While lawmakers were making the changes, another trend was under way that left residents at risk: AHCA was slashing investigations of serious incidents including deaths and abuse by nearly 90 percent through most of the last decade.
While the agency was struggling to perform what were once routine duties, it agreed to numerous cuts by lawmakers, saying it supported streamlining regulation and reducing paperwork, according to annual reports.
AHCA told lawmakers the costs of supporting Storms bill one of the few to crack down on bad homes would run $2.6 million a year and force the agency to hire 46 new people.
The agency also said new rules forcing homes to buy heart-saving devices known as defibrillators would trigger an increase [in] the workload of AHCA staff, because ALF workers would have trouble running the machines.
They said nothing about saving lives, said Brian Lee, past director of the states ombudsman program who supported putting the devices in ALFs.
While a struggle emerged between industry groups and elderly advocates, a dangerous pattern was unfolding in ALFs across the state: Residents were dying at the hands of their caregivers.
At least 70 residents died from causes including starvation, gangrene, scalding burns and overdoses of powerful narcotics. And those are just the known cases: More than 200 others died under questionable circumstances, but the records are sealed under state law even the names withheld.
Despite the deaths, lawmakers took another step to remove a key enforcement tool: the automatic shutdown of homes caught repeatedly putting residents in mortal danger.
The bid by Garcia, the Hialeah lawmaker, to strip the states power to revoke the licenses of homes with two or more Class I violations breaches often found in death cases was one of the many proposed cuts he pushed in his bill this year. In addition, it would have stripped the states power to impose additional fines when regulators catch workers breaking the law -- a key enforcement tool to crack down on bad homes.
Championed by industry leaders, the plan called for regulating homes in a less restrictive way, including allowing the state to cut back on mandatory inspections.
The bill would have removed a key protection from the Residents Bill of Rights that allowed residents to step forward to report wrongdoing in the homes to state agents without fear of retaliation by ALF owners.
It was damning legislation as far as residents are concerned, said Brian Lee. I didnt see one thing that actually helped residents. It was for the industry.
Garcia, who received $8,100 from industry contributions, said he didnt favor removing the protections from residents, adding that much of the legislation was started by FALA.
He also said he was unaware of language in the bill to slash the states authority to revoke licenses of homes caught repeating severe violations. I just dont recall that, he said. FALA came to me with this massive deregulation bill. We went back and forth, but my intent was to help [the industry and AHCA] create its own chapter of enforcement.
At one point, lawmaker Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda said she was struck by the furious pace of the proposals, but after carefully reading a bill that tried to stop the state from providing lists of troubled ALFs to the public, she drew a line.