TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott used tough language in the summer of 2011 when he created a panel to help fix the deadly abuse and neglect in Florida assisted living facilities.
He pledged to provide protections for elderly and disabled ALF residents, who in recent years saw sweeping breakdowns of care as lawmakers stripped regulations and failed to protect the states most vulnerable people from burns, beatings and death.
Then politics happened.
In a change of tide, Scotts panel issued its final report this week, calling for diminished transparency, fewer regulations and more money for ALF operators. The panel calls for the state to better enforce existing rules rather than create new ones. And to reward ALFs when they do right rather than punish them when they do wrong.
Although some hailed the recommendations as a step forward, not everyone was cheering.
[Providers] are probably doing cartwheels right now, said Brian Lee, a resident advocate and director of Families for Better Care.
The recommendations are a product of more than a year of contentious meetings and a panel on which advocates for the powerful ALF industry had the lions share of seats. Scott appointed the group after The Miami Herald reviewed thousands of documents and published a sweeping series on the squalid conditions for many of the states most vulnerable residents.
Some advocates for the elderly have blasted the panel since its formation, accusing Scott of stacking the committee with business-oriented ALF operators. Scott promised a second round of meetings would include more ALF residents and advocates. Critics contend the reverse was true.
On Friday, Scott insisted the work group is just one step, and that hell work with lawmakers to pass meaningful reform. He made similar promises last year.
We need to act this session to make sure that existing regulations are being enforced to protect our seniors from abuse and to make necessary changes to stop facility operators from breaking the law, he said this time around.
The furor from the Herald series prompted Scotts panel to offer a variety of solutions in 2011, from stricter educational requirements for ALF caretakers to more government oversight for facilities that cause patient harm. Those emerged shortly after the series was published and served as a foundation for sweeping legislation that lawmakers softened and then defeated in 2012, under pressure from powerful industry lobbyists.
The new round of proposals offer bits and pieces of that original package.
Larry Polivka, chairman of the panel and head of the Claude Pepper Foundation, touted the groups more resident-friendly proposals. Those include an appeals process to give evicted residents recourse and the creation of an independent nonprofit organization to train and credential providers.
I think the workgroup struck a good balance, he said, adding that the first round of proposals are not moot. It has to be a carrot-and-stick approach. You cant live by punitive measures alone.
But Pat Lange, lobbyist and director of the Florida Assisted Living Association, said the final report appears to stand on its own. And she hopes it stays that way.
The more recent conversations have been much more productive. This agrees with what weve felt from the beginning, which is that the regulations that exist are adequate, she said. I think [the panel] realized they need to make some differences in some of the ways they were handling recommendations.