Kudos to Florida State Congressman Ari Port for drafting a bill that will call for stricter hiring practices at nursing homes and day care centers in the state. Port introduced the legislation after a recent investigation by the South Florida Sun Sentinel turned up lax hiring policies statewide that led to many cases of patient abuse.
The Sentinel found that more than 3500 elderly and disabled patients as well as children in day care, have been left in the hands of convicted felons who were given jobs in spite of the fact that they hadn't even cleared a background check.
Examples include a cancer patient at a Pompano Beach assisted living facility who had to watch helplessly from her bed as a nurses aide, previously convicted on theft charges, rifled through her handbag and stole $165.
A video camera caught another aide at a North Miami Beach group home for the disabled shoving a cerebral palsy patient to the floor and busting her lip. The aide had previously pleaded guilty to aggravated assault charges yet she was allowed to care for helpless patients.
An aide at a health care center in Pahokee also fell through the cracks after the facility did a background check, but her previous charges of forgery didn't turn up. It was also not reported that she had previously attacked a patient at another facility. While on the Pahokee job, she reverted to her old ways and slapped a stroke/alzheimers sufferer extremely hard on the face, which landed her in jail, but the damage had been done.
What makes this story even more outrageous is that in Florida convicted felons cannot be a bartender and cannot get a liquor license for 15 years after getting out of jail, yet criminals who have committed serious crimes are getting hired to care for human beings who are unable to care for or defend themselves. The Sun Sentinel investigation found that over the past twenty years many of the violent offenders were granted exemptions by the state so they could work in these facilities and hundreds of criminals were given the jobs because the employer either didn't do a background check or simply ignored their previous criminal record.
One woman who was a convicted drug dealer who had served jail time in Ohio, was given a job at a Flordia seniors facility, but her out of state record only came to light when she switched jobs and began to work with the disabled in Fort Walton Beach. When her past problems did show up she was given the position anyway because the administrator felt sorry for her when she claimed to have found God and professed a love of helping the helpless. She was later convicted again, this time for dragging a mentally disabled man from a van by his feet, slamming his head on the floorboard and pavement. She now faces charges of abusing a disabled person, yet her previous record which indicated this type of violence was ignored! I've worked with convicted criminals in the past and believe me, most of them find God, but quickly lose Him again when they are back out on the streets.
While Congressman Port is on the right track in Florida and one can hope that the laws will be changed, this type of abuse is likely to be found in other states if investigations are conducted. In fact, headlines have been made here in Cincinnati in which the circumstances are very similar.
Lawmakers nationwide should start working with various agencies to ensure that this type of problem doesn't get out of control anywhere else. The media needs to do it's part (Great job Sun Sentinel!) and begin investigating facilities on their own, as I fear that this may not be an isolated problem in Florida.
While media budgets are tight, we never run out of stories about the latest celebrity drug addicition, affair or adoption, yet this type of case is often unreported and could be the tip of the iceberg for the abuses that so many innocent people must endure.
Yes we all should be outraged at the problems in Florida, and we need to take it upon ourselves to look out for our elderly/disabled neighbors by checking in and listening if they report this type of complaint. We may be busy and we may not want to get involved but for the sake of decency we need to open our hearts and care. After all, none of us is getting any younger, and we never know if a health crisis of our own is looming around the next corner. So the next time we say it's not our concern, perhaps we need to remember that if this type of problem is allowed to continue, we may someday find ourselves in the same hopeless situation.