- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 18, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - The public could read anonymously posted reviews and complaints of assisted-living facilities and owners of such facilities would face higher fines for repeated serious violations under a measure passed unanimously by the Senate on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 248 also requires increased licensing for homes that handle mentally impaired residents and requires a rating system be in place for assisted-living facilities by March 2015.

“Whatever comfort we can give to families who are looking for a home for a relative, we should give it,” said state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood. This is the third year in a row a measure aimed at enhancing rules for assisted-living facilities has been introduced, Sobol pointed out.

She said that by eliminating some of the smaller violations that can lead to expensive fines even though they don’t endanger or discomfort a patient, “we got these groups on board,” including the AARP and the Florida Health Care Association.

Those smaller violations include a facility worker assisting a resident with self-medication or treatment, such as measuring vital signs or checking blood-sugar levels. Under the new measure, a worker would be able to assist in those smaller tasks without fear of sanction.

The public posting site would be part of a consumer guide page administered by the state that would also include information on each licensed facility in the state, including its size, date of opening and violations. The comments section would be monitored, and employees of a facility would be prohibited from posting although facility management could respond to comments as part of the online conversation.

“The previous legislation wasn’t quite clear enough,” said Emmett Reed, executive director of the Florida Health Care Association.

The association had fought against the public comments page being part of the state’s website, arguing that the setting provides “an officialness to it,” Robert Asztalos, who represented the health care association as the legislation was being developed, said last month. “It should be part of a private page.”

Still, enough concessions to the supporters of the assisted-living facility industry have so far made the measure palatable.

“The good facilities want to see this kind of bill,” Sobel said. “They want the bad ones to be gotten rid of.”

There are 3,000 assisted-living homes in Florida that provide intermediate care and provide limited supervision to 80,000 people. Lawmakers in recent years have sought to reduce the oversight of assisted-living facilities, although Gov. Rick Scott vetoed one of the most comprehensive measures reducing regulation of the homes in 2011.

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