An article by Michael Sallah and Carol Marbin Miller in the October 30, 2011 edition of THE MIAMI HERALD, reports disturbing incidences of abuse and neglect in Florida Assisted Living Facilities prompting a probe of three dozen homes by state agents in the longest crackdown on Florida’s assisted-living facilities in a decade. For five months, state regulators have been slapping the state’s harshest actions on dozens of homes, forcing the shutdown of 10 troubled facilities.
Prompted by a Miami Herald series showing the state was failing to close bad homes, the Agency for Health Care Administration began cutting state dollars and banning new residents from a dozen facilities. Now, the state is moving to strip the licenses of at least 34 homes — nearly doubling the rate before the crackdown — after finding that residents were in danger.
“People did not have to suffer like that,” said Broward County mental health court Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren. “It’s been a long time in coming.” State inspectors have been sweeping across Florida to investigate a wave of complaints, including caretakers starving residents, failing to give them crucial drugs and in one case, beating them.
At least a dozen times during the state crackdown, inspectors found caretakers breaking the law, including two stealing from mentally ill residents, one altering medical records, and two others running homes so filthy and decrepit they were unsafe. When agents arrived at Kipling Manor in July, they found a frail woman roaming the halls soaked in urine and a man suffering from depression and multiple sclerosis shaking and pleading for help after caregivers failed to give him crucial drugs to relieve the disease symptoms. They also discovered a home administrator failed to pass a background screening, but was still allowed to work — and was later caught stealing money from a resident. It wasn’t the first time AHCA turned up problems at the Pensacola facility. During the past five years, inspectors found major violations — enough to press for a shutdown in 2008 — but settlements were later reached letting it stay open. A hearing is set in November on the latest action.
In nearly every case of AHCA moving to pull a home’s license, inspectors found major violations, including caretakers leaving frail elders in danger.
Time and again, inspectors found dangerous practices and hazards during the clampdown on homes, including Sunshine Acres Loving Care in the Panhandle, where raw sewage was spewing onto the property and residents were forced to shower with contaminated well water. The 54-bed home was shut down in July after a long history of neglect and abuse.
Though AHCA is now trying to revoke dozens of licenses, the cases could drag on for months, causing some elder advocates concern about whether the top regulator will settle cases. In five homes now being targeted, AHCA had filed notices to strip the homes’ licenses in prior years, but backed off, letting them keep their doors open.
Lerner-Wren said the agency’s history of settlements weakens its efforts to close rogue homes. “A strict liability standard — without bureaucratic discretion” is needed, said Wren, who has long pushed for bad owners to be criminally charged. “There’s due process, and then there’s enabling a culture of indifference and neglect … they have to get tough.”
Though AHCA found enough violations to shut down 70 facilities in 2008 and 2009, the agency closed just seven. The Herald also found that in 2009 — the same year lawmakers expanded AHCA’s power to levy fines — the agency could have imposed more than $6 million, but took in just $650,000.
In an interview with The Herald last month, AHCA Secretary Elizabeth Dudek said she agreed with a recent legislative study that says her agency should take harsher actions, like suspensions, when it finds egregious abuses. “A hard and fast line sometimes might be a good thing,” she said.
Last month’s closing of the Munne Center in Miami-Dade, one of the state’s most notorious ALFs, came after years of lobbying by ombudsmen who say the state took too long.
“We spent years begging AHCA to close it, and what did they do? Nothing,” said Don Hering, deputy secretary of the state Department of Elderly Affairs, during a meeting in Miami two weeks ago Bentley Lipscomb, former secretary of Elder Affairs, said AHCA needs to take a hard line, but in the end, the Legislature needs to accept responsibility. “[The Legislature] needs to establish standards, and they need to make people live up to them,” said Lipscomb. “In the final analysis, this is laid on their door step.’’
If you or someone that you care about has been injured or neglected in a nursing home, you need a legal team that will fight for you and your rights every step of the way. To speak with members of the Charpentier Law Firm about your case and to find out how we can help, contact our Central Florida personal injury attorneys today.