Every time Terry Russell sees a headline about abuse or neglect in a Florida assisted living facility, he cringes:
“I know I put forth the effort to take care of my residents as well as I can and try to make their lives as productive as they can be," Russell says, "So when I see articles about other facilities or folks having problems, it tarnishes the reputation of all of us.”
He owns and operates five nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Florida. Problems in Florida’s assisted living facilities, or ALFs -- and lax state oversight of them came to a head two years ago, when the Miami Herald published a series of articles detailing fraud, abuse and neglect of residents in several South Florida homes.
A plan revamping the state’s regulations on assisted living facilities is heading for final votes in the House and Senate. The proposals come nearly three years after a series of reports alleged abuse and neglect in those home and represent a deal between the industry and lawmakers. Since then, the state has tried and failed to pass legislation addressing the issue. The effort has been repeatedly tanked by the ALF industry, and House Republicans, who tend to resist increasing regulation:
“I believe ALF reform was not a priority and other things took precedent," said Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood).
She's been pushing an assisted living reform bill for the past two years. Her proposal is now before the full House and Senate. The bills are a compromise between the assisted living industry and lawmakers: the ALF’s have accepted increased regulation and monitoring in exchange for more certainty concerning fines and penalties. Florida Health Care Association chief lobbyist Bob Asztalos, says his organization is backing the bills for the first time:
“The time has come when we need to pass ALF reform. We have to put some certainty out there who work in it. We have to make sure AHCA has the resources to clean up problems reported in the press. And we’re working real hard with the bill sponsors. Our goal is to get that passed this year," he says.
That “it’s about time” sensibility resonates with ALF owner Russell, who says while he’s not a fan of regulation--especially when it likely means more paperwork--he believes it’s worth it for his industry:
“It’s definitely an industry that has grown and is going to grow. Fortunately, or unfortunately that we have to develop systems to monitor whether folks are doing what they have to do."
The proposal before the House and Senate would establish a rating system for assisted living facilities and allow public comments to be made on the Agency for Healthcare Administration’s website. In the two years since the Miami Herald’s report on abusive facilities ran, AHCA has boosted its own reporting and inspection standards and the rate of problems in the facilities has dropped.