Assisted Living Facilities Rulemaking Under Way; Industry, Advocates at Odds• News Service of Florida
BY MARGIE MENZEL
After a newspaper report last year revealed 70 deaths from abuse and neglect at Florida’s assisted living facilities since 2002, efforts to reform the system have so far come to naught – but on Tuesday another got under way.
The Miami Herald series “Neglected to Death” generated a work group appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, a grand jury probe and several reform bills that died in the last legislative session. Those bills that adopted the work group’s recommendations for oversight of the facilities passed the Senate but didn’t get a hearing in the House of Representatives.
Scott has since reconstituted the ALF work group, which will begin its “Phase Two” on June 25. And on Tuesday the state Department of Elder Affairs hosted the first of six rulemaking sessions that bring the nursing home industry and consumer advocates to the table.
“It all started with a lot of allegations about abusive behavior and problems in facilities in the press, and we got looking into that,” said DOEA Secretary Charles Corley. “Some were sustainable and some probably weren’t, but to think we were in an industry that didn’t have any issues would have been very naïve.”
The rulemaking process is intended to draft what DOEA in a statement called “mutually acceptable proposed rules addressing the safety and quality of services and care” – changes that involve things like data collection and emergency management, but don’t require changes in the law.
The 15-member panel includes seven state officials, representatives of four providers or provider associations, and four consumer advocates, one of whom works for the state. They signed a pledge to negotiate in good faith.
But Brian Lee, the former state ombudsman whom Corley fired soon after Scott took office, scoffed at the rulemaking as a way to sweep industry abuses under the rug.
“Everyone anticipated that we would have a bill and a law passed coming out of the session,” he said. “But now we’re putting together rules on a system that’s broken? The only benefit to this whole process is for the providers. That’s why they’re stacked on this committee, with no consumers, because they can get what they want through the rulemaking.”
Lee has brought a whistleblower lawsuit against the state for his firing; it’s currently before Leon County Circuit Judge James O. Shelfer. One of the parties to the lawsuit is the Florida Assisted Living Association, whose director, Pat Lange, disagreed with Lee’s take on the rulemaking panel.
“It’s not even one-third of the group that’s … providers,” she said. Lange also said it’s too soon to predict what will happen. “I think before we even get started in the rulemaking, to make judgments like that, it’s just a little too soon … I think we need to give it a fair shot and see what happens.”
Tuesday’s meeting included such housekeeping matters as a review of the state’s open records law and a history of the governor’s ALF work group.
Lange said she was “happy to have a resident advocate on the committee, because they need to be represented, and they weren’t represented on the work group.”
Carol Berkowitz, a senior administrator at LeadingAge Florida, formerly the Florida Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, which represents providers, agreed. “I see a lot of agency folks around the table. I also see consumers being represented, and providers of all different kinds, so I think it’s a well-rounded group,” she said.
Corley said all the panelists are motivated by concern for the residents.
“If we imposed undue burdens on an industry, we could harm an industry,” he said. “And that would have the manifestation of causing there to be fewer and fewer choices for consumers of good facilities, and that’s not the goal of this, either. So we have to strike a balance.”
The rulemaking process is expected to wrap up in August.