WASHINGTON -- Sitting before U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and his colleagues, Alfredo Navas carefully recounted the day his sister told him by telephone the horrific news: that their 85-year-old mother drowned in a shallow lake behind the Miami-Dade assisted living facility where she was supposed to be protected.
I I couldnt believe it. I said it cant be. So I rushed over there and as I got there ... reality sets in, Navas told the hushed hearing room of the U.S. Senates Special Committee on Aging on Wednesday afternoon.
He said all the safeguards his family had assumed were in place to monitor the frail woman with dementia cameras, door locks and vigilant caretakers failed on that cold January morning in 2008. In the end, there was no investigation by Floridas top regulator nor any punishment for the home.
The 60-year-old mans story was among the dozens of deaths from abuse and neglect chronicled in a Miami Herald series that reached the Senate panel that is now looking into the major problems of what are expected to be the homes of the future for Americas seniors: ALFs.
This is America in the year 2011, and these kind of things shouldnt be happening, said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who recounted aloud to the panel chilling examples of abuse and neglect revealed by The Herald.
They include a 75-year-old Alzheimers patient in Clearwater torn apart by an alligator after he wandered away from his ALF for the fourth time, a 71-year-old mentally ill Hialeah man who died from burns after he was left in a bathtub filled with scalding water, and a 74-year-old Kendall woman who was restrained for six hours until the bindings cut into her skin and killed her.
Federal regulators and lawmakers said during the testimony they dont want the federal government overseeing ALFs, but they want more of a role in making sure that states, like Florida, do their jobs in protecting the most vulnerable adults, said Barbara Edwards, lead director at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service.
Wed like to have additional sanctions when states are not aggressively pursuing corrective action, Edwards said, adding its not practical to hold up state Medicaid funding when there are problems at ALFs.
Shortly after The Miami Herald series appeared last May, the agency fired off a letter to Floridas lead regulator, the Agency for Health Care Administration, demanding answers, she said.
We talked with high-level state officials within a couple of days of those articles to ask for more detail about what the state was doing to respond to those situation, Edwards said. The state did report back to us on their activities to respond. We actually view this as a still an open issue with the state and are continuing to gather information.
The Herald found that AHCA launched a crackdown on troubled facilities after the series, imposing the states harshest sanctions on more than 40 homes and forcing the shut down of at least 10 facilities.
Edwards said she believes the state is taking responsive action to investigate and review its own policies.
We continue to monitor what the state is doing and continue to offer assistance, but also to encourage the state to be assertive and aggressive in its efforts to ensure that its systems are adequate.