ORLANDO, Fla. – A former guardian for the elderly and incapacitated who was accused of filing “do not resuscitate” orders without her clients’ permission has been arrested in Florida on felony charges.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said local authorities arrested Rebecca Fierle-Santoian in a county northwest of Orlando late Monday on charges of aggravated abuse of an elderly person and neglect of an elderly person.
Online court documents hadn’t been filed in Tampa as of Tuesday morning, and it wasn’t clear whether she had an attorney. Records show she was released from jail Tuesday after posting $22,500 in bond.
The FDLE said in a news release that agents started an investigation into Fierle-Santoian following the death of a 74-year-old man under her guardianship in Tampa. Fierle-Santoian obtained an order to cap the man's feeding tube, ignoring doctors who told her this would likely cause his death. The man had requested that he continue receiving nutrition through the feeding tube, the FDLE said.
“Medical professionals who examined him believed he was capable of making end-of-life medical decisions for himself and informed Fierle-Santoian that her client had a strong desire to live and that he understood his condition," the FDLE statement said. “Despite the wishes of the elderly man and those of his family and friends, Fierle-Santoian ordered his doctors not perform any life prolonging medical procedures saying she preferred ‘quality of life versus quantity of life.'”
Guardians make decisions for thousands of people deemed incapable of handling their own legal, financial, housing and medical concerns. The state has hundreds of such professional guardians.
Fierle had been entrusted with 450 guardianships when she resigned amid a criminal investigation last summer. The controversy surrounding her case prompted the resignation of Florida’s director Office of Public and Private Guardians, Carol Berkowitz, at the request of Florida Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom this summer.
Gov. Ron DeSantis also called for a vigorous investigation into the state’s guardianship program.