Florida Republicans have controlled the state’s legislature and Governor’s office (Jeb Bush (1998-2006); Charlie Crist (2006-2010); Rick Scott (elected in 2010)) for more than 10 years. Their time in power has seen a decline in the rights and protections afforded Florida’s elderly and infirm. Bad legislation and funding cuts are the reasons for the decline.
The Republican policy of putting business interests before individuals explains the bad legislation and funding cuts. The beat goes on….
In its hard-hitting multi-part series, Neglected to Death, The Miami Herald exposes the sorry state of affairs involving Florida’s ALF/nursing home industry. (Here is a link to the newspaper’s latest story in the series, State of Failure.)
Examples since 2007:
- Encouraged by Florida’s largest industry group, a dozen legislators came forward with 36 pieces of legislation to remove or weaken regulations – including parts of the Residents’ Bill of Righs that guarantees safety and protection to vulnerable adults. (This past legislative session saw 23 such bills.)
- In 2009, lawmakers said that state regulators no longer have to report abuses and deaths to the Legislature, instead allowing them to keep the cases secret.
- Republican lawmakers rejected a plan to crack down on rogue operators.
- Saying they were too expensive, lawmakers blocked efforts to increase inspections by state agencies to once every 15 months.
- AHCA inspectors – ACHA is the state agency charged with controlling conditions in the facilities – were stripped of the authority to call doctors to get residents removed from facilities, leaving the decision to the facilities.
- During the 2011 legislative session, fellow Republicans tried to repeal a law sponsored by Sen. Mike Fasano requiring homes to carry life-saving heart devices. “It’s outrageous,” he said. “I shake my head in disbelief. The cost is minimal to what the cost of life is.
Some of those involved:
- Sen. Rene Garcia. This Hialeah Republican chairs the Senate’s health committee. In this year’s legislative session, he pushed to cut back penalties to caregivers and reduce the state’s power to close troubled homes. Among the proposals was to strip the state’s power to revoke the licenses of homes with two or more Class I violations. His district includes more than 100 ALF’s – including some of the most heavily fined homes in Miami-Dade. Garcia received $8,100 from industry contributions.
- Sen. Don Gaetz (R). He co-sponsored the 2009 bill taking away the requirement that adverse events be reported to the Legislature. This law also removed the authority of state regulators to have doctors decide if residents should be removed from facilities. When questioned by the Herald about this piece of legislation, Gaetz said, “I just don’t remember.”
- Rep. Matt Hudson. This House Republican sponsored a bill in 2011 to remove the power of the state ombudsman to make yearly visits to facilities with a checklist to make sure they were safe for residents. Hudson argued that the ombudsman’s duties were duplicative of work already being done by AHCA. The Herald found that was not the case. Hudson received more than $5,000 in industry contributions.
- Sen. Mike Fasano (see above).
- Republican Senator Ronda Storms. In response to a gruesome case of neglect, in 2008 she tried to pass sweeping legislation to stregthen ALF laws, including criminal background checks and penalties. Not only was her effort defeated, but some believe it created a backlash leading to a frenzy of legislation designed to weaken health and safety measures.
- Most House and Senate Democrats. Though powerless to control the agenda, they fight the good fight.
Some motivating factors for legislation that favors industry over individuals:
- Money. Since 2007, the ALF industry has invested more than $215,000 into the coffers of Florida politicians.
- Tea-Party Mentality. Rep. Matt Hudson, above, said he believes in “less government.”
- Laissez-faire. In economics, this describes an environment in which transactions between private parties are free from state intervention. According to Senator Fasano, in the 2011 legislative session, “the governor and lawmakers were all pushing to deregulate the professions.”
Carl Hiassen editorial (8/14/11): ALF’s foxes guarding the henhouse
Update: The state begins to take action against ALFs. August 20, 2011 Miami Herald article.
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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.