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State confirms mass resignations at Florida watchdog office overseeing guardianship abuse

Seven staff members resign, leaving only four
Posted: 6:33 PM, Aug 09, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-09 19:31:54-04
Guardians PIC.jpg

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The I-Team has uncovered mass resignations at the state watchdog assigned to investigate guardianship abuse — news that comes in the wake of a criminal investigation into a former guardian accused of killing a man under her care.

Seven employees at the Office of Public & Professional Guardians have resigned since April, according to records obtained by I-Team Investigator Adam Walser.

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The majority of those resignations came after an I-Team report in July about embattled former professional guardian Rebecca Fierle, who is under criminal investigation for accusations she caused the death of a man under her care by issuing a "Do Not Resuscitate" order without permission.

Last month, the Department of Elder Affairs confirmed the resignation of Carol Berkowitz, the former director of OPPG who departed on July 12 — the same day as the I-Team’s report on Fierle.

But when the I-Team asked about other resignations, a department spokeswoman denied there had been mass departures from the office.

At the time, Elder Affairs spokeswoman Ashley Chambers told an ABC Action News reporter for the Tallahassee bureau that concerns about resignations were rumors.

But three weeks later — after the I-Team requested all resignation letters — Chambers confirmed the mass departures late Friday afternoon.

Internal agency records show Deputy Director Amelia Milton, Senior Staff Attorney Michael McKeon, the statewide public guardian manager, a guardian registrar and staff assistants also resigned from their positions

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“There have been a few departures and new hires within OPPG in recent months,” Chambers wrote in an email to I-Team Investigator Adam Walser.

Chambers emailed:
“The Department of Elder Affairs is one of the smaller state agencies, with only a little more than 150 headquarters employees. At the beginning of May, there were 7 employees in OPPG, and there are currently 4 employees with the program, including those responsible for professional guardian registration, professional guardian complaint intake, and public guardian monitoring. OPPG is fully operational, and there has been no disruption of these tasks. Legally sufficient complaints received by OPPG are investigated by our partners with the Clerk of Courts’ Statewide Investigative Alliance. Secretary Richard Prudom is directly overseeing OPPG with the assistance of the General Counsel, as appropriate, to provide administrative support following recent resignations in the office.”  

Chambers told the I-Team there are now only four people working in the agency overseeing guardianship but could not explain exactly when those employees had been moved to positions in that office, which was created by state lawmakers in 2016 to oversee guardianship abuse.

Back in February, the I-Team reported OPPG had 132 open investigations, but had not revoked a single guardian's registration at that time.

Governor Ron DeSantis has vowed to reform guardianship oversight in Florida following our I-Team investigation into inaction at the agency.

If you have a story you’d like the I-Team to investigate, email adam@abcactionnews.com