There are clouds on the horizon for many nursing homes in the Sunshine State as neglect and a lack of accountability have begun to take hold—yet the outlook could be far worse as few policy makers are willing to recognize the impending storm and the damage it might cause here in Florida.
The severity of this threat certainly became apparent in the fall of 2017. While the wrath of Hurricane Irma still wreaked havoc across most of northern Florida, details began to emerge as to the tragic events that unfolded in a south Florida nursing home in the wake of the Category 4 storm.
All told, 12 elderly patients in the Hollywood facility (near Miami) were found dead due to unnecessary heat exposure after their facility lost power and air conditioning—an unfortunate yet preventable chain of events that local officials ultimately ruled as homicides.
Such problems are not isolated incidents, either.
A recent review of state nursing homes by two USA Today Network writers revealed that the overall system is in crisis—many homes have racked up numerous violations, fines and lawsuits, yet the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) has only closed two homes and blocked three new ones since 2013.
Many believe that such oversights are due to a number of flaws in the current system. “You have these facilities string along for years and they never shut down.
They just continue on,” stated former head of Florida’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program Brian Lee. “What does it take to close down a bad nursing home?” Again looking at the tragedy that took place at the Hollywood Hills nursing home in south Florida, we see a checkered past that reveals a history of patient neglect and poor facility maintenance—yet, it took a catastrophic storm and the unnecessary loss of life to focus the state’s attention on the problem.
Governor Rick Scott addressed the issue by requiring such facilities to obtain back-up generators and fuel while still in the midst of the 2017 hurricane season.
A positive effort with the promise to push the new rule into law during the 2018 Legislative Session—but Senate Bill 284 was indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration in March. Additionally, another piece of legislation that would have amended the Florida state constitution to create a “bill of rights” for nursing home residents was abruptly pulled from consideration—Proposal 88 would have required safe and comfortable facilities while also making it easier for residents and their families to sue in neglect and abuse cases.
The proposed amendment would have also made it mandatory for nursing home facilities to carry liability insurance, something that is not currently a requirement in Florida.
While all are admirable efforts, little has actually affected the status quo of facilities operating in the state. There needs to be a level of accountability within a system where inspectors can cite 7,200 violations in 54 homes that ultimately go unaddressed.
Most importantly, change needs to begin with those of us who have loved ones residing in such facilities—by investigating a home’s reputation, reporting abuse allegations and demanding appropriate care for our family members, we can bring real change to an industry ridden with complacency and injustice for a subset of our society that deserves far better.