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Going into the last day of session, door may slam on ALF reform

As the door prepares to slam on this year's session, the sweeping protections lawmakers promised for the state's frail and disabled in assisted living facilities appear in trouble.

The lack of action comes after a years-long Miami Herald investigation that exposed gross mismanagement, abuse, and neglect at some assisted living facilities, with violations occuring frequently enough to cause at least one resident death per month.

The series prompted Gov. Rick Scott  to appoint task forces and promise meaningful reform, while a Miami-Dade Grand Jury investigated shortcomings in regulations and enforcement. The Legislature, promising to reverse laws influenced by powerful lobby groups, rolled out proposals that resident advocates hailed as the most sweeping in the nation.

SB 2074, for example, sponsored by Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, proposed shutting down assisted living facilities that cause a resident's death and offering protections for residents who get kicked out of their homes.

Yet, just before the close of session, Garcia abandoned his far-reaching proposal in favor of a House bill that offers less protections. The House measure would impose limited fines and require additional schooling for ALF administrators, but it would also decrease inspections for homes that acquire certain accreditations.

"If this is the bill that is laid on the table for the Governor, there will be a victory parade for providers while residents suffer through a profound loss," said resident advocate and former long-term care ombudsman Brian Lee.

When the proposal was introduced on the Senate floor today, Garcia postponed the vote and said he's still negotiating the details with resident advocate Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico.

Minority Leader Nan Rich, D-Sunrise, said she’s working with Storms to give the bill more teeth.

“We are introducing an amendment that encompasses parts of the House bill and the two Senate committee bills,” she wrote in a text. “The House bill alone does not include enough reform.”

It’s unclear whether the proposal can resurface as the clock ticks down. If the amended bill passes the Senate, it will bounce back to the House, which is likely to spend most of tomorrow debating the budget and may run out of time, said Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah Gardens, sponsor of the House bill.

Gonzalez expressed frustration because he passed his bill and kicked it to the Senate for approval last week.

The Senate delayed addressing the proposal until the session is down to the wire, and senators jeopardize the bill as they tack it with late-filed amendments in a last ditch effort to get their priorities passed, he said.

“We've got a little over 24 hours to do this," Gonzalez said Thursday afternoon. "Just by (Garcia) sending it back to the House, it could be dead already. I told him this...we're running out of time...we need to get this bill and pass it out and get something on the books.”

Asked recently by the Herald/Times, Scott said he supports the reform proposals, but did not say whether he would press leaders to pass them.

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North Public Relations

Statement


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Pat Lange
March 7, 2012 (850) 383-1159


Lawmakers fail to pass legislation that would have provided greater penalties and regulation to ensure resident protections

The following statement was released by Florida Assisted Living Association Executive Director Pat Lange, following the failure of legislation impacting the assisted living industry during the last day of the 2012 session:

“It’s unfortunate that lawmakers did not approve legislation today that comprehensively addressed the concerns of the governor’s assisted living facility workgroup that we have been working on for more than a year.

“House Bill 7133, by Rep. Eddie Gonzalez would have addressed many of the concerns of the workgroup. There are appropriate regulations in place, but the enforcement has been lacking. The House Bill would have put in place measures that could prevent incidences of negligence and would have increased enforcement of assisted living regulations as well as also expanded training requirements.

“Rep. Gonzalez’s bill did just that without placing overly burdensome and onerous regulatory requirements on assisted living facilities. Unfortunately the Senate proposal put in place language that would make assisted living residences, many of them small, family-run businesses, unable to bear the costs of new regulations and even worse, unfairly targeted by trial attorneys looking to profit from frivolous multi-million dollar lawsuits.

“The Senate legislation could have the impact of wiping out the vital ALF industry. Nearly 70 percent of the ALFs in this state would be put at risk of closing if the Senate language had passed. Nearly 83,000 Floridians call assisted living facilities home. These are not businesses that we cannot afford to eliminate from our state.

“The Florida Assisted Living Association supported Rep. Gonzalez’s legislation and we hope that lawmakers come together just as the assisted living profession has over the years to identify and put in place mechanisms to improve training, regulation, enforcement and resident protections. By doing so lawmakers will not only be ensuring the safety and security of elderly Floridians but they will be ensuring the security of this critical industry for future generations.“

The Florida Assisted Living Association (FALA) is a strong, unified, professional organization representing the owners and operators of assisted living communities. The membership is comprised of facilities ranging in size from those who care for a few individuals to those that care for hundreds. FALA is the largest state association representing assisted living facilities and adult family care homes.

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