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Florida Nursing Home Abuse Watchdog Agency Troubled

The state-funded agency charged with keeping tabs on Florida nursing home abuse claims has become a lightning rod for controversy.
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It’s top ombudsman, Jim Crotchet, was abruptly placed on paid leave, ordered to have zero contact with agency workers or volunteers and essentially confined to house arrest while the state investigates some mysterious alleged wrongdoing, the nature of which has yet to be disclosed.

You may recall that Crotchet was the controversial replacement pick of Gov. Rick Scott, who ousted former ombudsman Brian Lee after Lee requested information on funding sources from thousands of nursing home providers across the state. That request didn’t sit well with the powerful lobbyist arm of the nursing home industry, who pushed hard for Lee’s ouster. They got it. Crotchet was seen as more industry-friendly, which of course raised numerous red flags for nursing home resident advocates.

Lee went on to found the non-profit elder care advocacy group Families for Better Care, and has an employment lawsuit still pending against the state.

A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, which oversees the ombudsman program, said the program “continues to thrive,” despite these issues. She said the biggest problem has been the negative press, which she said have reflected a “gross misrepresentation” of what’s really going on with the agency.

But while the agency may tap-dance around personnel issues, it’s not so easy to sidestep the sorry state in which many nursing home residents have been discovered in recent months.

For example, at a for-profit elder care facility in Orlando, an elderly patient was found to have sexually molested at least four female patients on numerous occasions. He even reportedly groped a female employee. He was also accused of repeatedly urinating in the hallway. However, the facility was alleged to have done little to stop him.

Then in Melbourne, a nursing home had reportedly taken a number of residents on an outing when a female patient fell from her wheelchair, suffering a head wound. However, rather than call 911, the staffer did nothing. Over the course of two hours, the woman developed a softball-sized bump on her head. Two hours later, when she was transported to the hospital, she required emergency surgery to address the swelling. She did not survive.

And in June, an elder care facility in Winter Haven was fined some $17,000 by the state after employees there acted to resuscitate two patients – one of those a 102-year-old – even though they had signed legal documents expressly refusing intubation for purposes of extending their lives. Such actions violate the rights of residents to have a death that is both peaceful and dignified.

Our Delray Beach nursing home abuse lawyers wish we could say that such incidents are isolated. However, nearly one in five nursing homes here in Florida is listed on the state watch list for doling out poor care.

At this time, when we need the ombudsman program more than ever, we are finding it is crumbling. Established by the federal Older Americans Act, its purpose is to serve as a safety net for residents of nursing homes, who are vulnerable and often lack the ability to advocate for themselves.

Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Florida’s nursing home watch-dog program in turmoil, Sept. 6, 2013, By Kate Santich, Orlando Sentinel

More Blog Entries:
Nursing Home Abuse: See How Florida Ranks, Sept. 7, 2013, Delray Beach Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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