Just minutes after entering the troubled assisted-living facility, Florida Sen. Chris Smith took out his cellphone camera and began capturing the images: dirty hypodermic needles in a dresser drawer. Feces smeared on a bathroom floor. Electrical wires jutting from a hole in a wall. No sink in a bathroom, with an exposed pipe dripping water into a bucket.
In another room, rat droppings littered the floor.
After finishing a surprise inspection of Briarwood Manor in Lauderhill with state agents two weeks ago, the Democratic lawmaker said he placed an urgent call to one of the senates leading Republicans, Ronda Storms.
I told her what I saw and how disgusted I was, said Smith. Ronda and I dont always see eye to eye on a lot of issues, but he said he told her, We need to do something about this.
Shaken by his visit to the facility in the heart of his district, Smith said he will join Storms and other lawmakers to overhaul the troubled regulatory system that oversees Floridas assisted-living facilities, saying the state needs to do more to protect these vulnerable people.
Were talking about human beings. I am amazed we are paying people to house human beings in such conditions. Theyre mistreating those who dont even know any better.
Smiths visit capped two days of sweeps through the neighborhood by more than a half-dozen agencies that held unannounced inspections at four ALFs clustered in a small area known as Cannon Point.
Among the findings the agencies released Friday:
• A 55-year-old man with a festering, swollen leg wound that had gone untreated until state agents ordered the home to get medical help.
• Rodent infestations in two of the homes.
• Roaches and broken furniture in two of the facilities.
During the sweep, inspectors went to one of the homes, Shalom Manor, where caretakers just days earlier had found a 46-year-old resident in a chair, not breathing.
Instead of performing CPR or calling paramedics, one caregiver draped a sheet over his head while the other went to the kitchen to make breakfast, police reports state. Thirty-seven minutes later, caretakers called paramedics, who pronounced James Hazel dead. The state Department of Children & Families is investigating.
The inspections on May 19 and 20 by the Florida attorney generals office, DCF, the Agency for Health Care Administration and others took place after a Miami Herald series, Neglected to Death, showed that state regulators were allowing dozens of homes to stay open despite dangerous and decrepit conditions.
The visit to Briarwood Manor turned up enough problems including rodent droppings, nine structural violations and an interior described in a state report as absolutely filthy from floor to ceiling to prompt Smith to fire off a letter to his Senate colleagues.
I wouldnt put my enemies in that place, said Smith, adding that he will work with the senates Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee to overhaul the states oversight of ALFs, now surpassing nursing homes as the primary facilities for the elderly and mentally ill in Florida.
Reached in her district on Floridas west coast Friday, Storm said she was heartened by Smiths call after his visit to Cannon Point home to the highest concentration of ALFs in the state.