Editorial: One More Time• Miami Herald
Once more — with commitment, Gov. Scott.
The governor has reconvened the task force whose recommendations to bring deep reform to how assisted-living facilities treat their vulnerable clients died in the Legislature this year because (a) lawmakers caved in to big-money industry interests and (b) the governor, who swore that protecting the frail and elderly was his priority, failed to get out and push. Nor did he get out and lead, either.
In the meantime, the worst of the ALF operators are still operating unimpeded, and anyone unlucky enough to be in their “care” remains unprotected. The panel of industry experts represents the best second chance to develop measures that will curb the types of mistreatment, abuse and bad — sometimes fatal — practices graphically recounted in The Miami Herald series Neglected to Death.
However, political courage is the only thing that will make a real difference.
In the most recent legislative session, a bill sponsored by Sen. Nan Rich was hailed as the most comprehensive in a generation. It got tough on the worst offenders and gave ALF clients and their families more muscle. It would have stripped state regulators of the power to cut deals with ALFs in the cases of the most horrific deaths. Instead, their licenses could be immediately revoked.
These conditions should remain the bare minimum of this second round of study. Industry claims of overregulation are overheated. Protecting vulnerable ALF clients must be, first and always, the priority. Appeasing industry lobbyists to the point that new recommendations are defanged and ineffective cannot be an option.
Ground rules on which every side can agree should include severe punishment for the most flagrant violators; ensuring well-run ALFs are encouraged to continue their good work; and those where improvements should be made are pushed in the right direction.
The Senate bill, and a less-stringent one in the House, never got anywhere, despite elected officials’ protestations that they though it was a really, really important issue.
This time around, the task force plans to address how to better protect mental-health residents and how to better enforce what state regulations exist now. In response to The Herald series, the state toughened up its facility inspections. But that’s barely enough. For Florida, where seniors once flocked to live out their golden years, to allow those same people to be neglected and abused because the state doesn’t care enough, is a travesty.
It’s a long slide that elected officials are responsible for braking. No matter how thoughtful any new task-force recommendations are, they will only be as good as the political will expended to make them a reality.