Empowering families to advocate for quality nursing home care


OUR TAKE: Florida’s Shame: History of Broken Promises to Elderly

Orlando Sentinel

By Brian Lee, FFBC Executive Director

Shocked. Heartbroken. Spitting mad.

There aren’t enough superlatives that underscore the raw emotion of the Hollywood nursing home tragedy that’s being mourned by the families of the more than dozen elderly victims who died from the most unthinkable neglect.

Now their pain has swelled to an outcry for justice, to “hold those responsible” for the suffering their loved ones experienced, when they languished for hours inside a pungent sweat box.

As we await the conclusion of a criminal probe to get to the bottom of what happened, Sens Lauren Book, D-Plantation, Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, and René Garcia, RHialeah, should be praised for promising a bipartisan solution to make facilities safer for residents.

One idea that’s gaining traction is requiring nursing homes to procure generators that would power HVAC systems for so many days after a facility would lose power.

Sounds good, right? It seems like positive legislation every lawmaker could support.

Recent history shows that whenever well-meaning politicians begin making promises to help the elderly, the opposite usually happens.

Unfortunately, recent history shows that whenever well-meaning politicians begin making promises to help the elderly, the opposite usually happens. In fact, when it comes to nursinghome and assisted-living facilities, the industry is the regular beneficiary of much of that political goodwill pledged to our parents and grandparents.

For example, in 2001, after owners of nursing homes bellyached about the frequency and severity of lawsuits, lawmakers decided to offer them some relief, by brokering a tort-reform deal among advocates, trial lawyers and industry representatives. Good for them, but what did the residents get in return? Well, they were promised the crème de la crème of staffing laws that were to become the envy of the nation. Families were elated with the deal and soon dreamt of nursing-home hallways filled with an abundance of caregivers, roaming from roomto-room, attending to their loved ones’ every need, especially during the evening and weekend shifts.

Unfortunately, their dreams were more fantasy than reality.

Soon after the bill’s passage, lawmakers began tinkering with the deal by, at first, delaying the implementation timeframe. But the deal still wasn’t one-sided enough for the greedy industry, and our elected officials were happy to oblige their nursing home buddies. By the time everything was all said and done, the new staffing standard had been considerably reduced to benefit, none other than, the providers, not the residents — all while the lawsuit protections remained intact.

Ten years later, the assisted living industry came under fire after the Miami Herald published its scathing investigative series, “Neglected to Death,” blistering the industry for the widespread abuse and neglect of residents and embarrassing the Agency for Health Care Administration’s years of lax enforcement.

Outraged by the reports, the Legislature, the governor and even an empaneled grand jury were at it again, quickly promising residents they would collectively polish up the tarnished sector.

A crescendoing call for reform culminated in a legislative package that would have toughened resident protections. But the bill was no match for lobbyists and their deep pockets, who convinced the Florida House of Representatives to kill the bill. Fortunately, a few senators refused to raise the white flag, and after years of failed attempts, finally passed a reform bill.

Was it everything promised to residents?

Not exactly.

In fact, the new assisted living reform law actually sliced in half the regulatory agency’s monitoring of facilities licensed to care for the most medically infirm residents. In other words, residents got less than nothing in return while the assisted-living industry profited from decreased regulation.

Fast forward to today, and, once again, elected officials are making promises. Let’s hope these new promises to protect the elderly aren’t quickly forgotten like we’ve seen in years past. If so, one word will best sum up the emotional scar of this historic nursing home tragedy: disappointment.