Posted by NASGA





By: Adam Walser

TAMPA, Fla. — Hospitals across the Florida are paying lawyers to go to court to take away patients’ rights, a three-month I-Team investigation uncovered.

I-Team Investigator Adam Walser found hospitals in Orlando, Miami, West Palm Beach, Naples and other Florida cities paying private attorneys to file hundreds of court petitions to put patients into guardianship.

An I-Team review of state court records found:

  • Tampa Bay area hospitals, including those owned by Baycare, AdventHealth and HCA, went to court to put more than 100 patients into guardianship since 2017 alone.
  • Tampa General Hospital filed five nearly identical court documents seeking guardianship for patients, describing each as having “disorganized thinking and poor cognition.” A hospital spokeswoman said TGH spent $28,000 on guardianship cases so far in just 2019.
  • An attorney for Florida Hospital Altamonte requested guardianship for a patient because her “Kia Soul that was almost paid off… may be repossessed.”

Tampa guardianship attorney Gerald Hemness questioned hospitals’ widespread use of guardianship.

“Certainly, missing a payment on a car doesn’t seem like it would be a financial emergency,” said Hemness.

Guardianship is supposed to protect people who have been declared incapacitated and are considered in immediate danger – something that doesn’t often fit the bill for people in the hospital, according to Hemness.

“How – if they’re in a hospital – is their physical well-being at imminent risk? They’re in the safest medical place a person in America can be,” said Hemness.

Jay Wolfson, a medical ethicist at University of South Florida, said money can be a factor in the decision to take patients to court.

“It’s costing the hospital too much to keep the patient in that bed,” said Wolfson.

The I-Team found Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point – an HCA-owned hospital where a semi-private room costs $2,100 a day – requested guardianship for a patient on Social Security, stating in court papers, “The hospital is at risk of being over capacity and the ward’s use of a bed may deprive others.”

None of the hospitals contacted by the I-Team would say why they pay lawyers to go to court instead of letting state social workers at the Department of Children and Families handle the cases of patients potentially in need of a court-appointed guardian.

For those in the guardianship system, a judge hands complete control of their lives to court-appointed guardians. Those under the care of guardians also lose most of their rights, including the right to vote, drive, marry, make medical decisions, determine where to live and decide which friends and family members are allowed to visit.

A $4 million guardianship gig

The controversy over hospitals getting into the business of guardianship first gained public attention after a court investigation revealed AdventHealth paid nearly $4 million to disgraced former guardian Rebecca Fierle, who is accused of causing the death of a man under her care.

Invoices show AdventHealth paid Fierle the $4 million to serve as the guardian for 682 patients at its Orlando hospital – part of a secret arrangement hidden from the courts.

Full Article & Source:
Tampa Bay area hospitals seeking to strip away patients’ rights, I-Team investigation finds