In 2011, the Miami Herald ran a series of exposés on the neglect taking place in many of the assisted living facilities (ALFs) in Florida. Patients walking out the door and never seen again; patients sleeping in their own excrement; patients with bed sores from lying in the same position for days on end, and patients denied their medications for unstated reasons.
The community uproar was so intense that Gov. Rick Scott created a panel, as stated in The Herald, to help fix the deadly abuse and neglect in many of Florida’s assisted living facilities. The panel was to visit facilities around the state, conduct public hearings and make recommendations to the governor and the legislature on how to correct the breakdown in care of the elderly and disabled.
The results should have been anticipated. Gov. Scott loaded the panel with a majority of ALF owners, operators and contractors who benefit from ALF operations. The panel’s report was issued two weeks ago. Rather than recommend to the legislature that the laws governing ALFs be rewritten to include severe penalties, both loss of license and financial fines, the panel suggested the state more strongly enforce existing laws.
The panel even went so far as to recommend that the state give more money to ALF operators in order that they could better serve the elderly and the sick. It would appear, from reading the existing law and the panel’s recommendations that they are going backward rather than toughening the law with teeth to close down improperly run ALFs.
Criticism of the report came from many directions. “[Providers of services to the elderly and the sick] are probably doing cartwheels right now,” said Brian Lee, director of Families for Better Care.
Over the objections to the panel’s recommendations, Gov. Scott said he would see that the state enforced the existing laws and call for another round of panel study. The governor said he would appoint a greater percentage of ALF residents and advocates this time around. However, critics of the governor’s actions said the opposite is true.
In 2012, the Florida Legislature took up the issue. Result? The legislature softened the already softened recommendations and then ended up not passing any legislation. Pressure from the industry and probable fear of loss of election contributions resulted in nothing happening.
Pat Lang, lobbyist and director of the Florida Assisted Living Association, endorsed the proposal that the legislature limit resident lawsuits. In other words, if an elderly or sick ALF resident is hurt, they will be limited in how much they can collect through legal avenues. But, what else would you expect from someone hired by the owners and operators of ALFs?
Final observation: Rep. Matt Hudson, RNaples, a member of the panel stated he “fears that lawmakers will forego patient welfare and cherry pick proposals that favor the industry. These individuals whose very lives, not to mention the quality of their lives, depend on the facility, the administrator and the staff not only to keep them safe but to make them feel like they are a member of the family.”
Two things: (1) Do you have a family member living in an ALF? Yes? Then visit frequently, keep your eyes open and report irregularities. (2) Tell your elected legislators, both house member and senator that you demand stronger legislation to protect the residents of the state’s ALFs. Remember, a high percentage of us will end up in an ALF or similar facilities as we age. So, the life you save might be your own.
P.S. The Miami Herald’s DailyQ, on Dec. 2, asked: Are the recommendations by a panel appointed by Gov. Rick Scott charged with looking at fixing abuse and neglect at assisted living facilities too soft on the industry? Results: Yes, 91 percent; No, 9 percent.
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