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Florida Lawmakers Seek to Enact New Laws to Improve Substandard Care at Assisted Living Facilities

In 2011, the Miami Herald’s investigative report “Neglected to Death” revealed the stark and horrific reality of life and death for many residents in Florida’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Four years later, Florida legislators are still struggling to find a legislative framework to provide adequate oversight at the assisted living facilities that serve more than 86,000 Florida senior residents. In late April, the Florida Senate created a proposal to “improve enforcement and oversight” at assisted living facilities.

Enacting effective reform is a necessary task. The Miami Herald’s series, that followed a year-long investigation, was a stark indictment on Florida’s assisted living facilities. Specifically, it turned up at least 70 questionable deaths in Florida over a 10 year period, including:

• A 71-year-old who was killed when left in a bathtub of scalding water.
• A 74-year-old woman who was strapped so tightly the restraints cut into her skin, causing a blood clot that killed her.
• A 75 year-old Alzheimer’s patient who was allowed to walk out of a facility for the fourth time. His body was later found dismembered by an alligator.
• A number for residents who died because of under medication or over medication.

The elder abuse cases uncovered in the investigation stretched from Miami to Jacksonville and through the Florida Panhandle. Questionable deaths were found to have occurred in facilities of all sizes ranging from 100 bed to 6 bed facilities.

The new law would increase oversight at facilities with a poor record, although critics say it may lead to a more lax regime at other homes. Assisted living facilities in Florida are inspected every two years under existing laws. The new law would subject them to more frequent inspections if they are found to have a major violation. However, homes with a good track record will continue to be inspected only every two years.

Several issues raised debate and opposition from the the Florida Assisted Living Association. One of its strongest objections related to the initiation of a State rating system similar to the five star rating system used with respect to nursing homes in Florida. The idea behind the rating program was to help consumers pick the best assisted living facility for their loved ones in their twilight years.

Some resident care advocates voiced concern with the bill. Brian Lee, director of Families for Better Care, an advocacy group, warned that parts of the bill could shrink oversight of the industry. Lee said people who live in these specialty licensed assisted living facilities need many services to manage their care and cutting back oversight “would escalate their potential for harm.”

Reform is of interest to Jacksonville which has nearly 100 assisted living facilities and an aging population. Although most of these facilities provide appropriate care, elder abuse can and does occur. The types of abuse the can occur include infections, bed sores, falls, malnutrition, neglect, abandonment, sexual assault, physical and mental abuse and overmedication and undermedication.

The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates between 1 and 2 million Americans age 65 or older have been hurt, exploited, or otherwise mistreated by someone on whom they depended for care or protection and more than a third of the country’s nursing homes have violated the laws intended to protect elderly people. Florida has a large senior citizen population, making the issue of reducing nursing home abuse and neglect in Florida of the utmost importance.

If a relative has suffered elder abuse at an assisted living facility or a nursing home, you may have grounds to file a suit against the establishment and should contact a Jacksonville nursing home injury lawyer.