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Politics

Task Force Tackles Assisted Living Facility Regulations

August 7, 2011 - 6:00pm

A work group set up by Gov. Rick Scott and tasked with developing ways to reform the states assisted living facility (ALF) regulations took recommendations from consumer advocacy groups during its first meeting Monday. But one member of the panel said the media attention paid to the facilities is overblown.

The task force was spawned in part by a series of Miami Herald articles in May detailing maltreatment, abuse and hazardous conditions at some ALFs that led to worsening health conditions and, in some cases, death. But panel member Larry Sherberg, who runs an ALF and represents the Florida Assisted Living Association, said the articles detail incidents that only covered a fraction of residents, and the vast majority of ALFs in the state provide quality services.

None of it (the reports of abuse and neglect) is any good; please dont misunderstand me, but its not as prevalent as portrayed here (at the meeting), Sherberg said.

Florida has about 3,000 ALFs serving nearly 83,000 elderly and mentally ill residents. The Herald reports revealed there were 70 deaths related to abuse or neglect at ALFs since 2002 and there were 26 facilities shut down since 2005, but 1,732 homes were caught using illegal restraints since 2002.

Sherbergs presence on the work group board -- along with that of three other ALF industry members -- drew criticism from ALF resident advocacy groups, but Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, who is also on the panel and is pushing for greater regulation of ALFs, said she hopes the group will develop solutions and postpone judgment.

Im going to give everybody the benefit of the doubt until I see something different, Storms said before the meeting.

But during the meeting, she clashed with Sherberg over his criticism of a former ombudsman who suggested more stringent regulations for ALFs, like higher standards for testing and training ALF workers and greater notification periods for removing patients from the facility. Sherberg said longer notification requirements could put other residents in jeopardy if the patient being removed is behaving violently.

What I hear you state is that youve got to protect the one instead of the 40 (other residents), Sherberg told the ombudsman.

Storms responded that the proposed notification regulation stems from residents wanting to be able to complain about facility management without fear of retribution -- being kicked out.

I think the issue more correctly stated is that residents are afraid to speak out, Storms said. The (ALF) industry has routinely objected to these provisions."

The task force has a limited time before issuing recommendations to the Legislature, with three months and three more meetings to address the issue. Work group chairman Larry Polivka wants to narrow the groups focus on determining the amount of regulations applied to ALFs, rather than concerns over access.

For Sherberg, that focus should rest solely on bad actors rather than on the majority of ALFs providing quality services.

What I dont want to see is more regulation for good people, he said.

Despite her hopes for a positive outcome from the work group, Storms said she will submit legislation in the 2012 session providing for more accountability for ALFs, whatever the groups recommendations are. She wants to see greater licensing requirements for ALF operators, but said she also isnt looking to come down on honest providers. The regulation of ALFs should be about common sense, not rigid ideology.

Said Storms, Im a person that believes where we can deregulate we should deregulate, but not when it comes to human safety, to health and welfare of vulnerable populations. I think that if were talking about regulating grass cutters, that rises to a different level than regulating child welfare, elder services. There has to be some common sense here. Were not just talking dogma, right?

Reach Gray Rohrer at grohrer@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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