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Senate passes bill to tighten oversight of assisted living facilities

The Senate passed a bill on Thursday that aims to tighten oversight of Florida's nearly 3,000 assisted living facilities passed  by a 38-0 vote. "It's a work that we've all put a lot of effort on,'' said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, sponsor of  HB 646.
  The bill was  prompted by a 2011 Miami Herald investigation that revealed years of abuse, neglect and even death of ALF residents, said Sobel, D-Hollywood.
 "Legislation failed in the 2012 session," Sobel said during the bill's second reading Wednesday. "We have a more targeted approach this year. We are attempting to better enforce existing regulations. I know this bill significantly improves the lives of over 80,000 residents in ALFs in Florida."
The bill, she said, would include these measures:
   * Reform the fine structure for ALFs and make fines more predictable and equitable. Fines would be specified rather than leaving the amount up to the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), which oversees the state’s ALFs. Larger facilities would pay larger fines than smaller ALFs.
   * Clarifiy when AHCA must revoke a license or place a moratorium on a problem ALF.
   * Require a study of AHCA's inspections to determine if different inspectors consistently apply licensure standards to help ensure the enforcement of the same standards.
   * Require that homes with at least one mental health patient obtain a specialty license for limited mental health and ensure the facility has a plan for a resident's mental health care. The current requirement is three mental health patients.
   * Ensure all ALFs provide a two-hour pre-service training for new facility employees.
   Supporters praise a requirement for AHCA to devise an ALF rating system by Nov. 1. Health officials would also be required to create a consumer guide website with a monitored comment section to be available by Jan. 1. The public would be able to add comments which would "capture the power of competition to improve the quality of care and services in ALFs."
   The bill would also require ALFs to inform new residents that it is illegal to retaliate against residents who make a complaint to a long-term care ombudsman, address inspections and fines.
    Brian Lee, director of Families for Better Care,  which advocates for residents in nursing homes and ALFs, said the bill is "a stepping stone to see where we need to be for the safety and protection of residents." He said the bill should allow AHCA "to be able to pounce on the really bad operators with authority. Hopefully we can come back in the next year when we see how things have developed in the ALF market."
   A House panel on Wednesday passed HB 1319, sponsored by Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah, which is similar but without some of the provisions of the Senate bill, like consumer comments. The House bill comes up in the Health and Human Services Committee April 16th.
  After the Herald series, Gov. Rick Scott promised to clean up the industry and formed an ALF task force in 2011 which developed forceful reforms, but the House and Senate weren't able to pass a proposal based on its recommendations during the 2012 session.