Neglected to Death

Part III | Inspectors find violations at Lauderhill ALFs

More than a dozen inspectors, representing state and local agencies, conducted an unusual round of surprise inspections at several Lauderhill assisted living facilities Thursday. Their target: the blighted Cannon Point community, known to many as “ALF Row.’’

On Thursday, inspectors found unsanitary conditions at three of the facilities that house elderly and mental health patients. Among the findings: A live mouse stuck to a glue trap. A drawer lined with mouse droppings. Roaches scurrying around the kitchen.

Orchestrated by the State Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Unit, the inspections come two weeks after the Herald’s investigative series “Neglected to Death” detailed sweeping breakdowns in the state’s oversight of ALFs leaving thousands of people to fend for themselves in dangerous conditions. The Herald found that dozens of people died from abuse and neglect at the hands of caretakers over the past decade, but few were ever held accountable.

“They should have been out here a long time ago,” said Daniel Reiter, a volunteer inspector with the Florida Department of Elders Affairs Ombudsman Program, which is manned by state certified volunteers. As an ombudsman for the state, Reiter can investigate complaints, but his office has no authority to leverage punishments.

Reiter said different state agencies, such as the Agency for Health Care Administration, which oversees the state’s 2,850 ALFs, has the ability to enforce penalties.

“These residents are neglected, exploited, abused, locked in, locked out and no one seems to care,” Reiter said.

The Attorney General’s office, noting the surprise element of the inspections, declined to comment on what prompted the two-day sweep that continues Friday, or which specific facilities were up for review.

“Generally speaking we do not let the facilities know ahead of time that they are going to be the subject of an inspection,” said Jennifer Krell Davis, spokeswoman for the State Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office.

Surprise factor or not, many of the ALFs inspected on Thursday are no stranger to scrutiny from state and city inspectors.

Positioned in the heart of Lauderhill, Cannon Point has the largest concentration of ALFs in the state, drawing police and rescue calls around the clock to respond to emergencies, including fights, mental health breakdowns and drug deals. Since 2005, police and rescue calls to the facility have totaled 13, 250 — roughly one call every four hours, according to an analysis of 911 calls.

Early Thursday, at Loving Care of Lauderhill, 5607 NW 27th Court, residents on sat in a gated courtyard smoking cigarettes and lounging, unphased by the fleet of state and Lauderhill police and fire rescue cars pulling up to the facility.

Many welcomed the opportunity to talk to state inspectors, even if their interactions were brief.

Resident Alonza Jones, 47, has lived at the facility since March, and said inspectors asked him how he was feeling and whether he liked the ALF’s food.

“You would figure if they were with the state they would spend more time with us,” Jones said. “Maybe they don’t want us to get too noisy.”

Jones said he had no issues with his treatment at Loving Care, he just wished they organized more activities for the residents.

“We get bored,” he said between puffs of a cigarette.

Ilene Lasher, 57, said she told inspectors she “liked” her digs at Loving Care, with one exception.

“They have mental health drugs and they give it to people who sometimes don’t need it,” Lasher said.

When reviewing the facility’s medical rolls, Reiter, with the ombudsman’s office, said several residents were checked off for receiving medicine ahead of the date they were suppose to receive it.

Since 2003, Loving Care of Lauderhill has been issued 57 citations from the Agency of Healthcare Administration, including violations for not administering medications properly and overall problems with the facility’s upkeep from plumbing problems to faulty locks. Loving Care has also been sanctioned with close to $11,000 in fines according to state records.

Facility administrator Angela Changoor declined to comment for this article.

What made Thursday’s surprise inspections so unusual was the number of ALFs visited. Typically, inspections happen at one facility, but for the agencies to plan to sweep through six ALFs over two days is highly extraordinary. Each detailed inspection take about three hours.

Reiter said its up to the state and respective agencies to enforce the different violations found.

Thursday’s check is expected to result in fines for the three facilities investigated, but those sanctions must first be approved by the state agency that oversees health care facilities.

It’s unlikely that any of the ALFs will be shut down, but Reiter said he hoped the surprise sweep would send a message to the facility administrators.

“We want them to clean these places up, follow the rules,” Reiter said. “The residents deserve that.”

WLRN-Miami Herald reporter Kenny Malone contributed to this report.