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Florida Nursing Home Abuse; When Authorities are Slow to Act

State workers were found responsible for egregious and sometimes violent abuses of their position.

One bit a patient on the ear. Another threatened a co-worker with a text that contained the words, “gut you like a fish.” Another left a patient unclothed, bleeding from a head injury and soaked in feces on the bathroom floor. And still another was found to have struck a resident in the head, knocked him out of his chair and squirted water in his face.

Our Lake Worth nursing home abuse attorneys understand that each of these workers were responsible for caring for individuals who suffer mental or developmental disabilities. All were found in internal investigations to have been wrong. All of them, according to The New York Times, kept their jobs.

When authorities are slow to act in removing dangerous employees from caring for our most vulnerable residents, the risk of additional abuse is high. The abuser is empowered by the sense of invincibility, and may grow even bolder.

The Times wrote about this same problem more than two years ago, revealing how, specifically in New York, very few of these workers were actually fired after internal reviews recommended they lose their jobs. There were loopholes in the arbitration process and state officials had a tendency to be quite lenient, the report found.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vowed in the wake of the expose to make some significant changes. However, in its follow-up report, the Times found that nothing much had changed.

The state fired only about 25 percent of those abusive caregivers recommended for termination following internal investigations. The figure was the same when the paper conducted its first analysis a couple years ago.

Arbitrators, the paper found, had a history of siding with union members. Cuomo had said he was establishing a partnership wherein state caregiver unions would formulate mandatory punishments for certain types of offenses. This would, in effect, take the guesswork away from the arbitrators and make punishments for abusive behavior very clear.

But today, the union still hasn’t finalized an agreement of what that mandatory punishment table should look like.

Other troubling events have unfolded as well. For example, Cuomo announced the foundation of a new state agency called the Justice Center for the Protection of People With Special Needs, which is charged with establishing and enforcing strong standards for caregivers and protections for those with special needs. This would be great, except that the person he tapped to oversee the program is a longtime lobbyist for disabled-care providers, which have a notoriously poor track record when it comes to protecting the disabled.

This individual, for example, lobbied hard against Jonathan’s Law, named after an autistic teen who was killed after being choked to death by a state worker. The law forced the state to begin disclosing abuse reports regarding minors to their parents. For the lobbyist to now be in charge of a state agency to protect disabled patients was called “frightening” by advocates and even a few legislators.

Here in Florida, a large percentage of nursing home workers who are represented by union officials. However, termination of abusive workers doesn’t always happen in short order.

Nursing homes and state officials should understand that when they don’t act swiftly, their own liability increases.

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

Additional Resources:
New York State Lags on Firing Workers Who Abuse Disabled Patients, Aug. 8, 2013, By Danny Hakim, The New York Times

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West Palm Beach Nursing Home Neglect Attorneys Talk Lax Dental Care, Aug. 30, 2013, Lake Worth Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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