Florida law takes money from families after nursing home tragedies

Investigations

TAMPA (WFLA) – 8 On Your Side has uncovered a state law that takes money out of the hands of families who have lost a loved one.

“He was wrestling for 32 years as a professional wrestler,” said Debra Dahmer.

Dahmer’s father, George, thrilled wrestling fans in the Tampa Bay area and beyond, known by his Chief White Owl persona.

He was once strong and vibrant. But by 2008, Dahmer battled dementia and went into a nursing home in Palm Beach county.

Soon, Dahmer was dead at just 72 years-old, the details are sickening.

“Lost 32 pounds in 8 weeks,” said Debra, “bed sores, stage four down to the bone. He should have got care, not neglected and abused.”

A jury agreed with the family.

The nursing home was forced to pay nearly $1.8 million- including about $800,000 for punitive damages.

At first, daughter Debra thought justice was served.

“But you were only able to keep half?” asked investigative reporter Mahsa Saeidi.

“Yes, because it had to go through the punitive damages, the trust fund,” said Debra.

8 On Your Side has reported on this ‘nursing home pot of gold‘ for weeks.

A special state fund meant to help nursing homes. It’s mostly money, collected from federal fines but sometimes, the cash is snatched from families like the Dahmers.

Half of their punitive damages went to the state, as mandated by Florida law.

“Do you think your father would have wanted that money for you?” asked Saeidi.

“Yes, he didn’t deserve this, I mean it was horrific what we went through,” said Debra.

State Representative Amber Mariano is trying to change that law.

“It’s a lot of money that would have been much better used going into the family’s pocket,” said Rep. Mariano.

Meantime, 8 On Your Side has exposed while the fund is supposed to be used to improve the life of nursing home residents, the state is just sitting on millions during this pandemic.

“Do you think that money should be used to increase testing in these facilities?” asked investigator Mahsa Saeidi.

“Absolutely I think there could be many great uses and especially in today’s environment that would obviously be the most applicable and relevant and important to protecting our seniors that are so vulnerable,” said Rep. Mariano.

Right now, a push for the money in this fund to be given to families that deserve it – and also to be used to protect all our seniors in nursing homes.

Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration is in charge of the fund.

A spokesperson sent 8 On Your Side the following statement: “The Agency for Health Care Administration is currently in conversation with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to explore ways we can utilize CMP dollars to support infection prevention and control in nursing homes including bolstering testing efforts.”

8 On Your Side will continue to follow this story.

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