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A former guardian of the elderly in Florida with an alleged history of elder abuse is behind bars for allegedly pressuring doctors to discontinue treatment of a 74-year-old patient entrusted to her care.
Rebecca Fierle-Santoian, 50, is accused of seeking a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order against the elderly man –– who supposedly told doctors and medical staff that he wished to live, authorities said. Marion County deputies took the former caretaker into custody on Monday evening. She was charged with aggravated abuse of an elderly person and neglect of an elderly person.
The name of the 74-year-old, who is dead, wasn’t released by law enforcement. However, officials said that Fierle-Santoian’s patient had a “strong desire to live” and that he fully comprehended his medical condition.
“The investigation shows the elderly man did not want a do not resuscitate order (DNR) and stated several times that he wanted to live,” according to a statement from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Fierle-Santoian allegedly demanded doctors not engage in any life-saving medical procedures that would unnecessarily extend the man’s life. Fierle-Santoian told medical experts that she intended on preserving the man’s “quality of life versus quantity of life,” law enforcement said.
Fierle-Santoian urged medical staff to cap the geriatric patient’s feeding tube, despite warnings from doctors that such a procedure would likely trigger his imminent death, authorities alleged. The 74-year-old had also indicated that he wished to continue being fed using the tube.
Nonetheless, Fierle-Santoian obtained an order to block the feeding tube and it was subsequently capped on May 9, 2019. The man died four days later in a Tampa hospital bed.
“Medical professionals who examined him believed he was capable of making end-of-life medical decisions for himself,” authorities added in a statement.
Officials said the investigation into the unnamed man’s death is ongoing.
Fierle-Santoian has faced scrutiny in the past regarding the filing of unauthorized "DNRs," the Orlando Sentinel reported last year. The woman, who previously oversaw dozens of wards across Florida, including in Seminole, Volusia, St. Johns, Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas counties, has been investigated by a number of agencies regarding her care practices.
One of her past patients, or wards, was 75-year-old Steven Stryker, who died in a Tampa medical center after hospital staff were unable to conduct life-saving measures because of a past DNR order filed by Fierle-Santoian, allegedly against the man’s wishes.
Another patient under her guardianship, a 73-year-old man named Jerry Manczak, told a judge that Fierle-Santoian also sought a DNR order without his knowledge. He was apparently bewildered to learn the woman had filed such an order without his consent.
“She never asked me,” Manczak said, the Sentinel reported in 2019. “I didn’t know about it until now.”
A circuit judge later attempted to remove Fierle-Santoian from approximately 100 cases in Orange County, according to court records.
In 2009, Fierle-Santoian was also accused of emptying $700,000 from the bank accounts of a former ward's mother, according to the Gainesville Sun.
A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement wasn’t immediately available for comment on Wednesday. It wasn't immediately clear if Fierle-Santoian had an attorney who could comment on her behalf.
Guardians make decisions for people deemed incapable of handling their own legal, financial, housing and medical concerns and Florida has hundreds of such professional guardians, according to The Gainesville Sun.
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