Anyone who's been following the Miami Herald's investigation of the wretched conditions in some of Florida's assisted living facilities might wonder how the state could have cruelly turned its back on so many sick and helpless people.
The answer is as simple as it is sickening: Money.
Florida doesn't spend enough of it enforcing the laws and regulations governing the facilities, while the industry spends a fortune buying off key state lawmakers with campaign donations.
One of them is Sen. Rene Garcia, a Republican from Hialeah who chairs the Health Regulation Committee. Remember this character's name, in case he ever dreams of running for statewide office.
Garcia's district includes more than 100 assisted living facilities, including some of the worst and most heavily fined in Miami-Dade. Thanks to Garcia and others, it's not easy for one of these joints to get in trouble, no matter what horrors are taking place inside.
Statewide, more than 70 residents in assisted living are known to have perished from gangrene, starvation, narcotic overdoses and burns. At least 200 others have died under suspicious circumstances, but the records have been sealed.
In one case, caregivers at a facility in Manatee County managed to overlook an 85-year-old man while nearly half of his face was consumed by a cancerous tumor. In another facility, three people died, including a senior who fell down 24 separate times.
Despite all this, legislators beholden to assisted living facility lobbyists assiduously labored to gut the laws meant to keep these homes safe. Too many rules and regulations, they complained.
Heck, it's only human suffering we're talking about.
Even as the authorities found residents neglected, abused and even dying, lawmakers — who are rarely made to sleep in their own urine — were working aggressively on behalf of the facilities. Their mission was to shrink state oversight, minimize the number of inspections and make it harder to shut down rogue facilities.
This year in Tallahassee, 23 bills were introduced to weaken state supervision over these facilities. Most of them were written by the Florida Assisted Living Association, the industry lobby group. No one is more slavishly obedient to their wishes than Garcia, who collected $8,100 in campaign contributions from assisted living facility corporate interests.
Sen. Don Gaetz, a Destin Republican, said he couldn't recall language in one of his own co-sponsored bills that stopped the state from bringing medical teams to assisted living facilities to decide whether sick residents should be removed from the homes for their own safety.
"I just don't remember," Gaetz said.
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Carl Hiaasen: Assisted Living Facility Operators Have Hold on Florida Legislators, So Good Luck Keeping Granny Safe