November 17, 2017
On a good day, Olga Vasquez would dress up in the morning, apply makeup and stand in the hallway at her Hialeah Gardens nursing home, helping other residents get in and out of wheelchairs or offering unsolicited advice. On a bad day, her depression got the best of her and she would remain in bed in her nightgown.
May 31, 2012, was a very bad day.
Vasquez — who hadn’t seen a psychiatrist in weeks despite instructions to the contrary — hoisted herself out of the window of Room 310, and hurled herself to the concrete courtyard 39.4 feet below.
This is the type of thing you might want to know about before your mom, dad or spouse moves into a nursing home. And such documented events were readily available on the website of state health regulators.
They aren’t anymore — part of the latest erosion in what is supposed to be ready access to public records in Florida.
A little under three months ago, the state scrubbed its website. No longer can you go online and view the 83-page report that found Vasquez’s death to be the result of misconduct and that determined other residents of Signature Healthcare of Waterford were in “immediate jeopardy.”
The document can still be obtained from the state Agency for Health Care Administration, although you have to know what to ask for and whom to ask — and you may be required to pay and wait. Online, AHCA now refers consumers to a separate website managed by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, though that site does not include as much material as the state previously provided. AHCA does maintain spreadsheets online that rate homes on a host of criteria, and allow consumers to compare.
For many years, AHCA’s website included links to inspections of nursing homes, retirement homes and hospitals. They were available with a few keystrokes with very few redactions. The agency then began to heavily redact the reports — eliminating words such as “room” and “CPR” and “bruises” and “pain” — and rendering the inspections difficult to interpret for families trying to gauge whether a facility is suitable for a loved one. AHCA says the redactions were necessary to protect medical privacy, though patients were identified only by number. Vasquez was “Resident 239.”