ALF industry hires top state regulator

As state lawmakers consider legislation to tighten the rules for assisted living facilities in Florida, the top state official in charge of enforcing the law on elder-care homes announced Thursday that he’s found a new job: working for the same industry he regulated.

Shaddrick A. Haston, manager of the Assisted Living Unit at the Agency for Health Care Administration, will become the new chief executive officer of the Florida Assisted Living Association on March 21, the association said.

Haston said he sees no conflict with his new job, saying he would push the ALF industry to improve its business practices.

“Going forward, you will see there is a different vision for FALA, which is more focused on community service and outreach” and less focused on avoiding regulation, he told the Herald/Times.

At AHCA, Haston has been responsible for the licensing of ALF’s, adult family care homes and adult day care centers. His annual state salary: $67,743. He would not say what he will be paid as head of the industry’s lobbying arm.

The announcement comes as Florida legislators push a bill designed to tighten the ALF regulations by removing some of the discretion regulators have when setting fines and repealing licenses.

A version of the bill, SB 248 and HB 573, has been proposed each of the last three years, but has not passed in the face of industry resistance. The legislation sets new criteria for regulators to follow by spelling out when they must impose a fine and revoke or deny a license.

The Senate bill, which passed its last committee on Thursday, also sets up an information registry and rating system to help consumers select an ALF. It is considered a top priority of House and Senate leaders, and will be up for a vote on the Senate floor on Tuesday.

Both industry and elder care advocates have mixed opinions about the bill.

The Florida Assisted Living Association believes the “existing regulations give AHCA the tools it needs to shut down and punish the really bad actors,’’ said Hayden Dempsey, the group’s lobbyist. The association doesn’t like the fact that the bills remove the provision giving regulators discretion over fines. He said AHCA has aggressively increased fines in recent years and that the bill will be costly for the industry.

Brian Lee, the state’s former elder care ombudsman, who is now president of Families for Better Care, said that regulatory discretion has led to inconsistent enforcement. Last month, he noted, AHCA suspended the license of a Merritt Island ALF after staff abandoned the residents, but at a home in Gulf Breeze, staff physically and verbally assaulted residents and were faced with only a $1,000 fine.

Lee disagrees with the portion of the bill that raises fines for homes with more than 100 residents and lowers it for others. Since 90 percent of more than 3,000 licensed homes in the state have fewer than 100 residents, Lee expects a net reduction in total fines.

Families for Better Care, which advocates for residents, is heavily supported by a law firm that sues nursing homes.

Lee said he was “not surprised” at Haston’s decision to leave the regulatory agency and work for FALA.

“There seems to be a revolving door within the leadership and the regulatory agency,’’ he said. “This is why we have problems in this state — because regulators are in bed with the industry.”

Haston, who is banned by law from lobbying the agency for two years, acknowledged that the skepticism is “understandable” but he told the Herald/Times that his goal is to change the approach of the organization.

“I come from a humble background. I come from a Christian background,’’ he said. “Going forward, you will see a totally different association than what you have seen in the past. I’m not saying they won’t disagree with state government, but they will be on the same page when it comes to ensuring that residents of the state will be taken care of.”