Miami-Dade County

Miami mayor: More oversight of nursing homes needed

A group of 1199SEIU retirees, nursing home workers, home care workers, Miami seniors and community members attended a town hall meeting titled, "Facing Miami’s Senior Care Crisis" at Miami City Hall on Feb. 24, 2016.
A group of 1199SEIU retirees, nursing home workers, home care workers, Miami seniors and community members attended a town hall meeting titled, "Facing Miami’s Senior Care Crisis" at Miami City Hall on Feb. 24, 2016. pportal@elnuevoherald.com

One in five of the state’s nursing homes are on a state “watch” list of marginal facilities. In Miami-Dade, one in three nursing homes are troubled. Last year alone, nearly 50 homes were added to the list.

Brian Lee, an elder advocate who is executive director of Families for Better Care, said the sobering statistics are among mounting evidence that Florida’s long-term care facilities are in “crisis” — and worsening. Lee, who was the state’s Long Term Care Ombudsman for almost eight years before Gov. Rick Scott fired him in 2011 amid a dispute over nursing home financial data — has advice for Florida consumers of congregate care: shop around, carefully.

Relatives of nursing home residents often tell Lee they were surprised to learn a loved one is living in a home the state considers troubled, Lee said at a panel Wednesday morning organized by the SEIU United Healthcare Workers union, which represents many of the nation’s paid caregivers, and has been pushing for a minimum $15 wage. “It’s a frightening proposition,” Lee said, “not only the existing, but the continuing lack of exposure necessary to alert the public to facilities on the [watch] list.”

Part pep rally for beleaguered caregivers who say staffing patterns rarely allow them to spend adequate time with their patients, the panel, titled “Facing Miami’s Senior Care Crisis,” opened with remarks by Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado.

These days, Regalado said, nursing homes and assisted living facilities are filled with city leaders from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s — the workers and industry titans who built the city, “the people who made it possible for us to be who we are.” Some of them, Regalado added, are too frail to speak up for themselves.

“These are the people we know are in public housing,’’ he said. “These are the people who need attention, and, in many cases, don’t have families.”

Marie Cadet, who has been a nursing home worker for 19 years, said many of her patients simply want a warm touch and a soothing voice for a few moments. “They ask you to speak with them,” she said. “I don’t have time for that.”

“We need more people on the floor, working hard,” Cadet added.

Max Rothman, who heads the Alliance for Aging in Miami, said the long-term care industry’s troubles are anything but new. In 1980, when the state’s assisted living program was in its infancy, state elder advocates voiced “great concerns” about conditions in the homes, Rothman said. “On an almost daily basis, we were trying to address concerns in ALF’s,” he said, adding very little had changed.

The state, Rothman said, “needs vigorous and continuing efforts at oversight.”

Regalado said cities and counties have no authority to police nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Reacting to ALFs in Miami with large numbers of residents who have mental illness, leaders in Miami are seeking a state law that would require retirement homes that cater to residents with mental illness to hire guards, he said. The bill “has failed the last several years,” he added.

“This issue is so important,” Regalado said. “We have to ask the Legislature to hold the agencies that treat these people accountable.”

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