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Florida’s Nursing Centers: Setting the Record Straight on Quality Care

October 11, 2017 - 6:00am
I always thought journalists were trained to avoid reaching a broad conclusion from just one specific example, no matter how shocking it may be. Yet in his guest commentary in last Wednesday’s Tallahassee Democrat, opinion columnist Carl Hiaasen unfairly slammed Florida’s entire long term care profession based on the shameful and inexcusable actions of a single nursing home.<--break->His column unfortunately followed the recent trend of other media outlets, which have been quick to embrace sweeping overhaul proposals while completely overlooking many extraordinary actions nursing homes all over Florida took before, during, and after Hurricane Irma to protect those living in our centers.
In Hiaasen’s view, the tragic deaths of 12 residents at a Hollywood Hills nursing home were the inevitable result of years of neglect, and worse, by a powerful industry that imposed its will on the Florida Legislature. While I certainly agree that the deaths at this facility are intolerable and need to be properly investigated, the assertion that this somehow represents the entire long term care profession couldn’t be further from the truth. It also does a great injustice to the thousands of highly skilled professionals who dedicate themselves to caring for some of our state’s most fragile residents.
I wish to be very clear about this: Nothing is a higher priority for our centers than the well-being of those entrusted to our care. To further that objective, we embrace Governor Scott’s goal to have generators in place at every long-term care center – to make sure they can maintain a safe temperature should the power go out in an emergency. 
During a summit on this issue we hosted last month, we heard from a variety of speakers that the shortened timetable is not achievable, but nonetheless we remain committed to working with Governor Scott and others to make sure our centers are as safe as possible, as soon as possible.
Here are some facts, so easily disregarded in the zeal to criticize the entire profession based on the actions (or inactions) of one facility – a center, by the way, that isn’t even a member of our professional association:
  • Over the past year, nearly 1,500 long-term care professionals who are members of Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) have taken part in emergency preparedness trainings – from community-based discussions to disaster drills to education seminars.
  • During Hurricane Irma, FHCA centers performed more than 60 successful evacuations, while more than 500 other facilities successfully sheltered their residents in place.
  • Upwards of 400 nursing centers lost power during Hurricane Irma, yet our members continued successfully caring for 68,000 residents through the course of the storm.
  • A recent Emory University survey showed that 94 percent of Florida nursing centers have regular communications with local emergency managed agencies to discuss emergency preparedness. 
  • Our association was supportive when the Legislature sought to require nursing home generators after Florida’s terrible 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. The plan fell apart over funding provisions, not because the nursing home professional was opposed to it.
Hiaasen’s column is another example of coverage that appears quick to tarnish the reputation of the long-term care industry without considering all the good things it has done – in general, and specifically in dealing with Hurricane Irma. All these articles really accomplish is paving the way for every greedy trial attorney to come out of the woodwork looking to capitalize on this terrible tragedy. 
Florida’s nursing home profession consists of hundreds of excellent centers staffed by thousands of dedicated, caring professionals. I wholeheartedly believe that they deserve better than to have their reputations tarnished by the tragic – but isolated – events at a single nursing home.
John C. Simmons is president of Florida Health Care Association, the state’s first and largest advocacy organization for long-term care providers and the residents under their care. He can be reached at


Having investigated nursing homes for medical neglect, abuse, and even exploitation, I can tell you that there are many 'homes' who just have difficulties hiring the most qualified people to one of their positions.I have long since retired from the job that I received so much satisfaction that I had been offered a position at a law firm just to investigate allegations of everything, claimed by either the victim, or family members, who truly have no clue as to what's going on in their family member's room. Unfortunately, I had two family members who went through this as patients. We'd visit every day, sometimes twice (even during off hours) and we'd check our loved ones, AND their belongings. We were lucky as the place they resided was very good and took care of their patients. This was unlike many of the places, during work hours, where evidence would abound towards the other way. Never subject your loved ones to the kind of care which influences your loved one into simply giving up and letting go. My retired opinion is these places are not easily run or managed, yet our loved ones remain there.

John, What a great article you penned on the Florida Nursing Home industry and disaster response, I really appreciate it. As someone who had his own facility (LaRocca Nursing Home) ravaged by a direct hit from an F5 tornado, on 4/27/11, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama I am well aware of the problems that arise out of disasters we both have experienced. Our facility had full emergency power, but one of the natural gas lines was ripped out of the ground by falling trees, we sheltered in place, there was no evacuation available, and secured a backup generator to run the facility by 9 PM. Just another example about how when you think you have everything solved you don't. John, great job. Sincerely, Lyman Hardy, Administrator Forest Manor Inc. Northport, AL

Walk in the shoes of those family members who totally depend and put their faith in the "caretakers" of Florida's nursing homes. I can assure you your "broad" opinion may be heart felt however, I can absolutely have taken the broad view also. What my sister had to endure during her many years stay in Florida State facilities was most assuredly less than stellar. Without a constant advocate by her side (her sister) the care she would have received most definitely minimal at best. The care oversight is handled by barely trained CNA's most of the time and check on their assigned patients very few times during their shift. Rarely is their care seen by the licensed RN's or LPN's who sit at the nurses stations doing paperwork. After watching this scenario play out for over 10 1/2 years and 8 facilities I have seen this "broad" view up close and personal.

At the time, I was critical of that SPECIFIC unpreparedness by that PARTICULAR nursing home, based upon my 'past emergency experiences' (I'm certain my "comment" to SSN at that time is reviewable). It must be recognized that Carl Hiaasen is a NOVELIST of some repute, and as such, along with his 'local' success comes a self-important view of ones opinions, critiques, and myopic appraisals of 'local' life situations. Mr. Hiaasen might BETTER serve his "home State" by penning a liiterary work of Florida under emergency hurricane conditions and the heroic actions (as well as the failed inactions) of its citizens,.. from a NOVELIST approach: Could be a "Best Seller" with Mr. Hiaasen's "feel" for dialogue.

Appreciate the article Mr. Simmons. I work for a large South Florida ALF in a non medical position. I am absolutely in awe of what these professional care takers do on a daily basis. We all cannot be lumped into the negativity that was reported. The sad thing is that people lost their lives. We can learn from that and continue to provide the best care as we do each and every day.

People will only see and remember the bad issues and unfortunately, the good is never in the news because it doesn't sell.

Hope you're right, Mr. Simmons. I remember my grandfather being in one for a few weeks and finding him laying on the floor all alone. Apparently someone was in the process of changing the sheets and had left the room for quite some time. And my Mom years later was in one for rehab. Two nursing homes and both deplorable. You have to be there daily to check on your loved one otherwise there is no telling what might happen. They are a number, not a name.

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