Oct 2, 2011

Assisted living facilities in Florida need stricter oversight

Report: Assisted living facilities in Florida need stricter oversight
Inquiry follows newspaper report of abuse-related deaths, neglect at most-troubled centers

The shutdown of Florida's worst assisted living facilities and tougher oversight of thousands of the centers statewide are among massive changes called for in a just-released legislative study.

The Senate's report demands stronger enforcement of regulations protecting ALF residents, including center closure in worst cases and stiffer penalties and licensing requirements.
It also cites the need for higher employee training standards and better funding of care, a critical need, lawmakers said, in a state expected to have 4.5 million seniors (65 and older) by 2020 -- 21.3 percent of the estimated population.
Many of the neglect and abuse deaths occur in the most troubled of the state's ALFs, including those housing residents with chronic mental illness, according to the report.
Senate President Mike Haridopolis, R-Merritt Island, "has charged the Senate Committee on Health Regulation, as well as the Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs to examine issues relating to assisted living facilities," said Lyndsey Cruley, communications director for Haridopolis' office.
The two committees are expected to hear that report in coming weeks. The Senate study came after a Miami Herald investigation of the state's 2,956 ALFs earlier this year. The Herald series reported that dozens of people have died of abuse and neglect in the facilities -- nearly one a month since 2002. Currently, oversight of the homes falls to the Agency for Health Care Administration.
Among the Senate report's findings and recommendations:

•Sixty percent of residents with severe dementia wander from homes; caregivers are ill-equipped and inadequately trained to handle such residents.

•Florida requires only a high school diploma and 24 hours of training to operate an assisted living facility. Some states require college degrees and gerontology coursework.

•ACHA is failing to keep up with state-required facility inspections and is not collecting enough fees from homes to cover the costs of its visits.

Earlier this year, fines were imposed on four Brevard facilities for deficiencies occurring over the past few years. Fines ranged from $200 at Serenity Place in Palm Bay to $1,400 at Sand Point Senior Living in Titusville, $1,400 at The Brookshire in Melbourne and $1,500 at Century Oaks in Melbourne.

No one returned a call seeking comment from Century Oaks.
Serenity Place was fined because of a paperwork error.
At Sand Point, deficiencies included paperwork issues and reports of a resident developing pressure ulcers.
"Sand Point is committed to quality care and services for all residents," said Holly Botsford, spokeswoman for the facility.
"When issues arise, we work closely with AHCA and all valid issues are addressed promptly and responsibly. Our priority is always, and will continue to be, the ongoing safety and well-being of our residents."
The Brookshire's fine was for deficiencies that were mostly administrative -- "no care citations of any magnitude" -- and have long since been corrected, said Brian Lynch, executive director.
For example, Lynch said, when he arrived at the 125-bed facility last year, some employees had not completed required training for those working with Alzheimer's patients. He scheduled the training, but because of the trainers' calendar, it was set for a date that came after a visit from the state.
When new regulations for assisted living facilities came out, he said, it was "the first time they'd been changed in 10 years."
"We got cited on the new regulations ... they're all good changes, but not many people had caught up with all of them," Lynch said.
"My advice to any family member with questions is to come in. Come unannounced; catch us in the evening. Don't preschedule it -- pop in and ask to see a room."
Contact Kennerly at 321-242-3692 or bkennerly@floridatoday.com.