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Nursing-Home Deaths Spotlight Weakened Laws to Protect Elderly

Nursing home deaths prompt new rules by Florida Governor (Salvador Altimir/Flickr)
Nursing home deaths prompt new rules by Florida Governor (Salvador Altimir/Flickr)
September 18, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Even though a fully functioning hospital was across the street, eight residents died in a sweltering nursing home without air-conditioning in the Miami suburb of Hollywood, while calls for help were ignored.

Brian Lee, who was forced out as Florida's long-term care ombudsman, said for years, those representing the nursing home industry have successfully chipped away at protections meant to keep elderly residents safe.

"You know, I've seen this happen back in 2004 when we had the four hurricanes,” Lee said. "We saw this with a number of ALFs (Assisted Living Facilities) where folks with inability to make decisions about what to do in a crisis and a crisis standpoint - and that could be what happened here."

Gov. Rick Scott has launched an investigation into the nursing home tragedy, even though direct calls from the facility to Scott went unanswered.

In 2006, a bipartisan bill to require all nursing homes to have generators when power is out failed after the industry objected.

Florida relies on inspectors to enforce the laws governing the state's nursing homes, but protecting the rights of the roughly 70,000 elderly patients who live in those facilities falls on the state Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program and an army of volunteers who visit facilities to monitor care. The number of volunteers has fallen by nearly a third over the last decade - from 413 in 2007 to 281 in June - according to annual reports produced by the program.

Among other cutbacks, Lee said state legislators slashed the number of hours of direct care that nursing homes had to provide to residents.

"There needs to be a promise made to elders now that they are going to do something to make this better for residents, and not listen to the squawking by the industry that's going to say that, 'Generators are going to cost too much money. We can't afford this,’” Lee said. "That's bogus. That's garbage. The industry is flushed with cash."

The Scott administration issued emergency rules requiring all nursing homes and assisted living facilities to purchase ample resources, including a generator and fuel, in order to maintain operations and "comfortable temperatures" for at least 96 hours after a power outage.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - FL