The Sunshine State has long been a desirable locale for retirees. People come from all over the country to settle in and spend their final years in Florida’s warm climate, beautiful scenery, and relaxing lifestyle. Many people initially purchase a home when they arrive, but after a few years might find that their capacity to care for themselves becomes increasingly limited. As their ability to care for themselves (or their spouse) diminishes, some people may choose to relocate to an assisted living facility to receive the daily medical and physical care that they need.
Florida was once the “gold standard” for assisted living facilities (ALFs), providing an example of the best care in the nation for our country’s senior citizens. So I was disturbed to hear recent news put forth by investigations conducted by the Miami Herald and Miami NPR station WLRN about the current state of care in our state’s ALFs. According to their findings, thousands of our state’s senior citizens are at risk of serious neglect, abuse, and potentially wrongful death due to the “care” they may receive at certain sub-par ALFs around the state. Accusations range from prescription violations, to forceful restraint and physical abuse, to negligent supervision, to a gross lack of basic physical provisions – such as bathing, clean clothing and linens, and proper nutrition. The stunning and inexcusable list goes on and on.
With my areas of law practice involving topics sensitive to the needs of our senior citizens, this issue is near to my heart and makes my blood boil. How can a family member be betrayed in such an appalling way by an establishment they have entrusted to care for a loved one? How can state agencies allow taxpayer money to continue funding places where a generation of US citizens known for their hard work and integrity are mistreated in such ways?
The reason I bring up taxpayer money is this: if these ALF residents are disabled and receiving Social Security Disability (SSD) from the state, that money may be used to help pay their living expenses. If these residents are over 65 and eligible for Medicaid, Medicare, and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) their expenses at an assisted living facility may be at least partially (but in some cases entirely) covered under their government assisted income. So, when these facilities are accepting government funding, how can their state of care be so abysmal? How could state regulated agencies not place priority on investigating the personal injuries or potentially wrongful deaths which occur at these locations? How can these facilities be allowed to continue?
While the agencies are being run through the social and political gauntlet for improving their regulations and navigating the hot water they have gotten themselves into, the real underlying problem remains in the forefront of my mind: people are being hurt. People are suffering. And I want to do anything in my power to work against this fact. Florida §429.28, also known as the Assisted Living Facility Resident Bill of Rights, explicitly states that residents of these facilities are entitled to all rights guaranteed by law. Every ALF resident has the right to live in a safe and decent environment, free from abuse and neglect. Every ALF resident has the right to exercise civil liberties and to have access to adequate and appropriate health care. Every ALF resident has the right to present grievances and recommend changes in policies, procedures, and services to governing officials without restraint, coercion, or reprisal.
If you know someone who has suffered personal injury, or any violation of these rights, at an assisted living facility in the state of Florida, or if you suspect that a family member has suffered a wrongful death due to negligence or poor care while being housed in an assisted living facility, please seek justice immediately.