I always thought journalists were trained to avoid reaching a broad conclusion from just one specific example, no matter how shocking it may be. Yet in his guest commentary in Wednesday’s Tallahassee Democrat, opinion columnist Carl Hiaasen unfairly slammed Florida’s entire long term care profession based on the shameful and inexcusable actions of a single nursing home.

John C. Simmons

His column unfortunately followed the recent trend of other media outlets, which have been quick to embrace sweeping overhaul proposals while completely overlooking many extraordinary actions nursing homes all over Florida took before, during, and after Hurricane Irma to protect those living in our centers.

In Hiaasen’s view, the tragic deaths of 12 residents at a Hollywood Hills nursing home were the inevitable result of years of neglect, and worse, by a powerful industry that imposed its will on the Florida Legislature. While I certainly agree that the deaths at this facility are intolerable and need to be properly investigated, the assertion that this somehow represents the entire long term care profession couldn’t be further from the truth. It also does a great injustice to the thousands of highly skilled professionals who dedicate themselves to caring for some of our state’s most fragile residents.

I wish to be very clear about this: Nothing is a higher priority for our centers than the well-being of those entrusted to our care. To further that objective, we embrace Governor Scott’s goal to have generators in place at every long-term care center – to make sure they can maintain a safe temperature should the power go out in an emergency.

During a summit on this issue we hosted last month, we heard from a variety of speakers that the shortened timetable is not achievable, but nonetheless we remain committed to working with Governor Scott and others to make sure our centers are as safe as possible, as soon as possible.

Here are some facts, so easily disregarded in the zeal to criticize the entire profession based on the actions (or inactions) of one facility – a center, by the way, that isn’t even a member of our professional association:

  • Over the past year, nearly 1,500 long-term care professionals who are members of Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) have taken part in emergency preparedness trainings – from community-based discussions to disaster drills to education seminars.
  • During Hurricane Irma, FHCA centers performed more than 60 successful evacuations, while more than 500 other facilities successfully sheltered their residents in place.
  • Upwards of 400 nursing centers lost power during Hurricane Irma, yet our members continued successfully caring for 68,000 residents through the course of the storm.
  • A recent Emory University survey showed that 94 percent of Florida nursing centers have regular communications with local emergency managed agencies to discuss emergency preparedness.
  • Our association was supportive when the Legislature sought to require nursing home generators after Florida’s terrible 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. The plan fell apart over funding provisions, not because the nursing home professional was opposed to it.

Hiaasen’s column is another example of coverage that appears quick to tarnish the reputation of the long-term care industry without considering all the good things it has done – in general, and specifically in dealing with Hurricane Irma. All these articles really accomplish is paving the way for every greedy trial attorney to come out of the woodwork looking to capitalize on this terrible tragedy.

Florida’s nursing home profession consists of hundreds of excellent centers staffed by thousands of dedicated, caring professionals. I wholeheartedly believe that they deserve better than to have their reputations tarnished by the tragic – but isolated – events at a single nursing home.

John C. Simmons is President of Florida Health Care Association, the state’s first and largest advocacy organization for long-term care providers and the residents under their care.