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Health officials strike at media

Health officials slammed the media Wednesday for "sensational" reporting on government failures to report tuberculosis outbreaks, provide adequate care for disabled children in nursing homes, and protect elderly and disabled residents in assisted living facilities.

Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Liz Dudek told lawmakers in the Health Policy committee she was "enraged" by media coverage about the state placing children in nursing homes.

"We do not place our medically complex or medically fragile children in nursing homes," Dudek said, adding that the parent decides where to place their child. "The last place we want children is away from their parents."

The federal justice department sent a scathing 22-page letter to Attorney General Pam Bondi in September accusing the state of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by placing severely disabled children in geriatric nursing homes.

AHCA has reached out to parents of all 222 children in nursing homes to help them change locations if they are unhappy with their care. Only one parent asked for a change, Dudek said.

She also refuted claims that nursing home placements are a way to save money, or that children are unnecessarily separated from their parents. 

"The issue of cost is not one we look at..." she said. "It breaks my heart and partially enrages me to read in the clips that...we have this funding scheme for children in nursing homes. That's not at all the case."

Dudek also touted proposals by Gov. Rick Scott's assisted living facility workgroup and told lawmakers she would bring them proposals to streamline regulations for the assisted living facility industry and increase credentialing requirements for administrators.

Scott formed the workgroup in response to a 2-year Miami Herald series that exposed systemic abuse and neglect for elderly and disabled people in assisted living facilities. But critics accused Scott of stacking the panel with industry representatives, and said several of the proposals would deliver breaks to the powerful ALF industry.

"We have good providers, let's not focus on them," Dudek said. "Let's focus on the poor performing providers to bring  them up or get them out of the system."

Kristina Wiggins, deputy secretary of the Department of Health, also railed against media coverage of tuberculosis outbreaks in Jacksonville.

The Palm Beach Post reported in July that the department covered up information on tuberculosis outbreaks even as lawmakers made plans to close down the state's only tuberculosis hospital.

Committee Chair Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, said he's concerned the department didn't share all they knew and asked if new policies should be passed to make sure the public is notified of future outbreaks.

The current policies are fine, Wiggins said, adding that trouble came because of how difficult it is to track tuberculosis in homeless people, who are often transient.

"(The media) information was sensationalized unfortunately," she said.