By: Press Release | The Sidney Hillman Foundation
NEW YORK: The Sidney Hillman Foundation announced today that the Miami Herald reporters Michael Sallah, Rob Barry, Carol Marbin Miller and Chuck Fadely have won the May Sidney Award for “Neglected to Death,” their ongoing series that looks into the widespread neglect and abuse occurring at assisted-living facilities for the elderly and mentally ill in Florida.
After a year spent examining thousands of state inspections, police reports, court cases, autopsy files, emails, death certificates and conducting interviews with dozens of operators and residents across the state, the Miami Herald discovered a pattern of abuse in the homes and the state’s repeated failure to take action.
Florida passed a celebrated Residents Bill of Rights in 1980 with safeguards considered the most progressive in the nation, and advertised the state as the place to retire with safety and dignity. But budget cuts in the 1990s which led to cutbacks in inspections, followed by an explosion in the number of assisted living facilities combined with a powerful industry that lobbies to remove regulations, resulted in the Herald’s findings.
The story’s major findings include:
- Nearly once a month, residents die from abuse and neglect – with some caretakers even altering and forging records to conceal evidence – but law enforcement agencies almost never make arrests.
- Homes are routinely caught using illegal restraints – including powerful tranquilizers, locked closets and ropes – but the state rarely if ever punishes them.
- State regulators could have shut down 70 homes in the past two years for a host of severe violations – including neglect and abuse by caretakers – but in the end, closed just seven.
- While the number of new homes has exploded across the state – 550 in the past five years – the state has dropped critical inspections by 33 percent, allowing some of the worst facilities to stay open.
- Though the state has the power to impose fines on homes that break the law, the penalties are routinely decreased, delayed or dropped altogether.
- Records of deaths at the homes are kept secret by the state – hidden even from family members – allowing facilities to conceal the critical mistakes that took the lives of their residents.
- In three cases, family members were told relatives died of natural causes, but records show their caretakers had abused and neglected them.
Days after the series was published state lawmakers dropped several pieces of legislation that would have further deregulated the homes. Furthermore, several lawmakers said they will work on overhauling the state’s oversight of ALF’s.
Michael Sallah is a Pulitzer-Prize winning member of the Miami Herald’s investigative unit, directing investigations into public housing corruption, medical neglect and failures in government oversight of the mortgage and securities industries. He was a recipient of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for uncovering the longest series of atrocities in the Vietnam War and subsequent cover-up by the Pentagon. His unit has won nearly every award in American journalism, including a Loeb, Polk, National Headliner, Heywood Broun, National Press Club and Sigma Delta Chi first-place citations.
Rob Barry is an award winning journalist, with expertise in reporting, computer programming and database analysis. He joined the Miami Herald’s investigative team in 2007 and has covered finance, real estate, healthcare and politics. In addition to reporting, Barry has created several websites for the newspaper and is tasked with managing many of the newsroom’s databases. He graduated from the University of Miami in 2005.
Carol Marbin Miller is a veteran Miami Herald reporter who has won numerous statewide awards for her work covering children and family issues in Florida over the past two decades. Her work in exposing breakdowns in the state regulatory system overseeing Florida’s foster parent and adoption programs and juvenile justice has sparked grand jury probes, arrests, and legislative changes aimed at bolstering safeguards for some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.
Chuck Fadely is a visual journalist at the Miami Herald who has been a photographer, picture editor, and video producer during his career. He has contributed photos and video to numerous Pulitzer-prize winning stories, including for the paper’s coverage of Hurricane Andrew, for the coverage of the seizure of Elian Gonzalez, and for investigative work on Miami’s housing problems. He shot the photos and produced the video for the ‘Neglected to Death’ series.
The Sidney Award is given once a month to an outstanding piece of socially-conscious journalism, or a leading journalistic association, by the Sidney Hillman Foundation, which also awards the annual Hillman Prizes every spring. For more information please click here.