Brecht Heuchan: FHCA ‘wrong on all’ counts

nursing care

The Florida Health Care Association (FHCA), a nursing home industry trade association, recently attacked my proposed “Resident’s Bill of Rights” amendment to the state constitution saying that it does not belong there, that it “weakens protections for residents,” and that it is “glaringly bad.”

Unfortunately, they offered nothing in the way of evidence to support these claims and are wrong on all. Here is my take:


I cannot count the number of times I have been told one issue or another does not belong in the constitution. When it comes from the mouths of special interest groups it is code for something else.

What they really mean is: 1. they think they have other forums wired in their favor, and 2. they know if voters have a chance to consider the proposal, it would pass.

Make no mistake—rights for residents belong in the Florida Constitution. Our constitution is a place where rights of the individual are protected, especially when it comes to the rights of the vulnerable. As we so sadly saw in the recent, preventable deaths of 14 residents of a South Florida nursing home, the elderly in our society are far too often the most susceptible targets for neglect, abuse, and exploitation.

According to a news account just this week, a hidden camera in a nursing home-room showed a 94-year-old man with dementia being thrown, hit and doused with mouthwash by a facility worker. The man later developed stage three ulcers and bed sores and died.

Is it any wonder the industry opposes cameras in resident’s rooms? We as a society can do better and should demand it.

People that live in these facilities are there necessarily, because they cannot care for themselves. Consequently, they need and deserve the highest levels of protections, and these protections should be free from the cyclical nature of politics and instead guaranteed to residents by the permanency and consistency of the Florida Constitution.

The suggestion by FHCA that the proposed amendment weakens protections for nursing home residents is an ignorant one. It is as if they did not read the proposal, or they have a distorted view of what is in the best interest of residents.

You do not have to be a constitutional lawyer to get this. The plain reading of the amendment is simple and sensible. If adopted by the Constitution Revision Commission and then passed by Florida voters next November, much needed basic rights would be afforded to our frailest and most vulnerable citizens.

The proposal merely says this: Residents of long-term care facilities would have the right to be treated courteously, fairly, and with dignity. They would have the right to adequate and appropriate health care that puts their needs and best interest first.

Residents would have the right to safe, clean, and comfortable living conditions and the right to insist the government does its part to safeguard their welfare. They would have the right to require facilities get meaningful insurance in case something goes wrong. And in the terrible event of abuse, neglect, or death, residents or their heirs would have the right to identify who is ultimately responsible for their harm and hold them accountable.

My proposal clearly strengthens protections for residents of long-term care facilities in Florida; it is obvious to any reasonable person who reads it, and to say otherwise is flatly false. This brings me to my last point.

The FHCA said the proposal is “glaringly bad,” but bad for whom? The FHCA represents facility owners, so we can assume they mean bad for the owners. I do not share that view.

The welfare of residents and the viability of the long-term care industry in Florida do not have to be zero sum games of mutual exclusivity. A healthy industry is in the best interest of residents but not when it comes at their expense.

Thankfully, there are many very good facilities in this state, and the caregivers that work there perform miracles each and every day. But here is the reality, the nursing home industry in Florida is largely a for-profit one.

Undoubtedly, a profit motive encourages efficiencies and innovations and many other desired outcomes. But sometimes the motive for profit in nursing homes is at odds with the objective to prioritize the welfare of residents first. In these circumstances, a Bill of Rights for residents is needed to ensure their safety to the highest degree possible.

Nearly 20 percent of Florida’s 21 million people are over the age of 65, making it the oldest state in the U.S. Approximately 150,000 Floridians live in long-term care facilities in this state, and as the baby boomer bubble hits the hardest, these numbers will exponentially rise along with the cost to care for them.

The Constitution Revision Commission meets every 20 years to evaluate the Constitution in an effort to prepare our state for the future. In my view, and it is one I believe to be shared by industry and resident advocates alike, is that there are few issues more important or more relevant to the future well-being of our state and its people than how we treat and care for the elderly.

So let’s work to be better.

Brecht Heuchan is a member of the 2018 Constitution Revision Commission.

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