Orange commissioners approve new position to help monitor guardianship cases

State leaders, lawmakers discuss reforms to tighten guardianship laws

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Local lawmakers on Tuesday talked about how to prevent state guardians from making both financial and medical decisions that go against a ward's will and are without court approval.

The discussion comes as a state criminal investigation continues into a former Central Florida guardian. 
Orlando-based Rebecca Fierle is accused of placing do not resuscitate orders on clients who did not want them.

She's admitted to doing so in court. 

A state investigation reveals one of her clients may have died as a result. Court records and a July state investigative report reveal 74-year-old Steven Stryker died in May, after he started choking on some food in a Tampa hospital where he was staying.

The investigative report states the DNR order Fierle placed on Stryker prevented hospital staff from performing potentially lifesaving measures even though the report says both he and his daughter begged for the order to be removed.

State investigators contend Fierle's decision to place the order against Stryker's wishes caused his death.

Both state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo and state Rep. Colleen Burton presented their ideas for what the new guardianship bill should include to local lawyers, a former guardianship judge and the head of the Department of Elder Affairs on Tuesday.

One of those in attendance was state Sen. Linda Stewart, of Orlando.

"There's a lot of loopholes," Stewart said. "A lot of the loopholes that we've had will be closed."

The group also discussed potential conflicts of interest and compensation that currently exist when a hospital asks a guardian to step in and take over the care of a patient who no longer needs to be in a hospital setting.

An Orange County audit revealed Fierle received almost $4 million from Advent Health for guardianship services she provided for the hospital over a 10-year span. Stewart and others said that issue needs to be addressed in the bill, as well.

"We will have a bill and it will be one that has been well-thought out and that will hopefully solve these problems that we ran into in Orlando," Stewart said.

At the same time lawmakers were discussing a potential bill, Orange County commissioners were approving federal funds to be used to create a new case manager position for the 9th Circuit Court, which would help provide more oversight over guardianship cases in both Orange and Osceola counties.

This is the same circuit court that removed Fierle from nearly 100 guardianship cases. 

On Monday, News 6 confirmed the chief judge for the circuit has plans to add extra oversight to guardianship cases as a result of the Fierle case. 

Judge Donald Myers said the court has seen a 33% increase in the number of guardianship cases over the past five years.

The case manager position approved by Orange County commissioners on Tuesday is just one of the measures Myers said the court is considering right now.

"And that person's responsibilities are going to be to focus in on these accountings that are filed, to see if they can identify particular cases where there might be fraud, abuse or neglect going on and to highlight these things to the judge," Myers said. 

Myers said a federal grant from the Department of Justice will be used to pay for one year of the $47,000 per year position.