Nursing Home/Assisted-Living Facility Negligence – Shame on Governor Scott and Florida Legislature

nursing home abuse.jpgKudos to The Miami Herald for exposing the widespread abuse and neglect of residents within Florida’s nearly 2900 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, and AHCA’s failure to perform its mandate to regulate and punish the wrongdoers. NEGLECTED TO DEATH Part I; Part II; Part III.

It is a must read and will make your blood boil… unless, of course, you are Governor Rick Scott or one of his merry band of radical right-wing Republican legislators who are pushing to create laws designed to weaken rather than strengthen the rights of private citizens to hold bad facilites accountable.

These are some of The Herald’s findings:

  • 70 People died from abuse or neglect since 2002.
  • 1,732 Homes were caught using illegal restraints like ropes, locking residents in closets, and tranquilizing them since 2002.
  • Only 26 facilities closed down by AHCA since 2002. State regulators could have shut down 70 homes in the past two years for a host of severe violations – including abuse and neglect by caretakes – but in the end, closed just seven.
  • 13,250 Police and rescue calls to a small enclave of ALFs in Broward County since 2005 – essentially one every four hours.
  • While the number of new homes has exploded across the state – 550 in the past five years – the state has dropped critical inspections by 33 percent, allowing some of the worst facilities to stay open.
  • Though the state has the power to impose fines on homes that break the law, the penalties are routinely decreased, delayed or dropped altogether. Consider: In 2009 AHCA could have imposed more than $6 million in fines, but took in just $650,000.

Now for what Rick Scott and his cohorts are seeking to enact:
House Bill 661 and Senate Bill 1396 would cap non-economic damages at $250,000 in wrongful death cases involving nursing homes for the first time. It would also make it more difficult to obtain punitive damages, and prohibit naming an out-of-town owner or investor of a nursing home in a lawsuit.

“There is nothing in [the bill] that helps nursing home residents, nothing that makes sure we can hold bad nursing homes accountable,” the Florida Justice Association’s executive director, Debra Henley, said after the hearing. (For the sake of full disclosure, I am a member of the Florida Justice Association.)

The Republicans scream for less government, yet they seek to impose restrictions on the rights of private citizens to hold wrongdoers accountable through the civil justice system. Through the civil justice system, private citizens, with the assistance of private attorneys, can prosecute bad acts at no expense to taxpayers, which is a far different scenario than spending tax dollars on AHCA and assistant state attorney salaries and investigation costs.

In rhetoric, at least, the scenario of less government and private citizen self-help would seem to fit squarely within the philosophy espoused by Republicans. However, when citizen self-help bumps against company profits, Republicans are quick to abandon principle.

For present-day Florida Republicans, at least, the mighty dollar rules.
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Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.

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