TALLAHASSEE — After years of reports of rampant abuse in Florida's assisted living facilities, Gov. Rick Scott and top lawmakers promised to create the most significant reforms in a generation to better protect thousands of frail seniors and mentally ill residents.
But after a dramatic week of infighting and gamesmanship, House and Senate leaders on Friday couldn't agree on major safeguards, delivering a crushing blow to elder advocates who had long been pleading for changes.
Just hours after the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill to increase ALF inspections of troubled homes and shut down the worst abusers, the House refused to take up the measure amid heavy lobbying by powerful industry leaders in the waning days of the 60-day session.
"The biggest problem, I feel, is to have nothing. Gain no ground at all," said Larry Polivka, who led the governor's task force examining problems at ALFs. "It will have to be addressed next year."
The defeat came after a dramatic plea on the Senate floor by Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico. She urged House members to pass the measure that would have ushered in some of the nation's toughest provisions to punish homes caught abusing and neglecting residents to death.
The failed effort follows months of reports in the Miami Herald of people dying in ALFs — including residents beaten, starved and injected with lethal doses of drugs — prompting a legislative panel and a Miami-Dade grand jury to push for changes in oversight by state regulators.
But key differences between House and Senate plans, including tougher penalties for abusers, doomed the effort.