In the days and weeks following Hurricane Irma, 14 elderly Floridians have died unnecessarily after they were left in the suffocating heat of their nursing home with no power. Several calls for help to Gov. Scott were sent to voicemail, then deleted, and no help was sent.1
The disorganized response to Hurricane Irma and the tragedy that unfolded at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills is part of a more disturbing trend.
Since Gov. Scott took office in 2011, he has done everything in his power to weaken the oversight and regulation of Florida’s nursing homes. He fired Brian Lee, the aggressive Elder Care Ombudsman under Gov. Bush and Gov. Crist, who fought for greater transparency from the nursing home industry.
You can probably guess what happened next.
Scott replaced Lee with a series of nursing home industry allies and the number of cases referred to investigating agencies fell by more than half.2 In an excruciating example of the kind of “enforcement” being done by the Scott administration, the owner of the nursing home where 14 Floridians died had recently been cleared to accept new patients at another facility he owned. The other facility, Floridian Gardens Assisted Living Facility, had violations that “included sexual assault of patients, low staffing and ignoring patients.”3
It is this pattern of neglect that demands our representatives and senators in Tallahassee launch an investigation.
We know the legislature needs to act on a number of fronts to deal with the tragedy that unfolded at Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, particularly requiring every nursing home to have a generator in case the facility loses power. However, the legislature simply cannot ignore the systemic lack of oversight of Florida’s nursing homes. The sad reality is that this has been going on for many years.
It’s time for serious action.
1“Senator questions why Gov. Scott deleted nursing home voicemails.” Orlando Sentinel, 9/25/17.
2“Elder care watchdog referring fewer complaints for investigation.” South Florida Sun Sentinel, 10/8/17.
3“Florida nursing home deaths: Owner's other facility faced state ban on new patients.” Fort Myers News-Press, 9/15/17.