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Sponsor Hopes Third Time Is the Charm For Assisted Living Reform Bill

Florida Senate

A bill aimed at overhauling Florida’s assisted living homes is back for the third year in a row. The proposal, aimed at cracking down on unlicensed facilities, has previously been okayed by the Senate but failed in the House.

Efforts to overhaul Florida’s assisted living industry began two years ago on the heels of a Miami Herald investigation which found rampant fraud and elder abuse in that region’s facilities, with very little state oversight. Since then, the state Agency for Healthcare Administration has cracked down on so-called ALF’s—levying fines even closing some down.  But at the same time, the Florida Legislature couldn’t pass a bill on the issue.

“Twice now, the House has failed to make ALF reform a priority. In conjunction, the Senate has passed common-sense legislation, only to not have a dance partner in the House that agrees," said Hollywood Democratic Senator Eleanor Sobel, the sponsor of this year’s proposal.

During a committee hearing on the issue Tuesday, Sobel questioned agency officials about how to make this year’s ALF bill stronger. That could include starting a rating system similar to the one in place for nursing homes.

But in the past the Assisted Living Industry has lobbied hard to kill bills that have called for increased regulation. Lobbyist Peggy Rigsby with the Florida Healthcare Association told the committee she has problems with the Senate bill.

“We don’t need—we feel we don’t need additional regulation, we need to enforce the regulations that exist now, and make sure the resident is the focus of what we do," she said.

A more recent report out of South Florida has put the spotlight on ALF’s operating illegally. Those unlicensed facilities tend to masquerade as shelters or rooming homes.  Umatilla Republican Senator Alan Hays says that kind of activity, especially when problems arise, gives the rest of elder care industry a bad reputation:

“Don’t treat them with kid gloves, treat them with a hammer. Because these people are violating the law by not having a license. Number two, we have documentation of horrific care—no treatment of people, under...captivity is the best way to describe some of these scenes.”

Hays and Inverness Republican Senator Charlie Dean both suggest criminal penalties for unlicensed assisted living facilities, although that’s not in the bill the Senate Children and Families committee approved. The approval of the bill Tuesday begins a months-long journey complete with more public hearings.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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