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Elder Affairs secretary describes shock of learning allegations against state guardian

'The system failed,' Secretary Richard Prudom says

TAMPA, Fla. – More than two months after Gov. Ron DeSantis demanded a statewide investigation into a Central Florida guardian, and a criminal investigation was announced, the head of the Florida's Office of Public and Professional Guardians is speaking about accountability to prevent future failures.

Florida Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom took over as the director of the Office of Public and Professional Guardians in July after he asked the previous director, Carol Berkowitz, to resign as a result of the brewing scandal surrounding former Orlando-based Guardian Rebecca Fierle.

He says he's taking full responsibility for the failures and pushing for change.

News 6 spoke to Prudom Friday at the University of South Florida, where he spoke to a room full of nursing students about Florida's exploding elderly population and how to best care for them.

Asked how he plans to handle the state's guardianship program now that DeSantis has asked for an extensive review, Prudom said it's going to take some time.

"You know everybody needs to be involved in deciding how that looks, and how we are defining our terms for success," Prudom said.

As for how the state can prevent future abuse and exploitation from happening, Prudom said, "That's where the community has to step in and decide how successful they need to be, and what determines success and failures against that abuse."

Two weeks ago, Prudom submitted his budget proposal to lawmakers, and asked for an increase of more than $6.5 million to help operate, regulate and monitor the more than 550 guardians registered in the state.

This request comes more than two months after Fierle's resignation from all her cases and after she was named in a state criminal investigation being conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. 

Prudom said he was shocked when a state report revealed Fierle was being investigated for the death of 75-year-old Steven Stryker, who died in a Tampa hospital in May. The report revealed Fierle placed a do not resuscitate order on Stryker, even though he told her and his family that he wanted to live. The report stated Stryker died because the order prevented health care professionals from trying to save him when he started choking on food in the hospital.

Prudom said he was even more shocked when an Orange County Comptroller audit revealed Fierle billed Advent Health more than $4 million over 10 years, double-billing the hospital and court for the exact same services.

"I think that the system failed," Prudom said.

Prudom admits his agency is severely limited in what it can do to discipline state guardians and said only judges can appoint and remove them.

Moving forward to protect Floridians from being exploited by guardians, Prudom said the "right people are at the table to ensure this doesn't happen again," including people victimized by the guardian in question.

Prudom also confirmed the governor and state lawmakers are taking a closer look at the 2016 law that was supposed to help improve how state guardians were monitored and trained. He said they will determine what changes, if any, need to be made to that law and if any other state agencies will be included to monitor professional guardians in the future.


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