As a lawyer representing families in Venice, North Port, Sarasota, Englewood, Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda and surrounding areas, I routinely receive calls from family members who have placed a relative in an assisted living facility for long term care. Unfortunately, in many of these instances, by the time I receive the call, harm has already occurred – harm that may have been preventable.
As the name suggests, an “assisted living facility” provides care and assistance to those who are not fully independent in their activities of daily living based upon one or debilitating medical conditions or advanced age. This assistance is typically provided by unlicensed “caregivers” or “certified nursing assistants” who have no extensive formal training or educational background in nursing.
A licensed Florida assisted living facility typically provides a lesser degree of healthcare and physical assistance to their residents than what you will find being provided in most nursing homes. Nursing homes are licensed to provide skilled nursing care and rehabilitation while assisted living facilities generally provide a residential environment with the focus on providing the long term resident with general assistance with the activities of daily living and some other limited nursing functions such the administration of medications. As long as the resident is able to function somewhat independently and does not suffer a significant decline in health, an assisted living facility or “ALF” may certainly be viewed as preferable over confinement to a nursing home.
The problem we frequently see, however, occurs when the assisted living facility retains a resident whose change in medical condition or decline in health has rendered him or her no longer appropriate for placement in an ALF. A higher level of care becomes required. When a resident’s health declines, such that the ALF can no longer meet his or her needs, the law requires that the facility promptly advise the family and physician so that arrangements may be undertaken to transfer the resident to a long term care facility that is better equipped to meet the patient’s healthcare requirements. Of course, to a profit-focused ALF this frequently means the loss of a paying customer and the existence of an empty bed.
When the ALF, its director and its staff fail to notice or consciously ignore a resident’s decline in health, predictably, bad things result. We begin to see the occurrence of incidents such as falls and fractured bones and head injuries. Malnutrition, weight loss and dehydration are also not uncommon. Even pressure sores may begin to develop, and if left unaddressed, can lead to sepsis and death. Under Florida law, these incidents may give rise to a claim for a violation of resident rights or negligence.
Steps may be taken to reduce the risk that your loved one may suffer a bad outcome in an assisted living facility. These include: Step 1: Do your homework and legwork prior to admission. Visit the facility to obtain a feel for the atmosphere and attentiveness of staff. Ask the facility to provide references. If possible, approach other residents and their family members and ask them if they have been pleased with the level of care offered. Additionally, you may wish to contact the state of Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration and inquire as to whether the facility has been cited for any “deficiencies” related to the quality of care provided in recent months. Step 2: Visit often and encourage others, including family, friends, church members, extended family members and former neighbors, to visit the resident. Rather than visiting the same time of day, try to vary the timing so that you make appearance during different shifts. In this way, you will meet and get to know all of the staff that are charged with the responsibility of caring for your loved one. Step 3: The moment you notice any change or decline in the resident’s health, immediately contact his or her physician so that the issue may be addressed. Do not rely on the ALF staff to do so. Prior to any appointment with the physician, ask for a copy of the assisted living facility’s records and bring them to the doctor’s visit for review. Most problems in assisted living facilities result because the early warning signs of a health change were not addressed or they were completely overlooked. Any change must be addressed and cannot be ignored. Catching things early will go a long way toward preventing grave future harms.
If you have questions regarding care provided by assisted living facility, resident rights, negligence or wrongful death in Florida, feel free to call me, Attorney James Keim, for a free, confidential consultation at (941) 485-7600.