Brian Lee: Bills to reform assisted living facilities would reduce oversight

Comedian W.C. Fields quipped, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit.”

It seems that Florida lawmakers need to field his advice as their debate over proposed assisted living reform draws to an unceremonious close.

Since 2011, the Legislature has worked on hammering out a reform bill that would tighten assisted living facilities regulations after a scathing Miami Herald investigation blistered the industry for widespread, almost unthinkable cases of neglect and abuse of elderly and disabled residents.

The Herald found scores of horrific deaths that stemmed from drowning, starvation, drug overdose, “baseball-sized” sores, and even electrocution. There were cases of residents who succumbed to diabetic shock after much needed insulin shots were withheld for weeks on end. And yet instead of working to prevent these problems, some administrators scuttled the evidence of their negligence by shredding and forging documents to throw inspectors off track.

The early response to these atrocities was politically swift and decisive, and included ramped-up inspections, gubernatorial task forces, legislative studies, and even a seated grand jury investigation. Hundreds of recommendations were posited to fix a system that was harming our parents and grandparents. New laws were proposed, but the measures failed.

Since then, the spotlight has waned and so too has the call for serious reform.

Granted, scaled-back proposals have been filed each legislative session, but with each passing year the industry’s lobbyists torpedoed the legislation or made just enough political plays to benefit their wealthy clients.

Now both chambers are touting that there’s a compromise deal in the works. What they’re failing to mention, though, or to understand, is that this bill actually helps providers more than it helps residents.

These so-called “reform” bills (HB1001/SB382) would slash monitoring visits for some specialty-licensed facilities in half. These are the assisted living facilities with the most vulnerable populations, those residents who need the highest level of care.

And if the Miami Herald’s “Neglected to Death” series showed us anything, it’s that we should be putting more inspectors in ALFs on a more frequent basis instead of pulling them out of the buildings.

But, wait there’s more.

Squeezed into the legislation — similar to that fine print lawyers splash at the bottom of their television commercials — is a complex formula that lowers the threshold to waive additional monitoring visits, further reducing the monitoring frequency to almost never.

In the final analysis, this legislation deregulates the assisted living industry and gives owners a free pass despite their woeful record. More boots are needed in assisted living facilities to ensure residents are safe from harm — not fewer.

There’s a second half to that W.C. Fields quote of which our lawmakers should pay close attention, “Just quit. There’s no point in being a d— fool about it.”

In other words, don’t rush to pass some foolish assisted living legislation, especially in the name of just getting something done.

Brian Lee is executive director of Families for Better Care. Column courtesy of Context Florida.


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