AdventHealth Orlando asked a judge Tuesday to dismiss a negligence lawsuit filed against the hospital company and former guardian Rebecca Fierle by the family of an incapacitated client who died under a “do not resuscitate” order that Fierle signed against his wishes.
The Altamonte Springs-based company said there are “no allegations” that it played a role in Fierle’s decision to authorize a DNR order on 75-year-old Steven Stryker or that it exercised control over his care after he was discharged from the hospital.
Stryker’s death last May at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa sparked a statewide scandal that led to reforms of Florida’s troubled guardianship system and landed Fierle behind bars on charges of aggravated abuse and neglect of an elderly person.
“The complaint contains no ultimate facts establishing AdventHealth’s liability for any of the alleged events after Steven Stryker’s discharge from AdventHealth Orlando,” wrote J. Charles Ingram, the hospital’s attorney, in an April 21 motion.
Stryker was a patient at AdventHealth Orlando in 2018 when the hospital petitioned a judge to declare him incapacitated and appoint Fierle to be his guardian. Although Stryker had made his friend Linda Lanier his health-care surrogate, an attorney for the hospital said he wasn’t capable of choosing his decision-maker.
Lanier has told the Orlando Sentinel that AdventHealth seemed determined to put Stryker into guardianship and get him discharged from the hospital, despite her efforts to find him a new place to live.
Without the required court approval, Fierle billed AdventHealth nearly $4 million over a decade for providing services to Stryker and nearly 700 other vulnerable patients, according to an audit by the office of Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond.
“Rebecca Fierle’s negligence, neglect, abuse, and exploitation of Steven Stryker caused his death,” said the lawsuit filed by Kimberly Stryker, the man’s daughter who is in charge of his estate. “AdventHealth created, facilitated, and funded the guardianship relationship between Rebecca Fierle and Steven Stryker and is therefore responsible for the actions that led to Mr. Stryker’s death.”
After Stryker became her ward, Fierle disregarded the opinions of his daughter, health care surrogate and a St. Joseph’s psychiatrist in signing the DNR, according to an investigation by the Okaloosa County Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller.
Fierle opted to cap Stryker’s feeding tube on May 9, despite him stating “several times that he wanted to live,” the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said. Stryker, who was using a feeding tube because he had difficulty swallowing, aspirated and went into cardiac arrest.
He died May 13.
Ingram said AdventHealth could not predict Fierle would enter a DNR against Stryker’s wishes or that his daughter and St. Joseph’s would not intervene to overturn her decision.
“The events at St. Joseph’s Hospital completely fail to allege anything creating liability on the part of AdventHealth in terms of duty, breach, causation or vicarious liability,” Ingram said. “Instead, these allegations suggest that St. Joseph’s Hospital owed a duty to Mr. Stryker as its patient, that there was a failure to protect Mr. Stryker from his court-appointed guardian, and that St. Joseph’s Hospital felt obligated to follow the instructions of the court-appointed guardian.”
After Stryker’s death, the hospital company announced it would no longer pay private guardians to take on patients and would form a review panel to ensure at least two doctors determine whether patients can no longer make their own decisions before asking a judge to appoint a guardian.
In addition to misusing DNRs and ignoring her wards’ wishes, Fierle, who is still under investigation by multiple agencies, has also been accused of double-billing and conflicts of interest.