Health & Human Services

Troubled Group Homes Go Unregulated in Florida

Hundreds of congregate living facilities across Florida escape any state scrutiny because no agency regulates them.
September 9, 2013

When state licensing inspectors visited a Homestead-area boarding house last year, they found signs of rats, an unsafe water source and ill-maintained electrical wiring and fire safety equipment.

 
A background check wasn’t part of the survey, but it would’ve revealed that an assistant director had criminal convictions for cocaine possession, burglary and carrying a concealed weapon.
 
State healthcare inspectors who visited the Young Residence Home in June discovered another problem: It was an unlicensed assisted-living facility.
 
The owner told regulators that the home provided only housing, not other services, for alcoholics, ex-convicts and people with mental health issues. But the inspector found that staff helped residents take medication.
 
One person who had lived at the home for four years told authorities: “I don’t want to be here. We get little food, and it’s bad.”
 
The situation at the Homestead home is neither isolated nor unusual. Hundreds of congregate living facilities across Florida escape any state scrutiny because no agency regulates them. They have names like Home Sweet Home, House of Joy and Nurse’s Loving Heart. They call themselves shelters, rooming houses or “sober homes.” Some even receive Medicaid dollars.
 
Critics say these facilities are actually unlicensed ALFs, using a different name to avoid licensure and inspection — and to enhance their profits. An ALF, in addition to providing housing, can help with daily tasks like bathing, dressing and taking medication. To open one, an operator must pass a background check, pay fees and submit to inspections.
 
Last year, state healthcare regulators received more than 200 complaints about unlicensed activity and confirmed that 62 were, indeed, unlicensed ALFs, including 15 in Miami-Dade and Broward. These numbers have risen more than 60 percent from 2010. By June this year, the Agency for Health Care Administration had identified another 37 unlicensed homes around the state.
 
But critics say many others operate under the radar.

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