A recent Miami Herald article brought to light some serious questions regarding the oversight process for Florida Assisted Living facilities.  The Miami Herald investigation “found that the safeguards once hailed as the most progressive in the nation have been ignored in a string of tragedies never before revealed to the public”.  The article cites a Florida panhandle assisted living facility where the owner was required to see a therapist for his anger issues, while being able to keep his facility open five more years as abuses continued.  And, the article goes on to mention several deaths in Florida assisted living facilities, including the case of an elderly gentleman with Alzheimer’s Disease who wandered away from his Clearwater ALF.

The Herald concludes that “as the ranks of assisted-living facilities grew to make room for Florida’s booming elderly population, the state failed to protect the people it meant to serve” and cites these examples:

“Nearly once a month, residents die from abuse and neglect — with some caretakers even altering and forging records to conceal evidence — but law enforcement agencies almost never make arrests.

Homes are routinely caught using illegal restraints — including powerful tranquilizers, cages and ropes — but the state rarely, if ever, punishes them.

State regulators could have shut down 70 homes in the past two years for a host of severe violations — including neglect and abuse by caretakers — but in the end, closed just seven.

While the number of new homes has exploded across the state — 550 in the past five years — the state has dropped critical inspections by 33 percent, allowing some of the worst facilities to stay open.

Though the state has the power to impose fines on homes that break the law, the penalties are routinely decreased, delayed or dropped altogether.”

The article provides examples from several cases and it is quite disturbing to read.  However, it must be noted that reading about the abuses can give one a one-sided view of the treatment of elders in assisted living communities, where many do a wonderful job and provide excellent care.  As in the care of any vulnerable population, there are always some horrible examples which are exceptions to the loving care many give.  However, the article raises important questions about the oversight which is meant to provide some protection (and penalty) against such abuses.

If you suspect abuse or neglect, you should not hesitate to report it.  As some of the families and neighbors did in the one instance in this article, be persistent if you are not satisfied with the answers.  Visitors, volunteers and community working together can be more successful protecting vulnerable citizens than only the resident’s family members alone.  It is also important to remember the state agencies can do the best job only with those reports as regulatory visits will only go so far in spotting abuses.  It is hard to know what went so seemingly wrong in these cases, but perhaps the investigation will lead to a review of possible gaps and any processes that need to be changed.

This is certainly a disconcerting article to read if you have loved ones in need of eldercare.  What else can you do to help protect elderly loved ones who require assisted care?

  1. Get professional advice in choosing assisted care for a loved one.  Our Aging Wisely geriatric care managers provide assessments and transition assistance.  They can answer questions about the type of care provided, help you navigate care options and narrow down choices to facilities that have good quality care but also can meet the particular needs of an individual.
  2. Visit often and at different times.  If you live at a distance, consider oversight visits and chart reviews from a geriatric care manager.  Consider hiring a home health aide to provide additional one-on-one care or a senior care companion to visit or take your loved one on outings.  If your loved one is having difficulty transitioning, or needs a little extra care or attention due to an illness or dementia-related behaviors, a private caregiver/home health aide can ensure he/she gets the special attention needed.
  3. Take similar caution when hiring in-home care.  Private providers who do not work with an agency are unregulated and unsupervised (except by you).  Read our articles “Five Tips to Choosing a Quality Home Care Provider” and our guide to Pinellas home care and Florida home health care.  A licensed, Florida home health agency like EasyLiving, Inc. provides supervision and oversight of home caregivers, in addition to initial screening and training.  We are always here to answer your questions and concerns and ensure your loved one’s well-being.

CONTACT US TODAY at 727-448-0900 for more information on Pinellas senior care services and Florida home health services and sign up for our Caregiver Tips email for more eldercare news and information to keep your loved one safe.