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ALF panel grapples with how to protect residents, and the industry

The door slammed on protections for assisted living facility residents this legislative session, but a committee of stakeholders met this morning with the hope of hammering out limited changes.

The 15-member panel, made up of bureaucrats, assisted living facility administrators and resident advocates, will meet six times in the latest attempt to impose changes on the powerful ALF industry.

The thrust for change followed months of reporting from the Miami Herald, which unveiled rampant abuse and neglect of ALF residents after years of deregulation and poor oversight.

The series showed that dangerous conditions resulted in 70 resident deaths since 2002, with regulators performing few inspections and imposing few penalties on the state's 2,850 facilities.

Yet, despite Gov. Rick Scott's promises for change, industry lobbyists repeatedly thwarted attempts to impose regulations, defeating proposals in the House and Senate that would have produced landmark protections for ALF residents. 

Recommendations from a Miami-Dade grand jury probe and an ALF workgroup also went nowhere amidst heavy industry lobbying.  

Tuesday morning's discussion was civil, but already the undercurrent is heated.

Industry and resident advocates both argued that their interests are under-represented. The committee is made up of four resident advocates, four industry representatives and seven agency representatives.

Resident advocate Brian Lee, who sat in the audience, is concerned the panel will pass toothless regulations and pretend the issue has been addressed, obstructing meaningful reform during the next legislative session.

Meanwhile, Patricia Langue, executive director of the Florida Assisted Living Facility Association, said she hopes to help prevent regulations from becoming so burdensome that assisted living facilities will go out of business and displace residents.

The panel's authority to implement change is limited. It can pass rules, by a two-thirds vote, that expand on existing statute. But cannot impose changes, such as strengthening training credentials for caretakers, that fall outside of existing law.

Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Charles Corley walked a fine line in his statements to the press, careful to not choose sides.

"Our focus is on the residents solely," he said. "But we also need to have a healthy industry."