Florida may be known for its warm weather, but lately a cold wind has been blowing from the state bureaucracy.
A Lakeland hospice ordered to close over a “disputed clerical error” has lost its initial appeal for a hearing with the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.
Last week, Compassionate Care Hospice on Drane Field Road filed a request with the AHCA to set aside a cease-and-desist order. The facility, which serves Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties, is asking the state to allow them to continue serving terminally ill patients during the regular appeal process.
On March 9, AHCA officials notified administrator Peter Shute that the CCH license expired on Feb. 21. The notice ordered the company to cease all operations in three counties and immediately discharge or transfer all of its hospice patients.
Under Florida Statutes, if the AHCA receives a renewal application and fee prior to the expiration date, the state deems the license valid. The penalty for late filing of renewal paperwork is only $50 per day, with an aggregate amount not to exceed 50 percent of the licensing fee or $500, whichever is less.
Instead of assessing fines, as required by law, the state agency ordered CCH to close.
“Failure to immediately cease operations and transfer all patients is unlicensed activity and may result in a referral to law enforcement and regulatory sanctions,” states the letter from AHCA program administrator Noel Lawrence.
CCH filed a Petition for Formal Administrative Hearing with the AHCA on March 11 challenging the letter because the renewal application and application fee had been “timely submitted.” CCH attorneys say they have compelling evidence that the company submitted the proper license renewal, and anticipated the hearing for an opportunity to present their case.
AHCA denied an administrative hearing on March 20, leading the hospice organization to take its case up with the 1st District Court of Appeal.
In an email, a CCH spokesperson says that terminally ill patients, who should be allowed to die in peace and with dignity, are “being subjected to more stress with all these bureaucratic rulings — as are their family members and loved ones.” The representative called the AHCA ruling a “bad decision” not in the public interest.
Filed with court were a pair of letters submitted by families of CCH patients, praising caregivers and pleading with the state agency to resolve the matter quickly.
One letter, from Timothy J. McKenna to CCH Program Director Tina Braungardt, says:
Dear Ms. Braungardt,
On behalf of Helen McKenna and family, your services toward making Helen’s final days comfortable and easy are sorely missed. Our mother’s condition requires the extra care your staff has provided for her these last several months and to have them abruptly terminated has made the entire situation even more strenuous not only on our mother but family and friends as well.
The professionalism exhibited by Case Manager Dana Abbott and home health care worker Tanika Cunningham was second to none. Our family noticed an immediate difference for the better in mom’s comfort and day to day living with the assistance of these two fine employees.
In just this short time since the disruption of service, we have noticed mom’s attitude and health has declined. It is a shame that an administrative error has negatively effected the lives of so many elders including my mother.
Please expedite in correcting this mistake so our mother, as well as many other moms and dads, may get back to the great care you have previously provided.
The other letter described how the family was “heartbroken” over the news that CCH could not provide care to terminally ill patients.
“I hope this letter helps you (ACHA) to make your decision in favor of Compassionate Care,” writes Joanne Richmond, whose father is also under CCH care, “to open their doors again, to do what they do best — helping people.”
The CCH representative also points out that AHCA has the power to enter the stay and avert the “crisis situation,” calling on the state to exercise its discretion and adopt a “common sense resolution” of the disputed failure to file a renewal. CCH vows to work cooperatively with the agency to “achieve a legislative solution” once a stay is in effect.
“This is not a situation that should result in removing care services from dying patients, and impact the ability of some 150 health care professionals to stay employed.”