ORLANDO, Fla. — Top Florida officials are looking to make changes to the state’s guardian program for seniors.

  • Florida Guardian Program under fire amid Fierle case, complaint backlog
  • DeSantis, Elder Affairs secretary promising legislative reform
  • SENIOR CARE IN QUESTION: The Rebecca Fierle Case Explained

Concerns with the program first came to light after a hearing led to the removal of nearly 100 seniors in former professional guardian Rebecca Fierle’s care. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Secretary of Elder Affairs Richard Prudom say they are willing to make legislative changes to better the state guardianship program.

Prudom says while the Office of Public and Professional Guardians is responsible for taking complaints against professional guardians, the office is not directly responsible for oversight and keeping track of the number of seniors each professional guardian is assigned.

“I think it’s a serious important issue, that it deserves more of a quick fix. It is something that I will be working with the governor and his policy staff, and we will be working with the legislature, and I think the judicial branch as well,” Prudom said.

In a recent interview, Spectrum News 13 spoke with DeSantis, who vowed for change within the guardianship program.

“As we look at this guardianship program if there needs to be legislative changes, those could be something we propose for the next legislative session,” DeSantis said.

How the Guardian Program is Structured in Florida

Currently, the Department of Elder Affairs operates the public and professional guardian program out of Office of Public and Professional Guardians. Judges appoint guardians when the court declares an individual incapacitated and in need of guardianship.

If no family or friend is able or willing to serve, or if the court determines that the family member is inappropriate to serve as guardian, the vourt appoints an outside guardian.

If the ward has assets from which to pay the guardian, a professional guardian is appointed. If the ward does not have assets, a Public Guardian is appointed, and services are paid by the state through contracts the Dept. of Elder Affairs has with 17 Offices of Public Guardian across Florida. 

If a legally sufficient complaint is reported to the Office of Public and Professional Guardians against a professional guardian, it is referred for investigation to the Clerk of Courts’ Statewide Investigative Alliance, as part of the agreement with the Dept. of Elder Affairs.

Complaints and Reform

According to the Dept. of Elder Affairs, since 2016, 764 allegations against professional guardians have been investigated. Approximately 11 percent of those had substantiated findings, or were noted as concerns.

Secretary Prudom says he recently cleared an 80+ case backlog of complaints that had not been closed. He plans to make changes to improve this process.

“What we are going to do actually is, to be more responsive," Prudom said, "Is when an investigation is completed, we are going to release that investigation to the complainant, rather than wait for the administrative process to take place. I think that is going to be more responsive to the needs of the complainant.”

The Dept. of Elder Affairs can only reprimand professional guardians by stripping them of their license — further action can only be taken by the courts or law enforcement.

Secretary Prudom wants to see more oversight for professional guardians, and is working with the governor and other state leaders to make changes.

“That’s what I’ll be doing, working on how to provide monitoring to the over 550 guardians that we have the state, that operate in all 67 counties and have thousands of wards under their supervision. That is what I will be working on to ensure what has happen to date doesn’t happen again.” 

While there is an ongoing FDLE criminal investigation centered on Rebecca Fierle, she's not been charged with a crime. We continue to seek comment from her attorneys.