A Miami Gardens nursing home linked to the deaths of two youngsters is closing its 60-bed children’s unit, the epicenter of a bitter dispute over Florida’s system of care for profoundly sick and disabled children.
About a week ago, Golden Glades Nursing & Rehabilitation Center informed state health administrators of its plan to shut down the harshly criticized pediatric unit. The facility was housing about 30 children late last year, although the number had since dropped to 19, said Lori Weems, a lawyer for Golden Glades’ owners.
“We have been aware of the facility’s plan to close the pediatric wing for a few weeks. Various staff from the agency have been assisting them and our nurse care coordinators are working with families,” said Michelle Dahnke, spokeswoman for the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration (ACHA). “Ultimately the transition location for the child will be determined by the parent and we want to ensure they are fully informed.”
Florida’s decision to house hundreds of profoundly disabled children in institutions designed for elders has drawn fire of late, both from children’s advocates and the U.S. Justice Department, which has accused the state of cutting in-home care for frail children so deeply that parents often have no choice but to institutionalize their loved ones.
Golden Glades is one of six nursing homes in the state licensed to care for children. Its problems, highlighted in a series of Miami Herald stories, included two deaths and a series of state and federal fines totaling over $300,000.
The home, which changed ownership last June, has sought to streamline the transfer of children by donating a special bed with protective netting to the family of one child, allowing the boy to return home to his parents. The child, who suffered from frequent spasms and movements, requires the netting to prevent him from falling out of bed or injuring himself against metal railing.
“That child,” Weems said, “is getting to go home.”
The nursing home also is “raising private funds to construct a wheelchair ramp” — which was, like the special bed, not covered by Medicaid — “so that a wheelchair-bound child whose parents very much want to care for him can go home,” Weems said. Medicaid is the state’s insurer for needy and disabled people.
For several days, Weems said, social workers and administrators at the home have been working with ACHA to provide options to the parents or other caregivers of the children who had been living there. They arranged tours of group homes, medical foster homes and other nursing homes, and offered to help find services for families that wanted to bring their children home.
The state Department of Children & Families had several foster kids who were living at the nursing home, said Joe Follick, a spokesman for the agency. As of Monday, three of the DCF kids remained at Golden Glades; one was moved to a medical foster home Wednesday, another is scheduled to move to a medical foster home “shortly,” and a third will be moved under the oversight of a sister department, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.
“We have been diligently working to find a different home for them, and every child in a skilled nursing facility,” Follick said.