Fred Grimm

How did Florida healthcare inspectors overlook dozens of dogs and cats at elderly care home?

Forty-eight cats? Sixteen dogs? You’d think state healthcare inspectors might have noticed an animal menagerie roaming through a licensed care home for the elderly.

The owner’s business card should have been another tip-off that this place deserved extra scrutiny. One side of her card described the “Alita and John Haran ALF: License #AL12192.” The other, “Elileen Chea Haran’s Helping Hands, (Cat and Dog Rescue).”

Both operations shared the same suburban address, Homestead police discovered last month, after a distraught elderly woman, “with a strong odor of urine,” escaped from the Haran assisted living facility and flagged down a passing motorist. She complained of mistreatment and food deprivation and awful living conditions.

Police investigated. Their report indicated that the cops were appalled by what they found. Three other elderly residents were living there amid all those dogs and cats in rooms strewn with animal feces and stinking of cat urine. The police report described filthy conditions and unwashed dishes and rotten food. There were broken appliances, leaking pipes, extension cords strung from one room to another. About a dozen dead cats had been stuffed into a freezer.

One resident was soaked in her own urine. She complained that she was being fed only once a day. Two others had been stashed in a converted garage, also littered with animal waste.

Eileen “Chea” Haran is due in court today to face four felony counts of elderly abuse. But the mystery here is: How the hell could Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration have allowed such an awful place to operate?

Admittedly, as a Miami Herald investigation discovered in 2011, AHCA tends to lapse into a kind of willful oblivion when it comes to regulating assisted living homes for the elderly. Inspectors have managed to overlook decrepit conditions, sadistic caretakers and deprivations of food, medicine, security.

But how they hell could they have missed all those dogs and cats?

Well, they didn’t. As Herald reporters Mike Sallah and Carol Marbin Miller discovered, inspectors fined Eileen Haran back in 2007 for 30 “deficiencies” including cats and dogs roaming the premises. In 2013, the ombudsman from the state Department of Elder Affairs reported finding 10 dogs and 69 cats amid the stench and “total disarray” at the Haran ALF.

Yet, the for-profit operation managed to keep its state license, allowing Eileen Haran to care for up to six paying patients. Even after her Feb. 3 arrest, Haran’s license still wasn’t yanked. So far, AHCA has only ordered “an immediate moratorium on admissions to the facility.” (AHCA, I suspect, was referring to human admissions.)

The AHCA order cited the bright red sign Homestead Code Enforcement posted on Haran ALF: “WARNING — this building has been condemned as unsanitary and unfit for human habitation.”

And you’ve got to wonder why state healthcare inspectors failed to act before the Homestead cops raided the ALF. Of course, while conditions were downright repulsive for the old folks, Haran did manage to reduce her herd of cats from 69 to a mere 48. For Florida’s most oblivious oversight agency, that must have looked like progress.