Florida Lawmakers Working to Clampdown in Unlicensed Assisted Care Facilities

Nursing Home Abuse-WalkerMiami, FL- Florida lawmakers are urging the Agency for Health Care Administration to quickly draft legislation that would allow the state to close down unlicensed assisted-care facilities.

The urgency comes after reports from the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee showed that these facilities fail to provide their residents with adequate health care, fail to keep the facilities clean and free of hazards, and don’t conduct background check on their staff members.

The push to shut down these facilities began in 2011 after the Miami Herald reported that 70 people died as result of neglect in the states 3,000-plus assisted care facilities. That compelled Gov. Rick Scott to create the Agency for Health Care Administration but state lawmakers have so far failed to get any legislation passed.

A bill that was introduced in 2012 passed the Senate but was unable to make it through the House and there is some doubt that it would pass in 2013.

The legislation, currently being drafted by the committee, would increase fines and sanctions for assisted-living facilities that violate regulations. Fines would be doubled if a facility has prior serious violations. It would also require the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability to conduct a study of AHCA’s consistency in regulating the facilities.

The AHCA would also have to develop a ratings system for assisted living facilities by 2014. Legislator also believe that they should enlist the help of law enforcement and prosecutors to crackdown on unlicensed facilities.

The unlicensed facilities are cropping up at an alarming rate and authorities are unaware of their existence until complaints are filed. In those instances, it is already too late to protect residents from neglect and abuse which can, in the worst case, cause a resident’s death.

State Sen. Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood, who chairs the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, is leading the charge to clampdown on long-term care facilities.

“There’s a message that needs to come out of Florida,” Sobel said, according to WRLN. “We’re going to protect our seniors…It’s these unlicensed ones that give the good ones bad reputations. And it hurts our image in terms of being a place baby boomers are coming to, and we have to fix this problem.”

Sobel also said that the legislation has the support of numerous groups representing nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

Peggy Rigsby, director of government services at the Florida Health Care Association said that unlicensed assisted-living facilities are the biggest concern and agreed that law enforcement should be part of the charge and the AHCA should be given broader authority to regulate long-term care facilities.

Abuse and neglect in a nursing home or other long-term care facility cannot be completely eliminated, but unlicensed facilities present an even bigger danger to the elderly or disabled since they don’t comply with state regulations. People who are harmed in these or other long-term care facilities have a legal recourse and with the help of a nursing home abuse attorney can get justice and compensation.