ORLANDO, Fla. — Embattled professional guardian Rebecca Fierle is promising to not petition for future guardianship cases amid an ongoing criminal investigation.
- Guardian Rebecca Fierle under investigation
- Removed from hundreds of senior guardian cases
- Family of Steven Stryker blames her for his death
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Fierle sent a letter to Florida Department of Elder Affairs to resign from all cases statewide. She has also since resigned her membership from the Florida State Guardianship Association.
Multiple investigations have questioned Fierle’s handling of the health care and finances of wards, or seniors she was appointed to take care of.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement is also investigating Fierle’s actions as part of a criminal investigation
Much of the scrutiny started following an investigation into the May death of 75-year-old Steven Stryker.
State investigators blame Stryker’s death on Fierle, saying she ordered his feeding tube capped, and because Fierle filed a Do Not Resuscitate order against Stryker’s wishes, doctors could not provide lifesaving support.
“Fierle’s decision to place a DNR order, against the Ward’s stated wishes, constituted the removal of care necessary to maintain the Ward’s physical health,” an investigative report by the Office of Public and Professional Guardians states.
“The removal of this necessary care directly resulted in the Ward’s death…A person who causes the death of an elderly person or disabled adult by culpable negligence…commits aggravated manslaughter of an elderly person or disabled adult, a felony of the first degree.”
Stryker’s family continues to question how Fierle was appointed as his guardian in the first place.
Separate investigations by the Office of Public and Professional Guardians, as well as the Orange County Comptroller’s Office, both found that Fierle often failed to properly notify family members about court proceedings and other necessary information.
Multiple families of Fierle’s now-former wards have told Spectrum News they were unaware of guardianship petitions being filed.
In June 2018, Stryker was hospitalized at AdventHealth in Orlando.
Stryker’s daughter Kimberly, who lives in Virginia, told Spectrum News that without the family’s knowledge, AdventHealth petitioned Ninth Circuit Court Judge Janet Thorpe to appoint Rebecca Fierle as Stryker’s guardian.
“The decision was made for Rebecca to be assigned, she never contacted me, she never reached out, never asked for any information from me,” Kimberly Stryker said.
In their petition to the Court, AdventHealth argued Stryker’s family could not be located and there were no other contacts willing to take care of Steven Stryker. The hospital also argued that a guardian was necessary to be released from the hospital because Stryker was in imminent danger because of his health.
They are arguments that Kimberly Stryker and family friend Linda Lanier both deny.
“I didn’t know about the petition until much later when a case manager reached out to me and told me the only way they could facilitate discharging Steve is if they had a guardian in place,” Linda Lanier said.
Lanier was a friend of Stryker's for eight years and his durable power of attorney.
“AdventHealth worked with me for the entire month of August making arrangements, I turned my three-bedroom home into four (for Steve to live there upon his release),” Lanier said. “I was talking with them right up until the petition was filed."
AdventHealth declined to talk about any case specifically but did say it may file a guardianship application when a patient does not have family available to care for the patient and all efforts have been exhausted.
“In the Florida Hospital petition for guardianship, they state the Ward’s daughter whereabouts were unknown,” the OPPG investigative report states. “However, her contact information was listed on the Advance Directive on file with the hospital, and our office found her contact information with a quick Google search.”
Hundreds of Seniors in Fierle's Care
Florida law provides for the appointment of both voluntarily and involuntary guardians who assume legal decision making authority over a person’s affairs and finances.
The process can often be time-consuming and complicated.
Records show by early July, judges in 13 counties appointed Fierle to care for some 450 seniors. That’s in addition to Fierle petitioning to be appointed guardian in more than 400 cases since 2007 in Orange and Osceola counties alone.
Transcripts from a July 11 court hearing show the Orange-Osceola Circuit judge question why Fierle had so many wards.
Public quardians have a limit of 40 wards. But professional guardians, like Fierle, have no limit, according to state officials.
Court records show since at least June 2018, AdventHealth has filed multiple petitions specifically asking Fierle to be appointed guardian of wards.
It’s unclear what relationship Fierle had with AdventHealth, if any, beyond being a member of a professional guardians registry.
In each of the cases seeking Fierle appointments, AdventHealth relied on attorney Phillip Wallace as outside counsel.
Wallace also represents Fierle individually in a series of other guardianship cases.
Spectrum News asked Wallace about the dual representation as he was leaving a Fierle-related hearing Monday at the Volusia County Courthouse. Wallace would not comment, nor has he responded to multiple emails asking.
AdventHealth did tell Spectrum News from what it knew, it was not an uncommon arrangement and saw no conflict of interest.
"Abused her Powers"
Multiple judges have since removed or accepted Fierle’s resignation in more than 100 guardianship cases since early July.
Thorpe wrote in a July 3 motion that Fierle had “abused her powers” in part by filing DNR without family or court knowledge and permission, and failing to disclose to the court various conflicts of interests.
Among those conflicts of interest is receiving “…compensation as a Medicaid caseworker for her wards, having received payments form hospitals and other facilities without disclosure or court permission.”
It became a focal point during a July 11 closed-door emergency hearing in front of Thorpe.
AdventHealth in-house counsel Troy Kishbaugh told Thorpe that the hospital has a record of approximately 50 patients for which Fierle has served as guardian.
“As you know, we do pay for her services,” Kishbaugh told Thorpe according to court transcripts.
Kishbaugh told Thorpe that AdventHealth paid Fierle “for various services” but didn't detail those services.
AdventHealth said in general when guardianship petitions are approved it does not necessarily remove its own financial responsibility in a ward’s case.
“We provide about $500 million a year in community benefits, so we understand that,” Kimbaugh told the court.
The issue Thorpe took up was Fierle not reporting payments from AdventHealth to the court and receiving permission.
An investigation by the Orange County Comptroller’s Office, looking closely at the financial activities of Fierle’s cases, called into question whether Fierle may have been receiving double payments.
Fierle nor her attorneys have responded to multiple requests for comment.