Neglected to Death

Troubled Miami-Dade ALF finally shut down

After years of rampant abuse, Miami-Dade’s most troubled assisted living facility is shutting down, ending years of frustration by elder advocates to close the home and move its frail residents to other facilities.

Under pressure from the state, the Munne Center turned over its license Monday in what appears to be the final chapter for the sprawling home where a resident was raped and others were beaten and left to languish while suffering life-threatening injuries.

With a host of sanctions over the years, Munne was the most-fined ALF in Miami-Dade and a symbol of Florida’s struggles to shutter troubled homes, despite pleas that people were in danger.

“They’re no longer authorized to operate,” said √Shelisha Coleman, a spokeswoman for the Agency for Health Care Administration. “We are all working as a team to assist the families to move their loved ones.”

The facility on Southwest 137th Avenue is the latest casualty of a state crackdown on homes after a Miami Herald series in May found that regulators were failing to close the most dangerous ALFs — including Munne Center — leaving thousands to fend for themselves. Since then, nine facilities have closed and at least a dozen have been slapped with the harshest sanctions: loss of state funding and bans on new residents.

The closing of Munne follows a troubling April inspection when regulators discovered residents with mental illness wandering away, including one found in a ditch and bitten by so many ants that the resident had to be hospitalized.

At least two others were left languishing with deep and oozing pressure sores and others were found in filthy rooms and sweltering temperatures, prompting AHCA to impose a ban on new residents.

For the past three days, AHCA and other state workers have been scrambling to move the 90 elderly and disabled people to other homes, placing 70 by Thursday morning into new facilities, said a Miami-Dade state ombudsman.

The shutdown follows years of violations and bickering between state agencies over the safety of the residents in the home’s two wings. Munne drew public attention four years ago when a 71-year-old woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease was brutally raped by a 33-year-old mentally ill man who was wrongly placed in the dementia unit — with no caretakers to supervise.

Although the facility pledged to better protect residents and provide mental healthcare, regulators continued to turn up the same problems in inspections in 2008, leading inspectors to declare the home had “become an unsafe environment.”

Twice, AHCA could have suspended the home’s license, but it never did, instead imposing fines totaling nearly $70,000 and allowing it to stay open, records show.

In 2009, state ombudsman council chairman Don √Hering threatened to hold a press conference when AHCA refused to take more drastic action, forcing a meeting between Elizabeth Dudek, then an AHCA administrator, and Hering.

“I told them I was going to give them 30 days to put forth a good-faith effort,” said Hering in an interview earlier this year.

In the end, the ombudsman council agreed to cancel the event while AHCA struck an agreement with Munne that any more violations would force AHCA to pull the home’s license.

Under a plan to keep the doors open, Munne administrators agreed to allow former AHCA administrator Alberta Granger — a private consultant — to oversee the home.

But the problems worsened. In 2010, Miami-Dade police responded to Munne 35 times on emergency calls, including three assaults, eight disturbances, a larceny, and eight people suffering psychiatric breakdowns.

In addition, regulators found the home had placed another resident with severe mental illness in the Alzheimer’s ward, leading to an assault on an elderly resident.

During another visit, a state ombudsman noted a major concern: Alejandro Perez, the home’s owner who was banned from the daily operations in a 2008 order by AHCA, was seen walking the halls and interacting with residents.

“Mr. Perez should abide by the conditions set forth in the final order,” the report stated.

Then this year, problems emerged when inspectors turned up 35 more violations, including a lack of trained staffing, filthy and decrepit rooms, broken furniture and residents roaming aimlessly from the facility, including one who wandered six times in six months.

“No one deserved to live like the people in Munne were living,” said a veteran Miami-Dade ombudsman, who was helping residents this week to find new homes.

In an interview on Monday, Dudek, now AHCA secretary, said she needed to review inspection records to say why Munne wasn’t closed years ago, but she added, “we are looking at having that facility closed.”

Munne’s administrator declined to comment about the closing Thursday. Perez could not be reached for comment.

Miami-Dade Mental Health Court Judge Steven Leifman said the shuttering of Munne underscores deeper breakdowns in Florida’s ALF system.

The state doesn’t respond quickly enough to close bad homes, leaving people in danger, he said. “The state has an obligation — both legal and moral — to protect that population,’’ said Leifman, whose court places defendants in ALFs.

But he also said the Legislature is not providing enough dollars to owners to keep up with costs of housing and caring for people on Medicaid, resulting in problems like low staffing, poor services and even cuts in food and medication.

“They end up short-changing the clients,” he said. “That’s when you see people at risk.”

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