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COLUMN

Happytown

The week in which we hopped into an unregulated bed with heavy firearms, lamented the state's environmental time machine and then hoped we died before we got old. Talkin' 'bout our (lost) generation!

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On Nov. 8, a task force appointed by Gov. Rick Scott – he who has been working his hardest to deregulate anything in his path, if it might mean the creation of a handful of part-time, low-wage jobs to pad his “let’s get to work” record – met in Miami and suggested that it might be time to rein in the worst offenders in the long-term care industry. The task force agreed to, among other things, recommend to the state legislature that nursing homes and other long-term care facilities found to be abusing residents be slapped with the harshest penalties (such as preventing that facility from taking on new residents for a certain period of time) and that any facility found retaliating against residents for complaining about conditions be punished.

Among the – in Happytown’s opinion, very valid – suggestions that were presented but ultimately squashed by the task force (which is loaded down with representatives from the industry it was appointed to examine, BTW): that “granny cams” be placed in resident rooms so family members can monitor the care being given to loved ones, more inspections from the state Agency for Health Care Administration, a recommendation that the state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program (see “Neutering the watchdogs,” Nov. 10), which is supposed to be an independent advocate for residents of long-term care facilities, be given independence from the state Department of Elder Affairs. In February the state Department of Elder Affairs abruptly requested the resignation of then Long-Term Care Ombudsman Brian Lee, because he did too good of a job and pissed off industry administrators; the federal Administration on Aging investigated the situation and found that the state was guilty of meddling in the ombudsman office’s affairs, making its work less effective; it recommended that the program be operated independently to guard against further political interference. At the meeting, current Long-Term Care Ombudsman Jim Crochet, appointed to replace Lee, actually argued against doing so. State Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, introduced a bill on Nov. 21 that would get the ombudsman program from under the state’s thumb and put it under the auspices of an independent nonprofit organization.

Fast forward to this week, and the Orlando Business Journal is reporting that the assisted-living facility industry is crying foul at the “regulatory hammer” that may fall when the legislature reconvenes in January. Among the doomsday prophecies from the industry, should egregious violations in assisted-living facilities be punished too harshly and the ombudsman program be given too much freedom to help the elderly and the infirm: the industry might “collapse,” hundreds of poorly operated facilities could close down and the state would have some “real problems” – including the loss of jobs and income. In other words, Florida, you have to make a choice: Save the jobs or save the elderly. Which is it gonna be? Because, if you listen to what the industry is saying, you can’t have both.

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