ORLANDO, Fla. — A new bipartisan bill in Congress aims to further oversight of senior guardian programs across the country, amid growing reports of fraud and financial exploitation of seniors, including the Rebecca Fierle case in Florida.
- Bill makes funds available for state guardian databases
- Establishes national resource center
- Report says more oversight, data collection needed
- RELATED: Read the text of the Guardianship Accountability Act (.pdf)
- COMPLETE COVERAGE: The Rebecca Fierle Case Explained
Florida Reps. Darren Soto, Gus Bilirakis and Charlie Crist, along with Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell, introduced the Guardianship Accountability Act Wednesday.
The bill makes federal grants available so states can create guardian databases so that officials have information on guardians, including background checks.
It also establishes a national online resource center on guardianship, which would be responsible for collecting and publishing information that guardians, government and community groups and individuals subject to guardianship can use, including research, best practices and state laws, which can be shared across all of the states.
“There will be more information out there to understand what type of guardian we’re dealing with — is this someone who has had problems in the past? What have their results been in court,” Soto said.
The bill stems from recommendations made in a year-long investigation into guardianship in the United States by the Senate Special Committee on Aging. A companion bill is also working its way through the Senate.
Guardians are appointed to handle legal and financial matters for seniors who are no longer able to do so for themselves.
The report found there was a lack of clear guidelines, which led to guardianships being imposed without a full understanding of a guardian's responsibilities, and few safeguards to protect seniors from abuse and fraud. It also found that states need to better report accurate and detailed guardianship data.
The Rebecca Fierle Case
In Florida, while public guardians are under greater scrutiny, professional guardians can take on as many wards as they want, with little oversight.
The state is currently investigating Rebecca Fierle, a professional guardian who had as many as 450 cases in 13 counties before she resigned. She was removed from nearly 100 cases in Orange and Osceola counties after a judge said she had abuse her powers as a guardian.
A state report by the Office of Public and Professional Guardians says Fierle's decision not to remove a "Do Not Resuscitate" order from a Brevard County man, Steven Stryker, led to his death in May. Stryker's family says they were not made aware of the DNR order, and they don't believe Stryker would have wanted the DNR order because he had a health issue that made it difficult at times to swallow.
Stryker's daughter also said Fierle never contacted her after Fierle was appointed, and it was difficult to get hold of Fierle or find out where her father was.
Rep. Soto says it’s cases like this that show the lack of oversight with guardianship.
“We are not isolated in this, this is happening all across the nation, because this guardianship area isn’t as regulated as we think,” Soto said.
The FDLE is investigating Fierle.
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