After years of rampant abuse in some Florida assisted living facilities, state agents have launched a major crackdown by banning new residents from troubled homes and slashing state funds to the worst abusers including one that forced frail residents to sleep on box springs covered with cardboard and shower with contaminated well water.
Under pressure from the governors office, regulators have cut the flow of Medicaid money to more than a dozen homes, forcing two facilities to shut down and threatening others that depend on the state dollars.
Were closed down. Todays my last day, said an employee on Friday at Sunshine Acres Loving Care, a sprawling 54-bed facility in the Panhandle with a long history of abuse and neglect. Theres no one left here.
The clamp down by the Agency for Health Care Administration was prompted by a Miami Herald investigation in May that showed regulators allowed some of the worst facilities to stay open, despite dangerous conditions that led to dozens of elderly residents dying at the hands of their caretakers.
Since May, more homes have been slapped with the sanctions than any other time in the past five years, records show.
Theyre finally doing what they should have been doing, said Tony Willard, a former resident of the now shuttered Shalom Manor, one of Broward Countys oldest ALFs. That should have been closed a couple of years ago.
The actions against the homes among the toughest in the states arsenal come as lawmakers launch an inquiry into a state enforcement system that allowed dozens of shoddy operators to stay in business, leaving vulnerable residents to fend for themselves,
In addition, a statewide task force appointed by Gov. Rick Scott is undertaking its own examination of problems in the homes, now among the primary residences in Florida for the elderly and people with mental illness.
While the state slashes public dollars to punish homes, its also turning to other enforcement tools: Six homes were banned from taking in new residents in the last three months -- twice the rate of actions than before the crackdown. Since May, 100 homes were slapped with fines totaling $260,500.
Larry Polivka, a longtime expert on aging who is leading the governors ALF task force, said the state had to crack down to show it was serious about protecting vulnerable residents.,
You are seeking a deterrent, said Polivka, scholar-in-residence at Florida State Universitys Claude Pepper Center.
By ordering the cuts and moratoriums on new residents, the state is sending a message to owners that if they are not providing acceptable care, they will be identified and penalized, Polivka said.
For Albert King, 54, who roomed at Shalom Manor for most of the year, the state's decision to stop Medicaid payments to the home and impose a ban on new residents allowed him and others to finally move to new facilities.
It wasnt a home. It was hell, said King, who was interviewed by state regulators about the facility, which was cited 59 times in the past three years for problems ranging from filthy conditions and bedbug infestations to caretakers failing to dispense crucial medication to residents.
During an inspection in May, regulators found that caretakers at Shalom Manor discovered a blind, 46-year-old man not breathing in his room, but instead of performing CPR or calling 911, they tossed a blanket over his head and waited 37 minutes to call paramedics. By the time they arrived, James Hazel was pronounced dead.