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Assisted Living neglect, abuse, death is no problem, says panel

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Gov. Rick Scott has now had another panel investigating a lethal scandal conclude its work and determine that nothing really needs to be done. Again!

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This panel was formed following excellent investigative reporting in 2011 by the Miami Herald called “Neglected to Death.” It revealed appalling neglect and abuse in lightly regulated Assistant Living Facilities (ALFs), and showed the death of 70 individuals from such abysmal conditions in about ten years.

Amid the furor, Gov. Scott directed a stern-sounding, vigorous response: empower citizens and crack down, form an investigatory panel and fix the problems! At the time, it seemed Scott was serious about disallowing more bad practices by the ALFs when he vetoed the facility owners’ desired deregulation that would have allowed complaints to be hushed up with secrecy. The law was sponsored by Rep. Matt Hudson (R-Naples) and scandal magnet Rep. Daphne Campbell (D-Miami Shores). (Campbell got lots of attention last summer for her Medicaid fraud investigation and six figure IRS tax liens.)

As is now evident, this was really short-hand for appearing to address the issue while things simmer down. Taking advantage of the issue being off the front pages and blogs for over a year, this industry-skewed panel produced yet another scandal whitewash, handing the powerful ALF industry and its lobbyists not so much as a wrist slap.

The former Florida Ombudsman for Long-Term Care who lost his state job for his advocacy against industry neglect and abuses, considering the panel’s conclusions, said this:

‘[Providers] are probably doing cartwheels right now,’ said Brian Lee, a resident advocate and director of Families for Better Care.

If this scandal panel whitewash has a familiar ring, it should.

In mid-November, the panel investigating the “Shoot to Kill” law (a.k.a. Stand your Ground) concluded that the law needed no real change, despite the tragic killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin whose shooter may yet be fully protected from prosecution. Click here for the article examining this panel’s outrageous report.

Before November was over, another black teen, Jordan Russell Davis, had been shot and killed in a hail of bullets, and his shooter, Michael David Dunn, is expected to invoke immunity from prosecution thanks to the “Shoot to Kill” law’s shield. Click here for the article on this latest incident.

The Scott ALF panel was also stacked, just like Scott’s “Shoot to Kill” panel, indicating a pre-determined result. It included Rep. Matt Hudson, mentioned above for his industry coddling deregulation law that Scott surprisingly vetoed. The Assisted Living Workgroup was endowed with industry insiders and other political chums. One member was Larry Sherberg, an ALF owner cited for neglectful conditions and care. No surprise that Larry was upset by thoughts of reformist regulations:

A key member of the panel, Sherberg, 60, has argued that the push for stricter regulations — including harsher penalties — will hurt the industry.

Larry is not typically the kind of fellow who should be on this investigatory panel. But Larry wasn’t alone:

More than a dozen assisted living facility executives landed positions on the panel, a sign to advocates for residents that passing reforms will be a challenge.

Gov. Scott was able to channel “The Amazing Kreskin” by predicting the panel’s outcome by auto-suggestion over a year ago:

Governor Rick Scott called for the task force. Scott, who is for less regulations overall, says neglect by a few bad facilities may be making the whole industry look bad.

The panel’s failure to produce substantive reform follows on the legislature’s deeply disappointing failure to produce anything to protect senior citizens in its 2012 session, choosing instead to protect the industry.

The panel’s final report calls for keeping things just as they are for the most part, proposes some re-arranging of the oversight deck chairs, and reviewing existing processes. It seems audacious, but the recommendations include a proposal shielding ALFs from complaint disclosure, just like the law that Hudson sponsored and Scott vetoed, as described above. Yup, déjà vu all over again! This is what the report says:

Enable a public record exemption for AHCA complaints. Complaints filed with AHCA are currently not protected from disclosure. Consider adding confidentiality to AHCA complaints equivalent to that of the Ombudsman.

Remember, it took the Miami Herald’s investigation to get any kind of response to ghastly ALF problems, not Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) doing any watchdog activism. (As Long-Term Care Ombudsman Brian Lee’s case showed, advocacy that disturbs the owners will get you fired by Pink Slip Rick.) AHCA was asleep at the wheel as a rule, as described here:

… a drop in state inspections of homes by 33 percent, and a pattern of reducing penalties against bad homes. The Herald found that the state could have shut down 70 homes in 2008 and 2009 for such violations as abuse and neglect leading to deaths, but closed just seven. [bold added]

Now the panel recommends allowing owners to hide the complaints behind state-sanctioned secrecy! What could possibly go wrong?

Again, Brian Lee had nailed it nine months ago as the legislative session was wrapping up and nothing was happening:

‘The only reason they’re doing it [considering reform legislation] now is because they’re under the media spotlight. A year from now, or two years from now, when all the dust has settled, those facilities are going to go back to business as usual.’

If you were wondering who in Tallahassee was doing the work to protect the people, particularly vulnerable seniors (and even the unarmed getting shot and killed), you would be mistaken if you thought it was elected officials like Republican legislators or Governor Scott. Their collective indifference toward the exploitation, endangerment, and brutalizing of Florida citizens in order to protect powerful industry and partisan interests becomes more appalling by the week.

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