ORLANDO, Fla. – On Tuesday, the Florida Department of Elder Affairs submitted three budget proposals to lawmakers, requesting an increase of more than $6 million for the state Guardianship Program.
The request comes at the same time the state is undergoing a criminal investigation of former Florida Guardian Rebecca Fierle, who resigned last month, and whose handling of hundreds of guardianship cases across the state is under scrutiny.
Also, a statewide investigation into the entire guardianship program is underway after Governor Ron DeSantis called for it in July.
“Governor DeSantis has emphasized the need to truly make Florida an age-friendly state that would help eliminate abuse, neglect, and exploitation of our most vulnerable, elderly residents,” said Secretary Richard Prudom. “More must be done to enhance the structure of accountability for guardians to monitor compliance with established standards of practice and ensure that guardians are acting in the best interests of their wards. The matter is complex, and the solution extends beyond the Department of Elder Affairs; families, local communities, and public officials must also work together to prevent all forms of exploitation to provide safety and security for all.”
The proposal asks for an increase of $454,930 in recurring general funds for professional guardian investigative services for the Office of Public and Professional Guardians, which oversees about 550 registered professional guardians in Florida.
The state agency said in its budget proposal that due to increased public awareness of guardianship issues and concerns about guardianship abuse and exploitation, and in light of the Fierle case, and the Office of Public and Professional Guardians anticipates an increase in the number of professional guardian complaints and investigations and legal fees.
The current fiscal year allocation for investigative services is $250,000.
If approved, it would boost the agency’s budget to almost $721,000 – nearly three times what it is currently budgeted for. The funds would monitor about550 professional state guardians for compliance.
The budget proposal also includes a request for an increase of $5,537,448 for the OPPG General Revenue Fund for Fiscal Year 2020-2021 , to run the public side of the program, citing the department’s priority to “ensure the legal rights of older Floridians are protected and prevent their abuse, neglect, and exploitation.”
The third request calls for an additional $500,000 to be added to General Revenue funds to monitor the professional guardians in the state, to make sure they are in compliance with the state’s standards of practice.
According to the budget documents, the state contracts with 17 offices of public guardian statewide, serving a total of 2,728 state-funded wards.