Florida Hospitals Found Applying for Massive Numbers of Guardianships for Their Patients, seeking to Strip Away Their Rights
On October 21, ABC Action News broke news on an undercover investigation here in Florida involving a number of hospitals in Florida—including Miami, Naples, Orlando, West Palm Beach, and other cities—paying private attorneys to file hundreds of court petitions to place a number of their patients into guardianships. Specifically, the investigation found that hospitals such as AdventHealth, Baycare, and HCA (in Tampa Bay) have gone to court to request that more than 100 of their patients be placed in guardianships since 2017, and a number of these court documents were found to be identical; describing the patients as having “poor cognition” and “disorganized thinking.” In fact, one hospital reportedly spent close to $30,000 in 2019 alone on guardianship cases, and the justification used for one case was that a patient had missed a car payment, indicating that there are some questionable justifications involved in the potential scandal.
The purpose of a guardianship is to protect individuals who have been declared to be incapacitated and who are mentally or physically incapable of making decisions for themselves. Yet, guardianships also involve judges handing over what amounts to complete control over an individual’s life; into the hands of the court-appointed guardian. This means that individual loses a number of rights, including but not limited to the right to drive, make medical decisions, decide where to live, vote, what family members can visit, and more. The idea that a hospital would file the paperwork for so many of these patients is questionable, especially since, presumably, they are not in physical danger if they are being cared for in a hospital.
Why Do This?
Some experts have hypothesized that this could be due to financial struggles that the hospitals are facing; that perhaps it is simply costing too much to keep the patients in beds. In fact, the investigation unearthed documentation from the Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point requesting guardianship for a patient who was on Social Security which indicated that its reasoning was that the hospital was at risk of being over capacity and the bed was needed for other patients. However, this could indicate that they are engaged in improper patient dumping.
If hospitals found themselves truly concerned about a patient potentially needing a guardianship, the reasonable course of action would be to contact state social workers at the Department of Children and Families so that they could individually handle any cases where patients may need court-appointed guardians.
The Rebecca Fierle Scandal
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Florida hospitals have been involved in guardianship scandals: A court investigation recently revealed that AdventHealth paid former guardian Rebecca Fierle almost $4 million to serve as a guardian for almost 700 patients at its Orlando location and hid the arrangement from the courts. Fierle was then accused of causing the death of one patient under her care. According to the court investigation report, Fierle violated the law by failing to disclose to the court that she was being paid for the services, which violates state law barring guardians from receiving financial benefits other than those approved by the court.
Contact Our Florida Estate Planning Attorneys If You Need Assistance with A Guardianship
If you need to establish a guardianship for a loved one, or have concerns that there could be an abusive situation occurring with someone else fraudulently trying to set up a guardianship for them and you have questions about what options you have to protect them, contact our Orlando guardianship lawyers at the office of Gierach and Gierach, P.A. today to find out how we can help.