State regulators in settlement talks with Destin Healthcare after suspension

by | Jul 18, 2022

TALLAHASSEE — Health-care regulators and operators of a Northwest Florida nursing home are negotiating a potential settlement in a dispute stemming the state’s attempt to suspend the facility’s license.

Attorneys for the state Agency for Health Care Administration and Destin Healthcare on Monday asked the 1st District Court of Appeal to put on hold a hearing scheduled next week in the case.

“Destin Healthcare and AHCA (the agency) are actively engaged in settlement negotiations which, if successful, should obviate the need for further appellate proceedings before this court,” the joint motion said.

Operators of the Okaloosa County nursing home went to the appeals court in April after the agency issued an emergency order to suspend the facility’s license. The agency contended, at least in part, that the nursing home had not complied with state laws about staffing levels.

Destin Healthcare asked the Tallahassee-based appeals court for a stay of the license suspension, a request that was granted April 30. The agency subsequently asked the appeals court to dissolve the stay — with the court slated to hear arguments on that request July 26.

The joint motion filed Monday did not provide details about the negotiations but asked to put the case on hold for 60 days “to allow the parties to finalize their settlement.”

In an April court document, the agency said officials had visited the facility and discovered that it had been operating below legally required staffing levels without placing a moratorium on admissions. The agency also alleged that corporate management had “demonstrated preference for putting corporate financial health over resident care.”

“During this extended period of understaffing, the facility’s administration repeatedly informed corporate management of the inadequate staffing levels and of the law requiring the self-imposition of a moratorium on resident admissions, but corporate management chose to violate the legislative moratorium mandate and compelled the facility to accept new resident admissions,” agency attorney Tracy Cooper George wrote in the April 29 document, which argued against a stay of the emergency order.

But in an April 26 petition challenging the order, the nursing home rejected arguments that resident care had suffered and pointed to widespread health-care staffing problems during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, health care staff shortages are a frequent challenge to providing the highest level of care any health care provider would like to provide,” John Bradley, an attorney for the nursing home, wrote in the petition. “This reality is well documented as an ongoing crisis in the health care field. Destin is not responsible for the lack of health care workers in the state and the interviews included in the emergency order demonstrate attempts by the administrator and other executives to increase staffing levels by offering signing bonuses and pay increases.”

Documents filed in May and June indicated that most residents moved out of the facility after the agency took action.


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