Over 80,000 Floridians currently live in assisted living facilities. These are their homes. The vast majority of these facilities are supportive, safe communities run by caring individuals that provide residents with high quality services. However, as the Miami Herald reported three years ago, there are some facilities that provide care well below acceptable standards. Fortunately, most of the ALFs cited in the Miami Herald series are no longer in operation.
Florida Assisted Living Association (FALA) has consistently supported tough enforcement of existing laws and rules by the Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA) and has continued to support legislation which improves the assisted living industry, with the highest quality of resident care as our top priority. And AHCA has significantly stepped up its enforcement of existing regulation. During the 2011-12 fiscal year, AHCA imposed over twice the amount of fines on facilities over the previous year.
This legislative session, there are bills proceeding through the House and Senate which would strengthen regulations on assisted living facilities. These bills have been sponsored by two tireless advocates for seniors, Senator Eleanor Sobel and Representative Larry Ahern. Both legislators have worked diligently on this legislation and have committed themselves to passing a final bill which improves the industry.
This legislation makes major improvements to regulation of assisted living facilities by allowing AHCA to impose an immediate moratorium on an unsafe facility, doubling fines and requiring additional inspections for repeat offenders, requiring new employees to attend additional pre-service orientation, assuring that residents with mental health needs receive services, specifying a fine for failing to conduct background screening on employees, increasing applicable staff training for assistance with self-medication, requiring a study of the survey and inspection process to ensure consistency, and permitting AHCA to revoke a facilitys license when the license of a financially related facility has been revoked.
FALA, however, is concerned about the additional fines that could be imposed and the economic impact it may have on small ALFs - over 50% of the ALFs have six or fewer beds. One of the bills would increase the total amount of fines levied annually by more than 50% over last year and by nearly three times what was levied during the 2009-10 fiscal year.
FALA is also concerned about imposing a new rating system on all licensed ALFs, just as any of us would be concerned about the government imposing its judgment about our own homes. Finally, FALA is concerned about requiring AHCA to maintain a website where individuals could post anonymous, possibly baseless statements and allegations about individual ALFs. This has never been done by any state agency and using our seniors homes to embark on this experiment is troubling to say the least.
But increasing regulation and fines alone is not enough to achieve the goal of improving the industry. Thousands of Floridians of all ages with mental health disabilities reside in specialty licensed homes that receive just $9.28 per day through a Medicaid program called Assistive Care Services to supplement their social security disability income. This rate hasnt been increased in over 10 years; in fact it was cut in 2010. But for this funding, many of these individuals would be homeless or living in unlicensed facilities. FALA supports increasing this rate to allow these people to continue living in their homes.
ALFs are an important alternative to nursing home care for our seniors and disabled population the economic viability of assisted living must be balanced against overreaching fines and regulations.