Florida’s Elder Care Problem

Coleman Felts liked to talk to people. At Golden Glades Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Miami, residents knew him for only eight days, but in that short amount of time, they knew he liked to talk. He could often be found taking a stroll through the facility grounds to take in the fresh air, perhaps watching the water of the nearby lake for a solitary moment.

He was tall, his legs carrying him with a sort of elegance that suggested an athleticism left behind in youth, a fact you could corroborate if you asked him about his time serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. At 75, the angular face of his black and white service photograph gave way to a softer, gentler appearance.

Coleman’s guardian had moved him to Golden Glades from the assisted living facility he was living at because he had started to wander. His deteriorating mental state, which often made him confused and paranoid, left him vulnerable as he twice walked off the facility’s grounds. On one of those occasions, he jumped a fence and ended up near a busy intersection. He needed someone to look after him more closely, so he was moved to Golden Glades.

For three days, the nursing home’s primary physician monitored him in a one-on-one setting, quitting on the fourth. Coleman “did not show any signs of risk,” the doctor told the Health and Human Services worker on the case.

On the eighth day, December 1, 2015, Coleman went missing. On the ninth, a maintenance worker found his body face down in the shallows of the lake.

A Larger Picture of Neglect

On its own, this is a tragic story. But when considered along with the five accusations, since 2013, of negligence resulting in a patient’s death that Golden Glades has faced, a pattern emerges.

This is not the story of a bad apple. In Florida, Golden Glades is the rule, not the exception. According to an investigation conducted by USA TODAY NETWORK – Florida, 54 of Florida’s nursing homes scored the lowest in the state and received 100 or more violations since 2013. Of those 54 homes, 46 have contested or settled lawsuits brought against them for the deaths of 191 residents. The average fine for violations that put patients at risk is around $5,000, a drop in the bucket when compared to the millions that these homes receive in Medicare and Medicaid funding each year. In the past five years, Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, the government organization in charge of nursing facility regulation, has only closed two homes, including the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, which made headlines after 12 residents died following Hurricane Irma last year.

We could look at this information, shake our heads, and move on. But if you’re considering trusting your loved one’s health and safety to a nursing facility, they might not end up getting the care they need. Coleman Felts certainly didn’t.

“The only thing it tells me, to be honest with you, if you’re not a person of importance, then why should they care?” Ritchie McFarley, Felts’s brother, said in an interview with the Naples Daily News. “Who cares about a person who’s not important?”

NL Intro
Dear (contact name),
I wanted to share something that I wrote with you. It’s about Florida’s growing nursing home problem and the risk that many of them pose to our seniors. As someone in health care, I feel very passionately about this subject and would appreciate if you would read and share it with those you know so we can spread the word.

Thank you for your help,

Meghan Goicouria