Florida is known to have some of the broadest public records laws in the country. That extended to nursing home abuse and neglect records, kept by state health regulators. However, as The Miami Herald recently reported, those records have been wiped from the state’s online database, in what appears to be an erosion in public records access.
Approximately three months ago, The Herald reported, the state scrubbed its website, which previously made readily accessible reports of nursing home violations that put residents in immediate jeopardy. It’s not that the records themselves are no longer public. Anyone can contact the Agency for Health Care Administration and ask for it. However, you have to know exactly what you’re looking for and whom to ask. You will most likely be required to wait and you’ll probably have to pay – something that was not required previously under the state’s online system.
On the pages that previously provided such information for free, the AHCA now directs the public to a different site run by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That site fails to provide as much detail as the AHCA had before (though all reports had been screened and redacted for medical privacy). And while the AHCA does offer basic spreadsheets that rank nursing homes on a host of criteria, providing families with some basis on which to compare, but these reports are scant on details and lack transparency.
The Herald noted that for a long time, the AHCA’s online offerings included links to reports of inspection in not just nursing homes, but also assisted living facilities, retirement homes and hospitals. Those reports were easy to obtain and had relatively few redactions, mostly just inking out the names and identifying features of the reports. However, in recent years, the agency started heavily redacting these reports. Words like, “room,” “bruises” and “pain” were removed, which made it very difficult for both families and journalists to ascertain what actually happened. Even words like “abuse” and “neglect” were taken out, as well as the state statute defining “abuse.” The state agency said these increased redactions were needed to protect the privacy of patients, even though patients were only ever identified by their room number previously.
The state paid tends of thousands of dollars for redaction technology and keyed in words or phrases it wanted to have automatically redacted from each report, citing federal patient privacy statutes. However, federal documents on the same kinds of incidents don’t ink out those same words or phrases.
The scrubbing of the website occurred shortly after 13 elderly nursing home residents died at a Hollywood Hills nursing home due to heat-related illnesses after Hurricane Irma. The state made no announcement of the change.
Our nursing home abuse lawyers in Fort Lauderdale recognize that this change makes it very difficult for consumers to make informed choices, especially when those choices need to be made quickly. It’s not unusual for a family member to need to find a facility within 48 hours. Having to wait on records requests on multiple facility contenders is impractical – and puts consumers and patients at a disadvantage.
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 wipes inspections of troubled nursing homes from its website, Nov. 17, 2017, By Carol Marbin Miller and Caitlin Ostroff, The Miami Herald
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