Senate unveils ALF crackdown bill

Jan 19, 2012

Florida lawmakers are preparing to crack down on facilities that abuse seniors and people with mental health problems.  Legislators unveiled two bills today (Thursday) that increase penalties and call for more training of staff at Assisted Living Facilities. Lynn Hatter reports the proposals come in the wake of reports of abuse and neglect at those centers.

Democratic Senator Eleanor Sobel along with all the members of the Senate’s Health Regulation Committee approved what may be the most sweeping overhaul of the state’s Assisted Living Industry since it was created more than four decades ago. A series of media reports last year chronicled a long history of abuse and neglect in Assisted Living Facilities across the state. The Health Regulation Committee is chaired by Republican Senator Rene Garcia, who says the proposal is aimed at increasing oversight of those centers. Here he is reading from a long list of things the proposal would do:

 “Requires employees of state or local agencies that regulate or provide services to state licenses facilities to report abuse, neglect or exploitation; Increases the biannual licensing and per-resident fee of an ALF has one or more class I or II violations in a two year period…”

And it goes on.  That proposal, SPB 7174, boosts the amount of training, certifications and education that caregivers must have. It increases penalties and licensing fees for facilities that have had prior violations, and it calls for a shutdown of facilities where residents die due to neglect and abuse.

The move is getting support from critics of the state’s policies toward long-term care facilities, like Brian Lee, the volunteer long-term care ombudsman until Governor Rick Scott took office.

 “The enhancements are massive.”

Lee says the bill shores up what he says are the state’s “flimsy” regulations on Assisted Living Facilities.

 “We see improvements in administrator accountability, regulatory authority, staff training and consumer information, and these are outstanding improvements. With these seeds being sown, residents and families will reap substantially safer care for years to come.”

Between July and December of last year the Florida Agency for HealthCare Administration reported it imposed more than 600-thousand dollars in fines. Out of the more than 26-hundred Assisted Living Facilities in the state, the agency revoked 13 licenses, and blocked 13 others from participating in Medicaid. Twenty-six centers closed because of lawsuits and regulatory pressure.

Meanwhile a similar proposal on Assisted Living Facilities, also called ALF’s, was unveiled in the Senate’s Children’s and Families Committee where Senate minority leader Nan Rich serves.

 “I think this goes a long way to make significant improvements that will guarantee the safety and well-being of our residents in ALFs.”

But the proposals could face some opposition from members of the Florida House of Representatives, which tends to resist regulation increases. Industry groups like the Florida Healthcare Association and the Florida Assisted Living Association say they haven’t yet taken a position on the bills.   However, on its website, the Assisted Living Association says quote: “we must be cautious in developing 'one-size fits all' regulations.”

Senate Children and Families Committee Chairwoman Rhonda Storms tried to head off criticism by saying she believes the bill is a reasonable response to the problems within the industry.

 “And I hope that the industry if they are troubled by particular components, that they will continue to work with us. But we really must press forward with this and I look forward to working with Health Regs on their proposed committee bill.”

Both senate committee proposals would dramatically increase the qualifications for facility administrators, from a high school diploma to a college degree with coursework in health fields, or two years of experience caring for residents. They would also impose criminal penalties for caregivers and administrators who falsify records.