A recent investigation by the Miami Herald revealed that many assisted-living facilities are allegedly ignoring a Florida law designed to protect residents. The 1980 Resident Bill of Rights was enacted to protect elderly and mentally ill care facility residents who sought an alternative to traditional nursing homes. Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) is responsible for monitoring the state’s 2,850 assisted care facilities. According to the newspaper, the Agency frequently failed to take action against assisted-living facilities despite police and inspector reports that residents were being denied basic needs.
For example, Bruce Hall, the owner of a Washington County facility, was directed by the Agency to sell the Sunshine Acres Loving Care facility only after neighbors organized to put pressure on the AHCA. Despite that the facility received more than 100 violations in 14 years and the owner allegedly threatened inspectors on more than one occasion, Hall was still provided with a one year grace period in order to secure a purchaser for the facility.
The Miami Herald reportedly found that as Florida’s elderly population grew, the level of care and state oversight at assisted-living facilities declined. To illustrate, although 550 new nursing homes opened in Florida during the last five years, the number of state inspections declined by 33 percent. Additionally, the newspaper reported that although assisted-living facility violations such as the use of illegal restraints are common, the resulting fines that are issued by the Agency are often decreased or waived. Despite a large number of allegedly serious care facility violations, Florida has closed only seven assisted-living facilities during the last two years.
According to the Miami Herald, unsafe conditions at a number of facilities has prompted several government agencies to cut funding to particular assisted-living facilities the AHCA has allowed to remain open. The Mental Health Project out of Miami-Dade Court reportedly will not allow the individuals it serves to stay at the All America ACLF, where a 71-year-old-mentally ill resident died in 2006 as a result of scalding burns after being left unattended in a bathtub. Although the facility was allegedly cited by the AHCA more than 100 times since the incident, it is still licensed and open. The Agency for Persons with Disabilities also reportedly cut all funding to the Hillandale ALF after it was accused of punishing the mentally ill by locking them away in closets.
The Miami Herald claims the AHCA rarely imposes the maximum fine allowed on assisted-living facilities that violate Florida law. In 2009, the Agency imposed only $650,000 in fines despite that the Florida Legislature expanded the AHCA’s power to fine care facilities in the same year. According to the AHCA, the Agency’s goal is not to punish facilities but instead to encourage compliance with state law. Penalties such as fines are reportedly only used as secondary enforcement measures. The AHCA also stated it will only consider revoking a care facility’s license as a last resort. First, other solutions are examined and explored on a case-by-case basis.
Assisted-living facility abuse and neglect cases are often the result of unqualified or improperly trained staff. Unfortunately, the signs of care facility abuse are not always easy to identify. Residents may experience a loss of appetite, depression, and more frequent accidents. An abused assisted-living facility resident may also complain about the treatment they are receiving. All complaints regarding assisted-living facility abuse or neglect should be taken seriously. If you suspect a family member or friend may be the victim of abuse at the hands of those tasked with their care, you should speak with a qualified Florida nursing home abuse and neglect attorney to help you protect your loved one’s rights.