The agency said it has taken steps in recent years to formalize the DCF referral process and educate workers about how to recognize unlicensed ALFs.
What state can do
AHCA can impose fines of up to $1,000 a day when unlicensed ALFs continue to operate after getting notice from the agency.
The regulator fined just seven unlicensed providers since the beginning of 2012, though it has identified at least 93 in that time, according to agency records. More fines aren’t imposed because most stop providing services illegally once they’re notified, said Deputy Secretary Molly McKinstry.
Under Florida law, running an unlicensed ALF is a third-degree felony, with each day of operation counting as a separate offense.
AHCA hasn’t taken advantage of other permitted enforcement actions in recent memory, including filing injunctions, imposing emergency suspensions, sanctioning providers who knowingly refer to unlicensed ALFs, or reporting healthcare practitioners who don’t speak up about unlicensed facilities. The agency said it refers unlicensed facilities to law enforcement, but this only occurs in a fraction of cases, and Miami-Dade police said they haven’t received any recent referrals.
“Luckily this is not something where we have terrible cases all over the state in great volume,” McKinstry said. “Just because we’re not using every single tool in the toolbox doesn’t mean something isn’t happening. We have a process that we follow.”
The agency pushed to repeal a provision requiring it to establish local workgroups that convened multiple agencies to address unlicensed ALFs.
Until last year, Touched by the Hand and Young Residence Home were both licensed as “rooming houses,” allowing them to provide lodging but not other services. By law, inspectors from the Division of Business and Professional Regulation were required to refer any suspicions of individuals being neglected or unable to care for themselves to state regulators. But DBPR never made a single referral about any of the hundreds of licensed rooming houses to either AHCA or DCF since 2008, according to spokesperson Tajiana Ancora-Brown.
Legislators eliminated rooming house licenses as of last October because many homes were using them as a shield to run unlicensed ALFs, said State Representative Erik Fresen , R-Miami, who introduced the bill. Since then, no regulators have been required to inspect the homes.
“We need to go back to them and make sure they’re not operating,” Fresen said. “It probably would’ve been a good idea, if they didn’t, for AHCA to have notified local law enforcement in their areas. The Legislature’s intent for changing the statute was very clear.”
AHCA only acts if there is a complaint, said spokeswoman Shelisha Coleman.
“We’ve done exactly everything we can do within the law. We can’t go around the state knocking on everybody’s door checking to make sure they’re unlicensed,” she said.
When AHCA did a follow-up visit to Young Residence Home in June, it found the facility was no longer operating, Coleman said.
However, since that determination, police have been dispatched there at least six more times. They arrested co-owner Margaret Kirby-Gordon, Derril Young’s mother, for aggravated assault in July.
Meade Gordon, who lives in New York and owns the facility with his wife, said police were called frequently because patients requested to go to the hospital when they were sick or needed medicine. He denied the home assisted with medication and said Young no longer works there.
During a mid-August visit by the Miami Herald, at least two people still lived in the whitewashed, one-story home. A banner with the home’s name hung over the door, and weathered lawn furniture dotted the yard. Inside, African masks and a plaque urging residents to “Have Faith in God” adorned the walls of a darkened hallway. A young, barefoot woman said she was a staff member.
Informed of the goings-on, the state’s McKinstry said, “I think we might need to go back and look at that and see.”