems nationwide.”

Said Bilirakis: “It is said that the strength of a society can be judged based upon how it treats its most vulnerable populations. We’ve seen from recent examples in the news, and alarming rates of elder abuse throughout Pasco and Pinellas counties, that guardianship is an area where we can and must do better in order to ensure the protection of our seniors.”

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Federal legislation filed to address guardianship issues as scandal embroils Florida’s troubled program

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