Making the decision to place a loved one in the care of a nursing home isn’t easy under any circumstances. At least last year, families in Florida had the benefit of state health regulator reports available easily online. Such reports could reveal nursing home abuse or negligence and help individuals determine whether a facility posed safety issues they wanted to avoid.
Then late last year, the state regulators scrubbed their website of this information with no explanation. So for instance, a report of a woman being cared for in a Hialeah Gardens nursing home who committed suicide by jumping 40 feet from her window onto the concrete courtyard below after she hadn’t seen a psychiatrist in weeks, despite medical instructions to the contrary. There was also information indicating that the facility had been responsible for misconduct that played a role in the woman’s death, and in particular had placed that patient and others in a position of “immediate jeopardy.” Prior to the government website being stripped of these reports, one could find the 83 pages of investigative data on this case (with identifying patient information redacted).
The site specifically that had issues is that of the AHCA (Agency for Health Care Administration). Though the information is technically still “public record,” one must know precisely what to ask for and whom to ask – and a wait will be required, along with the potential of being charged for those records. Previously, as noted by the Tampa Bay Times, this information had been available with simply a few keystrokes.
In the two years prior, the state had spent some $22,000 for software that allowed them to automatically redact (black out) the words or phrases the agency said needed to be kept from public. Those very same words/ phrases were left unredacted on the federal government website. A number of advocates for open government and elder safety insisted that having the information censored in that way was more of a means to protect nursing homes than it was patient privacy.
Following the deaths of more than a dozen nursing home residents in Hollywood Hills after Hurricane Irma, news outlets like The Miami Herald wrote extensively about the shortcomings of the nursing home involved, and several editorials were critical of the heavy redactions on the AHCA website. Soon thereafter, all site reports were removed – with no announcement or prior notice. All nursing home inspections that previously informed the public of previous reports of proven nursing home abuse or negligence were removed. The president of the First Amendment Foundation called it “a disservice” with potential consequences that could be grave for vulnerable, elder residents – and their families, who need to make a potentially very difficult decision without any information.
Our nursing home abuse lawyers in Orlando know choosing a nursing home is stressful and difficult as it is, will now be forced to make that decision without the information they need. A spokeswoman for the AHCA referred families to the Medicare.gov site if consumers wanted to compare indicators.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Florida spent $22,000 to remove online nursing home info from public view, Nov. 17, 2017, By Michael Van Sickler, Tampa Bay Times
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