Florida regulator moves to close ALF affiliated with rehab center that lost 12 residents after Irma

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The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration has taken actions to close an assisted living community owned by the same company that owns the rehabilitation center where a Hurricane Irma-related air conditioner outage has led to the deaths of 12 residents so far.

The regulator said Thursday that it intends not to renew the license of Floridian Gardens Assisted Living Facility and to bar it from the Medicaid program.

“The Floridian Gardens Assisted Living Facility and Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills have demonstrated without a doubt that they do not deserve to be trusted with patients' lives, especially those who are vulnerable and unable to care for themselves,” Florida AHCA Secretary Justin Senior said Thursday in a statement.

An attorney representing the senior living community said it will fight the proposed actions.

Florida AHCA administers Florida's Medicaid program and licenses and regulates more than 49,000 healthcare facilities and 43 health plans in the state.

Both the 180-bed Floridian Gardens, in Miami, and the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, in Hollywood, FL, north of Miami, are owned by Larkin Community Hospital, which also operates two hospital campuses and other healthcare-related entities, according to its website.

The assisted living community, Florida AHCA said, “has a history of regulatory issues” and is challenging the agency's December 2016 effort to deny the renewal of its license.

Last Wednesday, Florida AHCA issued an amended notice of its intent to deny Floridian Gardens' license renewal application, citing several deficiencies noted in surveys conducted in August, October, November and December 2016 as well as the deaths of residents of its sister rehabilitation center. The agency's notice that it intends to terminate the assisted living community's participation in the Medicaid program pending the effective date of the denied license renewal was issued that same day.

“Our agency will work with our state partners at [the Department of Children and Families] and the long-term care ombudsman as well as our Medicaid program and managed care health plans to assist with resident notification of a closure, relocation options and answering any questions that remain, to ensure a smooth transition for residents,” Senior said.

Floridian Gardens plans to seek a hearing before an administrative law judge, according to an attorney representing the community.

“We are confident that the proposed punitive actions by AHCA will not be supported by the evidence and that the judge will enter an order in favor of Floridian Gardens,” Geoffrey D. Smith said in a statement. Smith called Florida AHCA's attempts to deny license renewal and remove the community from the Medicaid program “completely unwarranted.”

Florida AHCA issued an immediate moratorium on new admissions to the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills on Sept. 13 and suspended the center's participation in the Medicaid program the next day. The regulator suspended the center's license on Sept. 20.

The deaths of the rehabilitation center residents prompted Florida Gov. Rick Scott to issue an emergency rule Sept. 16, giving assisted living communities and nursing homes in the state 60 days to obtain generators and enough fuel to enable them “to sustain operations and maintain comfortable temperatures” for at least four days after a power outage. LeadingAge Florida has filed a legal challenge to the rule, calling its 60-day deadline “impractical.”

The rehabilitation center deaths as well as a photo that went viral on social media, wherein residents sat waist-deep in water for hours at a Houston-area assisted living community during Hurricane Harvey before they were evacuated, also led to the introduction of the Protecting Seniors During Disasters Act Sept. 19 in the U.S. Senate. If passed as written, the act would create a 15-member panel that would advise local, state and government officials on how to prepare and care for older adults during emergency situations. Florida legislators have proposed laws for the Sunshine State, too.

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