Having to place a loved one into managed care is one of the most challenging things for a family to do. Besides doing their own research into nursing homes, family members rely on reports and investigations by state agencies to ensure the protection of seniors. A recent report has been a cause for concern since it shows that AHCA isn’t always punishing or citing neglectful nursing homes.
The Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) is the state agency that is responsible for ensuring that nursing homes and other medical facilities are complying with state guidelines. It’s their job to inspect nursing homes, investigate claims of neglect or mistreatment, and issue citations when facilities make mistakes. However, an investigation by the USA Today Network – Florida found that AHCA rarely issues fines for neglectful nursing homes, even in situations where the initial report came from another state agency.
This assessment of AHCA comes from a review conducted by USA Today and its partner papers in Florida. The team reviewed 54 patient deaths in nursing homes that had been verified by the Department of Children and Families as being caused by elder abuse from 2013 through 2017. These deaths were detailed in 43 cases (the storm-related tragedy where 11 seniors died is considered one case). What makes these cases a good sample set is that they’re based on state-verified findings of elder abuse by nursing home staff. These cases were referred to AHCA where one would expect some action to be taken against these nursing homes. Surprisingly, punitive measures were rarely taken by AHCA.
According to the investigation, in 32 of 43 cases, AHCA didn’t issue fines or penalties against the facilities. This lack of action is disturbing since DCF had already found evidence that staff neglect were significant factors in the abuse, injury or death of residents.
The situation goes beyond facilities not receiving the proper punishment for violations. There is evidence that AHCA didn’t even investigate the cases. According to the authors of the report, AHCA admits they failed to investigate 10 cases. And based on the way records are kept, there are an additional 18 cases where it’s unclear if AHCA investigated the deaths.
In these 18 unclear cases, AHCA maintains it inspected the nursing homes in response to the DCF reports on the deaths. However, there are no mentions of these investigations in the agency’s inspection reports, and officials couldn’t immediately provide evidence that the inspections had taken place.
According to a spokesperson for the agency, even in cases where a patient dies due to staff neglect, the nursing home could avoid being cited in a report if the inspectors determine that the issues were fixed before the inspection. This policy may be great for nursing homes administrators, but it does a massive disservice to the public. It means that people researching the nursing home would have no state records that note the staff’s failures concerning the death of a patient.
This lack of punishment and lax record keeping have negative consequences for the quality of care in Florida’s nursing homes. Penalties and fines encourage nursing homes to remain in compliance at all time. If they can avoid citations and fines by quickly cleaning things up after an instance of elder abuse or neglect, there is less of an incentive to prevent these abuses from happening. Nursing home abuse and neglect are rarely isolated incidents. In more than half of the 43 cases reviewed, AHCA had already cited the nursing homes in question for similar problems.
This information should serve as a reminder to family members that they need to check on their loved ones in nursing homes whenever possible. You can’t rely on the state to always investigate and take appropriate action against the facilities involved in nursing home abuse or neglect. If you have a question about elder abuse, contact the Law Firm of Steve Watrel, P.A., The Nursing Home Abuse Expert™.