TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The professional guardian linked to the death of a 75-year-old Florida man began relinquishing hundreds of guardianships across Florida as law enforcement officials opened a criminal investigation against her.
State officials said the guardian, Rebecca Fierle, had 450 guardianships in 16 counties.
In a letter submitted Thursday to the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, Fierle said she was "resigning as a registered professional guardian in the state of Florida" and would "seek a discharge in all of my cases."
Fierle submitted her letter the same day the Florida Department of Law Enforcement opened a criminal investigation.
Although the FDLE would not comment on its investigation, Fierle is at the center of a swirling controversy over the death of a man who hospital workers would not treat because Fierle allegedly filed a "do not resuscitate" order without consent from the man or his family.
Earlier this week, Gov. Ron Desantis called for a vigorous investigation into the state's guardianship program, although officials have acknowledged that they have little oversight of the more than 550 guardians, public and private, appointed by courts to run the lives of thousands of wards deemed incapable of handling their own legal, financial, housing and medical concerns.
"The Governor and I will pursue legislative changes to grant the Department of Elder Affairs the necessary oversight to guarantee our ability to ensure that neglect and abuse to the frailest of the frail never occurs again," Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom said.
As it stands, the department's Office of Public and Private Guardians has little recourse to discipline any of the state's registered guardians. The most severe administrative remedy available, state officials say, is a revocation of a guardian's license.
But Fierle's letter made the administrative matter moot.
"Rebecca Fierle failed nearly 100 families who entrusted their loved ones to her care," Prudom said, adding that his agency would work with law enforcement and the courts "to hold bad actors who violate the trust of our most vulnerable citizens and their families accountable."
Earlier this month, the Orlando Sentinel reported that a judge moved to remove Fierle from 95 guardianship cases after revelations that Fierle had allegedly filed "do not resuscitate" orders on behalf of some of her wards without permission from their families or the court.
Scrutiny over Fierle's caseload of hundreds of guardianships began when a 75-year-old man died May 13 in a Tampa hospital because a DNR prohibited medical staff from attempting to save his life.
The case drew wide condemnation.
The controversy prompted Prudom earlier this month to seek the resignation of the director Office of Public and Private Guardians, Carol Berkowitz.
Berkowitz submitted a one-sentence resignation letter on July 12.
Meanwhile, Prudom said he has made immediate administrative changes to more "expeditiously review complaints."