Reforms to professional guardianship program proposed

The Florida Department of Elder Affairs houses the Office of Public and Professional Guardians. Regulating over 500 professional guardians statewide, investigating complaints and imposing discipline where deemed appropriate has been part of OPPG’s responsibilities since 2016. However, allegations of guardian misconduct and reports of complaints going uninvestigated have led a high-ranking official in the department and a state senator to call for reforms. 

The Department of Elder Affairs lays out the process required to register as a professional guardian. It involves passing an examination after completing a course in professional guardianship, as well as undergoing a background check, submitting a credit report and getting fingerprinted. Presumably, the purpose of this process is to exclude guardians from the program who are unqualified or otherwise unfit. 

However, court orders reveal allegations of serious misconduct against at least one professional guardian which, according to WESH, include double-billing health care facilities, conflicts of interest in handling wards’ assets and signing do-not-resuscitate orders for over 100 wards. She reportedly refused to remove a DNR for one of her wards at the request of his daughter, and the ward died mere days later. 

Believing that the program is salvageable, and that a shortage of professional guardians is part of the problem, a state senator is drafting a bill that would attempt to attract more guardians to the program by increasing their compensation. The proposed bill would also prevent the liquidation of a ward’s assets without court notification to eliminate conflicts of interest and require court approval for DNR orders. The senator has received input from elder care advocates in drafting the bill. 

The secretary of the Department of Elder Affairs believes that the problem is a backlog of complaints awaiting investigation. He has requested a budget hike of over $13 million, $500,000 of which would go toward developing a tool for monitoring guardians while over $400,000 would go toward investigations. 

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