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Is Florida Ready to Make Changes to a Disastrous Guardianship Program?

MP900407501The idea that someone charged with the safety and well-being of an incapacitated senior would sign a DNR order without their consent is alarming. Florida’s guardianship program is clearly in need of some big changes. Will they occur, or will it be more of the same?

A recent article from the Orlando Sentinel, “DeSantis, Florida lawmakers consider changes in troubled guardianship program,” says that changes, especially improving monitoring and increasing penalties for guardians with valid complaints, may be coming. It started with a meeting between judges, guardianship trade groups, state attorneys, members of the Elder Law section of the Florida Bar and officials from the governor’s office.

“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,” Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom said. “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 recent news concerning guardian Rebecca Fierle, who investigators say was responsible for more than 400 wards and regularly signed “Do Not Resuscitate” orders for clients against their wishes, has rekindled interest among lawmakers for more control over Florida’s 550 registered guardians.

Senator Kathleen Passidomo and Representative Colleen Burton participated in the meeting and said some of the ideas being discussed include limiting the number of cases each guardian has and requiring a judge to approve a DNR order. Other Ideas include increased standards for guardians and more thorough monitoring.

The lawmakers say there’s no need to increase the requirements to become a guardian. All that is required now is a 40-hour course and passing an exam. Passidomo said the issue isn’t a lack of competence, but the risk for abuse.

As a result, standards and monitoring of guardians must be increased. However, these ideas are merely being discussed, as lawmakers have yet to present a concrete plan.

The Office of Public and Professional Guardians currently has only four employees. The executive director of the agency who was in charge at the time of the Fierle case, was asked to resign and Prudom has now taken control of the department. Governor DeSantis plans to put in a budget request for the Department of Elder Affairs that would include more funds for investigators, so that complaints may be reviewed.

Reference: Orlando Sentinel (September 16, 2019) “DeSantis, Florida lawmakers consider changes in troubled guardianship program”