The following is being released today by Florida's Children First:
Private sector companies that get paid tax dollars under state contracts to take care of disabled adults and children, such as in group homes, have joined forces to execute a scheme to avoid accountability when they breach their contracts and allow these most vulnerable Floridians to be seriously hurt. They are pushing for legislation (Senate Bill 966/House Bill 615; incorporated by amendment into Senate Bill 1972), which would name them as agents of the state and give them the full protection of Florida's sovereign immunity, no matter how much damage they cause to an innocent disabled adult or child who has been entrusted to their care.
Under present law, private disability service providers are held accountable for harm they inflict on Florida's most vulnerable children and adults. In cases reported recently in newspapers, (such as the Feb. 9, 2011 St. Petersburg Times article, "Senator Storms hammers lax oversight of sex at group home,") this would include cases where the disabled have been raped, sexually abused and even impregnated while in the direct care of such private providers.
The goals of these companies are to avoid scrutiny in our courts and to keep taking tax money for large executive salaries or profits, while making Florida's taxpayers pick up the bill for the damage they cause in these horrific cases.
The consortium of companies behind this legislation includes many for-profit corporations. They are engaged in a thinly veiled effort to obscure their real motives by using the Florida Insurance Trust ("FIT" or "The Trust") as a front to carry their message. The Trust was created by statute in 2007 to maximize market forces to obtain quality insurance coverage to protect the disabled adults and children at the lowest cost. The Trust, however, is run by executives of the very private companies that stand to benefit from this legislation for years to come.
To advance their agenda, the Trust is claiming that there is an insurance crisis caused by sharply increasing insurance rates. The Trust is also claiming that the looming "crisis" is so bad that it threatens to cut into money for disabled services and even put the companies out of business.
FARF, the association that purports to speak for disability service corporations, in documents distributed to the Legislature, states that, "The cost of liability insurance and the potential for lawsuits and large settlements is a constant threat to provider organizations and has the potential to cripple their operations or shut them down completely, thus potentially denying individuals with disabilities the services they need to function in daily life." FARF also states, "Depending on the size of the provider agency and its operating budget, liability annual insurance premium costs can range from about $23,000 to $1.2 million per year and may range as high as 10-15% of agency operating budgets."
The fact is the proposed legislation would virtually make it impossible for seriously injured residents of Medicaid facilities to seek redress for their horrific injuries. The proposal to give these providers sovereign immunity protection would necessarily cause a reduction in protection for the injured disability residents from several millions of dollars down to the statutory $200,000 sovereign immunity limits.
About Florida's Children First -FCF is Florida's leading advocacy organization fighting for the legal rights of at-risk children and youth. It uses legislative and policy advocacy, executive branch education and advocacy, training and technical assistance. FCF is also the adult-support organization for Florida Youth SHINE, a youth run, peer-driven organization working hard to change the culture of Florida's foster care system. FCF's statewide headquarters is in Fort Lauderdale, FL. For more information, go to www.floridaschildrenfirst.org