SUN CITY CENTER, Fla. — A state lawmaker is calling for change, after the I-Team found family members are left in the dark when the state finds serious safety threats at assisted living facilities.
I-Team Investigator Kylie McGivern exposed the gap in state law in January, revealing assisted living facilities are under no obligation to contact residents' family members if the state comes in and puts a ban on new admissions. The state's Agency for Health Care Administration issues a moratorium if there is an immediate risk to health, safety and welfare of the residents at that facility.
Now, Representative Mike Beltran says family members need to be able to trust where they put their loved ones is safe, and that trust starts with access to more information.
"That's a pretty severe discipline if you have a moratorium on accepting new patients. They should be required to notify the families. And then the families can decide whether it's worthwhile to move their loved one," Rep. Beltran said.
Right now, the state posts if an assisted living facility is under a moratorium on its website and that assisted living facility must then post a notice on the building. Phone calls, letters or any other form of communication to make sure family members are aware is not mandatory.
"In the legal context, if a lawyer is not allowed to take any new clients or they’re suspended from practice, for instance, those lawyers are required to send a notice to each one of their active clients to say you have to find another lawyer, I’ve been disciplined and so forth," Rep. Beltran, an attorney, told the I-Team. "I don't know why that wouldn't be a rule in the medical context, which is one of the most heavily regulated industries."
In January, the I-Team met with Janine Marek, who moved her mother from Inspired Living at Sun City Center after Florida regulators issued a ban on new admissions for the facility. The moratorium followed a state investigation, which uncovered sexual assault and violent behavior by residents against other residents. And family members, were reportedly not always notified of the abuse.
"I'm just like, you know, what is going on here," Marek said, describing what she witnessed.
Marek was one of several people who told the I-Team they never received a phone call reporting the ban on admissions.
"That's certainly information that I would want to know if I had to put a family member into a facility," Rep. Beltran said.
The republican representing Sun City Center, said facilities should be required to alert family members for all serious issues, including abuse and state sanctions.
"What surprised me from reading this report was that the facility had certain regulations, such that they were supposed to notify the families, but those weren't codified as a regulation or as a law," Rep. Beltran said.
The state lifted its ban on admissions at Sun City Center at the end of January, but the local lawmaker says the state should set tougher rules to protect seniors at other facilities in the future.
Rep. Beltran says he plans to push to close the gap in state law.
"We can't be having these facilities, a lot of which receive government funding, not providing adequate care," he said.
The deadline to file new bills has already passed for this year, so advocates may have to wait until next year to see any changes.