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Florida Lawmakers Pass New Law to Protect Assisted Living Facility Patients

It’s been four years since a Miami Herald investigation revealed systemic problems leading to abuse, neglect and death of residents at some of the state’s more than 3,000 assisted living facilities, which serve approximately 86,00 elderly patients.

That investigation prompted Florida Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, to draft bill after bill to address lapses in state oversight and enforcement of laws to protect these residents. Each year, the measure failed.

Until now.

Senate Bill 382 (and House Bill 1001) increases oversight levels in Florida. For example, the current statute requires the state to inspect these facilities at least once every two years. The new statutes says if a major violation is noted, more frequent inspections will be mandated. Those facilities that maintain a good track record, meanwhile, can stay on that once-every-two-years schedule.

The measure also stipulates the circumstances under which the Agency for Health Care Administration is required to revoke a license on an assisted living facility in which numerous violations have been cited. (AHCA is the state agency that licenses these facilities and is responsible for mandated inspections.) There are also some additional penalties. For example, if an assisted living facility doesn’t run a background check on a certain staff member, that’s a $500 fine for each violation. If a nursing home doesn’t correct a serious violation within a six month time frame, fines are allowed to be doubled by the AHCA. Further, certain financial and other records have to be made available by each nursing home to the AHCA, which will then disseminate it to the public via the web.

Facilities that serve at least one mental health resident have to acquire a specialty mental health license under the new provisions. Before, only those centers that had three or more mental health residents had to get such a license.

The House version was sponsored by Florida Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, was quoted as saying the measure was a necessity and a sign of progress.

The news series that prompted this change was called, “Neglected to Death,” by reporters with the Miami Herald. It explained how not only were residents being routinely abused and neglected, but that the AHCA didn’t enforce existing laws pertaining to assisted living facility residents. Such action, the series suggested, might have prevented many patients from suffering the way they did.

Shortly after the series was published, Republican Gov. Rick Scott refused to sign off on a bill that would have reduced regulatory responsibilities held by the AHCA.

Still, that didn’t mean getting this measure passed was easy. In fact, after four previous attempts, it’s likely this one only succeeded after removing two of the more controversial elements. One was the requirement for assisted living facilities to be rated in much the same way nursing homes are. There was also a provision that would have altered the way penalties for violations were imposed on these facilities. Unfortunately, lobbyists for the elder care industry sharply opposed these parts of the measure, and they were cut out of the final versions.

Sponsors of the bill say balance was necessary, and there is always a possibility additional requirements could be tacked on later through amendments.

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

Additional Resources:

Florida Lawmakers Pass New Regulations for Senior Care Homes, April 27, 2015, By Mary Ellen Klas, Bradenton Herald Times

More Blog Entries: Report:

State Nursing Homes Blamed for Fatal Abuse, Neglect, Negligence, April 22, 2015, Palm Beach Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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