The I-Team discovered Florida law requires the state to keep confidential critical information about assisted living facilities a secret.
They are the cases that make headlines, but as we found out, the agency that oversees assisted living facilities doesn’t always disclose the details on the very site that's supposed to give families the information they need to make the most difficult decision of their lives.
ABC Action News Anchor Paul LaGrone sifted through six years of news archives, court documents, and police reports and uncovered that buried in the details of a state statute is a rule that allows the state to keep the public in the dark.
- Lakeland, 2015
Cameras capture an 81-year-old man climbing a 6-foot fence, leaving an assisted living facility.
- Tampa, Summer 2017
A nursing home office manager pleads guilty to stealing 56-thousand dollars from two residents.
- Sarasota, October 2017
Then there’s the case of Mr. John Kates. In 2017, the 72-year-old went missing from a Sarasota assisted living home. He was found along 17th Street, just one street over from the facility, lying face down in a retention pond, dead.
The three mentioned cases all have one thing in common.
The incidents made our newscasts, but they are nowhere to be found on the state’s website, which people depend on to make informed decisions about where to send a loved one.
Searching through our own archives, police reports, and court records we found a dozen cases over six years, that were never documented on the state database run by the Florida Agency for Health Care administration, known as AHCA.
How does it wind up on the 6PM news, but not on AHCA’s Website?
“That’s a good question,” says attorney Peter Sartes of Tragos, Sartes & Tragos, who told us that most of his cases involving assisted living facilities, rarely show up on AHCA’S website.
One case involved a 95-year-old woman who wasn’t getting her medication.
Her daughter found her covered in her own feces. She died three months later.
“No one ever called us and said it was looked into and we have new procedures in place so this doesn’t happen again. We heard from no body,” recounted her daughter Zorka Hufnagel.
“It doesn’t surprise me, You’re asking for someone who is subject to being sanctioned to self-report,” says Sartes. “And a lot of times it just doesn’t happen,” he says.
The Confidential Clause
But we found out it goes far beyond AHCA not knowing.
In fact, it turns out the state is keeping certain information about assisted living facilities confidential. In the state law there’s a confidential clause. Statute 429.23 says so called “Adverse incidents”, which includes everything from residents wandering off to staff committing crimes,” are kept confidential.
When we asked AHCA to see the reports they denied us, citing state law.
AHCA administrators declined an on camera interview, but sent us the following statement:
"Per F.S. 429.23 and 400.147, adverse incidents are confidential. Any changes to law would require action from the legislature. The confidentiality of the reports are intended to encourage a culture of transparency so the facility will self-identify issues and implement corrections proactively. Although the Agency cannot disclose the existence of an adverse incident, incidents are reviewed as part of facility oversight. If there are concerns that the facility has not taken action to address the issue and protect from future incidents, any deficiencies as a result of a regulatory investigation of the incident would be reflected in the inspection results. During regulatory reviews, the Agency is authorized to evaluate current non-compliance. If a facility has fully corrected any potential violations at the time of the review, no regulatory violation is cited."
Doesn’t the public have a right to know?
"Absolutely. And some of what you are citing is in my opinion egregious."
We brought our story to State Representative Janet Cruz who’s running for State Senate.
She says the law deserves a second look.
“It’s my intention to win that race and when I do, I’m going to address these issues and if we need to change these statutes, I will change them.”
What are the Key Takeaways?
When you’re researching an assisted living facility, don’t just check the AHCA website; it doesn’t tell you everything you should know.
Search Court records using the name of the business and the owner to find the information you need.
As always, the quickest way for you to find a red flag is to go straight to google. If the facility has made headlines, you may find more details in a news story than AHCA is allowed to tell you.